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Rusty Cliffs

The Rusty Cliffs trail starts on the edge of St George, running to the northwest along Highway 18. Embedded rocks, stiff climbs, and a stretch of deep sand make it an upper-intermediate ride. The payoff is nice views of orange Navajo Sandstone cliffs and a trail that's relatively free of other riders. But -- let's say this right away -- few riders go here, and of those who do, the "reviews" are usually negative.

Looking northwest. The trail is in the center, with basalt plugs to the left and Navajo sandstone on the skyline. Photos and review by Bruce on February 10, 2022.

Rusty Cliffs starts on the City Creek trail, about 1/10th mile from where City Creek ends on the Red Cliffs Parkway trail. After passing underneath the Parkway, it heads northwest, roughly parallel to Highway 18 (the continuation of St George's Bluff Street and the highway to Veyo and Enterprise). The northwest end has a small trailhead just off the highway.

An out-and-back ride on Rusty Cliffs is 1000 feet of climbing and 7.5 miles round trip.

Step-over at the northwest end of the trail on Highway 18.

The Rusty Cliffs trail is 3.7 miles long, angling slightly downhill overall from north to south. Much of the elevation change is near the northern end, just uphill from the long area of deep sand. When done from the Highway 18 trailhead southbound, there will be 650 feet of descending and 350 feet of climbing. That's ride option #1: start at the top. You will spend almost all of mile 0.6 to mile 1.0 walking your bike in sand.

At the bottom of Rusty Cliffs, you can take City Creek out to the paved trail and climb uphill on pavement. (There's a spot on the paved path along Highway 18 where you can cross to the highway near the Rusty Cliffs trailhead, making a loop ride.) Or ride the City Creek trail before climbing back up Rusty Cliffs.

Some stretches of trail show improvements such as these rock "lane markers" around the middle of the trail.

Most riders -- of the few who venture here -- start from the City Creek trail and ride northwest on Rusty Cliffs. They will then turn around when the riding gets ugly -- usually around mile 2.5 from City Creek where they hit the sand. This little mini out-and-back is actually a fun bit of riding, but it's definitely not for casual riders. I found that it's also easier to avoid the "oops guess I lost the trail" surprises when riding uphill from City Creek.

There are periodic carsonite trail markers. If you can see one ahead, it can help you stay on the right riding line where the trail isn't quickly obvious.

Because the ride runs parallel to Highway 18, you'll hear traffic noise for most of your ride. This is a busy highway, and engines are roaring as trucks climb uphill. There are only a couple of meanders where the trail takes you far enough away from the road noise that it stops being annoying.

Looking west from the trail at the Veyo highway.

As mentioned above, this is not a popular trail. So at times, such as after a rainstorm, it can be hard to identify the trail path from other random spaces between the brittle sage. Add to that: 1/2 mile of hike-a-bike sand near the northern end. In addition, the trail is old and the alignment was optimized for horses, not bikes. But I had a good time riding it.

The trail climbs toward Navajo sandstone cliffs. This view is heading uphill (riding away from City Creek).

Downhill instructions:

From the northern trailhead (see directions below), the trail drops through volcanic boulders to a sandy wash crossing 1/10th mile later. If you're a good sand rider, you can float through this one. It then climbs through brittle sage to a low ridge. Watch the trail. This is a spot where it's easy to lose it.

Heading southeast on Rusty Cliffs, shortly after dropping away from the trailhead. Not the most defined trail I've ever seen, but here it's not hard to follow.

Here the trail falls off the ridge -- first on open rock, then on a narrow and eroded path. (This is the spot where I feel the trail should have been taken uphill to the edge of the sandstone outcrops, completely bypassing the sand.) The trail crosses a sandy but rideable wash and rolls over a low rise.

Dropping off the first ridge. After the sandstone, the trail gets steep, eroded, and narrow. Not bad descending, but a bugger to climb uphill on the way back!

The trail then descends into a sandy wash at mile 0.5 and turns to the right to follow the bottom of that wash downhill. Begin hiking. Look for the carsonite post down the wash on the left side. That's your target for getting out of the wash.

Once you've climbed out of the wash, however, more sand awaits you. The next 1/3 mile is deep and soft. There may be some spots that you can float, but it's hardly worth it. Expect a long slog.

Looking back at my tire track and footprints in the wash.

At the next wash, find your way uphill to the trail. (There were some alternate lines here as horsemen have tried to find their way. I suggest crossing to the far shoulder of the wash and going uphill about 60 feet where you can turn and climb to a pretty decent trail.) If more riders are using the trail, it will become easier to find your way. You're now at mile 1.0.

Carsonite post and a view of sandstone hills and volcanic hills ahead.

Dump the sand out of your shoes and socks now, because you're done with that! At least until you hit it again on the way back.

Next comes another stretch of volcanic boulders to weave through and bounce over. The trail will curve away from the road and down through a wash called Twist Hollow. On the far side you'll dip through a ravine that screams for a ride-around. We're at mile 1.4 as you pass through Twist Hollow.

Descending into Twist Hollow. Another short bit of sandstone. Some tough riding coming up on the other side.

Now the riding becomes more of a cruise, as the trail is more obvious and relatively smooth. You'll drop elevation gently but steadily. Reaching a flat area, you'll cross an area of slate-gray dirt before catching an old pioneer road. The trail will then contour around another wash and climb toward the Red Hills Parkway (formerly Turtle Road and Skyline Drive).

Head into the culvert and pass under the road. On the other side of the culvert, there's a steep bench-cut to get up above the road. The trail then turns east.

Following the old road alignment around a ravine as we get close to Turtle Road (now a four-land divided highway called Red Hills Parkway).

Here's how you avoid traffic. Under the road in a culvert.

Looking down into the excavation on the east side of the road. 

After about 1/4 mile, Rusty Cliffs ends on the City Creek trail. To continue on City Creek to the main parking area, keep straight. To exit to the paved parkway trail, make a 150-degree hard left and go 1/10th mile.

Looking west on the trail (middle of photo), with the Chuckwalla trailhead across Highway 18 from us.

Bottom Line:
I first rode Rusty Cliffs around 20 years ago. I did only the lower mile and decided it wasn't worthy of an independent write-up and included it as a "well, there's this but don't bother" on the City Creek trail page. I've changed my mind. Yes, the upper end of the Rusty Cliffs trail has problems. And those problems keep riders away, resulting in a trail that's hard to follow. But the lower 2.5 miles is fine riding. And if more bike tires get onto this trail, maybe the Desert Preserve folks would authorize some work to make Rusty Cliffs awesome. So, bottom line is, at this time Rusty Cliffs would be one of the last trails you'd ride in the St George area, after you're bored with everything else.

The trail is on the left side of the photo. You can see how a heavy rain would make every open spot between the brush look just like the trail.

Editorial:  Rusty Cliffs could become an excellent ride if the trail were to be tweaked. Well, two or three short tweaks and one long re-route. The tweaks are needed where the trail plunges straight down the fall line into a wash, then straight up the other side (this is a "my horse prefers to take the slope head-on and it's the shortest path" alignment and is erosion prone and dangerous to riders and trail runners). For example on the eastern side of Twist Hollow, about 200 feet of new trail could contour around one problematic ravine crossing, creating a more sustainable and rideable lie. The big re-route would involve taking the trail to the northeast around the big half-mile sand pit. Running along the edge of the hill above the flat would create 3/4 mile of new trail that would be awesome for bikes and hikers. The current lines could be designated as the equestrian option, similar to what Kanab did with Tom's Canyon.

Climbing uphill, heading back on the down-and-up ride.

Getting there, Highway 18 (northern) trailhead:  On Bluff Street northbound in St George, take the lanes designated as for Highway 18 to Enterprise and Veyo. From that Snow Canyon interchange, continue uphill for around 2.8 miles. Watch for a gravel road on your right. Turn and immediately find a spot to park (do NOT proceed past the gate on the gravel road). There's space for a couple of cars on the uphill side, with a step-over gate to the trail on the downhill side.

Pioneer Hills trailhead (connecting via City Creek): From St. George Blvd (the main drag), head north on Main Street (towards the "Dixie" painted on the big rock above the cliffs). When you reach Hope Street, turn right, then immediately take the left fork and climb Skyline Drive to the top of the cliffs. Turn left on Red Hills Parkway (labeled Skyline Drive on some city maps, and still called Turtle Road by many locals). After the top of the hill, turn right into the parking area. The trail starts across the road. Find the paved (cement) trail descending north and crossing under the parkway. Turn left (back uphill) on the Red Hills Parkway Trail. After 1/10th mile, look for the stepover gate. Pedal City Creek trail to mile 2.5, then veer to the left at an unmarked fork. If you arrive at the paved parkway trail, backtrack 1/10th mile.

Trail entry from the Red Hills Parkway trail:  At the intersection of Red Hills Parkway (where it becomes Snow Canyon Parkway) and Bluff Street, exit the Snow Canyon paved trail to head east uphill on the paved Red Hills Parkway Trail. After 1/4 mile, find the step-over gate to the City Creek trail. Pedal 1/10th mile, then make a hard 150-degree right turn onto a smaller trail, which is Rusty Cliffs.

Bathrooms:  None
Water:  None

Riding resources for this trail:
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
     Area multi-track file
Maps of trail system for printing:  Rusty Cliffs as above   City Creek
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to St. George area resources

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