Your Guide To A Southern Utah Road Trip
What better way to experience a rugged outdoor journey than on the open road? In Southern Utah exists a vast and untouched wilderness that offers visitors the chance to see natural geological wonders and tap into their outdoorsy side. The best way to see everything that the area has to offer is to take a Southern Utah road trip. But how do you start? That’s a lot of roads. Will you need a map?
Luckily, there’s a better way: traveling the Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (Hwy 143). One of the most highly rated scenic drives in the country, this meandering wilderness road follows the migration of ancient Native Americans across 55 miles and through 4,500 feet of elevation change. You’ll make your way through some of the most breathtaking geological views in the western US – alongside canyons, lakes, alpine meadows, and lush forests. Along the drive, you’ll find countless photo opportunities, easy access to the state’s best national parks, and historic settlements that speak to the age and resilience of the Utah wilderness.
The best part? You’ll pass right through two of the area’s best home bases for the perfect Southern Utah experience – Brian Head and Panguitch – which provide their own brand of Utah charm. They’re perfect places to stop for a few nights and recharge your batteries, and they’re also close to several can’t-miss attractions along the way.
So gear up, gas up, and get ready for the road trip of a lifetime. Here’s your ultimate guide to a Southern Utah road trip.
*For an in-depth look at everything Southern Utah has to offer, download our FREE Southern Utah Vacation Guide! It has all of the activities and accommodations that you can’t pass up to make your vacation the best one yet.
Where Do I Begin?
Most Southern Utah road trips begin in one of two places – Salt Lake City International Airport or McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Due to the overwhelming amount of rural areas in Southern Utah, airports in the immediate area are sparse and have limited flight options. But this actually works in your favor! There are many attractions in both cities that you can check out while you’re there, and it is fast and easy to purchase a rental car for your trip inside either airport. Then, just drive into the city of Parowan to find the beginning of the Byway – it should be between three and four hours from either location.
Hotel prices can be steep in these metropolitan areas, so to protect your pocket you should plan to arrive early and set out on your road trip on the same day.
Hidden Haven Waterfall
Your first can’t-miss stop on your trip is the Hidden Haven Waterfall. Located about 10 miles north of Brian Head on Hwy 143, this spectacular hiking trail is lesser known than other Southern Utah options, but it is no less exhilarating. The trail is only 1.5 miles (roundtrip) and is easily navigated by even beginner hikers. Traipse along lush vegetation and fields of wildflowers as you climb a small mountain and end at a breathtaking 20-foot waterfall. It’s a great way to ease yourself into hiking the Southern Utah wilderness. The best time of year to hike the trail is April-October (the waterfall freezes during the colder months).
When you finish your waterfall adventure, head into Brian Head for your vacation rental. We offer a variety of cabin and private home rentals in the area that are sure to make the perfect pitstop for your trip.
Brian Head, Utah
Brian Head is your first multi-night stay on your Southern Utah journey. This rustic mountain village combines the rugged outdoor views and thrilling activities that only a Utah vacation can provide with all of the comforts of home. Brian Head is a world-famous skiing destination, so winter is a popular time to visit. But, there is an array of outdoor attractions and nearby parks that make Brian Head a great place to visit year-round. Here are the spots you can’t miss:
If you’ve got a day to spare, you’ve got to stop by the Brian Head Ski Resort for a thrilling taste of outdoor life. The town’s namesake resort has outdoor activities sure to thrill any level of outdoor enthusiast. Skiing is the top sport in the region, and the two local mountains – Navajo and Giant Steps – provide over 400” of snow per year, are easily accessible from the city, and have largely uncrowded runs. If you’re visiting in the winter, you can’t pass up the chance to shred some powder on the region’s best slopes.
During the summer, the resort opens up to a whole new variety of fun. ATV rentals, mountain biking, avalanche tubing, and stunning chairlift rides are a stone’s throw away from the city. The resort is only open on weekends, so be sure to time your trip so that you can experience all of the fun that only Brian Head can deliver.
