Red Reef Waterfall is a very popular hike near Leeds, Utah. Though the drought is affecting the amount of water currently at Red Reef, the hike features a broad slot canyon with several obstacles and waterfalls. This hike has a few pinchpoints that may be difficult for some hikers, but it is generally considered safe. You may end up wet if you make a mistake! We enjoyed the adventurous Red Reef Waterfall trail.
- Distance: 1.0 mile RT to first waterfall, 1.5 mile RT to second waterfall. You can go further up the canyon.
- Rating: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 100 feet
- Dog-Friendly: Yes, but dogs must remain on leash
- Fees: $5 Day Use Fee (National Park Annual Passes accepted)
- Tips: Go early or late in the day to avoid crowds.
The trailhead for Red Reef Waterfall is at Red Cliffs Recreation Area Campground. There is limited parking, especially on a busy summer day, so we recommend arriving early or late for this hike. Between 10 in the morning and dinner time, this hike is quite crowded!
The trailhead is clearly marked as you enter the campground and branches up and to the left of the road. It remains relatively flat and easy to follow for the first quarter mile. Eventually, you come to the first waterfall, which was dry when we visited, but may be running depending on time of year and recent storms. Stagnant pools of water can be found in the low areas along the trail. This first obstacle is easy to avoid if you head up the hill to the left. We went down near the water and climbed on the rocks, but the trail easily bypasses the first waterfall if you choose.
After that first waterfall, the trail narrows down a bit. It winds into a fairly broad slot canyon. This part of the trail is really pretty, and most hikers should be able to make it this far. About a half mile from the trailhead, the canyon widens out into a large bowl on the right hand side. The bowl is nice to explore and climb around, but there isn’t any feasible trail as you follow it around. Most traffic goes left at this point into a second slot canyon.
The trail continues to follow the water’s path and after a few turns comes to an obstacle that is a great turn around point for hikers that don’t like to get wet. This obstacle is a climb up some slick rock along the side of another pinch point waterfall. There is really no way to ascend other than the short climb with the rope and carefully using carved footholds to go around the slickrock.
Our entire family accomplished this, including our 8-year-old. If one were to fall on this section, they’d have a short scrape along the rocks, and then a cold dunking in the water, so proceed with caution! Children need to be able to climb this section on their own because there isn’t really a good way to help them, so we do not encourage taking young kids up the steps. You will almost certainly have to wait your turn at this point in your journey.
Beyond the second Red Reef waterfall, the trail continues up the wash. It is a short, but beautiful hike in the rocky bottom until the trail again turns to the right around some steep sandstone. At this point, you have a bit of a balancing act. You’ll want to stay out of the narrow water channel, but not climb too high up the slick sandstone walls. If you climb too high, you won’t be able to make it down to the canyon floor safely. This is another turn around point, as there is a bit of danger in this area.
The final obstacle is a third waterfall, dry when we visited over Spring Break, and the only way to ascend is straight up the chute. It is only about 8-10 feet, but it is as slick as glass and there are no handholds. If you can boost someone up and have them pull up the rest of the crew, you’ve got a chance. Someone told us that there has been a log in the chute to help you scramble up, but we had no such aid on our visit. This was the toughest part of the trail for us, and we helped many other hikers get up the steep, slick rocks.
That last obstacle is more for fun than to continue up the canyon. Beyond it, the walls begins to peter out, and not many people seem to go much farther. We made a short trek about another quarter mile, but everything interesting was behind us. At that point there isn’t much to do other than turn around and head back they way you came.
Red Reef Waterfall is a classic hike in Utah that everyone should do at least once. It has similar features to Kanarraville Falls, though it was much drier when we visited. Still, this hike is one of Utah’s best known.
From the North: take 1-15 to exit 23 (Leeds). Head west (left) off the freeway and turn right onto Highway 91/Main Street. Go south for 3.5 miles and turn right at sign for Silver Reef and Red Cliffs Recreation Area. You will drive under the freeway twice through two narrow tunnels (there are vehicle restrictions for these tunnels). Follow the paved road to the left for 1.3 miles into the Red Cliffs Recreation Area Campground.
From the South: take I-15 north to exit 22 and go right. Tun right onto Main St. Follow south for 2 miles and then turn turn right right at sign for Silver Reef and Red Cliffs Recreation Area. You will drive under the freeway twice through two narrow tunnels (there are vehicle restrictions for these tunnels). Follow the paved road to the left for 1.3 miles into the Red Cliffs Recreation Area Campground.