Patchwork Parkway: The Steepest Road in Utah

Driving State Route143 will put your brakes to the test with 13 percent grade; it’s the steepest paved road in the state

Starting and ending points: Parowan to Panguitch

Steepest section: Area around Brian Head Ski Resort

Max grade: 13 percent

Go up this road that tops out at 10,567 feet at Cedar Breaks and your engine will grind to let you know this is no ordinary route. Come down this road and your brakes will be constantly tested.

Climbing 4,600 feet in about 18 miles from Parowan to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Iron County, State Route 143 is the steepest paved state road in Utah with a maximum grade of 13 percent.

The highway is among about a dozen roads in the state that have a geographic distinction.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most major U.S. highways don’t exceed a 6 percent grade, the magic number for the preferred maximum steepness of a road. Parleys Canyon (I-80) has a maximum grade of 6 percent.

In the U.S. only the grades of interstates are required by law to remain under a certain percentage. A grade is based on the number of feet that a road changes every 100 feet at its steepest part. The interstate system in the United States must maintain roads with no more than a 6 percent grade. However, the steepest road in Utah will make you grip your steering wheel tight!

Originally an old pioneer road used to transport logging materials, Utah Route 143 winds its way through the Dixie National Forest. The highway can reach grades of over 13 percent as it ascends to the top of the ski resort. As a result, drivers frequently overheat their brakes and large trucks will try to avoid the byway altogether to keep them from catching fire.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh, and of course, having fresh snow and ice on the ground really doesn’t help matters. Neither do the out-of-towners with two-wheel-drive cars and no winter driving skills trying to make their way in late at night on Fridays.

Utah Route 143 is so steep that the toughest parts only have a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. This highway is also known as the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway or as the Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway.

The state highway climbs drivers over 10,500 feet into mountainous terrain near Cedar Breaks National Park. It’s also traversed by skiers headed to Brian Head Resort.

If you’re planning on traveling Route 143, remember that it’s not the drive up to the top that’s the scariest. Most hairy incidents happen while descending as inexperienced drivers may burn their brakes out. It’s not unheard of for freight trucks to have their breaks catch on fire while navigating hairpin turns with no shoulders.

Patchwork Parkway at Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Route 143 is the second-highest paved road in Utah. The highest, State Route 150 is the highest paved road by a few hundred more feet.

An unpaved gravel road that travels around Mount Brigham may be the highest in Utah. It reaches over 11,100 feet above sea level as it travels around Mount Brigham. The unpaved road breaks off of Tushar Road on Highway 89 south of Marysvale.

If jeep routes are considered unpaved roads, some jeep passes go higher. There are no official records about exactly how high these routes go, however. 

State Route 143 is a meandering drive between the small cities of Parowan and Panguitch. Parowan is 70 miles northeast of St. George a little more than 230 milessouthwest of Salt Lake City.

Fall colors and lava flows along Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brian Head Resort is a small ski area that gets most of its business from surrounding desert cities. It is only accessible via Route 143 and the steepest grade on the route must be traversed to get there. 

The main drag into Cedar Breaks National Park is Route 143. The highway also skirts Panguitch Lake about 30 minutes outside of the City of Panguitch.

Route 143 has a stretch with a grade of 13 percent. This is over twice as steep as allowed on any interstate in the nation. Between the town of Parowan and Cedar Breaks National Monument, travelers ascend around 4,600 feet in approximately 18 miles.

Because the road takes drivers up high into the mountains, it’s important to carry chains in the winter. The Utah Department of Transportation issues chain controls during bad weather conditions.

Panguitch Lake on the Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch Lake is a reservoir on Route 143 that’s a well-known spot for fishermen. The word panguitch means big fish in the Paiute language and this is an apt name as Panguitch Lake is popular for its huge trout.

Before the 1900s, the western part of Route 143 was used by pioneers. In 1933, it officially became a state highway. By 1985, and after two additions, the road had become the length that it remains today. 

Route 143 is known as the Patchwork Parkway after the perilous journey that a group of Mormon pioneers undertook in the winter of 1864. In desperation, a group in Panguitch decided to walk to Parowan in thick snow for needed food. Everyone back in town was starving to death.

After traveling so far that they were too committed to their journey to turn back, the snow became so thick that it was impossible to navigate. Fortunately, the pioneers discovered that the homemade patchwork quilts they had with them for warmth also allowed them to walk on the snow without sinking. It took them almost two weeks but the men methodically used their quilts to inch their way to Parowan and back with the desperately needed flour.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides Utah Route 143 being Utah’s steepest paved road with a 13 percent grade, the following tidbits about other Utah highways have been gathered from Utah maps, the Utah Department of Transportation, and other sources:

  • Highest paved road in Utah: Mirror Lake Highway (SR 150) which crosses Bald Mountain Pass, 10,715 feet above sea level. The road is usually open June to early November depending on the weather. Its latest-ever opening was June 29, 1995.
  • Highest paved road along the Wasatch Front: The Mount Nebo loop road that reaches 9,353 feet above sea level at the Monument trailhead.
  • Highest gravel road in Utah: From Big John Flat to a high ridge in the Tushar Mountains between Beaver and Marysvale at 11,500 feet above sea level.
  • Highest gravel road along the Wasatch Front: Skyline Drive in Davis County between Farmington and Bountiful. A spur road that heads north to the Francis Peak radar domes above Fruit Heights tops out at almost 9,500 feet above sea level. The road is passable by cars in the summer.
  • Lowest elevation paved road: River Road in Washington County south of Bloomington Hills and St. George at 2,697 feet above sea level.
  • Lowest elevation unpaved road: Several jeep roads in the Beaver Dam Wash area, west of St. George that approach 2,500 feet in elevation.
  • First Utah roads to be hard-surfaced: Richards Street in downtown Salt Lake City from South Temple to 100 South and also State Street from South Temple to 400 South—both in 1891 and probably paved with a combination of granite blocks, asphalt, and brick. Main Street in Salt Lake City from South Temple to 300 South was the next street paved.
  • Longest straight stretch of road: I-80 on the Salt Flats between Wendover and Knolls with an approximately 50-mile straightaway.
  • Longest tunnel: Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (SR 9), 5,613-feet long, the nation’s fifth-longest land tunnel. It opened in 1930 and is in Zion National Park.
  • Best paved road test for acrophobiacs: Probably Scenic Byway 12 between Escalante and Boulder where the highway traverses a knife-edge with high cliffs on both sides of the roadway and no guardrails.
  • Most likely roads to get a speeding ticket: Salt Lake’s North Temple (600-650 West) and State Street (2700-3000 South) plus Syracuse’s Allison Way (1525 West) and West Valley City’s 2700 West at 4650 South are all mentioned as the state’s newest speeding traps on the speedtrap.com website.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The Complete Guide to Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River in southern Utah. Scenery ranges from desert canyon gorges of amber, rose, and sienna to high mountain forests, plateaus, and alpine lakes. The forest is a part of the world-renowned landscapes of Southern Utah and provides a backdrop and serves as a gateway to surrounding National Parks and Monuments.

Dixie National Forest covering almost two million acres of natural grandeur is nestled in the picturesque landscapes of southern Utah. The forest boasts a diverse range of ecosystems, climates, and elevations from the rugged grandeur of deep canyons and fascinating rock formations to the serene allure of mountain lakes and towering ponderosa pines. It is a haven for those seeking a retreat into the untamed wilderness.

Based in Cedar City, Dixie National Forest is the largest National Forest in Utah straddling the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. The forest’s natural beauty is a source of inspiration to adventurers offering countless opportunities to explore hiking trails, fishing spots, and camping sites amidst the enchanting backdrop of the American Southwest.

Join me on a journey into the heart of this natural wonder where each turn reveals a new chapter in the story of Utah’s remarkable landscape. Explore Dixie National Forest’s vast expanse of natural beauty where the rugged terrain and serene landscapes offer a unique experience to those seeking adventure.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Features of the Dixie National Forest

Diverse ecosystems: Dixie National Forest stands out for its remarkable diversity of ecosystems ranging from low desert-like environments to high-elevation alpine landscapes. As you explore the forest’s vast expanse you’ll encounter sparse desert-type vegetation in the lower elevations giving way to a transition zone dominated by low-growing pinyon pine and juniper. Further up, the forest transforms into a lush realm featuring stands of aspen and conifers including pine, spruce, and fir.

Climatic extremes: One of the defining characteristics of Dixie National Forest is its range of climatic extremes. The forest experiences precipitation ranging from 10 inches in the lower elevations to over 40 inches per year near Brian Head Peak. At higher elevations, the majority of annual precipitation falls as snow creating a winter wonderland. Thunderstorms are common during July and August often bringing heavy rains and making August the wettest month in some areas.

Varied elevations: The forest’s topography is marked by varying elevations offering a visual feast for visitors. Elevations range from 2,800 feet near St. George to the towering 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin adjacent to the Colorado River provides awe-inspiring scenery characterized by multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

Rich wildlife habitat: Dixie National Forest provides a diverse and thriving habitat for a wide range of wildlife species. From elusive cougars and bobcats to majestic golden eagles and wild turkeys, the forest’s varied terrain supports a multitude of creatures. Big game hunting has traditionally been a major attraction and more recently there has been a growing interest in wildlife viewing and photography.

Recreational opportunities: Offering a plethora of recreational activities, Dixie National Forest caters to outdoor enthusiasts. With 26 developed campgrounds, five picnic sites, and group camping areas the forest provides opportunities for camping, hunting, scenic driving, hiking, and horseback riding. Additionally, there are 83,000 acres of designated wilderness areas including Pine Valley, Box-Death Hollow, and Ashdown Gorge ensuring a mix of both primitive and developed recreational experiences.

Archaeological treasures: Beyond its natural wonders, Dixie National Forest holds archaeological treasures that speak to the region’s rich human history. Pictographs, petroglyphs, and artifacts reveal the presence of prehistoric and historic populations. The forest’s heritage program aims to interpret and preserve these clues allowing visitors to explore and appreciate the area’s cultural significance.

In essence, Dixie National Forest encapsulates a tapestry of natural and cultural wonders providing an immersive experience for those eager to connect with the diverse landscapes and historical narratives of southern Utah.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Established on September 25, 1905, as the Dixie Forest Reserve by the General Land Office, Dixie National Forest has a history rooted in southern Utah. The name Dixie comes from the local term for the warm southern part of Utah which stuck after settlers arrived in 1851 to grow cotton for the Mormon Church. The forest’s name reflects its warm climate, a connection maintained since its inception.

In 1906, the U.S. Forest Service took over management officially designating Dixie Forest Reserve as a National Forest on March 4, 1907. The forest’s boundaries changed over time including the addition of the western part of Sevier National Forest in 1922 and the full integration of Powell National Forest on October 1, 1944. Despite occasional local sentiments to change the name bureaucratic complexities kept it as Dixie National Forest.

Beyond administrative changes, Dixie National Forest has a history reaching back to Native American cultures like the Desert-Archaic, Fremont, and Anasazi. Spanish explorers, such as Father Silvestre Veles de Escalante in 1776 ventured through the region leaving the Old Spanish Trail. Trappers, traders, and gold hunters frequented the area between 1835 and 1850 establishing it as a well-defined trail with challenges from the local Paiute Indians.

The forest experienced a continuous influx of settlers and explorers influencing the landscape and contributing to the region’s historical richness. Today, as the largest National Forest in Utah, Dixie National Forest’s history is woven into Utah’s Dixie reflecting a legacy of human effort and a lasting connection between the land and its inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique location of Dixie National Forest

Located in the heart of southern Utah, Dixie National Forest occupies a unique and strategically important location in the region’s diverse landscape. Stretching for approximately 170 miles across the state, the forest straddles the geographical divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

This distinctive positioning contributes to the forest’s exceptional scenic variety featuring everything from the rugged cliffs near the Colorado River to the high-elevation plateaus like Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin where Dixie National Forest unfolds showcases multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

This unique location not only makes the forest a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking diverse recreational opportunities but also highlights its significance as a vital ecological transition zone where the Great Basin and Colorado River ecosystems converge, creating a mosaic of habitats that support a rich array of plant and animal life. Dixie National Forest’s distinctive geographical setting thus adds an extra layer of allure to its already captivating natural beauty.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vegetation and plant species in Dixie National Forest

Utah Juniper: Found in the lower elevations of Dixie National Forest, the Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) is a hardy evergreen, well-adapted to arid conditions. Its twisted branches and scale-like leaves characterize the landscape showcasing its resilience in desert-like environments.

Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine: Alongside the Utah Juniper, the Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla) is a common sight in the lower elevations. Recognizable by its short needles bundled in pairs, this small pine species plays a significant role in the ecological tapestry of the forest, demonstrating adaptability to the region’s challenging climate.

Colorado Pinyon: Thriving in the transition zone of mid-elevations, the Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) is a low-growing pine species with distinct two-needle clusters. Its presence contributes to the diverse plant communities within Dixie National Forest highlighting the unique characteristics of this intermediate zone.