If you’re visiting the resort, you’ve got to stay at our Brianwood Condo. This unique cabin rental is located right in front of the Giant Steps ski lift, so you can literally ski right to your front door! The cabin sleeps six in two bedrooms and the interior is decorated with a traditional mountain theme – including moose antlers over the fireplace! Tame your wild side from this cozy cabin rental.
Your next can’t miss stop on your road trip is the Cedar Breaks National Monument – which is cool, because it is right on the byway. Cedar Breaks is one of the state’s only natural amphitheaters, dropping from a top elevation of 10,000 feet to 2,000 feet at its floor. Take a visual journey across arches, canyons, and spires that are painted in stunning hues of yellow, red, orange, and even purple (it’s actually oxides in the rock, but you probably won’t believe it). Cedar Breaks is also one of only a handful of dark sky parks in the world, making it a once in a lifetime chance for unparalleled star gazing.
Just 2 miles up the road from Cedar Breaks sits our Snow Plow cabin. This two-bedroom cabin has a game loft for the kids and a clean modern feel for the adults. Enjoy stunning views as you sip your coffee from your mountainside balcony or enjoy mountain biking or snowmobiling from right outside of your front door. No matter what makes up your perfect road trip getaway, you’ll find it at Snow Plow cabin.
When you’re finished in Brian Head, continue the drive down Hwy 43 toward the city of Panguitch. This charming western-themed town sits at the foot of the Cascade Mountains and offers visitors a small-town feel in the middle of the giant Utah wilderness. The city boasts a thriving creative culture with several famed annual events, and the surrounding area is full of majestic scenery and outdoor fun. Here’s what you’ve gotta do:
Fourteen miles from Brian Head, Panguitch Lake is halfway to the next town of Panguitch. Panguitch is a Native American word for “big fish,” and it gets its name from the nearby Panguitch Lake (as well as a vast amount of other natural waterways in the area). A popular destination for fishermen, Panguitch Lake provides excellent year-round fishing and during the summer boasts the largest trout in the area. But it’s not all fishy – there are also boat and kayak rentals, stunning mountain views, and nearby trails lead directly from the lake and are perfect for hiking, horseback riding, or ATV use.
If you want to stay close to the water, our Scenic Panguitch Lake Cabin is the rental for you. The cabin sleeps up to 12 people in four bedrooms and has a wraparound porch that overlooks the lake. It’s also pet-friendly – so let Fido join you as you warm up from a long day on the water in front of the cozy indoor fireplace.
Stretching for 170 miles, Dixie National Forest is the largest natural forest in the state and stands adjacent to three national parks and two national monuments. Due to its large size, the forest plays host to a variety of environments, ecosystems, and climates, so be sure to pack appropriately (think lush forests, mountainous peaks, arid fields, and spotted lakes – all within viewing distance). Hiking, big game hunting, horseback riding, and wildlife exploration are the most popular activities; but there are a variety of excursions that will suit any member of the family. There’s so much to do in Dixie National Forest that you may want to drive into Panguitch and come back to make a day of it – but it’s only a short 10-minute drive.
Just 30 minutes outside of town sits one of the state’s most famed national parks. Bryce Canyon National Park is situated along a plateau of the Grand Staircase and is home to the largest concentration of natural hoodoos in the world (irregular columns of rock). The large amphitheater canyon has four stunning viewpoints that can be easily reached by a multitude of hiking trails. The sprawling reserve is the perfect spot for scenic hikes, guided horseback tours, or twilight star gazing.
For easy access to Bryce Canyon National Park, consider staying in our Bryce Vistas cabin. This cozy one-bedroom cabin sleeps four and is close to Bryce Canyon. Enjoy striking views of the Paunsaguant Cliffs from your balcony and then stroll down to the Sevier River for some of the area’s best trout fishing.