Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (Red Cliffs NCA) covers over 44,700 acres in southwest Utah's Washington County. It's part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and one of only two national conservation areas in Utah. Formed by the convergence of the Colorado Plateau, the Mojave Desert, and the Great Basin, Red Cliffs NCA contains a wide variety of diverse landscapes, plant life, and animal life.

Red Cliffs NCA has over 130 miles of recreation trails set aside for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. And, as with any national conservation area, the use of motorized vehicles in Red Cliffs NCA is highly restricted. Basically, hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders have the place to themselves.

As luck would have it, many of Red Cliffs NCA's most interesting attractions are in its northeastern section, which is just south of New Harmony. These attractions include Red Cliffs Recreation Area, Red Cliffs Archeological Site, Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, and Cottonwood Forest Wilderness. (Note that, while Cottonwood Forest Wilderness is not technically part of Red Cliffs NCA, it is adjacent to Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness and close enough that we included in this article.)

Red Cliffs Recreation Area

Red Cliffs Recreation Area is an easy-to-access part of Red Cliffs NCA just a couple of miles off I-15. The recreation area has plenty of facilities, including a shaded picnic area, handicap parking, and handicap-accessible vault toilets. It's also the connecting point for some of the best hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails in Red Cliffs NCA. Three well-known nearby trails are Silver Reef Trail, Anasazi Trail, and Red Reef Trail.

A minimal day-use fee to visit Red Cliffs Recreation Area. Note that Red Cliffs Recreation Area is very popular with tourists and parking is limited. Either get there early, or expect to deal with crowds, especially in the spring and fall. Only park in designated areas: Parking at some random spot on the side of the road will probably get you ticketed and towed.

Red Cliffs Archeological Site

One of the most fascinating places in Red Cliffs NCA is the Red Cliffs Archeological Site (Red Cliffs Anasazi Site). The Anasazi inhabited this area at various times between 500 A.D. until around 1200 A.D. In the late 1970s, archaeologists excavated the site, and found numerous artifacts and partial structures. Most of the artifacts are now in a museum at Southern Utah University; however, remnants of buildings the Anasazi constructed are still located at the site. All in all, Red Cliffs Archeological Site has provided a wealth of information on the ancient Anasazi's way of life. If you enjoy history, you'll love visiting the site.

Note that getting to the Red Cliffs Anasazi Site requires a short hike (about 0.5 miles), either along Red Reef East Trail or the Anasazi Trial. The site is not handicap accessible. Dogs are not allowed.

Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness

Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, covering almost 11,700 acres, is the part of Red Cliffs NCA where the Colorado Plateau meets the Mojave Desert. Much of the plant and animal life here is very similar to what you find in the Mojave Desert. For example, Gila monsters and Mojave Desert tortoises can be found in Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness. Other species you might encounter include mule deer, mountain lions, bald eagles, and red-tailed hawks.

Popular trails in Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness are Prospector Trail Loop and Red Reef Trail. Keep in mind that hiking and horseback riding are allowed in the area, but bicycles (and motorized vehicles) are not. As you might expect, the area is not handicap accessible.

Cottonwood Forest Wilderness

If you're looking for solitude, Cottonwood Forest Wilderness is the perfect place for you. This area, just north of the Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, is made up of around 2,600 acres at the base of the Pine Valley Mountains. Cottonwood Forest Wilderness is rugged terrain, known for its deep and narrow red sandstone canyons and soaring cliff faces. Wildlife in the area include mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, eagles, and hawks.

Cottonwood Forest Wilderness is so off the beaten trail that it has none: No designated trail systems are located in the wilderness. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited.