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A Patchwork of Summer Activities in Panguitch

By Karli Davis
May 05, 2023

Here are some kid-friendly tongue twisters to practice on your next southern Utah road trip. 

Picturesque plateaus, with pinyon pines and bristlecones, and pebbles ‘neath your toes. 

Or how ‘bout this one?  

Hometown hideouts, heaps of trout, hoodoos, hills, hot air balloons and horse-ride howdy-dos.

What little town is so worthy of prose? That’s Panguitch, a gorgeous secret tucked in the higher elevations of Garfield County, Utah. And while it’s not known for lasagna, it’s known for many other appetizing things. 

Big Things Come in Little Packages

Even being a town with less than 2,000 folks, there’s no shortage of things to do in Panguitch, Utah. It’s about a 2-hour drive from St. George and only about 3-½ hours from Salt Lake City. This weekend worthy road trip gets you to a magical place without the mainstream crowds.

There’s Panguitch Lake with some of the best rainbow trout fishing out west, some noteworthy hole-in-the-wall restaurants and a whole platter of outdoor activities. Panguitch is also full of historical significance and community activities that’ll give the fam some quality time together.   

Going Nuts for the Hills 

Take a deep breath when you arrive in Panguitch because the air is crisp, clean and oh-so-serene — and these views are fir real. Panguitch prides itself for its serenity and unique ability to help you get lost (but not too lost) in nature. 

If your trip to Panguitch is leisurely without an itinerary, you could take a couple hours on the Scenic Byway 143. Dubbed the Patchwork Parkway, it passes hoodoos, grazing animals, lakes and wildflower fields. There are also a couple hair-raising turns on this 50(ish)-mile stretch that might make you yell “Holy sheep!”  It’s the second highest road in the state reaching over 10,000 feet, so bring your fringed leather jacket, to not only fit in with the locals, but to keep you warm at those heights.

In other areas of Utah, summers can get wicked hot. And while sunbathing like a lizard has its merits, sometimes it feels nice to experience summer and then not-so-summer on the same day. Panguitch City sits at 6,600 feet with plenty of nearby mountains that guarantee cooler temps. So you can still spend a warm summer day on scenic trails followed by a brisque evening roasting trout at one of the nearby campgrounds. 

Wheels of Firtune

Do you want to ride on mellow trails fit for training wheels or do you want trails that set your quads on fire and make you say “Son of a ‘guitch!”? Either way, the nearby Red Canyon Trail system is the place to go. It’s 15 minutes from Panguitch and is awesome for hiking, mountain biking, paved cycling and horseback riding. The Red Canyon trail is a good place to start. It’s about 22 miles out-and-back of paved, easy cruising, right along Highway 12 before you hit Bryce Canyon. It also takes you past the famous Red Canyon Arch, a perfect spot for cycle-selfies. Cyelfies? 

If you’re a more seasoned pedaler, take the paved trail until you hit Coyote Hollow Road and then follow it to the Thunder Mountain Trail. According to Trailforks, this takes you on a 15-mile long wild-wild-west loop. This route is known for having challenging terrain where mountain bikers can whip past douglas firs, hoodoos and other scenery similar to Bryce Canyon. It’s also a popular horseback riding trail, so just remember to always give horses the right of way. The horses usually appreciate it if you neigh and tip your hat too.

The OHV trail system surrounding Panguitch is full of those picturesque plateaus, pinyon pines and bristlecones mentioned earlier. The Paunsaugunt Plateau OHV trail has 77 miles of off-road trail and is famous for its scenery similar to Bryce Canyon.

There’s also the Bear Valley/Little Valley trails that take you on the old Spanish Historic Trail and trade route. You probably won’t be trading furs on this trail, but you can always trade some beef jerky for your BFF’s Skittles when you’re sick of your own snacks. Casto Canyon trail is another popular OHV trail near Panguitch, with tons of hoodoos, arches and other red-rock nooks and crannies. Feel free to channel your inner outlaw on this trail because it’s said to have been a place where Butch Cassidy squirreled himself away during his outlaw days.

Picture Perfect National Parks

Panguitch is within driving distance to five national parks, the closest being Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Panguitch to Bryce Canyon so it’s perfect for a daytrip. If you’re not staying in one of Panguitch’s nearby bed and breakfasts, you can stay at Red Canyon Campground for quick access to the park. Bryce Canyon is one of the most photographed national parks so don’t disappoint yourselfie by forgetting your camera! 

(Not) Fishing for Compliments 

There’s no need to fish for fancy flatterings, because Panguitch Lake speaks for itself. Panguitch is a Native American word meaning “big fish,” no doubt because of the lake’s reputation for having tons of big, awesome, beautiful and delicious fish — rainbow and cutthroat trout, mainly. You can fish in Panguitch Lake all year round, but summer is the prime time to go. It’s only 30 minutes away from Panguitch and sits at 8,200 feet, so be sure to bring jackets or blankets for the evening. Pack a tent or take a camper up to the Panguitch Lake Campground and spend the weekend coming up with new, delish-fish-dish recipes while reeling in unforgettable memories. 

Panguitch Lake also has boat rentals if you just want to sit, float and reflect on how there’s a movie quote that says, “Fish are friends, not food.” Hmm. If not food, then why food-shaped? All jokes aside, and for those that aren’t fish-eaters, the scenery at the lake is fish-nom-enal. Anyways, the forest scoots right up next to the lakeshore, with little trails wandering through the woods. You might even see some wildlife while strolling. How picturesquely perfect is that? 

Festive-all: Panguitch City Park Has Everything

Panguitch City Park comes alive during summer with outdoor festivals that will have you carried away with a good time. If you’re an early riser, you’re in luck because so are the hot air balloons at the Panguitch Valley Balloon Rally. The view of a valley sunrise with 30 colorful balloons in the foreground is unmatched. This must-go event is usually in late June with three days of morning balloon launches and enough activities to keep you busy all weekend long. There’s also amazing food vendors, all-day pop-up shops, a 5k race and nightly live music. Summer also draws in baseball fans to the town parks. There are tournaments where folks can gather and cheer on friends and family and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Triple C Arena at Panguitch City Park has horse stalls and arenas where the county fair, rodeos and barrel races take place. The Garfield County Fair is held here every year, usually in early August. All the farm animals you’ll get to say hi to make for a real country experience. It isn’t a road trip, afterall, if you haven’t yelled, “Hey cow!” at some point.

The Quilt Walk Festival is an annual event that honors the historic “Quilt-Walk” from Panguitch City. This poignant story is about early settlers who were struggling to retrieve much needed supplies for the town while being hindered by the deep snow. They discovered that by laying down quilts one after the other that they could cross the snowy terrain without sinking. The community comes together every year with the Quilt Walk Festival to honor those brave pioneers that helped save Panguitch. The event takes place in early June, and offers a lot of wholesome activities for the whole family. There are a variety of quilt-making classes for both kiddos and adults, live performances, delicious meals and a charity project.

Historically Serene Lodging Scene

When you visit Panguitch City, you’re hit by a ton of (red) bricks with a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the past. There’s a historic walking tour that showcases some of the most beautifully preserved architecture and native red-brick houses in Utah. The charming original craftsmanship of stained-glass windows, gingerbread trim and turrets will have you feeling cozier than gray LVP flooring could ever make you feel. Another historic stop is a theater that doubles — no triples … no quadruples — as an ice creamery, mexican restaurant, theater and rock shop/dinosaur exhibit. Amazing. Small-town life … uh … finds a way.

If you haven’t chaffed too much from your mountain bike rides, you’ll want to saunter over to Panguitch’s historic Main Street for food and shopping. In a span of two hours you’ll have stuffed your face with some of the best country fried steak and then updated your wardrobe entirely with a fancy western getup. 

There are several places to stay in Panguitch, depending on your needs. Obviously you can camp nearby, but if you want some warm showers and unbeatable hospitality, there are plenty of cozy places in town. Choose any of the historic motels or even a historic red-brick house that’s been converted to a bed and breakfast. Either way, you’re going to leave Panguitch feeling more vibrant and alive than when you came.