As Robert Frost once said, “And I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.” Utah’s Scenic Byways and Backways are for those seeking panoramas worlds away from the mainstream. These highways and backcountry paths offer outstanding scenic beauty and recreational opportunities, plus significant cultural and historical elements.
What is a Scenic Byway?
A Scenic Byway is a well-maintained road or highway that is suitable for travel by most passenger vehicles. Popular southern Utah Byways include Cedar Mountain U-14, Cedar Breaks National Monument U-148, Kolob Canyons Scenic Route, Zion National Park U- 9, and the nationally designated “All American Highway” U-12 through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and the recently designated “Patchwork Parkway” Hwy-143 through Brian Head.
What is a Scenic Backway?
Scenic Backways are backcountry roads with surfaces that vary from pavement to gravel. Notable Backways include Kolob Reservoir, Dry Lakes, Hole In-The-Rock, and Smithsonian Butte. It’s advisable to bring preparedness items such as food, water, spare tire, cell phone, fuel and maps while traveling any Scenic Backway. Always check road and weather conditions before embarking on your journey. Maps and detailed descriptions about the Scenic Byways and Backways can be obtained at most Utah visitor centers or online at www.utah.com/byways. *You may not have cell phone service while traveling on the Byways or Backways.
Patchwork Parkway – National Scenic Byway
51 Miles | 1.5 hours | Highway U-143 from Parowan to Panguitch
During a winter storm in 1864, Mormon pioneers painstakingly traversed this unforgettable mountain road by throwing down handmade quilts onto the snow to make their way from Panguitch to Parowan. Like the blocks of a quilt, the Patchwork Parkway passes through many diverse landscapes and geological wonders that bound together make for an amazing road trip. Stop at the interpretive sites to learn more about the area’s Mormon pioneer heritage.
Recently selected as one of the 16 Most Beautiful Spring Drives in the US by MSN, the Patchwork Parkway is beautiful in any season.
From Parowan, the highway climbs past the colorful Vermilion Cliffs through a maple and scrub oak forest. The road twists through cone shaped white cliffs then makes a major ascent to the forested heights of Brian Head ski town. Past Brian Head, the road climbs again to summit at 10,400 feet to the top most rise of the “Grand Staircase” geological formation, which showcases the 2,000 foot deep Cedar Breaks National Monument amphitheater. The byway continues south past the North View of Cedar Breaks where it junctions with SR-148.
Heading east, the road descends through a thick aspen forest which is brilliant in the late September with golden and red aspens. You’ll see distant views into the pink cliffs of the Paunsagunt Plateau. Ancient lava fields pop up through the aspen trees that line the highway. The road meets up with Panguitch Lake which is popular for fishing and boating. The byway continues east, following lush pastures and the banks of the Panguitch Creek into historic Panguitch town.
Cedar Mountain/Markagunt Plateau Byway
40 Miles | 1 Hour | Highway U-14 from Cedar City to U.S. 89
A thrilling drive that hugs the edge of the Markagunt Plateau as it reaches the 10,000 foot elevation of Dixie National Forest and the junction to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Considered one of the “Top 8 Unique Fall Destinations” by USA Today.
The byway cuts through Cedar City’s red hill, then crosses through a thick maple and scrub oak forest. The road then climbs through a narrow canyon looking in to the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area with sheer cliffs towering on both sides. Coming out of the canyon, you’ll pass the Southern Utah University Mountain Center and the Wood’s Ranch Recreation Area. Upon entering the Dixie National Forest you’ll glimpse into a sand- cut amphitheater similar to Cedar Breaks National Monument. The road will twist and turn through an aspen and pine forest, hugging the edge of the Markagunt Plateau.
The highway summits at 9,900 feet and continues along another mile before meeting up with Hwy SR-148 junction, which leads to Cedar Breaks National Monument. As Hwy SR-14 continues east, you’ll observe a landscape carpeted with ancient lava fields and layers of volcanic rock.
Around a sharp bend, Navajo Lake overlook will unfold for a great photo opportunity (the forest road to the lake is just mile further down Hwy SR-14). Continuing east, you’ll pass the Duck Creek Pond and the summer hamlet of Duck Creek Village. Continuing along the byway is the turnoff for Mammoth Creek Road, which junctions at scenic byway SR-143 to the north. Road begins to descend into Long Valley, twisting and turning through scrub oak and maple and ends at the junction of Hwy US-89.
Cedar Breaks National Monument Scenic Byway
6 Miles | 30+ Minutes | Highway U-148 from U-14 to Brian Head/U-143
A short but sweet drive of this natural wonder with breathtaking overlooks and hiking trails to get you out of the car. Stay for the sunset!
The road begins in a lush meadow then ascends through the Dixie National Forest. At the monument’s entrance to the road will make a sharp turn east and the speed limit will drop. The road will again turn north and you’ll see the Visitor Center/Entrance Station on the west side of the road.
The meadows that surround the “Breaks” are famous for their incredible variety of wildflowers in the month of July and early August plus fabulous fall colors in late September. At mile six, the road meets with National Scenic Byway SR-143. From here you can continue north into Brian Head to meet up with I-15 or continue east to Panguitch and Highway US-89.
Kolob Canyons – North Zion National Park
5 Miles | 30 Minutes | exit off I-15 18 miles south of Cedar City
This is the secret northern section of Zion National Park. The road crosses along a fault line where the five canyons or “fingers” of Kolob rise above you. Exceptional hiking and photography opportunities!
Starting at the Visitor Center, the road will make a sharp turn and the enormous natural cutaway of the Markagunt Plateau will unfold, and Zion’s tallest peak Horse Ranch Mountain will rise above you. As the road climbs further and curves around a box canyon cut by the south fork of Taylor Creek. The route will traverse along a ridgeline, climbing over 1,000 feet in elevation until it ends at a turnabout known as the Timbercreek Overlook. Timber Creek features an absolutely breathtaking view of the Kolob Terrace and Pine Valley Mountains to the west. Keep your camera ready. The light in the afternoon to twilight can be the best time for photography and this area is one of the best places for panoramic shots.
Dry Lakes/High Mountain Scenic Backway
19 Miles | 1 Hour | From Highway U-143 to the town of Summit
Backway provides sweeping views of Parowan Canyon, Sugarloaf Mountain, High Mountain, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is also the access to road to the Twisted Forest hiking trail and Ashdown Gorge Wilderness area. Road begins 8 miles up Hwy SR 143. This a good gravel road with very steep grade coming off the High Mountain towards Summit township. Road is 19 miles long. Check road conditions ahead of time. Closed in the winter.
Kolob Reservoir Scenic Backway
45 Miles | 90 Minutes | Off Highway U-14 to U-9/Zion National Park
Backway travels through thick aspen forest to Kolob Reservoir, through grassy meadows to the red and white backcountry of Zion National Park. Route begins five miles east of Cedar City, off Hwy SR 14 and ends at Hwy SR-9. Road is 45 miles long and is closed in winter. This Backway is also not suitable for travel in wet conditions.