Whatever emotions the changing leaves evoke, the Cedar City area is one of the best Utah fall destinations. It might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of locations for leaf peeping. Places in northern Utah like Logan Canyon and the Alpine Loop tend to steal the spotlight. But southern Utah? That’s just sagebrush and cacti, right? Think again, amigo.
Though Cedar City is located a mere 45 minutes from St. George, the landscape is very different. Cedar City serves as the headquarters for Dixie National Forest — the largest such wooded expanse in Utah, occupying nearly 2 million acres. The area offers a colorful array of fall activities in Utah. Whether you’re planning a scenic drive on a smooth surface or an OHV adventure on a road that’ll knock the hiccups out of you, an easy hike or an exhilarating bike ride, check Cedar City’s Fall Color Report (updated September 1 through October) before you go. Timing is everything when it comes to leaves — and life.
You could complete this 40-mile stretch in just under an hour, but you’re gonna wanna take your time. Stop at a jaw-dropping overlook. Snap some Insta-worthy pics. Close your companion’s mouth as if he was a cartoon character. Repeat. This two-lane road meanders through a unique combination red rock, dark volcanic rock and bright yellow aspen forests as it climbs from Cedar City through Cedar Canyon past Duck Creek Village over to Long Valley Junction. Sometimes the stands of aspen are tinged with a ravishing red pigment thanks to excess sugar content and just the right amount of sunlight, but the deciduous trees that didn’t partake in a cookie war taste test remain valiantly yellow. Evergreens punctuate the exciting mix of pigmentation. No wonder it’s one of the best scenic drives in Utah.
While driving the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway, consider taking a little detour and stretching your legs. Turn north on FS Road #30057 (a half-mile after mile marker 29 when traveling east). The Alpine Mirror Lake Trailhead is at the end of the road. A small mountain lake with a calming color combination sits a mere mile from the trailhead. For the best photo op (or alfresco yoga sesh), go in the morning when the water is glassy. Namaste.
Despite the much cooler air at 10,000 feet, you can’t help but feel warm and cozy as you drink in this color combination. Cedar Breaks National Monument boasts bazillions of hoodoos in the same saffrony shade of sandstone as Bryce Canyon National Park but lacks the vast amount of visitors. Some of the overlooks within Cedar Breaks offer panoramic views of the forest beyond the national monument, with aspens donning smooth, buttery shades of yellow in the autumn. Unless someone has pulmonary issues exacerbated by the elevation, the hiking trails are short enough the whole family will complete them without complaint. Really! And the youngsters will love staying up late to view the stars and planets in this International Dark Sky Park — even if the parentals need a nap to stay awake. (We get it. Sometimes kids are exhausting.)
Drive a few minutes beyond Cedar Breaks on another of the scenic drives in Utah and choose your own adventure at Brian Head Mountain Resort. On weekends in September (weather permitting), you can hit lift-serviced, downhill-only mountain bike courses at the resort. Fly around the smooth berms on the aptly named Color Trail, which is suitable for beginners. Or try something a little trickier like the Timberline Trail. Advanced mountain bikers can attempt the Wildflower, dubbed “the gnarliest DH racecourse in the Utah Gravity Series.” Beyond the resort, you’ll find hundreds more miles of backcountry MTB trails, as well as ATV trails. Local outfitters in the area offer shuttle services for mountain bikers and ATV rentals for those who don’t have their own ride. Just remember to take it slow and savor your surroundings — trees donning citrus-colored leaves. Nature’s juicy couture.
Cedar City is the perfect place to experience fall in Utah. Stay for a few days to satisfy your craving for feel-good fall foliage — as well as your actual appetite. There are locally owned restaurants serving up steak and seafood streamside or woodfired pizzas and microbrews on Main Street. If you’re in town on a Saturday, check out Festival City Farmer’s Market. Festival City, you ask? Cedar City is also home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival (its fall season runs through late October) as well as the Cedar Livestock Festival and its world-famous walk of wool (translation: sheep parade).