Southern Utah State Parks near the Mighty 5

Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Mighty 5 national parks. Visit some of the best state parks in Southern Utah offering a range of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery.

There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and the promise of big adventure lure travelers from around the world to The Mighty 5 National Parks. Once here, visitors soon realize Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond their borders. Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are eight enticing state parks along the The Mighty 5 road trip which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time in Utah or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle. Best of all, most of these parks offer a wider array of recreation opportunities including mountain biking, ATV riding, kayaking, SUPing, boating and fishing (with a Utah fishing license of course).

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

1. Sights and bikes at Dead Horse Point

Get up early to start your trip on the right note: Sunrises are spectacular in Canyon Country. Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Grab your camera. You’ll want to be sure to take lots of pictures to try and share the experience with your friends.

For mountain bike enthusiasts, Dead Horse has a splendid network of rolling singletrack trails over gentle slick rock domes and through the knee-high sage. The trails offer several opportunities to stop and savor the views before tackling the next leg of trails. Though technically mild by Moab standards, the trails are a hit for riders of all abilities.

In the neighborhood: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $15 for Utah seniors 65 and older; $10 per motorcycle; $4 pedestrian or cyclist

Camping: Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience or overnight in one of two campgrounds (most sites offer RV electrical hookups)

2. Hoodoos, yurts, and slots of Goblin Valley

Sandstone goblins and fascinating formations cover Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park which Hollywood frequently turns for its unusual landscapes like alien worlds. Explore the geology and camp among the nooks and gnomes. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons.

Three established trails through the Valley of the Goblins suit almost everyone. If you brought mountain bikes be sure to check out the nontechnical Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. If not, introduce yourself to the family-friendly canyoneering of Little Wild Horse Canyon (may not be suitable for smaller children).

In the neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older; $10 per motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian

Camping: Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cool waters and kaleidoscopes at Escalante Petrified Forest

Explore the kaleidoscopic colors of wood reclaimed from the Earth and find yourself in awe at the ancient remnants at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Pause to take in the expansive vistas of the reservoir and surrounding mountains from the top of the hiking loop. Then, cool off in the refreshing waters of the reservoir, popular for boating, canoeing, and fishing.

The Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a .75-mile loop that is much steeper than the other trails but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

In the neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 day-use pass; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older

Camping: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.

4. Pillars and pictures at Kodachrome Basin State Park

If ever a state park was made to be photographed, it is Utah’s Kodachrome Basin State Park. Many of the gorgeous rock columns in the park can be seen while driving but it’s worth your time to get out and explore. Some of the popular sites include Chimney Rock, Shakespeare Arch, and Ballerina Geyser.

Kodachrome Basin covers 2,24 0 acres and is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides. With its close proximity to other popular destinations down Cottonwood Road, it makes for a spectacular base camp or a stop on an event-filled day in the desert. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park making it a great place for stargazing too.

In the neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max. 8 people per vehicle)

Camping: Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 & 6. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state park are less than 10 miles apart where warm reservoirs play host to an array of water sports and quality fishing and the surrounding landscapes provide sites for camping and extensive off-highway action. Lovers of hiking, nature, and wildlife alike will want to visit one (or both) of these sister reservoirs. 

Quail Creek State Park lures swimmers, boaters, and anglers year-round with its exceptionally warm waters and mild winter climate. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting. 

Sand Hollow State Park is a favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

In the neighborhood: Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and Zion National Park

Entrance fee (Quail Creek): $15 per vehicle (max 8 people per vehicle); $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max 8 people per vehicle)

Entrance fee (Sand Hollow): $15 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Climb the dunes of Coral Pink

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is where weekend warriors can leave footprints in soft sand. Walk among old juniper and pinion and ponderosa pines. Then take your shoes off to leave footprints in the orange-red sand dunes.

These geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby Navajo sandstone cliffs. Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for ATV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.

Visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes have a world of outdoor adventure just around the corner: Several additional trailheads access Grand Staircase–Escalante along U.S. 89 in the extreme southern part of Utah. Explorers will discover some of the best slot canyons while lovers of the water have Lake Powell’s thousands of miles of shoreline just a little further along the road. 

