Fall Colors & Southern Utah’s Scenic Byways

Fall colors (leaves) on Byway 143

The leaves are changing now, and it's time to get a view while you can.  There are four main access points to begin an excursion through Utah's Scenic Byways 14 and 143.   No matter where you start, these roads lead to dramatic scenic vistas, and natural wonders. Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I ventured out to rediscover this area, and had trouble saying goodbye when it was time to go home.

Starting Point Options:

  • Cedar City
  • Parowan
  • Panguitch
  • Kanab

Scenic Byway Map
This southern Utah map shows the starting points and routes to choose.

I have to admit to a few favorites areas, but there is more to do along these corridors than there's seemingly time to do them.  We were curious about the recent fire that burned 72,000 acres near Brian Head and Panguitch Lake, and we made a stop on Byway 143 just above Parowan to get a look for ourselves.

Burned forest near Brian Head, Utah

Sadly, there were many structures burned (homes and other), but Brian Head was relatively untouched and summer/fall activities seemed to be back in action.

Brian Head Utah

We took one of the back-roads at the top of town that led to this overlook, and then swung west on another pathway deeper into the forest where we began to see views of Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Dixie National Forest - Just the two of us!

The cover shot of this post shows one of many viewpoints where visitors can easily stop and enjoy the overlooks of Cedar Breaks National Monument.  While we were here a television crew from Salt Lake City was shooting video for a segment on the dark night skies that are found here.  The elevation of 10,000+ feet makes for clearer air and a great place for star-gazing.

There's a connecting road between Scenic Byway 143 and 14 (called 148) and this road is not open during winter months due to snow drifts that push across this high elevation plateau, but in summer months the wildflowers here are quite spectacular.

Wildflowers -Markagaunt Plateau Utah

 

Wildflowers at Cedar Breaks

 

My wife is big into flowers and she collected these varieties.

Utah's Highway 14 has been designated the Markagaunt High Plateau Scenic Byway, and Navajo Lake sits on this vast plateau.  Here's where one of my favorites spots comes into play, and this is really interesting.  Navajo lake has a hole in it.  A hole right in the bottom, and the water leaks out this hole to a unique place.

Navajo Lake Utah

 

OK - So there's more than one hole.

The rock formations on the edges of the Markagaunt Plateau look a lot like the limestone formations found in Bryce Canyon, and the water from the hole in Navajo Lake has found a way out the side of the plateau smack-dab in the middle of some beautiful formations.  The resulting effect is what has been named Cascade Falls.   The water literally pushes out through a tunnel in the side of the mountain, and cascades down the steep terrain, eventually contributing to the drainage that makes up the North Fork of the Virgin River.  This water is part of what continues to carve out the canyons of Zion National Park.

Cascade Falls
Cascade Falls Utah

How to get to Cascade Falls:  Don't tell anyone else, but when your turn off of Byway 14 at Navajo Lake just a couple of hundred yards down the road you can turn right or left.  Turn left and follow the course mapped here (link).   The groomed trail to Cascade Falls is a little more than 1/2 mile each direction and the views of the multi-hued hoodoo formations is quite spectacular.

Walking toward Cascade Falls

There's a little elevation change but this hike is great for active people of any age.

Stairway on trail to Cascade Falls

Once you arrive at the falls, there's a viewing platform that provides not only a view of the falls, but far off into the headwaters of the north fork tributaries of the Virgin River, and the distant formations of Zion National Park.

Cascade Falls

There's a rough trail to the side of the falls that should only be navigated by those who are confident in their footing and hiking ability, but this does allow the opportunity to look up the mountain at the falls, the iron stained formations, and the usually azure blue skies.

View from trail on return trip from Cascade Falls

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy these scenic corridors any time of year, but remember that you're at high elevation and even in summer the temps can change quickly.  Our thermometer said 70 degrees in August, but 30 minutes later the temperature dropped as we drove through a short hail storm.  Always wise to bring a coat, hat, gloves, and never forget extra water/food for snacks and the unforeseen need that may arise.

 


That was our experience.  Time for you to go have yours, and don't forget to get out now and enjoy the fall colors.

View over tributaries to Zion National Park - From Scenic Byway 14.

Hint:  Swing east on Byway 14 to Duck Creek Village and stop in at Aunt Sue's Chalet for some pie.  We did, and it was a good as it gets!