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 only take 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 route by following Highway 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 during 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 Highway 14 and visit nearby Navajo Lake and Duck Creek Village, but for this loop turn left onto Highway 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 the Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive (Highway 148), it terminates and becomes Highway 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 I-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 that also come into play include rainfall, wind and the amount of sugar in the leaves. 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.
Be aware that some people may experience problems such as shortness of breath and tiredness due to the high elevation on the Markagunt Plateau.
For more information on visiting this area, a fall color report and opportunities for lodging and dining, contact the Cedar City, Brian Head Tourism Bureau at 435-586-5124 or visit www.visitcedarcity.com. For information on Cedar Breaks, contact 435-986-7120 or visit www.nps.gov/cebr.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.