The Whiterocks Amphitheater is a small but spectacular bowl set beneath numerous jagged peaks at the far northern end of Snow Canyon State Park
The Whiterocks Amphitheater is a small but spectacular bowl set beneath numerous jagged peaks at the far northern end of Snow Canyon State Park. The trail is short — less than half a mile one-way — making it ideal for young hikers. For those with a hankering for more than the short trail, the peaks ringing the bowl provide a step up in adventure without being particularly difficult and also reveal stunning views to the north and south. The only real drawback to the Whiterocks Amphitheater is the crowds. It is a very popular place, and it is not uncommon to to be sharing the path with a dozen or more pilgrims on a busy weekend. Yet on weekdays, it is also possible to have it completely to oneself.
Trail length: Whiterocks Amphitheater trail: .9 miles roundtrip. Peak #1 loop: 1.39 miles. Peak #2: 1.42 miles.
Elevation gain, Amphitheater: approximately 150 feet. Peak #1: 307 feet. Peak #2: 339 feet.
Family friendly: To the amphitheater, this is a perfect hike for little ones. For both peaks, older, confident children can easily make the climbs.
Time estimate: Amphitheater: 1 hour. Peaks #1 and #2: 1-2 hours
Equipment: Hiking boots or shoes (sticky rubber soles preferable for the peaks), food, water, wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera.
Guidebook: Eric Hansen’s “On and Off the Beaten Path: Hiking Routes Near St. George, Utah.”
Getting there: From the junction of Bluff Street and St. George Blvd, head north on Bluff for two miles, continuing north past the intersection with Red Hills Parkway/Snow Canyon Drive. Continue on state Route 18 for another 7.6 miles. The trailhead is half a mile north of the northern entrance to Snow Canyon State Park, on the west (left) side of the highway. It is a little tricky turning from a 65 mph zone on a highway into a small parking area, so be careful and use your blinkers well in advance, Note: This is a fee area, so make sure you have paid or else you could be ticketed.
Google Maps directions here.
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Amphitheater: From the trailhead, walk west on a good trail for .24 miles to a junction with an alternative Whiterocks Trail (which starts beside the booth at the north entrance to Snow Canyon State Park.) Take the right-hand fork and head towards the towering white wall of Peak #1. The trail will wrap around the north toe of the north ridge, which is the standard route up Peak #1. At around the .34 mile mark, scramble up some easy sandstone slabs to gain the small canyon which leads to the amphitheater. Head south through this gorgeous valley. Often there are shallow pools of water in the canyon floor. Peaks tower all above you. Soon you will reach a small dam which traps a larger pool of water. You have arrived. Take time to explore the perimeter of the amphitheater. On the south side of the bowl, a rocky saddle provides nice views of a deep slot canyon with vistas of Snow Canyon proper beyond. The west slope of the amphitheater has a good-sized sand dunes that children love to play in.
Peak #1: Same as above, except when you reach the toe of the north ridge, head up and left (instead of entering the canyon.) Scramble up steep-but-easy slabs for several hundred feet to gain the broad north ridge. Hike south towards the obvious summit block. Distance from the toe of the ridge to the base of the summit is approximately .2 miles. When you reach the block, scramble up to its base and contour towards the east (left.) Look for an east-facing cleft in the block and enter this gap, making a few easy scrambling moves to gain the top of the crag.
There are several options to descend this popular peak. The first is to reverse the route and return to the toe of the ridge, but I have always enjoyed descending to the west to gain the amphitheater instead. However, going this direction can lead to some steeper terrain, so it requires paying attention to find the easiest way down, following several ribs and slabs. If done right, the descent can be kept at class 2 – easy class 3. Using the GPS track I provide below may help.
Peak #2: Follow the trail into the amphitheater. Look to the northwest side of the bowl. Several ramps head in that direction, but it should be obvious which one is the easiest (use my GPS tracks if necessary.) Scramble up this until you reach a steep step. A couple of class 3 moves gets you to the upper section of the ramp. Continue up for a few hundred feet until the ramp peters out and you can head in a southwestern direction. Head across a sandstone plateau towards the peak, which towers above you. Aim for a saddle at the base of the peak on its right side. Easy scrambling leads to this point. The summit block looms overhead. Head up more easy ramps (again on the right side) to gain the base of the summit boulder. A few easy class 3 moves gets you to the summit. Return the way you came.
Further options: There are several more peaks, taller than Peaks #1 and #2, that can also be accessed via Whiterocks Amphitheater, including an epic peakbagging traverse that leads to Awesome Chasm and some fine pictographs. I will detail these routes in a later addition to this Beta Guide.
My story: I have been to the Whiterocks Amphitheater numerous times, perhaps more than any other outdoor site in southern Utah. For ease of access with stunning scenery and adventurous hi-jinx, it is almost without compare. I can scramble up Peaks #1 or 2 in less than an hour, and the larger peaks above in just a little more. I have also taken my kids there multiple times, with my littlest to play in the dunes and my two eldest to climb the peaks. I probably will never get sick of it.
There is no single moment there that stands out, it is more about the whole than the individual adventures. I suppose if I had to pick one it would be the time I took my eldest child, Toby, up Peak #1 for the first time. It was an enjoyable excursion, and I got some nice pictures of her on the summit, hands on hips, looking happy and in her element. But what makes that trip special is that a few months later, Toby attempted suicide. She hung herself and it was only by the grace of God that she survived. Over the next few weeks, I wrote a series of articles on my old blog, “Alpinedon,” in which I wrote letters to Toby telling him how much she meant to me, and I used that picture of Toby on top of Peak #1. That has always stuck with me, and reminds me of how fortunate I am that Toby is still alive.
Another, happier memory I have of Whiterocks is doing the Whiterocks to Awesome Chasm traverse. This is such a fun adventure, and I am really looking forward to doing it again. I only had a vague notion of how to go from Whiterocks to the chasm, but I decided to give it a go. This trip is an epic, peakbagging marathon that allows you to climb – depending on how you do it – anywhere from six to eight peaks. Additionally, you hike along the far northern rim of Snow Canyon, with absolutely stunning views down 1,000 foot high walls to the floor of the gorge below. The best views are at the end of the traverse when you reach Awesome Chasm, which lives up to its name. But the adventure doesn’t end there. Descending a cool-but-easy slot canyon deposits you on a wash, where sharp-eyed adventurers can spot a nice petroglyph panel.
This place has many (mostly) happy memories for me. I have come with each of my kids individually here, I have come with all of my family, and I have often come here alone when I have a spare hour and want to get up and down some peak in a short amount of time.
I am sure I will be going back soon.
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