For many families planning a trip to the Utah region, their itineraries often center on hitting the high points of iconic stops like Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Arches. Several lesser-known parks are also worth the stop, though, and for families looking for ways to escape the crowds, Cedar Breaks National Monument should be on their agenda. Located between Zion and Bryce, it is sometimes considered a miniature Bryce due to its similar amphitheater and hoodoos. But unlike Bryce, Cedar Breaks is located at 10,000 feet elevation and features a unique alpine ecosystem that stands in stark contrast to the more arid climate of the other Utah parks. After visiting Grand Canyon and Zion amid a record-setting heat wave, we embraced Cedar Breaks’ 70-degree temperatures (and 40s at night!) and the opportunity to explore this small but special park.
Camping at Cedar Breaks National Monument is ideal because there are not a lot of other campground options in the nearby region (other than boondocking or staying in the national forest). We camped in Site 6 at the national park’s small campground. Although there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups, the cool climate meant we didn’t need to worry about having to run an air conditioner but could instead leave the windows open during the day (and closed up tight at night due to the frosty lows). There are potable water spigots throughout the campground. At the center of the campground there is one small bathroom facility that features one men’s and one women’s restroom (with toilet and sink), as well as a shower for the women and a shower for the men. (You have to use a key code to use the shower, but it offers hot water.) There is also a dishwashing station on the backside of the bathrooms—but there’s only cold water at the spigot.
Hikes, vistas, and other points of interest:
At the time of our visit, the visitor center and surrounding Point Supreme area was undergoing renovations, so we were unable to visit it, but there were lots of other spots to view and explore. Along Rim Road you can drive to several scenic vistas of the amphitheater, as well as attend a ranger program at the North View Overlook. You can also hike to some spectacular places, too. We did two hikes while we were there: the 2-mile Alpine Pond loop trail and Spectra Point, which is half of the South Rim Trail and covers 2-miles roundtrip.
The Alpine Pond loop trail is perfect for families with children because it features a special trail guide you can purchase for $2 at the beginning of the trail (bring cash, because payment is on the honor system). The trail guide corresponds with 25 stops along the trail where families can pause to read about something ecologically significant at that portion of the trail. We thought the booklet was well-worth the $2 because it helped us understand and appreciate the area more than if we had just hiked it unawares. We were also amazed by all of the wildflowers along the trail—lupines, columbines, larkspurs, paintbrushes, and more. The alpine forest was a breathtaking landscape.
Our favorite hike, however, was the 2-mile out-and-back to Spectra Point. (Families with children should know that this hike does have some drop offs, so it is probably not suited for young children or those who have fear of heights.) To reach Spectra Point, you hike along the rim of the amphitheater and get to see beautiful vistas along the way. The higher elevation can make hiking more difficult because it’s harder to breath, so it is important to drink plenty of water and rest as needed (and wear plenty of sunscreen). The final approach of the hike takes you past the famed bristlecone pines, which are some of the world’s oldest trees and are believed to be about 1,500 years old. These trees grow amid brutal conditions on dry, windswept ridges where other trees could not survive. Just past the pine trees, the hike takes you over the final land bridge to Spectra Point where you can safely admire the beautiful amphitheater from behind the safety of a guard rail. (Those who want to go on farther can continue their hike along the South Rim Trail to see Ramparts Viewpoint and Bartzen Viewpoint.)
Cedar Breaks is also a Dark Night Skies Park. Unfortunately, the timing of our visit was near full moon stage, so star gazing was not as great as other times. We woke up early one morning and waited until after the moon set to go stargazing. Then we took a short drive out of the national park and into the Dixie National Forest to find a washboarded, dirt road that leads up to Brian Head Peak. (We were able to traverse it with no problem in our 2-wheel drive van, but the region had not had rain in a long time, so the road was very dry.) When you reach the top of the peak, you have climbed to 11,307-feet elevation and you can see for miles in every direction. At the edge of the peak is a little shelter built by the CCC in 1934-1935. It is a perfect place to watch a sunrise or sunset.
We also like to explore areas by car: We took the scenic drive north out of the park, making a right on 143, then making a right onto Forest Road 050 (Mammoth Creek), and then making a right back onto Utah 14, which will bring you back to 143 to go back into the park. It was about 45 miles long and it was very interesting because it took us through ancient lava flows and Dixie National Forest.
We spent three nights at Cedar Breaks, but as long as the weather was favorable, two nights would be sufficient to experience the flavor of the park. If you are driving a long way to Utah on an epic West adventure during the heat of the summer, making a stop at Cedar Breaks will be a refreshing respite for the whole family. Don’t overlook this hidden Utah gem!