Quaking Aspen: As elevation increases, the landscape transforms with the emergence of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves. Known for their fluttering leaves, these deciduous trees create visually stunning landscapes in higher altitudes offering a striking contrast to the evergreen-dominated lower elevations.

White Fir: At the highest elevations, coniferous forests dominate and the White Fir (Abies concolor) is a notable species in this upper zone. With its tall stature and soft needles, this fir species contributes to the overall biodiversity of Dixie National Forest forming a key component of the high-elevation ecosystems.

Engelmann Spruce: Another coniferous species in the high-elevation zones is the Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii). Recognizable by its slender, blue-green needles, this spruce species is well-adapted to the colder and more elevated regions of the forest playing a vital role in shaping the upper reaches of Dixie National Forest.

Limber Pine: Completing the trio of conifers in the highest elevations is the Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis). Its flexible branches and long needles characterize this hardy pine species. As a resilient inhabitant of the alpine zones, the Limber Pine adds to the biodiversity and ecological resilience of Dixie National Forest.

These plant species collectively contribute to the intricate ecological mosaic of Dixie National Forest adapting to the varied elevations and climates that define this unique and diverse natural environment.

Dixie National Forest (Panguitch Lake) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Cougar: The elusive and majestic cougar (Puma concolor) also known as mountain lion or puma, roams the diverse landscapes of Dixie National Forest. As a top predator, cougars play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling herbivore populations. Their presence underscores the wild and untamed nature of the forest.

Bobcat: The adaptable bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a skilled hunter found in Dixie National Forest. With its distinctive tufted ears and spotted coat, this elusive feline navigates various habitats within the forest. Bobcats contribute to the biodiversity by preying on small mammals, birds, and other smaller creatures.

Golden Eagle: The skies above Dixie National Forest are graced by the majestic Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Known for its impressive wingspan and keen eyesight, this raptor dominates the aerial domain. Golden Eagles are a symbol of the forest’s avian diversity and their presence adds to the rich tapestry of wildlife in the area.

Cottontail rabbit: The cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus spp.) with its distinctive fluffy tail is a common sight in the lower elevations of the forest. These small herbivores are integral to the food web providing sustenance for predators like bobcats and birds of prey. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in diverse habitats.

Wild turkey: The iconic wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a resident of Dixie National Forest particularly in areas with mixed vegetation. With their striking plumage and distinctive calls, wild turkeys contribute to the avian diversity of the forest. They play a role in seed dispersal and insect control, further enhancing the ecosystem.

Utah prairie dog: The Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), a keystone species, creates burrow systems in the meadows and grasslands of the forest. Their activities aerate the soil and provide habitat for other species. Conservation efforts for the Utah prairie dog contribute to maintaining the health of Dixie National Forest’s unique ecosystems.

Blue grouse: The blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) adapted to the higher elevations is a distinctive bird species found in the coniferous forests of Dixie National Forest. Their mottled plumage provides excellent camouflage and their presence reflects the forest’s ecological diversity, particularly in the alpine zones.

Dixie National Forest’s fauna represents a harmonious interplay of predators, herbivores, and avian species showcasing the resilience and adaptability of wildlife in this diverse and ecologically significant environment.

Dixie National Forest (Red Canyon) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attractions in Dixie National Forest

1. Red Canyon

Located within Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder renowned for its vibrant red rock formations. Often referred to as a mini Bryce Canyon, Red Canyon offers a captivating preview of the geological splendor that characterizes the broader region. Visitors can explore the area through scenic drives, and hiking trails, and witness the awe-inspiring beauty of towering hoodoos and sandstone cliffs.

2. Boulder Mountain

Boulder Mountain, one of the largest high-elevation plateaus in the United States graces Dixie National Forest with its serene landscapes. Dotted with hundreds of small lakes this area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities abound providing a tranquil escape into the heart of the forest’s diverse ecosystems.

3. Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake surrounded by the picturesque scenery of Dixie National Forest is a haven for anglers and nature enthusiasts. The lake offers excellent fishing opportunities for trout making it a popular destination for those seeking a peaceful day by the water. The surrounding forested terrain adds to the charm creating an ideal setting for camping and outdoor recreation.

4. Box-Death Hollow Wilderness

For those seeking a more secluded and rugged adventure, the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness presents an untamed paradise within Dixie National Forest. This designated wilderness area features deep canyons, meandering streams, and lush vegetation. Hiking trails lead adventurers through this pristine landscape, offering a chance to connect with nature in its raw and unspoiled state.

5. Powell Point

Powell Point provides a panoramic view that stretches for miles allowing visitors to marvel at the vastness of Dixie National Forest and beyond. This viewpoint, accessible by car provides a unique perspective of the forest’s varied terrain from high-elevation plateaus to the rugged canyons below. Sunset views from Powell Point are particularly stunning, casting a warm glow over the diverse landscapes.

6. Hell’s Backbone Bridge

Hell’s Backbone Bridge is a remarkable engineering feat that spans across a deep gorge offering a thrilling experience for those who traverse it. This narrow bridge provides stunning views of Death Hollow and the surrounding forested landscapes. The journey across Hell’s Backbone is not only an adventure in itself but also a gateway to the captivating scenery of Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest (Scenic Byway 12) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Scenic Byway 12

Running through the heart of Dixie National Forest, Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road renowned for its spectacular views and diverse landscapes. The journey along this scenic route takes travelers through red rock canyons, alpine forests, and expansive plateaus. Numerous pull-offs and viewpoints offer opportunities to appreciate the unique features of the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s attractions provide a varied tapestry of natural wonders from iconic rock formations to serene lakeshores and untamed wilderness. Each destination within the forest offers a distinct and memorable experience inviting visitors to explore the diverse facets of this captivating landscape.

Recreational activities in Dixie National Forest

1. Hiking and nature trails

Dixie National Forest beckons outdoor enthusiasts with an extensive network of hiking and nature trails that cater to all skill levels. Whether you’re seeking a stroll amidst towering ponderosa pines or a challenging hike to witness panoramic vistas, the forest provides a diverse range of trails. Popular routes include those leading to scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, and unique geological formations allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the American Southwest.

2. Fishing at Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake ensconced within the forested landscapes is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Renowned for its pristine waters, the lake offers a rewarding experience for anglers seeking trout, including rainbow and cutthroat varieties. The tranquil surroundings coupled with the thrill of a potential catch make Panguitch Lake a popular destination for those who relish a serene day by the water.

3. Camping in scenic campgrounds

Dixie National Forest provides a plethora of camping opportunities across its 26 developed campgrounds. From the shores of Panguitch Lake to the alpine meadows near Boulder Mountain, these campgrounds cater to various preferences. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek amenities like fire pits and picnic tables, the forest’s campgrounds offer a chance to immerse yourself in the peaceful ambiance of nature.

