Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks is much like Bryce Canyon, but it's on a different high plateau and lacks the crowds that flock to Bryce.
Here, on the west edge of the Markagunt Plateau, a giant amphitheater 2,500 feet deep and more than three miles across has been eroded into the stone.
A fairyland of forms and colors appears below the rim. Ridges and pinnacles extend like buttresses from the steep cliffs. Cottony patches of clouds often drift through the craggy landscape.
Traces of iron, manganese, and other minerals have tinted the normally white limestone a rainbow of warm hues. The intense colors blaze during sunsets and glow even on a cloudy day.
Rock layers look much like those at Bryce Canyon National Park, but here they're 2,000 feet higher. Elevations range from 10,662 feet at the rim's highest point to 8,100 feet at Ashdown Creek. In the distance, beyond the amphitheater, is Cedar City and the desert's valleys and ranges.
Dense forests broken by large alpine meadows cover the rolling plateau country away from the rim. More than 150 species of wildflowers brighten the meadows during summer; the colorful display peaks during the last two weeks in July.
A five-mile scenic drive leads past four spectacular overlooks, each with a different perspective. Avoid overlooks and other exposed areas during thunderstorms, which are common on summer afternoons. Heavy snows close the road most of the year. You can drive in only from about late May until the first big snowstorm of autumn, usually sometime in October. Winter visitors can come in on snowmobiles (unplowed roads only), skis, or snowshoes from Brian Head (two miles north of the monument) or from Highway 14 (2.5 miles south).
A log cabin visitor center (435/586-0787 summer, 435/586-0787 winter, www.nps.gov/cebr, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily June 1-mid-Oct.) includes exhibits, an information desk, and a bookstore. The exhibits provide a good introduction to the Markagunt Plateau and identify local rocks, wildflowers, trees, animals, and birds. Staff members offer nature walks, geology talks, and campfire programs; see the schedules posted in the visitor center and at the campground. An entrance fee of $4 per vehicle is collected near the visitor center; there's no charge if you're just driving through the monument without stopping.
Two easy trails near the rim provide an added appreciation of the geology and forests here. Allow extra time while on foot—it's easy to get out of breath at these high elevations. Regulations prohibit pets on the trails. Spectra Point/Wasatch Rampart Trail begins at the visitor center, then follows the rim along the south edge of the amphitheater to an overlook. The hike is four miles round-trip with some ups and downs. Weather-beaten bristlecone pines grow at Spectra Point, about halfway down the trail.
Alpine Pond Trail forms a two-mile loop that drops below the rim into one of the few densely wooded areas of the amphitheater. The trail winds through enchanting forests of aspen, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce. You can cut the hiking distance in half with a car shuttle between the two trailheads or by taking a connector trail that joins the upper and lower parts of the loop near Alpine Pond. Begin from either Chessmen Ridge Overlook or the trailhead pullout, 1.1 miles farther north. A trail guide is available at the start or at the visitor center.
A small campground ($14) to the east has water; camping is first-come, first-served. The campground is open from about mid-June through late September. (If you plan to visit in June or September, it's best to call ahead to check the campground's status; some years, its season is remarkably short.) There's a picnic area near the campground.
Getting to Cedar Breaks National Monumen
Eighteen miles east of Cedar City is the junction with Highway 148, which leads north to Cedar Breaks National Monument. The route climbs up to elevations well over 10,000 feet and is usually open late May-mid-October. The nearest accommodations and restaurants are two miles north in Brian Head.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition