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Prospector Trail

The Prospector Trail is a delightful desert romp near red cliffs of Navajo Sandstone. The trail begins on the north near Leeds, about 15 miles north of St. George, and continues southwest to Washington. The trail lies in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The riding is easy and can be done by beginning cyclists (with a few hike-overs).

View from a low hill we just climbed, looking back to the north. This is on the White Reef to Cottonwood Canyon section. Photos June 25, 2002 by Bruce. Latest page update 2017.

The Prospector Trail is 6 miles long, for a relatively long-ish 12-mile out-and-back. But there are two intermediate trailheads in the middle of the trail, allowing less-strong riders to break up the ride into smaller bites. The most popular parking spot is the Cottonwood Trailhead located just west of I-15 north of the SR-9 exit. Further north, the White Reef trailhead is across the freeway from Harrisburg along the road to the Red Rocks recreation area.

Much of the trail is twisting, high-speed desert ribbon.

The trailheads at Prospector's far north and south are actually less developed (as of 2016). They also present a significantly-greater navigation challenge. At the north end, the Silver Reef  trail access can be a bit hard to find, so the Harrisburg-to-Silver Reef leg is best done south-to-north.

At the southern end, the Grapevine trailhead connects to a path over a steepish hill to reach Prospector near the Church Rocks loop. There are two trails down the north side of this hill, and most riders take the uglier route. (See below in the trailhead info section.)

Handlebar view as we head towards the Navajo sandstone cliffs. The cactus is a cholla.

There's about 300 feet of altitude change over the six miles from Church Rocks to Silver Reef, but the up-and-down adds another 300 vertical feet. The full 12-mile out-and-back has 900 vertical feet of total climbing.

The most popular "Prospector Trail" ride uses only the piece between the Cottonwood Trailhead and Church Rocks (where riders do a loop before heading back for an 11-mile ride). But let's cover all your ride options...

There's a bit of rock here and there. Here Bruce rolls southbound.

Prospector from Silver Reef to White Reef
Some riders begin this ride at Silver Reef. From the gravel parking area just south of the Wells Fargo building, N 37 15.142' W 113 22.028', work southwest on dirt roads. [ Track Files for Silver Reef to Harrisburg: GPX Silver Reef ] The dirt road will turn into the Leeds Reef trail on a low ridge, then drop into the small valley heading south. As you hit the White Reef trail near the trailhead, you have two options. 

Southbound over the handlebars of a Rocky Mountain Element.

Option 1, dirt:  At the White Reef trail turn right, then left on the Adams trail. Close-up maps and trail descriptions are found on the Red Cliffs page. Cross the creek, then turn right on the Prospector Connector. Cross the road, and you're on your way.

Although there's one horrendous back-your-bike set of cliffs, most of the rock "ledges" are small and easy.

Option 2, trailhead and road, then High Grade trail:  As you reach the White Reef trail, turn left toward the trailhead. Exit the trailhead and take the road parallel to the freeway across Quail Creek. As that road turns to the right, keep straight and go to the step-over gate to the dirt trail.

Looking west on the High Grade trail, which runs from the Red Cliffs recreation area road to Prospector.

High Grade is 0.4 miles long. After the initial grunt climb away from the road, it runs northwest along a ridgeline before descending to the desert where it meets Prospector. At the trail fork, a left turn takes you southbound on Prospector.

We've now arrived at Prospector and, with a left turn, we're southbound!

Prospector from Cottonwood to Grapevine (Church Rocks)

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

White Reef to Cottonwood Canyon  
From the Red Cliffs recreation area road west of the fee station, find the trail on the south side of the road and climb up the small hill to head. This leg will be about 2.5 miles. Here there are a few low hills to climb, with the largest as you climb away from the trail intersection in Cottonwood Canyon. (Note that the trails going westbound enter the wilderness area and are closed to bikes.)

Those mountains -- solid rock!

As signs are prone to disappear, the complex trail intersection at mile 2.5, N 37 11.258' W 113 25.429', requires some explanation. As of 2007, as you pull up to the base of the ridge you'll see the Cottonwood Canyon Trail, a very buff trail heading level up the canyon (this trail is closed to bikes about 1 mile uphill). Go left up a broad trail to the top of the ridge. Take a hard right (uphill) at the top of the hill. Prospector has joined the Cottonwood Ridge Trail. About 100 feet later, fork left (toward St.George) to continue on Prospector at N 37 11.202' W 113 25.457'.

High speed cruising.

At the top of the climb out of Cottonwood Canyon, keep as straight south as you can. The trail(s) to your left head down to the Cottonwood trailhead 1/3 mile away. The trail heading west uphill to the right follows the rim of Cottonwood Canyon. So if you're coming from the north, you won't actually pass through the Cottonwood Trailhead.

Cottonwood to Church Rocks
If you started at the Cottonwood trailhead, you'll veer south as you reach the trail intersection. At first, the trail doesn't seem wonderful. But after a bit of rock and a nasty descent into the wash, Prospector settles into a swooping twisting desert ribbon that's a riot to ride.

View to the west.

In 2.5 miles, you'll reach the Church Rocks fork. Head left to continue south on Prospector, or to do the Church Rocks loop clockwise (my favorite). Prospector will split away from Church Rocks in a wash bottom about 1/2 mile later. But if you want, you can continue on Church Rocks and still connect to Prospector at two locations at the far south end of the loop.

More slickrock as we approach Church Rocks in the south.

The trail rocks and rolls through the desert, dropping through washes and hugging the edge of sandstone ledges. It's a fun ride, and (except for one spot where the trail drops over a tricky ledge) not scary. There are constant eye-candy views of the cliffs. 

View as the trail hits some areas of ledgy sandstone.

Connecting to Washington, routes A-D:  When you hit the main east-west wash below the southern end of the Church Rocks Loop, you have several options to get into Washington. This would be of interest mainly for shuttled pampered riders doing a point-to-point ride. 
A.  Go down the wash and through the tunnel under the freeway. Really. Jog downhill a bit, then climb up the mesa to your left. Follow the gravel road east and find a paved bike trail dropping off the mesa into Coral Canyon. Go east until you find Telegraph Road then turn right.  
B. Hike a tiny distance up the wash, and find the Grapevine Trail heading up over the hill. Expect to hike-a-bike. Keep left past two trails. At the border of the Reserve, catch the doubletrack down to Buena Vista Blvd.  
C. Start out as in (B), but at the second fork, go right up the Grapevine Trail, then left on the Dino Tracks Trail. When you reach the water tank, drop down the dirt road to Buena Vista.
D. Ride clockwise onto Church Rocks. At the far southwest corner of the loop is a fork on slickrock. Right takes you north uphill on Church Rocks. Left and slightly downhill will connect to a trail that climbs up the hill to the south. At the top of the hill, fork left and go 1/4 mile. Then fork right as the trail connects to the Grapevine trail at the top of the hill

 Classic video, Prospector from Red Cliffs to Cottonwood

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Getting there, White Reef trailhead:  Take the Leeds exit from I-15. If you're going southbound, drive through Leeds to reach the northbound I-15 Leeds exit. Go south from the southbound I-15 exit 1.8 miles. Turn left on a narrow paved road and go under the freeway. Turn right and park in the White Reef parking area (there's a bathroom). Begin the ride by hopping back on the road, crossing the creek, and riding about 1/2 mile to the trailhead at GPS N 37 12.574' W 113 24.078'. Lift your bike over the step-over to the trail.

White Reef and Red Reef trailheads are BLM fee areas ($5 per car in 2022). These trailheads have bathrooms and water. The Red Reef trailhead (down the road toward the cliffs from White Reef) has camping and covered picnic facilities.


Cottonwood Trailhead:  Take the UT-9 exit from I-15 (highway 9 goes to Hurricane, Zion Canyon, Grand Canyon) about 15 miles north of St. George. Turn towards Hurricane and pass Coral Canyon. Instead, drive to the traffic light in 0.7 miles. Turn left on Old Highway 91. Now go exactly 2 miles north. Watch on your left for a gravel road that enters a tiny single-lane slot under the freeway, with a sign that says "Cottonwood Trailhead". It will be between a beer warehouse labeled Winkel Distributing and a Rocky Mountain Power office. Turn left and drive 0.25 miles under both lanes of the freeway to reach the trailhead. Follow the Cottonwood Trail 0.5 miles then veer left at two forks that are about 50 feet apart. The Prospector Trail will parallel the freeway heading south 3 miles. If you want, turn left when it intersects the Church Rocks Loop and ride the loop clockwise. The ride will be about 11 miles.
Silver Reef:  Take the Silver Reef I-15 exit and head west, following the signs to Silver Reef. Find the parking area just south of the Wells Fargo building N 37 15.142' W 113 22.028'. Work southwest on dirt roads.
Grapevine Trailhead:  On I-15 just north of Washington, take exit 13 for Washington Parkway. Turn north on Washington Parkway toward the mountain (left if you're coming from St.G). The road will end immediately after the northern off-ramp. Continue straight onto dirt (note: will change as area develops). 100 yards later, pass through fence and park. N37 08.981 W113 29.430. The ride starts on the dirt road that's to your right as you go through the fence, heading northeast parallel to the freeway. As the road turns west (left), find the singletrack trail that continues north. Follow it to the top of the hill. Straight ahead is a steep rocky plunge into the wash. If you go left 1/4 mile, there's an alternate trail that's a calmer smoother ride. It will take you down through the wash to the southwest corner of the Church Rocks Loop. To get directly to Prospector, fork right.
Riding resources for this trail:
One-page riding guide for this trail
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Red Cliffs Recreation Area multi-track file
   Tracks for Silver Reef dirt road  link:  GPX 
High-Res topo map:  View   Red Cliffs area map:  View
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to St. George area resources

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Updated 2017