85 miles N of the main section of Zion National Park; 56 miles W of Bryce Canyon National Park
A delightful little park, Cedar Breaks is a wonderful place to spend anywhere from a few hours to several days, gazing down from the rim into the spectacular natural amphitheater, hiking the trails, and camping among the spruce and fir trees.
This natural coliseum, which reminds us of Bryce Canyon, is more than 2,000 feet deep and over 3 miles across; it's filled with stone spires, arches, and columns painted in ever-changing reds, purples, oranges, and ochers. But why "Cedar Breaks"? Well, the pioneers who came here called such badlands "breaks," and they mistook the juniper trees along the cliff bases for cedars.
At over 10,000 feet of elevation, it's always pleasantly cool at Cedar Breaks. It actually gets downright cold at night, so bring a jacket or sweater, even if the temperature is scorching just down the road in St. George. The monument is open to those traveling by car, truck, or RV for a short summer season -- from after the snow melts, usually in late May, until the first heavy snow, usually in mid-November. However, if you have a snowmobile or a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes, you can visit throughout the winter.
Getting There -- From Zion National Park, head west on Utah 9, then north on Utah 17 to I-15. Follow the interstate north to exit 57 for Cedar City, and head east on Utah 14 to Utah 148. Turn north (left), and follow Utah 148 into the monument. If you're coming from Bryce Canyon, which is 56 miles east of the monument, or other points east, the park is accessible from the town of Panguitch via Utah 143. If you're traveling from the north, take the Parowan exit off I-15 and head south on Utah 143. It's a steep climb from whichever direction you choose, and vehicles prone to vapor lock or loss of power on steep hills (such as RVs) may have some problems.
Information/Visitor Center -- A mile from the south entrance gate, you'll find the visitor center, which is usually open daily from late May through mid-October, daily from 9am to 6pm (closed the rest of the year). The visitor center has exhibits on the geology, flora, and fauna of Cedar Breaks. You can purchase books and maps here, and rangers can help you plan your visit. For advance information, contact Cedar Breaks National Monument, 2390 W. Utah 56, Ste. 11, Cedar City, UT 84720 (tel. 435/586-9451 (administrative office) or 435/586-0787 (monument office, open in summer only; www.nps.gov/cebr).
Fees & Regulations -- Admission for up to 1 week, charged only from late May through mid-October, costs $4 per person for all those 16 and older, free for those 15 and under. Admission is free the rest of the year. Regulations are similar to those at most national parks: Leave everything as you find it. Mountain bikes are not allowed on hiking trails. Dogs, which must be leashed at all times, are prohibited on all trails, in the backcountry, and in public buildings.
Health & Safety Concerns -- The high elevation -- 10,350 feet at the visitor center -- is likely to cause shortness of breath and tiredness, and those with heart or respiratory conditions should consult their doctors before visiting. Avoid high, exposed areas during thunderstorms -- they're often targets for lightning.
Ranger Programs -- During the monument's short summer season, rangers offer campfire talks at the Point Supreme campground several nights a week, daily talks on geology and other subjects, and several guided hikes. There are also special programs on the monument's wildflowers, and, in recent years, stargazing programs have become especially popular. All ranger programs are free. A complete schedule is posted at the visitor center and the campground.
Exploring Cedar Breaks by Car
The 5-mile road through Cedar Breaks National Monument offers easy access to the monument's scenic overlooks and trail heads. Allow 30 to 45 minutes to make the drive. Start at the visitor center and nearby Point Supreme for a panoramic view of the amphitheater. Then drive north, past the campground and picnic ground turnoff, to Sunset View, for a closer view of the amphitheater and its colorful canyons. From each of these overlooks, you'll be able to see out across Cedar Valley, over the Antelope and Black mountains, into the Escalante Desert.
Continue north to Chessman Ridge Overlook, so named because the hoodoos directly below look like massive stone chess pieces. Watch for swallows and swifts soaring among the rock formations. Then head north to Alpine Pond, a trail head for a self-guided nature trail with an abundance of wildflowers. Finally, you'll reach North View, which offers your best look into the amphitheater. The view here is reminiscent of Bryce Canyon's Queen's Garden, with its stately statues frozen in time.
The 28-site campground, Point Supreme, just north of the visitor center, is usually open from mid-June through late September, with tent, car, and RV sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground is in a beautiful high-mountain setting, among tall spruce and fir. Facilities include restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and an amphitheater for the rangers' evening campfire programs. No showers or RV hookups are available. Camping fee is $14 per night. Keep in mind that even in midsummer, temperatures can drop into the 30s (low single digits Celsius) at night at this elevation, so bring cool-weather gear.
The fairly easy 2-mile round-trip Alpine Pond Nature Trail loop leads through woodlands of bristlecone pines to a picturesque forest glade and a pond surrounded by wildflowers, offering panoramic views of the amphitheater along the way. A trail guide pamphlet is available at the trail head.
A somewhat more challenging hike, the 4-mile round-trip Spectra Point/Ramparts Overlook Trail follows the rim more closely than the Alpine Pond Trail, offering changing views of the colorful rock formations. It also takes you through fields of wildflowers and by bristlecone pines that are more than 1,600 years old. You'll need to be especially careful of your footing along the exposed cliff edges, and allow yourself some time to rest -- there are lots of ups and downs along the way.
The 1-mile round-trip Campground Trail connects the campground with the visitor center, providing views of the amphitheater along the way. It is the only trail in the monument where pets are permitted.
There are no trails from the rim to the bottom of the amphitheater completely within the monument, but there are trails just outside the monument that go into the amphitheater. Check with the visitor center for details and directions.
Because of its relative remoteness, Cedar Breaks is a good place for spotting wildlife. You're likely to see mule deer grazing in the meadows along the road early and late in the day. Marmots make their dens near the rim and are often seen along the Spectra Point Trail. You'll spot ground squirrels, red squirrels, and chipmunks everywhere. Pikas, which are related to rabbits, are here, too, but it's unlikely you'll see one. They're small, with short ears and stubby tails, and prefer the high, rocky slopes.
Also look for birds, such as swallows, swifts, blue grouse, and golden eagles, and watch for Clark's nutcrackers, with their gray torsos and black-and-white wings and tails.
The monument's facilities are usually shut down from mid-November to late May due to the thick blanket of snow that covers it. The snow-blocked roads keep cars out, but they're perfect for snowmobilers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers, who usually come over from nearby Brian Head ski area. Note that snowmobiles are restricted to the main 5-mile road through the monument, which is groomed and marked.
The Summer Wildflowers of Cedar Breaks
During its brief summer season, Cedar Breaks makes the most of the warmth and moisture in the air with a spectacular wildflower show. The rim comes alive in a blaze of color -- truly a sight to behold. The dazzling display begins practically as soon as the snow melts and reaches its peak in mid-July. The annual 2-week Wildflower Festival, which celebrates the colorful display, starts the weekend closest to Independence Day. Watch for mountain bluebells, spring beauty, beard tongue, and fleabane early in the season; those beauties then make way for columbine, larkspur, Indian paintbrush, wild roses, and other flowers.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.