Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

Yep, that’s a desert tortoise in the wild!

We are hesitant to even put this adventure online for two reasons: 1) It is impossible to ever go to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Area and spot a desert tortoise, and 2) we worry that people may disturb the tortoises if they miraculously manage to see one. So we’ll start this entry with two stern warnings.


First, don’t expect to see a tortoise.


Second, if you actually do see a tortoise, stay a reasonable distance back. It is a crime to touch an endangered tortoise (unless you can prove you are moving it out of harms way, like off the highway).


The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was set aside in 2009 in order to provide a refuge for several endangered animals, including the mojave desert tortoise. The Area is 45,000 acres (about 120 square miles), which is one reason you won’t see a tortoise– math is deadset against it. A Visitor’s Center has been set up in St. George, but we actually didn’t go there. Instead, we accessed the reserve in the north part of Hurricane, UT by simply walking through a gate (see instructions below).


Here’s our story: We arrived at the preserve a few hours before dark. There is no parking area, we just pulled to the side of the road and parked when we saw a gate. As we were preparing for a short hike, we saw a few locals walking and jogging into the area. We excitedly asked if any of them had ever seen a desert tortoise in the preserve, and they just chuckled. Clearly none of them had ever seen a desert tortoise (and neither will you). We opened the gate and crossed the threshhold– presumably placed there to keep the tortoises, (which you can’t see) off of the highway.

The gate to enter Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
The gate to enter Red Cliffs Desert Reserve–see the barrier to keep the tortoises in!

I leaned over to my wife and said, “You know, it is impossible to see a tortoise here, but I really want to try.” She responded, “I know that. Let me know when you’ve come to terms with it.”


Just then, our 9 year-old shouted: “There’s a tortoise!” and sure enough, we saw a mojave desert tortoise not 15 paces from the gate, though this is statistically impossible in a 45,000 acre preserve.

We watched him slowly walk around for quite awhile, mostly with our mouths open in shock!

We were so excited and took a few pictures. We were certain that there must be tortoises everywhere since that one was so easy to spot, so we continued down the trail, looking under every bush and rock. We searched for over an hour (staying on the trail), but of course, we didn’t see any more tortoises. They’re impossible to see. So don’t even bother…

We never did spot any other tortoises, but we did try!
We never did spot any other tortoises, but we did try!

To access the preserve from Hurricane’s main road (State Street) take 200 w North. Turn west onto 600 N and follow to about 600 W and watch for a gate on the side of the road. There is another gate a few blocks before this one if you’d like to park and enter there.

You can see how close we are to the road in this picture. It was a miracle we spotted this guy!

There are lots of access points to the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and we have a list of places we would like to try next time we head to St. George. Here are some other adventures you can attempt in the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve:


  1. Red Cliffs Recreation Area: This is probably the most well known section of the preserve with hikes to dinosaur tracks, waterfalls, and archaeological digs, as well as camping spots and picnic areas. There is a fee for this section. Read more…
  2. Babylon Arch: This was a hike we were hoping to do if we had time (which we didn’t because we always over plan our trips). It is a 1.5 mile hike to a pretty cool arch that you can walk right under. Read more…
  3. Red Cliffs Desert Preserve Visitor Center: This is a FREE museum with live animals and exhibits to teach about the desert habit. It is located in St. George. Read More…
  4. Pioneer Park: This is the most talked about park in St. George. There are lots of fun things to explore in this park like arches, a slot crack to squeeze through, and slick rock to climb. This park lies inside the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve. Read More…
  5. For more info about hikes and places to enter the preserve, visit the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve website.

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