From Sand Hollow State Park and Hurricane, the peak really stands out as a towering cone, and as one approaches the peak from the north, it becomes an intimidating sight
All hail the nipple! Mollie’s Nipple is a fun “little” peak visible from all over Washington County, although it sometimes blends in with the taller peaks and mesas to the east. It is composed primarily of limestone but has a cap of basalt on its summit plateau. On a recent trip to the Kolob Terrace, I was surprised to realize I could view it from that far away. From Sand Hollow State Park and Hurricane, the peak really stands out as a towering cone, and as one approaches the peak from the north, it becomes an intimidating sight. I imagine inexperienced hikers probably question their sanity when viewing the steep trail switchbacking up the north side. And while it is steep, it is essentially a trail the whole way, with just a few sections of easy scrambling.
Trail length: 3.25 miles roundtrip (I have seen a variety of lengths listed, but this was the approximate distance using my Garmin GPS.)
Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
Family friendly: I took my then-7-year-old son on this hike and he did fine, but most young kids wouldn’t enjoy the grueling nature of the ascent.
Time estimate: 2-5 hours
Equipment needed: Hiking boots or shoes, 2-4 liters of water, food, weather-appropriate clothing, trekking poles and a camera.
Guidebook: Eric Hansen’s “On and Off the Beaten Path”.
Getting there: From Interstate 15, exit 8 in St. George, head north for approximately 7.1 miles. Take exit 16 towards Hurricane and Zion National Park, and drive 8.9 miles. At South 700 W., turn right and drive south for 2.4 miles. When the road ends at a junction, turn left onto 540 West. Take an almost immediate right onto South 675 W. Drive for .2 miles. Turn left onto a dirt road. Look for a spot to park.
Google Maps directions here.
The hike: From the parking area, look for a rickety gate to the south. Pass through the gate (making sure to close it behind you) and drop down into the wash on a good trail. The path will almost immediately launch steeply up the mountain. There will be little respite for the next 1,000 feet. There is little in the way of routefinding on this ascent. The trail is well-traveled and obvious. At about .18 miles, the trail reaches a saddle beside a rocky outcrop. I recommend taking the time to scramble to the top of this crag and enjoy the views.
The only spot where one could get off track is a junction at about .3 miles, where a trail heading towards Hidden Canyon diverts to the east. I haven’t done this side trip yet, but I hear it is delightful.
Continue heading uphill. Look for neat veins of unusual crystals and fossils. I have found a couple of cool crinoid fossils here. After about .5 miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain, the second set of prominent rock crags is reached. The trail will scramble over a few easy rock steps, and then will return to being a dirt path. Keep grinding away, it doesn’t get any easier for a while. Despite the grueling ascent, make sure to take time to turn around and take in the awesome views. The length of the Pine Valley Mountain range lies to the west, while Hurricane looks like a toy town below you. On a day when the planes are flying, it is fun to watch them approach the airport below you.
At approximately 1.3 miles (and around 1,000 feet of elevation gain), the summit plateau will be reached. Let out a (winded) cheer. You have almost made it. Head south across this flat sagebrush plain, where the rocks abruptly become black basalt. I have read that despite its conical appearance, Mollie’s Nipple is not volcanic, but part of an ancient lava flow. Makes sense to me, since the summit cap is columnar basalt. For approximately half a mile, the trail leads across the flattish plateau. Enjoy the short respite, as there is one final, steep climb to the summit. The trail heads almost straight up to a weakness in the summit cliffs, and a few easy class 2 moves of scrambling lead to the apex of Mollie’s Nipple.
Views abound, down to Sand Hollow and Sand Mountain, towards Washington City, the Pine Valley mountains, Zion, Gooseberry Mesa, Smithsonian Butte and Canaan Mountain. It is truly an awe-inspiring sight. Take a breather. You’ve earned it. Return the way you came, just save a little stamina for the descent, because your legs will surely be tired and your joints sore by the time you return to the parking area.
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My story: I have climbed Mollie’s Nipple three times. It is one of my favorite hikes in the area. It is challenging and a great way to train for bigger mountains. The first time I came I was alone, the second I was with my son, and most recently I hiked it in early February in 2017, again solo. This time, however, I brought my DSLR video rig, my rather heavy tripod and my GoPro. This definitely made the climb a little more difficult, as if I needed to make it harder, but I was determined to get some good footage with my new 28-135 mm wide-angle lens. As readers of this website know, I try to have videos for most of my hikes, and having been here before, I wanted to put something nice together.
However, being a one-man film crew meant I had to set up my shot, hike away from or towards the camera and then return, meaning I added a lot of extra mileage to my hike. But man, was it worth it, as I got some fantastic shots and I ended up really happy with my video (see below). I took so much footage, in fact, that I was running out of battery life for both my cameras when I reached the summit.
On the way back down, a flock of magnificent (I think) western bluebirds. I had already put my cameras away, and I considered trying to get it out of my pack and get some more footage, but I decided against it. This was a ‘pet the whale’ moment (to understand what I mean, watch the Great Courses lecture series on photography by Joel Sartore). I stood stock-still for a few moments and just quietly watched these gorgeous avians. It is moments like this that add a sublime counterpoint to all the sweat and toil, and remind me to slow down and be present, even if it is for just a short time.