4. Scenic drives along Byway 12

Embark on a journey through the heart of Dixie National Forest via Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes. This scenic drive takes travelers on a visual feast passing through diverse terrains including red rock canyons, alpine plateaus, and forested realms. Numerous pull-offs provide opportunities for photography and contemplation of the forest’s natural wonders.

5. Winter activities

When winter blankets Dixie National Forest in snow, the landscape transforms into a snowy wonderland offering opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for these winter sports allowing visitors to experience the serene beauty of snow-covered landscapes while engaging in invigorating outdoor activities.

6. Wildlife viewing

Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife and avid nature enthusiasts can partake in wildlife viewing experiences. From the elusive cougar to the vibrant blue grouse, the forest supports a diverse range of species. Birdwatchers can spot golden eagles soaring in the skies adding to the rich avian tapestry of the area. Patient observers may also catch glimpses of deer, antelope, and other forest inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest’s recreational activities cater to a wide spectrum of interests ensuring that visitors can tailor their experiences to match their preferences whether seeking adventure, tranquility, or a cultural journey through time.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities and amenities in Dixie National Forest

Campgrounds and picnic sites: Dixie National Forest boasts a network of 26 developed campgrounds strategically located to offer a range of camping experiences. From lakeside camping near Panguitch Lake to forested retreats, these campgrounds provide essential amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and vault toilets. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek family-friendly sites, the forest’s campgrounds cater to diverse preferences allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature.

Visitor centers and information stations: Throughout Dixie National Forest visitor centers and information stations serve as gateways to the forest’s wonders. Headquartered in Cedar City, these facilities provide valuable resources, maps, and knowledgeable staff to assist visitors in planning their exploration. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned adventurer, these centers offer insights into the diverse landscapes, recreational activities, and cultural history of the forest.

Scenic byways and viewpoints: Navigating through Dixie National Forest is made seamless with designated scenic byways and viewpoints. Scenic Byway 12 takes travelers on a visual journey through diverse terrains. Numerous viewpoints along the route provide opportunities for breathtaking vistas allowing visitors to pause, appreciate, and capture the natural beauty that unfolds before them.

Winter recreation facilities: During the winter months, Dixie National Forest transforms into a snowy playground and the forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for winter activities. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling enthusiasts can access well-maintained trails providing a unique perspective of the forest blanketed in snow. These facilities ensure that winter visitors can engage in invigorating outdoor activities while surrounded by the serene beauty of a winter landscape.

Fishing access points: Panguitch Lake and other water bodies within Dixie National Forest offer excellent fishing opportunities and the forest provides well-maintained fishing access points. These points facilitate anglers in reaching prime fishing spots enhancing the overall fishing experience. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, these access points contribute to the accessibility and enjoyment of fishing within the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s facilities and amenities are designed to enhance the visitor experience providing essential resources, educational opportunities, and well-maintained spaces for a diverse range of recreational activities. Whether seeking information, cultural insights, or a serene camping spot, the forest’s amenities cater to the varied needs of its visitors.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for visiting Dixie National Forest

Stay informed with visitor centers: Take advantage of the visitor centers and information stations within the forest. These hubs provide maps, trail information, and knowledgeable staff to help you plan your activities.

Respect wildlife and nature: Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife so approach encounters with respect. Keep a safe distance, avoid feeding animals, and observe quietly. Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out your trash and minimizing your impact on the environment. By respecting nature, you contribute to the preservation of the forest’s delicate ecosystems.

Pack essentials for outdoor activities: Whether you’re hiking, camping, or fishing ensure you pack essentials. Bring sufficient water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions. If engaging in winter activities, carry winter gear. Having the right equipment ensures a comfortable and safe outdoor experience within the varied landscapes of Dixie National Forest.

Explore Scenic Byway 12: Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road that traverses Dixie National Forest. This scenic route offers spectacular views and diverse landscapes. Numerous viewpoints along the byway provide excellent photo opportunities and a chance to appreciate the unique features of the forest. Take your time to savor the journey.

Check trail conditions and closures: Before embarking on hiking or other trail-based activities, check for trail conditions and possible closures. Weather, maintenance, or wildlife management may affect accessibility. Stay informed by consulting with park rangers, checking online resources or contacting visitor centers. This ensures a safe and enjoyable exploration of the forest’s trails.

Participate in interpretive programs: Immerse yourself in the cultural and historical aspects of Dixie National Forest by participating in interpretive programs. These programs, often organized by the forest service provide valuable insights into the region’s Native American history, early settlement, and ecological significance. Engaging with these programs enhances your connection to the land.

Respect heritage and historical sites: Dixie National Forest holds historical and cultural significance, so respect heritage sites and artifacts. Follow established trails, avoid touching petroglyphs or ancient structures, and adhere to any posted guidelines. Preserving these sites ensures that future generations can also appreciate the rich history of the forest.

Prepare for altitude changes: Dixie National Forest spans a range of elevations from lower desert areas to alpine plateaus. Be mindful of altitude changes especially if you’re not acclimated to higher elevations. Take it easy during the first day to avoid altitude sickness, stay hydrated, and be aware of any health concerns related to changing elevations.

Check for permits and regulations: Depending on your activities, certain permits or regulations may apply. Check if camping, fishing, or other recreational activities require permits, and ensure you comply with all forest regulations. This helps in maintaining the integrity of the forest and ensures a smooth and lawful visit.

By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your visit to Dixie National Forest ensuring a memorable and respectful exploration of its diverse landscapes and natural wonders.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

In summary, Dixie National Forest spanning nearly two million acres in southern Utah showcases a diverse tapestry of natural wonders. From captivating canyons and rock formations to tranquil lakes and towering ponderosa pines, the forest encompasses various ecosystems and elevations. As Utah’s largest National Forest, it straddles the Great Basin and the Colorado River boasting a rich history since its establishment in 1905.

Here are a few more articles to help you explore the area:

As you leave Dixie National Forest, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe at the natural beauty that surrounds you. Whether you spent your time hiking through the forest, fishing in one of its many streams, or simply taking in the stunning views, you’ll likely leave with memories that will last a lifetime. And while the forest is certainly a place of natural wonder, it’s also a reminder of the importance of preserving our planet’s precious resources for generations to come. So as you say goodbye to Dixie National Forest, take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the natural world and the role we all play in protecting it.

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park

The 20 Most Beautiful Forests in the United States

The truly great outdoors

I talk a lot about national parks and state parks and with good reason. But never overlook the national forests. Not only do these places play a valuable role in ensuring a healthy ecosystem for humans and wildlife—they are some of the most spectacular, crowd-pleasing wildlands on earth. Under the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest System helps preserve hundreds of millions of acres.

The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison after years of exploitative logging had devastated the nation’s once vast eastern forests.

After two decades of debate the act put in place the means to protect wooded areas as forest reserves. The precursor of the U.S. Forest Service called the Division of Forestry had been founded in 1881 to monitor the overall health of forests in the United States but this was the first time the federal government took an active role in making some forests off-limits for logging and other uses.

In 1905, those reserves became the charge of the Bureau of Forestry and eventually they were renamed national forests.

More than a third of the United States is made up of forests or woodland areas which adds up to around 822 million acres altogether and we rely on them more than you might think. Over 200 million Americans get their drinking water sourced from forests. Forests themselves aid in protecting drinking water cleanliness by the reduction of soil erosion and the filtration of harsh chemicals and sediments.

Overview

National Forests and Grasslands provide Americans with 193 million spectacular acres of wildlands:

  • More than 9,000 miles of scenic byways to drive
  • Almost 150,000 miles of trails to hike
  • More than 4,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers to float
  • At least 5,100 campgrounds in which to pitch our tents and RVs
  • And 328 natural pools to swim in

All this and the chance to see elk and bear, ducks and deer, trout and trees, thousands of species of plants, and billions of stars in a midnight sky.

More on National Forests: Discover the National Forests during Great Outdoors Month

Here are 20 of the most beautiful and RV-friendly national forests in the United States (in alphabetical order).

Black Hills National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota and Wyoming)

The Black Hills National Forest is in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming covering an area 125 miles long and 65 miles wide. The Forest encompasses rugged rock formations, canyons and gulches, open grassland parks, deep blue lakes, and unique caves.

For many people, from early Native Americans to today’s visitors, the Black Hills has been a special place to come for physical and spiritual renewal. The name Black Hills comes from the Lakota word Paha Sapa which means hills that are black. Seen from a distance these pine-covered hills rising several thousand feet above the surrounding prairie appear black.

The Black Hills area has a rich, diverse cultural heritage. Archaeological evidence suggests the earliest known use of the area occurred about 10,000 years ago. Later Native Americans such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota came to the Black Hills to seek visions and to purify themselves. The Black Hills was also a sanctuary where tribes at war could meet in peace.

Harney Peak, at 7,242 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests (Georgia)

Georgia‘s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests are a hiker’s paradise. Winding trails lead visitors through scenic mountains and rolling hills by wild rushing rivers and cascading waterfalls.

Drive along the Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway which tours the Armuchee Ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Across from the Armuchee Ridges lie the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lake Conasauga sits here, the state’s highest lake at more than 3,000 feet above sea level. This clear cool mountain lake is surrounded by white pines and eastern hemlocks.

Don’t forget to stop at Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak at 4,784 feet. Trails traverse the mountain and the observation deck offers breathtaking panoramic views of mountains and valleys.

Unlike the tall peaks of the Chattahoochee, the Oconee National Forest is relatively flat with small hills. Lake Sinclair is popular for swimming, fishing, boating, and camping. Near Lake Oconee, an easy 1-mile trail leads to one of Georgia’s ghost towns, Scull Shoals.

Cibola National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cibola National Forest (New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma)

Cibola, pronounced See-bo-lah, is thought to be the original Zuni Indian name for their group of pueblos or tribal lands. Later, the Spanish interpreted the word to mean buffalo.

The Cibola National Forest is 1,625,542 acres in size. Elevation ranges from 5,000-11,301 feet. The forest includes the Datil, Gallinas, Magdalena, Bear, Manzano, Sandia, San Mateo, Mt. Taylor, and Zuni Mountains. There are four wildernesses contained within the forest: Sandia Mountain, Manzano Mountain, Withington, and Apache Kid. The Cibola National Grasslands are located in northeastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and northwestern Texas, and are 263,954 acres in size.

Downhill skiing is available at the Sandia Peak Ski Area located on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. Located in the vicinity of the Cibola National Forest are heritage sites including Indian Pueblos, prehistoric ruins, ice caves, and lava flows.

Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Coconino National Forest (Arizona)

When you think Arizona, your mind may conjure images of saguaro cacti and desert. And when you think national forest you may picture miles of evergreen-covered mountains. Coconino National Forest somewhat defies both sets of expectations boasting landscape that ranges from dramatic red rock formations to alpine tundra. Wildlife in the area is similarly varied including elk, javelinas, black bears, and rattlesnakes. Unsurprisingly, Coconino National Forest is a popular spot for outdoor recreation including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

The forest is divided into three districts: Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim, and Red Rock Country. At 12,633 feet, the San Francisco Peaks are not only the dominant feature of the forest area, it’s also the highest mountain in Arizona. The Mogollon Rim is a rugged escarpment that forms the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau. Dropping as much as 2,000 feet in some areas, the Rim provides some of the most far-reaching scenery in Arizona. No matter what you do in Red Rock Country, you’re always sightseeing. Ways to get even closer to all this scenery include hiking, horseback riding, taking a scenic drive, sliding down a natural waterslide, picnicking, camping, taking lots of photos, and fishing in Oak Creek.

More on National Forests: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Forests in America

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Dixie National Forest (Utah)

Dixie National Forest with headquarters in Cedar City occupies almost two million acres and stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. The largest National Forest in Utah, it straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

The Dixie National Forest is divided into four geographic areas. High altitude forests in gently rolling hills characterize the Markagunt, Pansaugunt, and Aquarius Plateaus. Boulder Mountain, one of the largest high-elevation plateaus in the United States, is dotted with hundreds of small lakes 10,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level.

The vegetation of the Forest grades from sparse, desert-type plants at the lower elevations to stand of low-growing pinyon pine and juniper dominating the mid-elevations. At the higher elevations, aspen and conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir predominate.

Three National Parks and two National Monuments are adjacent to the Dixie. Red sandstone formations of Red Canyon rival those of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hell’s Backbone Bridge and the view into Death Hollow are breathtaking.

Fish Lake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Fishlake National Forest (Utah)

The Fishlake National Forest in central Utah features majestic stands of aspen encircling open mountain meadows that are lush with a diverse community of forbs and grasses. Fish Lake, from which the forest takes its name, is considered by many to be the gem of Utah. The largest natural mountain lake in the state, it offers trophy fishing and bird watching.

