Explore Something New


New Year, New View 

by Lani Penney, Cedar City • Brian Head Tourism Bureau

The beautiful national parks of the Southwest draw millions of visitors each year. Bryce Canyon, Zion, Kolob, Cedar Breaks, and Capitol Reef are all among the list. Year after year, people travel from all over the world to visit our national parks and the surreal scenery they entail.

While everyone should get a chance to see the top sights within the national parks, it is often forgotten that the area has other hidden treasures, breathtaking views, and amazing adventures right in their shadows. Visitors and locals generally flock to the most well-known sights. In peak time of the year, this can result in overcrowding.

In 2016, Parks100 was organized by a partnership with over 25 entities from Utah, Nevada, and Arizona to celebrate the National Park Service 100th birthday. This organization was designed to help spread the word about the beauty and adventure found in lesser known parks and recreation areas that are often overlooked. “There is an incredible amount of amazing places that many people don’t even know exist,” said Maria Twitchell, Parks100 member and director of the Cedar City – Brian Head Tourism Bureau. “Parks100 created the ‘Explore Five More’ campaign to encourage people to get out and experience these lesser known places”.

As we commence a new year, which often includes New Year’s resolutions and goals, we encourage everyone to include experiencing some new views on your list of resolutions. Below is a list of just a few of these lesser known treasures southern Utah has to offer, with many more available on the Parks100 website. Visit Parks100.com for additional adventures, ongoing activities, and suggested itineraries.

Cottonwood Wash Narrows – Cannonville, Utah
This narrow canyon is a beginner-friendly hike that still impresses the experienced slot hiker. It’s a fun, mellow way to behold stunning rock formations and towering Navajo sandstone walls. The trailhead lies 25 miles up Cottonwood Canyon Road after you turn off US-89 from Kanab.

Brian Head Peak – Brian Head, Utah
From the summit of Brian Head Peak (11,307 feet), look out at Nevada’s Wheeler and Highland peaks, Arizona’s Mount Trumbull, Navajo Mountain, Beaver County’s Tushar Range, and the Paunsaugunt, Table Cliffs, and Aquarius plateaus. Turning west, little-known ranges such as the Never Summer Mountains and the Wah Wahs become visible. The peak is accessible by a dirt road just a few miles south of Brian Head Town.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes – Kanab, Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is 3,730 acres of uninterrupted salmon pink dunes. It is a secluded playground for hiking, off-highway vehicle riding, or simply recreating in the sand. Hikers not only have the option of exploring the boardwalk, overlook trails, and nature trail within the park, but they also have the opportunity of exploring the wide variety of hikes and ATV trails located just minutes from the park.

Spring Creek Trailhead – Kanarraville, Utah 
Spring Creek Canyon Trail is a beautiful slot canyon hike for beginners, located just north of the well-known Kanarraville Falls. It is easy for hikers to find solitude on this hike, as it is very secluded and overlooked by many. The hike is about a 4.9 mile out and back, with few obstacles. This makes a perfect hike for the entire family, including dogs (on leashes, of course), being that it is accommodating to all skill levels.  

Buckskin Gulch – Kanab, Utah 
One of the longest and deepest slot canyons on the planet, Buckskin goes on for miles and rarely gets wider than 20 feet. Many people make an overnight backpacking trip out of it, leaving a shuttle car at one end. Temperatures within the cave are much cooler than the surrounding sunny red rocks. Be ready to wade through puddles along the trail too.

Parowan Gap – Parowan, Utah
Wind, water, and sand carved out this natural passageway that was once used as a major thoroughfare by ancient Native Americans. The different cultures are evident by the hundreds of petroglyphs carved into the Parowan Gap. The Gap’s gallery of ancient American Indian rock carvings includes geometric designs, lizards, snakes, mountain sheep, bear claws, and human figures. With over 90 panels and 1,500 figures, the Gap is believed to be one of the most concentrated collections of petroglyphs in the West, and one of the most accessible.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve – St. George, Utah
The sprawling 60,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve contains a one-of-a kind convergence of multiple desert ecosystems, jaw-dropping scenery, and protected species seldom seen elsewhere. Anyone wishing to get a taste of the astonishing juxtaposition of a stark rockscape with delicate, determined life should pay this attraction an extended visit.

Bristlecone Pine Trail – Cedar City, Utah
When you first see a Bristlecone Pine Tree, the twisted bare limbs look almost like alien sculptures, beautiful yet almost unearthly. That’s because Bristlecone die out in portions, while the remainder of the tree continues to live, resulting in a twisted, tortured appearance. Bristlecone have been the watchmen of the Markagunt Plateau for thousands of years, surrounded by the most stunning scenery in the country. It’s well worth the time to discover these trees, and luckily, there are several hiking trails within the Dixie National Forest that take you to them and the panoramic vistas that unfold below. The best season for these trails is summer through fall, as they are located at a high elevation.

Three Peaks Recreation Area – Cedar City, Utah
The rolling hills and volcanic rock formations of Three Peaks Recreation Area provide a fantastic location for outdoor recreation. Kids love to run, jump, and crawl over the hunchbacked granite outcroppings expanding across the landscape. A nineteen-mile mountain bike trail system runs through the complex, and is often used for mountain bike races. The trailhead is located just as you come into the Three Peaks Complex near the county recreation area. There are restrooms and water located at the trailhead.

Yes, there is something for everyone in southern Utah’s famous national and state parks. But the hidden treasures, breathtaking views, and amazing adventures that lie in the shadows of these well-known parks are worth getting off the beaten path. Come and see what southern Utah has to offer.

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