Cedar Breaks a scenic marvel in Utah high country

Summer and fall are brief but glorious seasons in Southern Utah’s high country, where snow blankets the forests nearly half of the year. Cedar Breaks National Monument, located atop a 10,600-foot plateau, draws more than a half-million visitors during the few months a year that it is open.

To reach this small park, follow Interstate 15 north from Las Vegas about 170 miles to Cedar City, Utah. Turn off at exit 57 and follow Main Street a couple of miles. Turn right on Center Street, which becomes Highway 14, one of Utah’s most scenic routes. The road climbs 18 miles onto the forested plateau with beautiful views of Cedar Breaks from below and Zion National Park from above. Watch for the turnoff to the left on Route 148. Cedar Breaks is four miles from this junction.

Visitors pay a $4 entrance fee at Point Sublime, a fee that is waived for federal park pass holders. A rustic building built in 1937 houses a visitor center with an information desk and a bookstore, open daily from mid-June to mid-October. The visitor center commands a fabulous view of the gorge carved into the edge of the plateau at Cedar Breaks.

The central geological feature of the park, the gorge is three miles wide, more than 2,000 feet deep and filled with weirdly shaped spires and other formations in vivid shades of pink, red and orange. See more of the gorge on park trails that skirt the rim or from viewpoints along the highway.

Park trails include the Spectra Point/Ramparts Overlook Trail, a four-mile round-trip trek along the rim where ancient bristlecone pines grow. Shorter sections of the gorge may be reached from several viewpoints. The Alpine Pond Nature Trail is a two-mile double loop through forest and meadows. The Campground Trail, about a mile round-trip, is the only trail where pets are allowed. Just north of the park, experienced hikers find challenges on the Rattlesnake Creek Trail in the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area, a long route that drops precipitously and is poorly marked.

Other park facilities include the Point Sublime Campground, less than a mile from the visitor center along a side road. Open until frost sets in, the campground includes 26 sites suitable for tents or RVs, drinking water and restrooms with showers. Overnight use costs $14, or $7 for pass holders. Sixteen of the sites are available on a first-come basis. The rest can be reserved online at recreation.gov.

Summer at Cedar Breaks produces a profusion on wildflowers along roads and trails and in expansive meadows. The flowers reach their peak this month but persist until frost returns. The park celebrates this spectacular show of blossoms with a festival each July. The eighth annual festival will continue through July 21 with special activities including guided hikes among the blossoms daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Self-guided hikes with flower identification handouts are also available.

During the busy summer season, National Park Service personnel and volunteers schedule special weekend programs. On Fridays and Sundays, join a park ranger at 9 p.m. for a campfire program at the campground’s amphitheater. On Saturday nights through Labor Day, learn about stars, constellations and other features of the night skies, exceptionally clear at such high elevation. Telescopes will be set up near the visitor center. The Star Parties begin at 9:30 p.m. in July and 9 p.m. in August. A highlight of the program will take place Aug. 12 during the annual Perseid meteor shower.

Autumn arrives early in the area and produces some of the best leaf-peeping in the West, but it is nearly over by the middle of October. Celebrate the colorful season during the Fall Nature Festival at Cedar Breaks on Sept. 28 and 29.

All visitors may enter the park free of charge on Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day. During the weekend, visitors can share a large birthday cake to commemorate the national monument’s addition to the national parks system 80 years ago in September.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.