Through a Guide's Eyes: Exploring Candy Cliffs

HIKING A HIDDEN GEM IN SOUTHERN UTAH

Through a Guide's Eyes: Exploring Candy Cliffs
Photos by Don Gilman
by Don Gilman

Southern Utah is known for its striking rock formations, deep canyons, and towering mountains, but even among all this beauty and wonder, there are a few special spots that stand out. The Candy Cliffs, a hidden gem about 45 minutes northeast of St. George, are one of those places.

As an adventure guide at Red Mountain Resort, introducing our guests to this special place is as rewarding as the journey itself. Knowing what awaits around each corner, I will often turn to watch the expressions on their faces, to see the wonder and delight unfold in their eyes.

Bright stripes of red stretch across a wild rocky plateau of yellow hoodoos, beehives, and towers – all of which is perched on top of a massive cliff with cascading views down to Cottonwood Canyon. Across this chasm, jagged peaks form a serrated ridge of Navajo sandstone. Vistas continue to Sand Hollow Reservoir in the distance, with its turquoise waters sparkling in the sun. Hidden petroglyphs carved by the ancient Native Americans known as the Ancestral Puebloans are waiting to be discovered.

A journey here is to enter a secret world. This area, also called Yant Flat, is often compared to northern Arizona’s famous Wave. But unlike that well-known treasure, the Candy Cliffs remain relatively quiet. Most days, you will have them to yourself, and there is no lottery to get permits.

Wandering in this special spot is a sacred experience and can set the imagination soaring as ravens and golden eagles glide overhead. Each corner turned, each ridge climbed brings new delights and expanding vistas of stunning beauty.

At the trailhead, hikers would be hard-pressed to believe what awaits them to the east. I often have a secret smile knowing what will soon unfold. A wooded, almost featureless plateau rises and falls as the trail wanders among pinyon pine and juniper trees. 

After crossing a sand dune at the crest of the plateau, the traveler gets a sense that something special is close as the sandy trail gives way to 190 million-year-old white sandstone. Following cairns (rock stacks) across the slickrock, the world suddenly plunges away as the first set of cliffs is reached, revealing the chasm. I watch and listen as guests gasp and their eyes widen as they try to drink in the scene before them. 

The journey then follows faint trails east along the edge of the escarpment, winding through a sandy forest with tantalizing glimpses appearing through the trees. In just a few short minutes, the eastern section of the Candy Cliffs reveals its full glory below.

A short descent on switchbacks along rocky ledges leads to the slickrock paradise that this spot is known for, and now hikers see up close the sublime and fantastic domes, fins, and hollows. Colors wrap around the rocks like ancient ribbons, and far down below there are hints of even more intriguing sights.

The journey moves slowly, allowing for contemplation and picture-taking, wrapping around cliffs to hidden viewpoints, descending gullies to find native carvings hundreds or even thousands of years old. The route scrambles down even further, and here the colors suddenly burst forth in wild swirls and stripes. Reaching the bottom of the cliffs, the route now heads north up a steep ridge, passing deposits of iron oxide that resemble fossils of sea creatures. 

On the crest of the ridge, the views open up over the heart of the Candy Cliffs, where nature’s show reaches its crescendo. Now it's time to have lunch, and stopping here to refuel allows visitors to soak in the unrestrained beauty of the area; a giant heart-shaped rock feature tucked into a hollow is a popular photo op. 

Here, I usually sit apart from our guests and allow them to discuss among themselves all the wonders they have seen, knowing that much more still remains.

After lunch, it’s time to finish the journey. The rusty stripes lead north, like a beacon leading to the penultimate display of beauty: towering cliffs on the left, banded with a dazzling array of color. A short, fun scramble up a gully leads to a set of hoodoos that resemble ancient architecture, full of windows and arches. 

At the top of this gully, I position myself to offer assistance up the steepest sections. For some, this moment may push them outside their comfort zones, but having completed the short climb, I recognize a happy, albeit relieved, look in their eyes as they realize they have done something they may not have thought possible.

Then it’s a gradual ascent back to the top of the Candy Cliffs, having made a complete loop to our starting point. One last look at the panorama of beauty. It’s special. Otherworldly. Sacred. Now it’s time to return to the path through the trees and back to the trailhead. Any trip here is over too fast. There’s always a sense of regret leaving this spot behind, but its memory will remain etched for years to come. 

When the journey is over, I always silently thank my guests for having been their guide, knowing that they will come away from the Candy Cliffs as new people – reborn in this sacred space, renewed in spirit, mind, and body.

About Don Gilman

Don Gilman is an adventure guide at Red Mountain Resort, writer, and filmmaker who spends his time roaming and exploring the mountains, cliffs, and canyons of southern Utah. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed mountains throughout the western United States, summiting some of the premier peaks in California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming. He is also the proud father of three children.

Book our Candy Cliffs excursion today! Contact our Reservations office at 877.246.4453 or reservations@redmtn.com.  

Candy Cliffs Hiking Adventure

HALF-DAY TRIP, AVAILABLE SEASONALLY, $135

Enjoy vistas of Zion National Park, the Grand Staircase, and the Pine Valley mountains. Hike on wave-like red sandstone, and keep an eye out for the heart-shaped rock formation. This is sure to be the highlight of your trip!Confident explorer hikers and above. Lunch included.