Drive Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop

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Photography around southern Utah. Please check use restrictions where this is being viewed
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Hike. Photo Courtesy of Mike Saemisch.

by Kenzie Lundberg, Cedar City • Brian Head Tourism Bureau

As the weather starts to cool, the area around Cedar City prepares to put on a dramatic show. With a backdrop of striking red rocks and southern Utah’s national parks, Cedar City provides an unmatched destination for fall foliage viewing.

Rated as one of the Top Eight Unique Destinations to View Fall Colors by both NBC’s Today Show and USA Today, the display of fall colors around Cedar City is impressive and distinctive. The honors are due in part to the concentration of scenic routes that run through the red rock vistas of southern Utah, including National Scenic Byway 143 and Highway 148 through Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop
The Fall Color Loop is one of the best ways to see a vast amount of colors around Cedar City. Plan about two hours of travel time, plus time for viewpoints, lunch and/or hikes. The loop can be traveled in either direction.

Beginning in Parowan, the Fall Color Loop follows Highway 143 through Parowan Canyon to Brian Head Resort. A few miles after the resort, take Highway 143 east towards Panguitch.

Fall activities at Brian Head Resort. Photo courtesy of Alex Santiago.

Known as the Patchwork Parkway, Scenic Byway 143 is like the blocks of a quilt weaving through an astounding patchwork of historic towns, geological formations, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities that appeal to all–from sightseers and leaf peepers to high adventure fanatics.

The Byway descends through Sydney Valley (approximately five miles east after the junction), a spectacular sight in late September with immense stands of golden-yellow and fiery-red aspens. The pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau glitter in the distance as an ancient lava field sprinkled with aspen trees line the highway.

After taking in the sights at Sydney Valley, head back west toward the junction of Highways 143 and 148, turn south onto Highway 148 which runs along the Red Rock Amphitheater of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The large, natural amphitheater is about three miles wide and 2,500 feet deep, with walls of spires and dazzling rock formations, creating a supreme backdrop for fall leaves.

Along the way, find several viewpoints and trails. The best for fall colors is the Alpine Pond Loop. This trail winds through Spruce-Fir-Aspen forest then past the spring-fed Alpine Pond. The large loop is two miles round trip, the smaller loop is one.

Continuing the journey, follow Highway 148 south through Cedar Breaks National Monument. To finish the loop, turn west back towards Cedar City at the junction of Highway 14. Add to the experience by stopping at the Zion Overlook or Woods Ranch for a picnic and then continue to Cedar City.

When to Visit for the Best Leaf-Peeping Opportunities
To plan the best possible leaf-peeping opportunities, take a look below, or starting September 1, find an up-to-date Fall Color Report at www.visitcedarcity.com.

Mid September: The highest elevation areas traditionally experience 30-50% color at this time. Cedar Breaks National Monument and the surrounding area will be at its best.

Late September through Early October: Typically, the best time for leaf-peeping in southern Utah, the leaves around Brian Head and Cedar Breaks National Monument should be at peak, and Duck Creek, Navajo Lake, and Panguitch Lake should be close behind.

Mid October: The colors in the high elevations generally are past peak at this time; however, there should be some great color along Highway 14 from Cedar City to the Zion Overlook, as well as Parowan Canyon, along Scenic Byway 143.

Late October through Early November: Zion National Park offers the best fall color viewing at this time.

Make it a Weekend with Events in Brian Head, Parowan, and Cedar City
Rocktoberfest at Brian Head Resort
This past summer, Brian Head Town and Brian Head Resort narrowly escaped a massive wildfire that left many wondering what the future would bring. While parts of the fall color loop will show the damage from the fire, Brian Head is alive and well. The resort successfully opened for the summer season and is now preparing for a stunning fall–surrounded by a beautiful Aspen forest.

Rocktober Fest at Brian Head Resort. Photo courtesy of Alex Santiago.

Brian Head celebrates the stunning autumn colors with its annual Rocktoberfest, which is sure to satisfy taste buds with tastings from local breweries and authentic German cuisine, and the ears with live bands throughout the afternoon. Take part in this year’s festival Saturday September 16 from 9:30 am to 9:00 pm (resort activities from 9:30 pm to 6:00 pm, live music from 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm). For more information, visit www.brianhead.com/events.

Parowan Fall Fest
Parowan celebrates the fall season with two fun events. The first, Scarecrow Fest, lines Main Street from October 9 to October 20. Find over fifty unique scarecrows designed and created by local businesses. Open daylight hours.

The second, Parowan’s Fall Fest, features vendors, food, entertainment, costume parade, and a wonderful day in the fall leaves in Parowan’s Library Park. Join them starting at 10:00 am on October 14.

Fall at the Utah Shakespeare Festival
The fall season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival features A MidSummer Night’s Dream, The Tavern, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost Play, and How to Fight Loneliness. Catch them before the season wraps up on October 21. Find more information and a schedule at www.bard.org.

Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival
The Twelfth Annual Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival will celebrate Iron County’s unique livestock and agricultural heritage October 26-29 with a variety of authentic events, including cowboy poetry, Dutch Oven cooking contest, draft horse and antique tractor pull, stockdog demo, sheep camp display, quilt show, vintage auto display, ranch rodeo, cowboy church, and of course the Sheep Parade.

Cedar City’s tranquil Downtown gets a little wild and wooly each October when the Sheep Parade herds its way down Main Street. Considered one of the most unique parades in the country, over 1,000 head of sheep will follow the Historic Livestock Trail from Cedar Mountain, down Cedar City’s Main Street, to their winter home in the Cedar Valley. The Sheep Parade is the highlight event for the Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival and will be held this year on Saturday, October 28 at 10:00 am. Find more information at www.cedarlivestockfest.com.

For more information on scenic drives, fall colors, events, or visiting Cedar City, call (800) 354-4849 or check out www.visitcedarcity.com.

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