In Fishlake Forest, you’ll find over 1.4 million acres of paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, sundry scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Recreational opportunities include scenic drives, mountain biking, snowmobiling, hiking, camping and OHV use. The Paiute ATV Trail winds through nearly 1,000 miles of the forest’s most scenic terrain, over three mountain ranges, and through desert canyons. The Fish Lake-Johnson Valley area boasts spectacular mountain lake fishing in 3,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs, along with campgrounds, picnic areas, boating, and lakeside resort properties.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Washington)

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest provides a wide variety of recreation opportunities including the 110,000 acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Located in southwest Washington State, the forest encompasses 1,312,000 acres and includes the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument established in 1982.

You can also explore Mount St. Helens from the easy surroundings of the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center and the Johnston Ridge Observatory or hike to the very edge of the crater.

In addition to visiting the volcano, you can hike, backpack, climb mountains, fish, or paddle. The Gifford Pinchot also has seven Wilderness Areas with incredible scenery and unmatched solitude.

Green Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Green Mountain National Forest (Vermont)

The Green Mountain National Forest is located in southwestern and central Vermont. This Forest is a four season recreation experience. The most popular season is autumn when the mountains are ablaze with color. The Forest’s diverse landscapes range from the rugged, exposed heights of the Green Mountains to the quiet, secluded hollows in the Wilderness.

Today, the nearly 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest contains more than 2,000 archaeological and historic sites spanning the history of Vermont. Of interest are Native American sites, the remains of colonial-era subsistence farmsteads, and evidence of the technologies of the industrial period. Other sites include the roads, structures, and facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

The Forest’s scenic beauty along the backbone of Vermont’s Green Mountains offers unlimited recreation opportunities any season of the year. Of particular interest to many are the auto foliage tours. And one of the most sought-after sights within the Green Mountain National Forest is the majestic moose.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Kaibab National Forest (Arizona)

The Kaibab National Forest is part of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the United States. Bordering both the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab has the distinction of surrounding one of Nature’s greatest attractions.

Elevations vary on the forest from 5,500 feet in the southwest corner to 10,418 feet at the summit of Kendrick Peak on the Williams Ranger District. You’ll find enough breathtaking views, outstanding forest scenery, unusual geologic formations, and fun recreation activities to keep you satisfied for days.

Hikers and riders will find solitude, wildlife viewing, and scenic views on this portion of the Kaibab National Forest. A few of the trails are best suited for the experienced hiker but there are trails for a variety of levels of expertise and desire.

Lassen National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Lassen National Forest (California)

The Lassen National Forest lies at the heart of one of the most fascinating areas of California called the Crossroads. Here the granite of the Sierra Nevada, the lava of the Cascades and the Modoc Plateau, and the sagebrush of the Great Basin meet and blend.

Within the Lassen National Forest, you can explore a lava tube or the land of Ishi, the last survivor of the Yahi Yana Native American tribe. Watch wildlife as pronghorn antelope glide across sage flats or osprey snatch fish from lake waters. Drive four-wheel trails into high granite country appointed with sapphire lakes or discover spring wildflowers on foot.

The Lassen National Forest offers a wide array of recreational opportunities and adventures. Fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, bicycling, boating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and exploring and learning about nature are among the many popular pastimes.

Manti-La Sal National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Manti-La Sal National Forest (Utah)

The 1.4 million-acre Manti-La Sal National Forest is located in southeastern Utah and is managed for multiple uses such as range, timber, minerals, water, wildlife, and recreation.

The Manti Division of the Manti-la Sal National Forest is part of the remnant Wasatch Plateau exhibiting high elevation lakes, diverse vegetation, near vertical escarpments, and areas of scenic and geologic interest.

On the La Sal Division-Moab, mountain peaks, canyons, and forest add climatic and scenic contrast to the hot red-rock landscape of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

The La Sal Division-Monticello offers timbered slopes to provide a welcome middle ground and background contrast to the sand and heat of Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and the surrounding desert. Pictographs, petroglyphs, and stone dwellings are evidence of past civilizations.

Pisgah National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests (North Carolina)

The Pisgah and Nantahala national forests of western North Carolina may be best known for their explosive displays of fall foliage. Every year, the two forests, totaling some 1 million acres carpet the Blue Ridge Mountains in reds, yellows, and oranges.

But even off-season the old-growth stretches of oak, hemlock, tulip poplar, pine, sycamore, dogwood, and beech beckon visitors in search of hiking, fishing, and other outdoor recreation (together, the Pisgah and Nantahala contain over 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail). Six wilderness areas between the two forests attest that some relatively unspoiled land remains on the east coast. Black bears, deer, wild boar, and other wildlife can be found throughout the region.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Prescott National Forest (Arizona)

Prescott National Forest lies in a mountainous section of central Arizona between forested plateaus to the north and arid desert to the south. The natural beauty of the Prescott National Forest—mountain tops, clear lakes and rivers, great varieties of fish, unique wildlife, and remnants of cultural heritage—provides a setting for diverse outdoor recreation.

The Prescott National Forest is guardian of eight Wilderness Areas. Of these, Granite Mountain Wilderness is the most familiar since it is only 20 minutes from Prescott by paved road.

Lynx Lake Recreation Area is one of the most popular recreation areas in central Arizona. Mild weather, the cool ponderosa pine forest, a serene 55-acre lake, trout fishing, boating, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, archaeological sites, and bird watching attract visitors and bring them back again and again.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. San Bernardino National Forest (California)

The San Bernardino National Forest ranges from desert floor to alpine peaks, from flowering cactus to eagles soaring above tall pines. Whether you’re walking in the footsteps of Native Americans or exploring the remnants of Southern California’s biggest gold strike, the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument provides a world-renowned scenic backdrop to the desert communities of the Coachella Valley. The National Monument’s mountains rise abruptly from the desert floor to an elevation of 10,834 feet at the top of Mount San Jacinto. Visitors may take the breathtaking Palm Springs Tramway to access the high elevations.

More on National Forests: 20 Scenic Road Trips to Take This Summer in Every Part of America

San Juan National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. San Juan National Forest (Colorado)

The San Juan National Forest encompasses some 1.8 million acres stretching across five Colorado counties in the southwestern corner of the state. This terrain ranges from high-desert mesas to alpine peaks with thousands of miles of back roads and hundreds of miles of trails to explore.

The San Juan National Forest abounds with natural and cultural treasures. Five distinct life zones range from elevations near 5,000 feet to above 14,000 feet. Several of Colorado’s famous 14’ers can be found in the Weminuche and Lizard Head Wilderness Areas. The San Juan also includes the South San Juan Wilderness Area.

Cultural resources run the gamut from historic mining ghost towns and mills to Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and pit houses. Some heritage sites offer guided tours; others are unmarked treasures you may happen across in the backcountry.

