Southwestern US, Travels, US National Parks

An Unexpected Surprise – Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

It took a bit of convincing for me to get my family on board with adding Cedar Breaks National Monument to our itinerary. It’s tiny, was somewhat out of our way, and most people haven’t even heard of it. Cedar Breaks is located in southern Utah, about 30 minutes east of Cedar City. It’s also only about an hour and a half from Zion National Park, so they could easily be combined into one trip.

Getting to Cedar Breaks is an adventure of its own. From the Grand Canyon, we took US Highway 89 up to Utah Highway 14, which winds through the Dixie National Forest. It also climbs up – very quickly, I might add – until we reached Cedar Breaks. But if we thought this was steep, we were in for a bit of a shock…the road out of Cedar Breaks to the north descends at a 10% grade for 14 miles!

Navajo Lake, off Highway 14, UT
Cinder cone and volcanic rock from an old lava flow – Highway 14, UT

Cedar Breaks itself a 3-mile wide, 2000-foot deep amphitheater of red, orange, white, and purple rock. Think of it as a tiny Bryce Canyon, only located 10,000 feet up on the Colorado Plateau. It’s very surprising – it looks like the side of the hill just kind of fell off one day. The park is small, so it’s easy to see everything in a day. In fact, Point Supreme Campground, the only one in the park, rarely fills. We’d made reservations, which turned out to be pointless; there were no more than 10 other groups there that night.

With only one main road through the park, it’s very easy to navigate. Entering from the south on Utah Route 148, we came first to the visitor center and campground. From the visitor center, we took a short walk to Point Supreme Overlook, located at 10,350 feet. Along the trail were panoramic views of the amphitheater and the valley below.

Point Supreme, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT

There is also a 4-mile round trip trail along the rim that travels through a forest of ancient bristlecone pines to Spectra Point and Ramparts Overlook. 10,000 feet is really high, especially when coming from sea level. Even an easy hike can become much more difficult at this elevation. The sun is also much stronger up here, so bring lots of sunscreen! Unless you want to blend in with the rocks. That could be kind of cool, I suppose.

Trail to Spectra Point, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Spectra Point, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Bristlecone pine – Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Needles of a 1600-year old bristlecone pine – Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Handstand at Spectra Point – Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT (Photo credit: Mom)

Back on the main road heading north, our next stops were Sunset View Overlook, then Chessman Ridge Overlook, which, at 10,467 feet, is the highest spot in the park. It’s from here that we also hiked the easy 2-mile loop trail to Alpine Pond. The lower part of the loop has views of Cedar Breaks while the upper passes through forest and a meadow. We were here in early August, but because of the altitude there were still plenty of wildflowers in bloom.

Sunset Point, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Alpine Pond, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Chessman Ridge Overlook, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT

The final viewpoint is around the north edge of the amphitheater and is appropriately called North View Overlook. It’s a little bit further back from the rim and really emphasizes the abruptness with which the landscape changes.

North View Overlook, Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT

From here, you can head out of the park or back to your campsite. Though everything can be seen in a day, I recommend spending the night at Cedar Breaks if for no other reason than for the stargazing opportunities. It’s one of the best places in the country to stargaze owing to the near complete lack of light pollution, and they hold regular star parties during the summer months. There wasn’t one happening when we were there, but we could see plenty just by laying on the picnic table. Cedar Breaks also holds annual wildflower and fall colors festivals.

Overall, Cedar Breaks was an unexpected surprise for us and is probably my favorite park in Utah. It’s small but it’s unique and the contrast of the red rock amphitheater against the forests and wildflowers is something I’ve not seen anywhere else.

This was our last stop of summer vacation 2009, so in the morning we packed up our tent, headed down the crazy steep road (behind someone who wasn’t familiar with the concept of shifting into a lower gear), and headed on home. Until next time, Utah!

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: located on UT Highway 148 between Cedar City and the Dixie National Forest – this highway is the only road through the park
  • Fees & passes: $5 per person for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
  • Camping: Point Supreme Campground – $18 per night, reservations accepted but not always necessary 
  • Hiking: three trails in the park – one near the campground, one around Alpine Pond, and one along the rim of the amphitheater
  • Other: located at over 10,000 feet elevation, weather is more extreme and the sun much more intense at Cedar Breaks – bring lots of water and sunscreen!

8 thoughts on “An Unexpected Surprise – Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah”

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