Kolob Canyons and Cedar Breaks

Once inside, you’ll wonder why it took 20 years of ignoring the turnoff before finally experiencing Kolob Canyons.

Gail Newbold May 1, 2017

How many times have you zipped past Exit 40/Kolob Canyons on Utah’s Interstate 15 on your way to a softball tournament or to play a round of golf in St. George — too busy to visit this spectacular offshoot of Zion National Park located just minutes from the freeway — or simply unaware of the hidden glories awaiting?

Hidden Glories Await

Once inside, you’ll wonder why it took 20 years of ignoring the turnoff before finally experiencing Kolob Canyons’ soaring red sandstone cliffs, intriguing finger canyons, waterfalls, breathtaking views, wildflowers, fall colors and all-abilities hikes.

Easily as beautiful as the more famous parts of Zion, Kolob’s most outstanding feature is its sense of isolation and serenity. It’s ironic that this canyon so close to I-15 possesses such a remote vibe. A mere fraction of the people who visit Zion National Park actually take the road less traveled to Kolob. According to John Marciano, public information officer for Zion, Kolob Canyons gets approximately 375,000 visitors annually compared to the 4.3 million visitors pouring through the park’s east and south entrances. That translates into a lot less cars and hikers, and a lot more of feeling like you have the place almost to yourself.

Top 5 Things to Do in Kolob

1. Gawk. Almost as soon as you start the drive up Kolob Canyon Road, you’ll marvel at its beauty. Stop at every viewpoint, get out of the car and drink in the grandeur. You won’t even have to fight for a parking spot.

2. Kolob Canyons Viewpoint. Drive 5 miles to the end of Kolob Canyon Road where you’ll find the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, with bathrooms and picnic tables nestled among the trees. A tuna sandwich with these views never tasted so good, but bring your own. The only food or drink available inside is what you cart in.

3. Timber Creek Overlook Trail. Don’t leave the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint without hiking the easy 1-mile roundtrip Timber Creek Overlook Trail located at the parking lot. Almost no effort is required, but the payoff is huge with dramatic views of Kolob Canyon and the Pine Valley Mountains. During the spring and early summer, desert wildflowers dot the trail.

4. Taylor Creek Trail. It’s easy to see why the Taylor Creek Trail is said to be the most popular in Kolob, at least if you want to hike more than just the mile required by the Timber Creek Trail. It’s easy to do both in the same day, and rewarding because the two trails are so different. The Timber Creek Trail sits at the top of the canyon and the Taylor Creek Trail leads into a narrow box canyon toward the Double Arch Alcove where vertical walls rise 1,700 feet. The trail crisscrosses Taylor Creek past two historic homestead cabins built in the early 1930s. It’s 5-miles roundtrip but there’s no rule that says you have to get to the Double Arch Alcove. Any amount of time on the trail is worth the effort, and the elevation change is minimal.

5. Visitors Center. Stop at the visitors center to pay the entrance fee or show your pass. Check out the exhibits about the geology, vegetation and wildlife of the canyon. Rangers are on hand to answer questions. Buy water if needed.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

And as long as you’re in the groove of exploring Utah’s often-missed natural wonders, consider driving just one hour north to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument — a half-mile-deep natural rock amphitheater sitting at more than 10,000 feet. It’s been called a “mini Bryce” (referring to the national park) for its similarly intricate and colorful rock spires, columns and arches. It also offers hikes, vast views, wildflowers and more.

Top 6 Things to Do in Cedar Breaks — and Beyond

1. Enjoy the Journey. As the saying goes, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Whether you’re coming from the north or south, take exit 75/Parowan off I-15 to Highway 143 and drive 12 miles (spectacular especially in the fall) high into the mountains. A few miles past Brian Head you’ll reach the north view of Cedar Breaks, erroneously named for cedar trees that are actually junipers. The “breaks” part of its name comes because the canyon rock is soft and breaks away easily.

2. Scenic Drive. A 6-mile road winds through the park’s attractions, which include a visitors center, four overlooks and four hikes. Enjoy!

3. Ramparts Trail. For the best views of the Cedar Breaks amphitheater, hike the 4-mile roundtrip Ramparts Trail that starts at the visitors center. Be prepared to work for your views as there are many steep climbs along the plateau rim. Highlights are the vistas at Spectra Point and the Ramparts Overlook, but also the twisted and gnarly bristlecone pines estimated to be 2,000 years old.

4. Alpine Pond Trail. A completely different experience from the Ramparts Trail is the Alpine Pond Trail — a 2-mile loop through trees to a forest glade and picturesque pond.

5. Camp in a One Billion Star Hotel. “My favorite thing to do is camp inside the park on a clear summer night when the stars seem unlimited and the Milky Way sparkles above,” says Kenzie Lundberg, communications specialist at Cedar City and Brian Head Tourism Bureau. Or don’t camp, but visit on a summer weekend and join Dark Sky Rangers for a Star Party constellation tour and the chance to see deep space objects up close.

6. Cedar City. Instead of returning the way you came, take Highway 14 to Cedar City for a night on the town. Centro Woodfired Pizza gets rave reviews for its unique pizza and salads that can be enjoyed before or after a performance at the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival. Rest easy at Cedar City’s newest hotel offering, the La Quinta Inn & Suites Del Sol, conveniently located just off the freeway. The lobby and rooms are spacious, bright and modern, and the extensive breakfast buffet is free.

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