Sequoia National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Sequoia National Forest (California)

The Sequoia National Forest’s landscape is as spectacular as its trees. Soaring granite monoliths, glacier-torn canyons, roaring whitewater, and more await your discovery at the Sierra Nevada’s southern end.

The Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument are named for the giant sequoia, the world’s largest tree. The landscape is as spectacular as its 38 Giant Sequoia Groves.

The Sequoia National Forest offers a huge range of outdoor recreation activities. The trails offer hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and off-roading. The rivers, lakes, and reservoirs offer boating, fishing, water skiing, swimming, whitewater rafting, and kayaking.

More than 50 developed campgrounds are available on the Sequoia National Forest and the Giant Sequoia National Monument. There are a number of picnic and day use areas.

The Giant Forest, located in the center of Sequoia National Park, is home to half of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. Here, there are more than 8,000 enormous sequoia trees including the General Sherman Tree which has the largest volume in the entire world. General Sherman, the prize of Sequoia National Park, is the world’s largest living thing at the ripe old age of 2,100 years and weighs about 2.7 million pounds (he is 275 feet tall).

Sierra National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Sierra National Forest (California)

The Sierra National Forest located on the western slope of the central Sierra Nevada is known for its spectacular mountain scenery and abundant natural resources. The Sierra National Forest has a wide range of elevation from 900 feet to 13,986 feet.

The terrain includes rolling, oak-covered foothills, heavily forested middle elevation slopes, and the starkly beautiful alpine landscape of the High Sierra. Abundant fish and wildlife, varied mountain flora and fauna, and numerous recreational opportunities make the Sierra National Forest an outdoor lover’s paradise.

Whether you are interested in hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, picnicking, driving off-highway, fishing, or any of the other popular recreational activities, the Sierra National Forest is the place to be. There are a number of recreation areas which offer a variety of experiences.

Stanislaus National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Stanislaus National Forest (California)

The Stanislaus National Forest, created on February 22, 1897, is among the oldest of the National Forests. It is named for the Stanislaus River whose headwaters rise within Forest boundaries.

In the Stanislaus National Forest, you’ll find a treasure chest of recreation activities including water activities, fishing in over 800 miles of rivers and streams, camping, and hiking. Swim near a sandy beach or wade into cold clear streams cooling your feet while lost in the beauty of nature, raft the exciting Tuolumne River, or canoe one of the many gorgeous lakes.

The Stanislaus National Forest has many lakes and reservoirs for the swimmer and boat enthusiast. Cherry and Beardsley are well-suited for motorized boats and water-skiing. The smaller lakes such as Lake Alpine and Pinecrest are more suitable for sailboats and canoes.

The Stanislaus National Forest contains all of the Emigrant Wilderness and portions of the Carson-Iceberg and Mokelumne Wildernesses. The pristine and dramatic scenery in the Wilderness Areas is a backdrop to outstanding hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding opportunities.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Tonto National Forest (Arizona)

The Tonto National Forest embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country ranging from Saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim. The variety in vegetation and range in altitude from 1,300 to 7,900 feet on the Tonto provides outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forests.

In the winter, visitors flock to Arizona to enjoy the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments of the Tonto’s lower elevations. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and to fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire and Maine)

Spanning more than 800,000 acres, White Mountain National Forest features some of the most untamed and beautiful country in the Northeast including the Presidential Mountain Range.

Arguably the highlight of this region is 6,288-foot Mount Washington, a challenge for intrepid hikers that has long boasted the world’s worst weather (indeed, a temperature of -50 degrees F and wind speeds over 200 mph have been recorded here and as much as four feet of snow has fallen in a single 24-hour period).

Despite the rugged weather, White Mountain National Forest boasts lush wooded landscape too; maple, oak, hemlock, pine, and birch dominate at lower elevations with spruce and fir stands taking over the higher you get. Wildlife highlights in the area include moose, black bears, and peregrine falcons.

Whether you’re looking for a scenic leaf peeping drive in the fall, a leisurely historical walk through the woods, or a grueling trek with stunning scenery, the White Mountain National Forest is a great spot for your next getaway!

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

Outside the Mighty 5

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Utah’s much more than The Mighty 5. Sure, its famous national parks—Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park—are must-sees but spectacular scenes don’t end at the parks’ boundaries. 

Just beyond their star-studded borders, you’ll find equally-impressive red-rock slot canyons, sandstone cliffs, and limestone plateaus. What these less-popular locales lack in national designation they make up for with easy access, peaceful meandering, and uninterrupted wilderness delight. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Capitol Reef National Park

Nearby fave: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes, and seemingly endless Slickrock. This area is also remote with fewer services than national parks so ensure you’re prepared to keep yourself safe.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Hike highlights include Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Famous: Zion National Park

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby fave: Sand Hollow State Park and Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, and explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with a rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Bryce Canyon National Park

Nearby fave: Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

“Stumbled upon.” “By accident.” “Surprised by.” That’s how some visitors happen to find Red Canyon. As Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known neighbor road travelers encounter Red Canyon en route to the national park and stun them when Scenic Byway 12 runs directly through two red-rock arch tunnels.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding highway displays orange-red pinnacles, spires, columns, and hoodoos. These limestone and sandstone formations line the road making it easy for drivers to stop for photo ops. But for those looking to stay longer, Red Canyon offers camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and off-roading.

Anchored by the town of Panguitch, Red Canyon makes up a small part of Dixie National Forest’s 170-mile wide nature preserve.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Nearby fave: Dead Horse Point State Park

Oh, the views! The panorama from Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Driving to each of the park’s many overlooks reveals a completely different perspective into Utah’s vast canyon country. The park is a slender peninsula of land extending off the massive plateau that is home to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park sits above the beautiful White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park and offers views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains to the south, and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. The area got its name from its use as a natural horse corral around the turn of the century. According to legend, some horses died of exposure on the plateau.

A visitor center and art gallery provide a good primer to the park’s geology and key features visible from the many overlooks. The visitor center parking lot also serves as an excellent starting point to access the 16.6 miles of non-motorized single-track mountain biking and eight miles of hiking trails that sprawl across the park.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserve a campsite or yurt at any one of Dead Horse Point State Park campgrounds. Take in the spectacular star show from this International Dark Sky Park.

Get more tips for visiting Dead Horse Point State Park

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

The 10 Most Breathtaking National Forests in America

Often overshadowed by the National Park Service, the national forests in the U.S. offer some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the country

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Saguaro Lake in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who prefer a somewhat remote setting to camp, the U.S. Forest Service offers a range of choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere. America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.

For starters, here’s a shortlist of some of the country’s most stunning national forests.

Near Bartlett Lake in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine-clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most are rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.