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle; $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Camping: Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mojave majesty at Snow Canyon

Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure. Snow Canyon State Park is a 20-minute drive from St. George and just an hour from the entrance to Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon is popular with road cyclists touring the park’s scenic drive and hikers exploring the network of trails through the main canyon and numerous side canyons. Numerous bolted routes throughout the canyon lure rock climbers.

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)

Camping: The Snow Canyon Campground has 27 total available campsites including accommodations for groups, pets and partial hookups.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make it a road trip

With this many marvels of nature in such close proximity why not extend the fun and make it a road trip? Visiting these destinations makes for an unforgettable tour of southern Utah’s state parks. This trip assumes a start in Salt Lake City and heads toward Moab though travelers arriving via Las Vegas should reverse the order and launch their Utah trip from St. George.

Though they aren’t as highly trafficked as the national parks, you can still improve your trip by making reservations where permitted as some state parks near national parks are popular base camps. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.

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Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

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

Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah

Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah

When winter arrives, travelers tend to split—half head to the mountains to ski or snowboard; the other half seeks out warm weather in the U.S. Sunbelt. Most overlook Utah, a state with year-round blue skies, mild weather, and red rock arches and spires that only look more stunning with a dusting of snow. 

That landscape is perhaps best represented by southern Utah, my favorite section of the state that’s dominated by Mars-like spires, twisting canyons, and delicate sandstone arches. Southern Utah is home to all five of the state’s national parks and is often best visited in the winter when the hot, dry summer has passed and the crowds have dispersed.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan a visit to this lesser-known winter destination.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do

All five of Utah’s national parks (The Mighty Five) are found in the southern half of the state. In fact, it’s hard to plan a trip to southern Utah without incorporating a visit to at least one or two of the national parks.

Zion National Park is the furthest south and is known for its narrow slot canyons and pink sandstone cliffs. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Zion National Park is a great place to enjoy sunny skies and fresh air, and get a little extra Vitamin D in the winter months. Plan a winter visit to soak up the sunshine while enjoying moderate temperatures and a stunning sandstone kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and pinks. Winter visitors will find plenty to do including hiking, photography, camping, and gazing up at the wonders of the night sky.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby is Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock). The stark white of freshly fallen snow, red rocks, blue sky, and evergreen trees—some say Bryce Canyon is even more beautiful in winter! Here at 8,000 feet the scenery changes dramatically in the colder months providing unique opportunities to see the park but requires a very different packing list. Begin by reviewing regular closures and regulations, read about typical weather, and then explore the many ways you can experience this winter wonderland.

To the east are the red rock canyons, cliffs, and domes of Capitol Reef National Park while the adventure town of Moab acts as the gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands national parks with delicate sandstone arches and red rock canyons.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Star of Ed Abbey’s iconic Desert Solitaire, Arches has come a long way since 1968 and these days it’s so action-packed, the park service is piloting a timed-entry system requiring advance reservations from April to October 2023. But there are ways around a Disneyland experience. Be an early bird or a night owl—come before sunrise or stay beyond sunset and you’ll be amply rewarded with quieter trails and golden light that makes the arches glow.

The nearest accommodations of Moab are close enough to the park entrance to make this doable. If you’d rather not rise early, book a guided tour with a ranger to see the permit-only Fiery Furnace area or secure a campsite at Devils Garden up to six months in advance. From the campground, you can hike to an underdog of an arch: the lesser-known, stunning Broken Arch. 

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five distinct districts comprise Canyonlands, each offering something different. Island in the Sky is land of long views—don’t miss Shafer Trail Viewpoint or Mesa Arch. Only about 20 miles south of Island in the Sky as the crow flies (but a solid two-hour drive away), the Needles District offers great hiking including an action-packed jaunt on Cave Spring Trail featuring a replica of an 1880s-era cowboy camp and mushroom-like rock formations.

Canyonlands National Park, Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go to the Maze to get lost; Chocolate Drops and Land of Standing Rocks are a couple of worthy destinations in this backcountry district. Head to the non-contiguous Horseshoe Canyon unit to see incredible petroglyphs including floating holy ghosts. And visit the River District at the bottom of the canyons carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers for a rafting adventure. For most of the park’s district, the best place to stay in Moab which offers easy access to Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the park’s rivers. 

Brian Head Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond hiking, and in some cases, camping in southern Utah’s national parks, this part of the state is home to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, two winter sports that are beginner friendly and affordable. Those with their heart set on downhill skiing can find it at Brian Head Resort (near Cedar Breaks National Monument) or Eagle Point Resort, two ski areas with significantly lower prices than those found in northern Utah.

But there’s also year-round hiking, biking, camping, and backpacking in the southern part of the state. And in the evenings, when you’re resting your weary legs, make sure to look up—the long winter nights lend themselves to excellent stargazing.

Arches National Park National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to pack

It’s all about layers in the winter. If you plan to be outside most of the day, you’ll want to wear synthetic or wool base layers and pack a warm jacket and hat. Sunny days are the norm even in the middle of winter so sunscreen and sunglasses are also a must.

If you plan on hiking in the snow, it may be worth getting a pair of cleats that fasten over your winter footwear and provide added traction. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay

Many of southern Utah’s national and state parks offer year-round camping.

Zion has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground is open year-round with reservations from early March to late November and first-come, first-serve during the rest of the year. South Campground and Lava Point Campground are open seasonally.

At Bryce Canyon, North Campground’s A Loop is open all winter long for first-come, first-served camping. There are 30 sites in this loop and it is rare for the campground to fill in winter other than around major holidays. As happens every year when overnight temperatures fall below freezing, Loops C and D of North Campground have closed. Loop B typically closes in late fall unless demand for winter campsites is high enough to justify its remaining open. Sunset Campground is closed for the winter and will reopen for first-come, first-served camping on April 15.

Fremont River, Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. The park has a 100 percent reservation system from March 1-October 31.

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Campground is the only campground at Arches National Park. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31. Between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served.

Canyonlands maintains two campgrounds. Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat) has 12 sites, first come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. There is no water at the campground. The campground is open year-round. The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites. You can reserve some individual sites from spring through fall. At other times of the year, individual sites are first-come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground.

Worth Pondering…

Landscape is what becomes us. If we see our natural heritage only as a quarry of building block instead of the bedrock of our integrity, we will indeed find ourselves not only homeless but rootless by the impoverishment of our own imagination. At a time when we hardly know what we can count on in a country of shifting values and priorities, Canyonlands is our bedrock, a geologic truth that we all share, the eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying that we may see beyond our own time.

—Terry Tempest Williams

The Magic of Winter in Southern Utah

Experiencing the peace of Southern Utah in winter is an attraction of its own

Find your sense of adventure and awe in the vast yet intricate swaths of the desert from Arches National Park to Monument Valley. This magical landscape is awash in history dating back thousands of years to the original Native American settlers to whom these places were sacred.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A journey through Southern Utah is an expansive geological paradox: It’s vast and wide-open…empty. Yet, up close, this landscape bears the most intricate topography imaginable: twisting slot canyons, towering rock formations, winding rivers cutting through eons of rock layers, and ancient dwelling sites bringing history within reach.

Canyonland National Park, Islands in the Sky District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter, the sense of awe is heightened. Not only are the dramatic red, orange, and sandy desert hues brightly lit by the low wintery sun but they may be topped with touches of white snow—a photographer’s dream. In the off-season, the summer crowds are long gone. It’s just you and the silent, crisp desert air.

This itinerary guides you through classic Southern Utah vistas, archaeological sites, geographic marvels, and sacred Native American lands including Bears Ears National Monument.

From Moki Dugway to Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep in mind that while winter is an extraordinarily beautiful time to visit this corner of the world, the roads can at times be wet, icy, or snowy, especially on some of the remote roads you’ll be traveling. It’s a very smart move to use a four-wheel-drive vehicle with good tires and plenty of water and snacks packed along. As any seasoned cowboy could tell you, you’ll never regret bringing extra snacks. (Read: A Winter’s Desert: Visiting Southern Utah in the Slow Months)

Start: Green River or Salt Lake City

Finish: Mexican Hat

Hours of drive time: 11-14 depending on starting point; plan at least six hours for return to Salt Lake by car, longer in an RV

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 1: See Arches National Park in its full winter glory

If you’re starting from the Salt Lake City area initially, drive south to Green River the night before your itinerary begins to shave three hours of drive time off your first day. If you can’t, plan an early departure from Salt Lake to make the most of your time in Arches and Moab. Arches National Park is world-famous for good reason which attracts quite the dense summer crowds. Now, mid-winter, you can truly take its wonders in with plenty of breathing room. Take a few short hikes: Delicate Arch is one of the most classic vistas in the state, so start there. Then add a walk through Devil’s Garden if you can. (Read: The 5 Best Hikes in Arches National Park)

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

Wrap the day warming back up in an RV resort in Moab and fuel up with tasty pub fare and a pint. If you’re up for it, inquire at the Arches Visitor Center about ranger-led stargazing for the evening. Arches and Dead Horse Point State Park both have International Dark Sky Designations which means you can experience unforgettable stargazing free of urban light pollution. (Read: Immense Cliffs and Stunning Overlooks: Dead Horse Point)

Castle Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Wander the wonders of Castle Valley

Get ready for another big day, this time taking in the beauty of the Colorado River canyon east of Moab. Stop for a hike in the classic Grandstaff Canyon (just two miles each way reaching one of the longest rock spans in the country, Morning Glory Natural Bridge).

Castle Valley Gourd Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you get to the Castle Valley area, you’ll take a scenic stroll around Fisher Towers. This is one of the most exquisite hikes in the area because the towers and surrounding rock formations look different—and equally amazing—from every angle. The trail covers approximately 2.5 miles each way so go the entire distance if you have the energy. (Read: Moab’s Scenic Byways)

Canyonlands National Park Needles District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Peer into the wilds of the Canyonlands Needles District

Fuel up and get ready for a day that won’t disappoint, start to finish. Take in an incredibly scenic drive along the base of the La Sal mountains through Spanish Valley toward Monticello and Blanding. Stop for a side-trip down Needles Overlook Road to get an up-close look at one of the most beautiful and remote corners of Canyonlands National Park, the Needles District. You can take a short hike from Needles Overlook Point, keeping your camera close at hand.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you make your way toward the town of Blanding, you’ll gain elevation and encounter even cooler temps than you did in Moab. Bundle up and make sure your vehicle is up to the road conditions. You’ll want to make a stop at Newspaper Rock which features one of the heaviest concentrations of Native American petroglyphs in the region. This rock panel offers an unforgettable peek into history, as it was used for thousands of years as a recording spot for the area’s earliest inhabitants. The name in Navajo is Tse’ Hane, which means rock that tells a story. (Read: Rock That Tells a Story: Newspaper Rock)

On the road to Bears Ears © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 4: Explore the heart and soul of Bears Ears National Monument

At Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum, you can begin to wrap your head around this place’s incredible history which spans thousands of years of human habitation. Learn a bit about the Native American tribes who have called this place home and consider the Bears Ears area to be sacred to this day. You’ll see the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan pottery on display in the region and venture into an authentic 1,000-year-old kiva dwelling to get a sense of how the land’s original inhabitants lived.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, take a beautiful drive into the heart of Bears Ears stopping at the incredible dwelling sites at Butler Wash and Cave Towers, each a short hike. Then, make your way to Natural Bridges National Monument where multiple natural rock bridges defy gravity and attest to the power of flowing water to carve the desert into unbelievable shapes. There are many Ancestral Puebloan dwellings to explore here dating back as far as 2,000 years old. So, take your time to stroll through history and the clues it’s left behind. (Read: Sculpted By Water: Natural Bridges National Monument)

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Journey into another world in the Monument Valley area

The Valley of the Gods’ name is no hyperbole. You’ll feel a sense of reverence as you drive the valley’s washboard dirt road through a series of exquisite towering buttes and otherworldly rock formations. (Read: Valley of the Gods Is a Mini-Monument Valley…and Totally Free)

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, you’ll head an hour south to the equally iconic Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, beautifully remote and packed with history in its own right. While you can take a few easy hikes on your own it’s a great idea to hire a local Navajo guide to get the best understanding and appreciation for this rugged—and legendary—landscape. (Read: Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West)

To cap off an unforgettable day, head back north and make a stop at Goosenecks State Park. 300 million years in the making, you’ll get a firsthand look at the power of water in geology—the San Juan River has cut a series of tight turns or goosenecks into the landscape. Take a stroll, take a breath, and take lots and lots of photos.

Worth Pondering…

…of what value are objects of a past people if we don’t allow ourselves to be touched by them. They are alive. They have a voice. They remind us what it means to be human; that it is our nature to survive, to be resourceful, to be attentive to the world we live in.

—Terry Tempest Williams, Exploring the Fremont