Patchwork Parkway to Cedar Breaks
Twenty miles north of Cedar City, Gap Road follows an ancient riverbed through a narrow space in a chunk of stone. Called Parowan Gap, the approach to this opening is impressive. It’s a small but striking location; no wonder Native Americans were drawn to this place over thousands of years where they carved petroglyphs into the rocks. It’s a fitting first stop on a picturesque route called the Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway. Driving east and away from Parowan Gap, the landscape is mostly farmland. It’s high elevation: 6,000 feet. And it’s about to get much steeper, in a very short distance. Crossing I-15 and passing through the town of Parowan, UT 143 begins to quickly climb the Markagunt Plateau and into Dixie National Forest. Six miles from Parowan, the parking lot and trailhead for Hidden Haven appear on the left. This second stop is a short, refreshing hike through forest to a waterfall. Back on the highway, UT 143 passes massive rock formations and curves through wilderness torched by wildfire. The pull on the car’s engine is noticeable; entering the ski town of Brian Head, the elevation is now around 9,600 feet. In less than 13 miles from Parowan, the elevation gain is 3,600 feet – and increasing! Brian Head holds several distinctions: it’s Utah’s highest town, has the highest base elevation of any ski resort in the state and it’s also Utah’s southernmost ski area. Oh, and Brian Head also receives more than 30 feet of snow each season. In summer, it’s much less intimidating and so the drive continues upward, soon taking a left onto a well-groomed and well-traveled dirt road. It’s a quick drive to the summit of Brian Head Peak, elevation 11,306 feet. Of course, the views are outstanding with mountain peaks in the distance and Brian Head town below. But what captures the most attention is a massive, colorful bowl just to the south. Retracing dirt back to pavement, the first overlook for Cedar Breaks National Monument appears on the right. Mindful of nearby Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks is a huge rainbow-colored crater, a masterpiece of erosion at over 10,000 feet high. Continuing on UT 143 and then UT 148, there are several more viewpoints. It’s another 20 miles back to Cedar City, mostly on UT 14 which is similarly steeply spectacular. But the actual Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway continues east on UT 143 through national forest and past a large lake to the historic town of Panguitch. The byway’s name is interesting, too, referring to the patchwork of quilts laid down by settlers during the fierce winter of 1864. It was the only way they could cross deep snow, bringing supplies from Parowan to their starving families in Panguitch.
Routes & Maps
The 48-mile-long Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway runs from I-15 and Parowan up and across the Markagunt Plateau to Panguitch. The route followed in this video essay starts outside Cedar City, stopping at Parowan Gap before joining the Patchwork Parkway at Parowan and continuing onto Brian Head and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Length & Time
You won’t rack up too much mileage but it will take some time, at least half a day, to enjoy the petroglyphs, numerous viewpoints and short hike to Hidden Haven.
Best Time to Visit
This route is definitely best in summer and fall. Parowan Gap and the Patchwork Parkway are open year-round. However, during winter and early spring UT 148, the short section that passes by most of Cedar Breaks National Monument, is closed. There’s one viewpoint along UT 143 that’s accessible.
Cedar City is a college town that’s vibrant and growing. It offers all services.
Cedar Breaks National Monument, Brian Head and Cedar City have informative websites. Here’s a link to more info on Parowan Gap. And be sure to check road conditions, especially in winter.
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