At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful lands in the country. The variety in vegetation and range in elevation—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forests.

San Carlos Indian Reservation in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.

Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.

Castle in the Rocks in White Mountain National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain National Forest, Maine and New Hampshire

One of just two national forests in New England, the White Mountain National Forest is a year-round adventure destination. Crowned by the highest peaks in the region—the Presidential Range—the national forest includes the largest alpine zone in the Eastern U.S. For hikers, more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails wind through hardwood and conifer forests offering access to secluded waterfalls, glassy ponds, and ragged, granite peaks.

The White Mountain National Forest also harbors more than 160 miles of the Appalachian Trail including the footpath’s longest stretch above the tree line. In the fall, the national forest’s scenic roads including the 34.5-mile Kancamagus Scenic Byway provides some of the best leaf-peeping in New England.

Ramsey Canyon in Coronado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Among the most biodiversity-rich national forests in the country, southeastern Arizona’s 1.78-million-acre Coronado National Forest spreads from saguaro-studded swathes of the desert to pine-oak woodlands to the high peaks of a dozen different sky mountain ranges harboring numerous species including black bears, screech owls, and javelina. The national forest’s craggy canyons are especially rich in birdlife—like Ramsey Canyon, a haven for species like blue-throated hummingbirds, acorn woodpeckers, and Montezuma quail.

Madera Canyon in Cornado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique overnight experience, the bunkhouses from a former mining camp in the national forest’s Santa Rita range have been transformed into cozy cabins (Kent Springs) in Madera Canyon; camping is available at Bog Springs Campground.

Sequoias in Sierra National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sierra National Forest, California

Spread over the western slopes of the central portion of the Sierra Nevada, the 1.3-million-acre Sierra National Forest preserves some of California’s most iconic natural areas including portions of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness. The Sierra National Forest is the gateway to the Sierras including the intensely visited Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Stretching from the range’s sparsely forested lowlands to the glaciated granite spires of the high Sierras, the 1.3-million-acre protected area tops out at 13,900 feet and features a thousand-mile trail system that includes seven different National Recreation Trails. For backpackers, a 30-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the national forest—but there are plenty of shorter hikes, too, like the Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail which winds through a grove of giant sequoias.

Along Cherohala Skyway in Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

The Nantahala National Forest lies in the mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina. The largest of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Nantahala encompasses 531,148 acres with elevations ranging from 5,800 feet at Lone Bald to 1,200 feet along the Hiwassee River. The Forest is divided into three Districts, Cheoah in Robbinsville, Tusquitee in Murphy, and the Nantahala in Franklin. All district names come from the Cherokee language. “Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noonday sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge where the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday.

In the Nantahala National Forest, visitors enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities from whitewater rafting to camping. With over 600 miles of trails, opportunities exist for hikers, mountain bikers, horse-back riders, and off-highway vehicle riders. View some of the best mountain scenery from the 43-mile Cherohala Skyway through the and Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests. This National Scenic Byway connects Robbinsville to Tellico Plains in southeast Tennessee. 

Custer State Park in Black Hills National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

The Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota consists of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The Black Hills rise from the adjacent grasslands into a ponderosa pine forest. Described as an “Island in the Plains,” the Forest has diverse wildlife and plants reaching from the eastern forests to the western plains. This is a multiple-use Forest with activities ranging from timber production, grazing, to hiking, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, mining, and wildlife viewing. 

Amid the splendid scenery of the Black Hills National Forest are 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, 32 picnic areas, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, over 13,426 acres of wilderness, and 353 miles of trails. Every location in the Black Hills is a special place but there are hidden gems around every corner.

Along Russell Brasstown-Bald Scenic Byway in Chattahoochee-Onocee National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, Georgia

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide some of the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history, and culture.

Brasstown Bald in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cool in the summer, mild in the winter, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and is surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. The drive is ideal for viewing colorful wildflowers or dazzling fall colors. Secluded valley views of Wilderness Areas abound along the way. The 40-mile loop follows State Highways 348, 180, and 17/75. Take in 360-degree views atop the 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s tallest mountain. At an elevation of 2,080 feet, on the banks of the Tallulah River, the Tallulah River Campground is a favorite. If you like hiking, the Coleman River Trail is there for you to enjoy the outdoors and nature.

Red Rock Canyon in Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dixie National Forest, Utah

Dixie National Forest stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. It includes almost two million acres and is the largest national forest in Utah. The forest is adjacent to three national parks and two national monuments. The red sandstone formations in Red Canyon rival those of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hell’s Backbone Bridge and the view into Death Hollow are breathtaking. Boulder Mountain and its many small lakes provide opportunities for hiking, fishing, and viewing outstanding scenery.

Lake Panguich in Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevations in the forest vary from 2,800 feet near St. George to 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. High altitude forests in gently rolling hills characterize the Markagunt, Pansaugunt, and Aquarius plateaus. The vegetation changes from sparse, desert-type plants at the lower elevations to stands of low-growing pinyon pine and juniper dominating the mid-elevations. At the higher elevations, aspen and conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir predominate.

Lassen National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen National Forest, California

Lassen National Forest is a United States national forest of 1,700 square miles in northeastern California. It is named after pioneer Peter Lassen who mined and ranched the area in the 1850s. Lassen National Forest is located about 80 miles east of Red Bluff. It is bounded by the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the south, the Modoc Plateau to the east, and California’s Central Valley to the west. The Forest surrounds Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Forest has two major river systems as well as many lakes, cinder cones, and lava flows.

In a scenic mountain setting, Lake Almanor is one of the largest man-made lakes in California at 75 square miles. It offers fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, camping, and picnicking. The Almanor Recreation Trail winds along the west side of Almanor providing views of the lake, the mountains, wildflowers, and wildlife. Family and group campgrounds, boat launch facilities, and private marinas are available.

Along Fishlake Scenic Byway in Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishlake National Forest, Utah

Rising as a green oasis above the junction of I-15 and I-70 in central Utah, the mountains and plateaus that form Fishlake National Forest offer spectacular and widely varied scenery and cool climatic relief from the hot desert valleys. The namesake for the forest is Fish Lake, the largest freshwater mountain lake in the state.

Fishlake in Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishlake National Forest is a recreationalist’s paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic byways, motorized and non-motorized trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and trout fishing. Recreational opportunities include scenic drives, mountain biking, snowmobiling, ATV use, hiking, and camping. The Paiute ATV Trail winds through 250 miles of the forest’s most scenic terrain. For those who prefer the comfort of a car, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway travels along the beautiful Bear River lined by aspen, spruce, and fir trees. It ends at a lovely mountain lake.

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather