Cedar City, Parowan, Brian Head Utah
Cool Temps, Dark Sky, Good Eats, Scenic Wonderland!
Gateway to the Parks
Cedar City’s central location makes an ideal base camp for visiting Zion National Park (60 miles), Bryce Canyon (80 miles), the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (160 miles), Cedar Breaks National Monument (30 miles), and many other attractions on the Markagunt Plateau. It’s also close to the increasingly popular Kanarra Falls (13 miles), Navajo Lake, Cascade Falls, and Kolob Canyons (19 miles) where some of our favorite hikes are located including the Timber Creek and Taylor Creek trails.
With the cancellation of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Utah Summer Games and other annual events this year due to Covid-19, Iron county will feel the loss of the thousands of visitors. However, long before these events, Cedar City was, and still is a popular hub for visiting the nearby parks, historic sites, scenic byways, and recreation areas. As important as the festival is to the city and county, there is so much more to discover in this region. We decided to do a little exploring of our own to see what else we could discover for this week’s One Tank Trip.
The earliest settlers came to this area in search of iron, for which the county was named. Today it is a gateway to the parks. The Union Pacific viewed Cedar City as an opportunity in the 1920’s to build a passenger rail that brought visitors to the parks until 1960. It was the Union Pacific that inspired the construction of the grand lodges that we see in the parks today. The Southern Utah Museum of Art has nice displays describing Cedar City’s history and connection with the parks.
Although the Union Pacific discontinued service to the area many years ago, Iron County continues to welcome visitors from across the globe on national park trips and tours. This too has been drastically affected by the pandemic due to the loss of International and domestic visitors outside the region. This will hopefully just be a temporary situation until travel bans are lifted and travelers take to the air again. The upside for local road trippers this year are great rates and fewer crowds, especially during the weekdays.
The Frontier Homestead State Park offers visitors an in-depth history of Iron County. A caboose, iron ore shovel, and hay derrick located in front of the museum are iconic figures that represent tourism, mining, and agriculture.
Parowan “Mother Town of Southern Utah”
Located 19 miles north of Cedar City on Interstate-15, Parowan is the county seat, the “Mother Town of Southern Utah.” Settled in 1851, many of the original homes and buildings still stand along historic tree-lined Main Street and are scattered throughout the community. With a population slightly above 3,000, Parowan is a retrospective community, a throwback to more simple times. Heritage museums, pioneer cemetery, and numerous historic sites are open to visitors.
Located at the northern tip of Scenic Byway 143 (Patchwork Parkway Historic Byway 143), Parowan is the northern gateway to Brian Head, Cedar Breaks, and Panquitch Lake, a top rated trout fishing lake. The scenic 12 mile drive to Brian Head has a number of side roads that take you deeper in to back country recreation areas including Yankee Meadows Reservoir, and Dry Lakes Road that leads to the northern rim of Cedar Breaks, Twisted Forest, and Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area.
With over 90 panels and 1,500 figures, the Parowan Gap west of town is believed to be one of the most concentrated collections of petroglyphs in the west.
“The Best Cinnamon Rolls in the West,” a claim Parowan touts. From what started in 2017 as a way to pull traffic off I-15 to becoming a main attraction. Today known as the Sweet Tour there are more than a dozen businesses in town that sell sweet rolls to visitors passing through, or hopefully staying a spell to enjoy this friendly town. Businesses display a Sweet Roll Tour sign wherever rolls are sold.
The Highlands – Beat the heat at 10,000 feet!
Perched high on the Markagunt Plateau 30 miles east of Cedar City are the southern Utah gems of Brian Head and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Brian Head at a base elevation of 9,700 ft is Utah’s highest ski town. Summertime temps rarely reach 80 making this a favorite retreat for escaping the valley heat below. Summer activities include zip-line, an expansive mountain bike park, trails, chairlift rides, disc golf, bungee trampoline, climbing wall and, alpine tubing. Winter is a magical time at Brian Head, where skiers are treated to snow covered red rock views at nearby Cedar Breaks. Ranked as one of the country’s premier family resorts, Brian Head offers some of the best snow conditions in a state famous for its feathery light powder. Winter activities include alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling with sensational views of nearby Cedar Breaks.
Within a stones throw of Brian Head, if you can throw a stone two miles, is Cedar Breaks National Monument. Nestled high on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau with its highest point at 10,662 ft., the amphitheater drops a half-mile below the rim to an elevation of 8,100 ft. The Paiutes called Cedar Breaks the “Circle of Painted Cliffs” referring to the multicolored amphitheater that stretches three miles across. Visitors have described Cedar Breaks as a higher and more eroded down version of Bryce Canyon with its crimson and coral pink pinnacles, hoodoos, and buttresses. Cedar Breaks is home to one of the oldest living organisms on earth, the ancient Bristlecone pines that can be found along the rim and in abundance at the Twisted Forest on the north end. Mid-summer wildflowers fill the lush meadows where surrounding Aspen trees become a kaleidoscope of color in the Fall. A six-mile scenic drive along Hwy 148 leads past four overlooks, each offering a different perspective of the amphitheater. (closed in winter) For those who want to get off the beaten path, two hiking trails near the rim provide an added appreciation of the geology and flora and fauna of Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Want to see the Milky Way? Utah has the highest concentration of International Dark Sky places on earth. In 2017 Cedar Breaks National Monument was awarded this coveted designation and is the only park in the southwest corner of the state to have such. USA Today voted the park as the “Best National Park Night Experience.” On cloudless nights, and there are plenty, the stars glisten so brilliantly without the obstruction of city lights, it feels as though you could reach out and touch them.
Any of the observation points along the rim are great places for star gazing. We prefer the north overlook, and nearby Brian Head Peak, which is the highest point at 11,307 ft. Take a jacket, nighttime temperatures can get pretty chilly.
Scenic Byway 14
Highway 14 from Cedar City to Long Valley Junction on U.S. 89 crosses over the Markagunt Plateau passing through the Dixie National Forest, Utah’s largest national forest. Along the route there are a number of scenic attractions worth stopping for including the Zion overlook near the summit that offers great views of the beginning of the Narrows; Navajo Lake that empties through a sink hole and exits a little over a mile southeast of the lake at Cascade Falls, which is the headwaters of the North Fork of the Virgin River; Duck Creek Village, a popular destination for its ATV and Snowmobile trails, and a huge lava tube called Mammoth cave.
Base Camp Lodging
There are many options for lodging in Cedar City, Parowan, and Brian Head. We chose the former El Rey Hotel now the Baymont by Wyndham Cedar City. The property offers comfortable rooms, complimentary breakfast, outdoor pool/hot tub, fitness center, and most importantly a convenient “base camp” within walking distance to popular restaurants, downtown historic district, Southern Utah University and the Utah Shakespeare Festival Village. The location is ideal for jumping on Scenic Byway 14, and main routes to Interstate-15. When visiting Cedar City and the surrounding attractions, the Baymont by Wyndham meets our base camp criteria! For reservations and information click here.
No shortage of great places to eat
One of the emerging trends we were excited to discover on our recent trip was the evolving community of great restaurants throughout the county. Cedar City in particular is quickly developing a reputation as a foodie destination with a fast growing number of incredible places to tantalize your palate including The French Spot that boasts of having a Michelin rated chef. Two other suggestions we recommend in Cedar City are Centro Woodfired Pizzeria on Center Street that prepares its pizza, as the names implies, in a woodfired oven. We generally order the local’s favorites when eating on the road, so we ordered the Gorgonzola salad, Dolce Diavola, and Pollo Bianco pizzas, with Nutella Piegato for dessert. Located at 50 W Center Street, click here to see the menu. Another suggestion is the Silver Silo Bakery & Expresso that recently opened and is already gaining a two thumbs up reputation for its wholesome sandwiches, salads, soups, smoothies, and sweets. This is a family run business with an interesting background and story that can be read here. We had the pleasure of meeting with the two managers, Lenora and Virginia, to learn more about the restaurant and ask for their suggestions of what to order, which was a lot! There are no bad choices here, folks! Located at 777 S. Cross Hollow Road. Take the Providence Center exit and follow the main road past Walmart. Click here to see the menu.
Cedar City doesn’t have the county monopoly on great places to eat. We found that Parowan has its own niche in culinary delight. As mentioned under the Parowan subheading above, the Sweet Tour transformed this community from pit stop to must stop for these tasty treats. If you dig a little deeper you’ll discover good homestyle cooking at the Parowan Cafe, and some of the tastiest burgers we’ve ever chomped in to at Hamburger Patty’s. We love local burger joints and this is Parowans! We ordered the Mushroom Swiss Burger with a side of onion rings that many describe “as to die for!” Great salad bar and options on the menu. Located right on the main route to Brian Head off the south I-15 exit. Can’t miss it, look for the big red barn on the south side of the road. Click here for more information.
Festival City USA
Every summer the community comes alive with the sounds of Shakespeare. The Tony Award winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, which began in 1961 has grown over the years to become one of the oldest and largest Shakespeare festivals in North America. Prior to each evening’s main stage performance there is a free nightly Greenshow of music, dance, storytelling, juggling, snacks and food reminiscent of Merry Ol’ England held in the courtyard surrounding the outdoor Engelstad Theatre. Plays are presented in repertory each season in three theaters. These theaters along with the Southern Utah Museum of Art are part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, located at Southern Utah University.
In 2002 the Neil Simon Festival moved its home to Cedar City. Housed in the beautiful Heritage Center Theatre in Cedar City’s Historic Downtown. The Cedar City festival is the world’s first and only professional theater company dedicated to honoring the works of America’s comic playwright Neil Simon. The production season is typically held annually mid-July through mid-August.
This has been a very difficult year for both festivals. First, the passing of the Utah Shakespeare Festival beloved founder, Fred Adams in early February at the age of 89; then the cancellation of this year’s season for both events due to concerns and challenges with Covid-19. In spite of these challenges, the festivals will return! We included information about these two very popular annual events for your future consideration, we highly recommend both, and here’s a great place to stay while visiting cedar city – The Baymont by Wyndham, formerly know as the El Rey Inn. (see video next).
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