The Prospector Trail is a delightful desert romp near red
cliffs of Navajo Sandstone. The trail begins on the north near Leeds, about 15 miles
north of St. George, and continues southwest to Washington. The trail lies
in the Red
Cliffs Desert Reserve. The riding is easy and can be done by beginning
cyclists (with a few hike-overs).
View from a low hill we just climbed,
looking back to the north. This is on the White Reef to Cottonwood Canyon
section. Photos June 25, 2002 by Bruce.
Latest page update 2017.
The Prospector Trail is 6 miles long, for a relatively long-ish
12-mile out-and-back. But there are two intermediate trailheads in the
middle of the trail, allowing less-strong riders to break up the ride into
smaller bites. The most popular parking spot is the Cottonwood Trailhead
located just west of I-15 north of the SR-9 exit. Further north, the White
Reef trailhead is across the freeway from Harrisburg along the road to the
Red Rocks recreation area.
Much of the trail is twisting, high-speed desert
The trailheads at Prospector's far north and south are actually less developed (as of
2016). They also present a significantly-greater navigation challenge. At
the north end, the Silver Reef trail access can be a bit hard to find, so the
Harrisburg-to-Silver Reef leg is best done south-to-north.
At the southern end, the Grapevine trailhead connects to a path over a
steepish hill to reach Prospector near the Church
Rocks loop. There are two trails down the north side of this hill, and
most riders take the uglier route. (See below in the trailhead info
Handlebar view as we head towards the
Navajo sandstone cliffs. The cactus is a cholla.
There's about 300
feet of altitude change over the six miles from Church Rocks to Silver
Reef, but the up-and-down adds another 300 vertical feet. The full 12-mile
out-and-back has 900 vertical feet of total climbing.
The most popular "Prospector Trail" ride uses only the piece
between the Cottonwood Trailhead and Church
Rocks (where riders do a loop before heading back for an 11-mile
ride). But let's cover all your ride options...
There's a bit of rock here and there. Here Bruce
Prospector from Silver Reef to White Reef Some riders begin
this ride at Silver Reef. From the
gravel parking area just south of the Wells Fargo building, N 37° 15.142' W 113°
22.028', work southwest on dirt roads. Drop into the small valley heading
south. Stay southbound, approximately level, at a few confusing forks.
Southbound over the handlebars of a Rocky Mountain
final fork offers two routes: high and low, which rejoin near the end.
You'll arrive at the White Reef parking area 3 miles after leaving Silver
Reef. From here, head
down the paved road and turn towards the Red Rock area to find the
continuing singletrack. [ Track
Files for Silver Reef to Harrisburg: GPX
Silver Reef ]
Although there's one horrendous back-your-bike set of
cliffs, most of the rock "ledges" are small and easy.
White Reef to Cottonwood Canyon
Find the trail on the south side of the road and climb up the small hill
to start heading south again. This leg will be about 2.5 miles. Here there
are a few low hills to climb, with the largest as you climb away from the
trail intersection in Cottonwood Canyon. (Note that the trails going
westbound enter the wilderness area and are closed to bikes.)
Those mountains -- solid rock!
As signs are prone to disappear, the complex trail intersection at mile 2.5, N 37°
11.258' W 113° 25.429', requires some explanation. As of 2007, as you pull up to the
base of the ridge you'll see the Cottonwood Canyon Trail, a very buff trail heading
level up the canyon (this trail is closed to bikes about 1 mile uphill).
Go left up a broad trail to the top of the ridge. Take a hard right (uphill) at
the top of the hill. Prospector has joined the Cottonwood Ridge Trail. About 100
feet later, fork left (toward St.George) to continue on Prospector at N
37° 11.202' W 113° 25.457'.
High speed cruising.
At the top of the climb out of Cottonwood Canyon, keep as straight
south as you can. The trail(s) to your left head down to the Cottonwood
trailhead 1/3 mile away. The trail heading west uphill to the right
follows the rim of Cottonwood Canyon. So if you're coming from the north,
you won't actually pass through the Cottonwood Trailhead.
Cottonwood to Church Rocks
If you started at the Cottonwood trailhead, you'll veer south as you reach
the trail intersection. At first, the trail doesn't seem wonderful. But
after a bit of rock and a nasty descent into the wash, Prospector settles
into a swooping twisting desert ribbon that's a riot to ride.
View to the west.
In 2.5 miles, you'll reach the Church Rocks fork. Head left to continue
south on Prospector, or to do the Church Rocks loop clockwise (my
favorite). Prospector will split away from Church Rocks in a wash bottom
about 1/2 mile later. But if you want, you can continue on Church Rocks
and still connect to Prospector at two locations at the far south end of
More slickrock as we approach Church
Rocks in the south.
The trail rocks and rolls through the desert, dropping
through washes and hugging the edge of sandstone ledges. It's a fun ride,
and (except for one spot where the trail drops over a tricky ledge) not
scary. There are constant eye-candy views of the cliffs.
View as the trail hits some areas of
Connecting to Washington, routes A-D: When you hit
the main east-west wash below the southern end of the Church Rocks Loop, you have
several options to get into Washington. This would be of interest mainly for
shuttled pampered riders doing a point-to-point ride.
A. Go down
the wash and through the tunnel under the freeway. Really. Jog downhill a
bit, then climb up the mesa to your left. Follow the gravel road east and
find a paved bike trail dropping off the mesa into Coral Canyon. Go east until
you find Telegraph Road then turn right.
B. Hike a tiny distance up the wash, and
find the Grapevine Trail heading up over the hill. Expect to hike-a-bike. Keep left past two
trails. At the border of the Reserve, catch the doubletrack down to Buena
C. Start out as in (B), but at the second fork, go right
up the Grapevine Trail, then left on the Dino Tracks Trail. When you reach
the water tank, drop down the dirt road to Buena Vista.
D. Ride clockwise onto Church Rocks. At the far southwest corner of the loop is
a fork on slickrock. Right takes you north uphill on Church Rocks. Left and
slightly downhill will connect to a trail that climbs up the hill to the south.
At the top of the hill, fork left and go 1/4 mile. Then fork right as the trail
connects to the Grapevine trail at the top of the hill
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Getting there, White Reef trailhead: Take the Leeds exit from I-15.
If you're going southbound, drive through Leeds to reach the northbound
I-15 Leeds exit. Go south from the southbound I-15 exit 1.8 miles. Turn
left on a narrow paved road and go under the freeway. Turn right and park
in the White Reef parking area (there's a bathroom). Begin the ride by
hopping back on the road, crossing the creek, and riding about 1/2 mile to
the trailhead at GPS N
37° 12.574' W 113° 24.078'. Lift your bike over the step-over to the
Cottonwood Trailhead: Take the UT-9 exit from I-15
(highway 9 goes to Hurricane, Zion Canyon, Grand Canyon) about 15 miles north of St.
George. Turn towards Hurricane and pass Coral Canyon. Instead, drive to
the traffic light in 0.7 miles. Turn left on Old Highway 91. Now go exactly 2
miles north. Watch on your left for a gravel road that enters a tiny single-lane
slot under the freeway, with a sign that says "Cottonwood Trailhead".
It will be between a beer warehouse labeled Winkel Distributing and a Rocky Mountain Power
office. Turn left and drive 0.25 miles under both lanes of the freeway to reach the
trailhead. Follow the Cottonwood Trail 0.5 miles then veer left at two forks
that are about 50 feet apart. The Prospector Trail will parallel the freeway
heading south 3 miles. If you want, turn left when it intersects the Church Rocks Loop and
ride the loop clockwise. The ride will be about 11 miles. Silver Reef: Take the Silver Reef I-15 exit and head west,
following the signs to Silver Reef. Find the parking area just south of
the Wells Fargo building N 37° 15.142' W 113° 22.028'. Work southwest on dirt roads. Grapevine Trailhead: On I-15 just north of Washington, take
exit 13 for Washington Parkway. Turn north on Washington Parkway toward
the mountain (left if you're coming from St.G). The road will end
immediately after the northern off-ramp. Continue straight onto dirt
(note: will change as area develops). 100 yards later, pass through fence
and park. N37 08.981 W113 29.430. The ride starts on the dirt road that's
to your right as you go through the fence, heading northeast parallel to
the freeway. As the road turns west (left), find the singletrack trail
that continues north. Follow it to the top of the hill. Straight ahead is
a steep rocky plunge into the wash. If you go left 1/4 mile, there's an
alternate trail that's a calmer smoother ride. It will take you down
through the wash to the southwest corner of the Church Rocks Loop. To get
directly to Prospector, fork right.