FATMAP difficulty grade
The Red Reef Slot Canyon, accessible from the Red Cliffs Conservation Area, is an incredibly gorgeous hike up a stunning red rock slot canyon with a stream flowing through its bottom.
The hike up Red Reef can have two distinct personalities.
In the most common and most popular version, hikers traverse a mellow trail to the bottom of a waterfall at a choke point in the canyon and, at the most difficult, climb up around the falls to explore the area just above. However, the entire Red Reef slot canyon measures 5.9 miles long.
It runs deep into the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness Area, connecting to more trails deep in the mountains and slots of Southern Utah.
Heading much beyond the waterfall turns Red Reef into a much more epic adventure that will require true canyoneering skills, wading through water, difficult route finding, and more.
Only venture on if you're truly prepared for an epic adventure! **Description for Basic Route:** From the trailhead, the hiking begins easy, winding its way past beautiful rock cliffs.
You'll notice the walls of the canyon slowly coming together.
As you approach the first stream crossing, the walls form Red Reef Canyon.
The further you hike, the more impressive the canyon walls become as they grow in height and the bottom of the canyon narrows in width. Along this middle section, you may have to cross the stream several times.
Even if there's water flowing through the bottom, you can usually hop across on stones quite easily.
However, note that in this wider section of canyon, there's quite a bit of trail braiding, and the main path is not always obvious.
That said, most of the paths will take you to the right place. Soon you'll find yourself walking along the edge of the water, marveling at the incredible beauty of the canyon.
All too soon, you'll arrive at the waterfall, which cascades off of a small cliff at a narrow point in the canyon, splashing into a pool below. This is a popular turnaround point, and choosing to turn back here makes for the easiest hike.
However, you'll notice some small steps carved into the canyon wall to climber's right of the falls.
You can use these steps to gain access to the stretch of canyon above the falls. Beyond the falls, you'll find yourself in a tranquil canyon valley filled with pools of water, green grass, and some surprisingly tall trees.
This small canyon feels like the Garden of Eden, removed from the stresses and concerns of the world.
Spend some time soaking in this small Eden and destressing from civilization. **More Advanced Route:** The route mapped here doesn't traverse the entire 12-mile round-trip canyon but instead heads up Quail Creek for an approachable ~3-mile out-and-back.
Despite the relatively short distance, the upper stretch of the canyon gets dramatically more difficult than the lower section. The route shown here begins by bypassing another crux move above the "Garden of Eden" by scrambling up the slickrock slabs to climber's right and then descending back into the slot after a series of waterfalls.
Alternatively, you could choose to commit to the slot by stemming up the falls, but it's a fair bit more difficult.
While the scramble is easier, the fall danger from the upper reaches is substantial. Once back in the slot, it's time to get wet! Only attempt this canyon in low water (and preferably hot mid-summer temperatures) because even during low water, you'll find holes that are up to your neck or that might require you to swim.
Despite the deep holes, most of the scrambles up the ledges or falls are fairly moderate if you apply some ingenuity. As mentioned, the route shown here heads up Quail Creek a ways before turning around and heading back down.
Alternatively, you could choose to head up the marked Red Reef trail in the OSM map, but the scrambling obstacles quickly get substantially larger.
After a short bit of scrambling up the Red Reef branch, the trail also gets incredibly faint, requiring a substantial amount of bushwhacking.
Exactly how big of an adventure you're in for is up to you!