St. George, Utah – The Vortex (Bowl) Hike


What? :

The Vortex is unique phenomena where many years of erosion by water dissolving the rock created deep round pothole in the colorful Navajo sandstone.

Although that the Vortex pothole are probably the hike highlight this hike is not only about the pothole, the vast view from the top of the ridge and the hike itself is very rewording.

This 2.5-mile moderate out and back hike (500ft elevation gain) will take about 2 hours to complete, depending on how much time you are staying at the Vortex and viewpoint.

Highly recommended hike.



Where? :

This hike is located 22 miles west of St. George, not so far from Gunlock State Park and Lake and the small town of Gunlock.

From St. George drive west on W. Old Highway 91 and keep driving on Gunlock Dr. to the lake (state park).

After arriving the Gunlock State Park entrance (on your left) keep driving for 1.9 mile and just before crossing the river you will see a clear and wide dirt road entrance on your right, this will be Lower Send Cove Rd.

Drive on this road for 2.8 mile up to the lava mesa above and you and you will see on your right the small parking lot (right after passing old water canal).

You can find other trails leading up but this is the preferred hike trail head.

Google Map Link



When? :

The trail is open year-round.

During the winter the trail and the rocks can be covered by snow, less recommended time to visit because you will not see the beautiful colors of the sandstone rock.



Due note 1: The Trail is expose to the sun and does not have any shade; it is not recommended for mid-day hot summer months.


Due note 2: The route is relatively easy to follow, look for cairns when climbing up the “valley”.


Due note 3: There is no cell service at the trailhead, download map in advance.


Due note 4: This hike is not long and can be done also by kids, the climb is overall moderate.


Due note 5: The hike is located on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, No Permit Required and no fee.


Due note 6: To the best of my understanding dogs are allowed on this trail.


Due note 7: No Restroom or any other facilities available at the trailhead.


Due note 8: The best time to visit here is late afternoon, just before sunset.


Due note 9: Although this is not a very “famous” destination it is well known prime destination for locals, so it can be crowded. When we visit here mid-week spring, late in the afternoon we saw only 2 other groups in this hike.


Due note 10: There are some hiking options to walk over the ridgeline, but this is involved with walking over exposed rocks over high cliffs and are not so much recommended. Follow the marked trail, enjoy the view and nature and be safe.


Due note 11: I would not recommend walking down to the Vortex itself, you can find it challenging to climb it up by yourself without a rope.


Due note 12: The dirt road leading to the trailhead is well maintained dirt road that any car can do.


Due note 13: You can combine this hike with visiting/camping at the nearby Gunlock State Park and waterfall. When we visit here, we did not have the time to visit the waterfall and we saw from the road that the water were not flowing so we head directly to the Vortex hike.




My thoughts:

This is probably one of the most rewording short hikes near St. George Utah.

The unique shape of the Vortex itself, the colorful Navajo sandstone, and the view, especially near sunset is very nice.




The Hike:

From the parking lot the trail is clearly marked by sighs.

If you will look up and south you will see on the other side of the river the red-white sandstone tall hills, the far-end of this ridge is the direction of the hike destination. Do not worry you are not climbing directly up the steep hills and the trail find a moderate way to climb up.

View of the parking lot from the Vortex (using a zoom):

Start to follow the trail that is descending south into the small stream drainage below you.

Just before you start your way down to the creek look to the landscape in front of you.

See the below picture:

You can see the white hill on the left and on the background, you can see the tall red hills. The trail cross the creek, follow the sandy section, and then enter a side derange turning to the left. You will walk between the white hill on your left and the red still hills on your right.


Follow the clear trail all the way down to the point it crosses the wash.

When we visit here during April 2024 the wash was running with water, so we had to cross it.

Except getting wet the crossing itself was not challenging so much. The current was strong, but it was not so deep (below the knee), and the rocks provided good grip and were not slippery.


Cross the creek and look for the trail heading straight in the flat sandy area, here the trail is not clear so much because this is sand, but you should head overall to the left and not following the main creek.


The towering red-white sandstone hill is just in front of you, here you need to head to the left between the white hills on your left and the red on your right. Walk up the drainage and do not take by mistake the trail to the right.

Soon after you will live the sandy area and you will start to climb the sandstone drainage. 

Even if you can’t see the trail or cairns, you can’t get lost here, just walk up between the two cliffs on both sides.

From this point, if you look back (or when going down) you can see far away the dominate cinder cone shape of Veyo Volcano.



After the first climb the drainage open to a “small valley” where the right side is composed of nice sandstone ridge.

Do not be tempted to climb the steep hill on your right, the trail keep following the lower section.

On the top of the ridgeline to your right you will see two distinct white tops, the Vortex is on that ridge to the left of them.

Keep hiking up the drainage where you are looking for cairns when climbing up the “valley”.

You need to follow the lower section of the area and keep it to the right side following below the red stone hill.


Soon after short climb in a sandy area with vegetation you will reach the top of the drainage and arrive to the ridge line.

The view open-up but do not stop here, head to the right, climb the sandstone and follow the ridge.

Few hundred feet will bring you to the first pothole, the deeper Vortex hole is just near it.

The Vortex is very impressive 50-60 ft deep sandstone bowl and the line in the send looks like swirls around into the hole.


When we were here the fist large hole was filed with water, look like that the Vortex can’t hold water because it was dry.


The best viewing point is on the hill just above the holes, from here you can enjoy 360 impressive views all around!


Take a rest, drink, or eat something and just enjoy the view.

We came here late at the afternoon and the colors of the red-white sandstone with all the lines and marks were popping out.

We did not want to hike when it is dark, so we waited in the Vortex until it was almost sunset and then started hiking back.

Return the same way you came in, easy hike down the drainage, cross the creek and walk up to the parking lot.




Additional Pictures: