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Utah’s fall foliage makes for great leaf-peeping

Updated September 3, 2021 - 4:47 pm

A chill is in the air in the Southwest’s high elevations, and fall foliage season is upon us. One of the best ways for Southern Nevadans to enjoy it this month is to head up to the Markagunt Plateau, just east of Cedar City, Utah.

The Markagunt Plateau, about 10,000 feet in elevation, offers great leaf-peeping opportunities along a scenic loop drive. The entire loop will take only a couple of hours to drive, but it’s better to allow at least a half a day, so you can stop for photographs, hike a few trails and enjoy the viewpoints.

You begin the drive by following state Route 14 east out of Cedar City. The road is very curvy and narrow and travels through lovely red rock formations, past creeks, forests and, of course, aspen groves and a couple of good viewpoints. After about 15 miles and about 4,500 feet in elevation you will reach the plateau.

Since you will be traveling through such a disparity in elevations you are bound to find the leaves changing somewhere along the route over the next month. The stars of Western autumns are aspens, splendidly clothed in yellow and gold.

Once on the plateau itself, the drive flattens out and offers sweeping views of meadows flanked by dense evergreen forests. You can continue to drive along Route 14 and visit nearby Navajo Lake and Duck Creek Village, but for this loop turn left onto state Route 148. This takes you into Cedar Breaks National Monument along the 6-mile Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive. It is stunning.

The highlights of the drive include stopping at one of the three easily accessed overlooks to see the park’s natural amphitheater. Each offers a different perspective into the site, 2,000 feet deep and 3 miles wide, full of hoodoos, spires and columns in hues of orange, red and pink. Currently the Supreme Overlook is closed to visitors during construction of the new visitor contact station, due to be finished in 2022. For now, the North View Overlook serves as the fee station, information center and ranger station.

As you continue along Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive (Route 148), it terminates and becomes state Route 143. Here you can bear right and drive over to the town of Panguitch Lake for a scenic side trip, or stay straight to the town of Brian Head. From Brian Head it will be 16 miles to Parowan and Interstate 15, which you will take south to return to Cedar City or Las Vegas.

Since good fall foliage is ruled by Mother Nature, there is no firm date to find peak color in any one place. Factors that are set in stone include the dwindling of daylight, but things such as rainfall, wind and the amount of sugar in the leaves also come into play. Ideally a prolonged period of cool sunny days without a heavy frost is best. But even in an off year, this is a beautiful place to be.

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