Dixie National Forest

Utah > Dixie National Forest

About 3,000 square miles of southwest Utah are contained within four separate units of the Dixie National Forest - the largest area of public lands in the state, bordering four national parks or monuments (Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef), and containing comparable scenery of canyons, mountains and eroded rock formations, though the majority is dense woodland. Most is high in elevation, with several peaks over 10,000 feet, and vegetation zones ranging from above the timberline to semi-desert. A fair amount has quite easy access, as several main roads cross some of the most scenic parts, in particular UT 12 between Long Valley and Torrey, and UT 14/UT 143 around Cedar Breaks, then many side roads branch off through the trees, leading to distant peaks and valleys, lakes and waterfalls, plus more unusual sites like lava fields and Anasazi ruins. As with all national forests, camping is allowed free of charge, and the woods offer a cool retreat in summer when the desert lands to the south may be excessively hot.

Escalante - Torrey

The largest section of the Dixie National Forest is in the south central part of Utah, mostly north and west of UT 12 from Tropic, through Escalante and Boulder to Torrey, though a sizeable part extends further east to the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. This is quite mountainous terrain, and contained within are the Aquarius Plateau and Boulder Mountain, which rises 3,000 feet above the surrounding sedimentary rocks of the Colorado Plateau. The land breaks up to the south in a series of valleys and narrow canyons, especially around Escalante, and some of that region's best scenery is within the forest boundary including the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness and upper Boulder Creek.

The main access into the Dixie National Forest is the section of UT 12 north of Boulder, which rises to 9,200 feet, and for several miles the pine trees are replaced by aspen groves between Alpine meadows, as the highway passes many viewpoints, campsites and side tracks. Another road is UT 24 along the north edge though forest access from here is more limited. The surroundings are rather different in the southwest where the elevation is much lower; here UT 12 approaches from Escalante via a long grassy valley, passes over a small summit then descends through an expanse of eroded ravines and mesas with much exposed rock, later reaching Henrieville.

Bryce Canyon - Circleville

The next section is nearly contiguous, separated only by a corridor of private land either side of UT 22, which joins UT 12 from the north, just above Bryce Canyon National Park. This includes the west face of the Paunsaugunt Plateau and contains similar, though smaller, eroded outcrops of red and pink sandstone that are seen most spectacularly in the national park a few miles to the east. Red Canyon lies entirely within the national forest while other sites to the south of UT 12 include Tropic Reservoir, popular for fishing, and the volcanic peak of Black Butte.

Cedar Breaks - Panguitch

The third portion of the Dixie National Forest, east of Cedar City, is the easiest to access and receives the most visitors. The huge exposed cliff face of Cedar Breaks National Monument dominates the west edge,
and other smaller eroded formations are found to the south. The resort of Brian Head is a few miles north, usually open for skiing between November and March, and offers excellent views all year from its summit, which is reached by a gravel road. From Cedar City, UT 14 climbs up through pretty Cedar Canyon, and after the side road to the national monument passes large areas of lava and several cinder cones, then runs beside to Navajo Lake - used for camping, fishing and boating, this is unusual as it has no surface outlet. Instead its waters drain underground then emerge a few miles south at Cascade Falls at the edge of the Pink Cliffs, a point reached by a 3 mile forest track and 1.1 mile foot trail. From the lake, UT 14 drops 2,000 feet through more wooded land to Long Valley Junction. The other main paved road through the national forest is UT 143 from Panguitch to Cedar Breaks, through rolling, open countryside with ranches and other pockets of settlement, especially around Panguitch Lake.

St George - Nevada border

The westernmost area of the Dixie National Forest is dominated by the Pine Valley Mountains that rise to over 10,000 feet a few miles north of St George. I-15 runs beneath the very steep east face of the mountains while UT 18, the one paved route through the forest, follows the more gently sloping west side; this road passes Snow Canyon soon after St George then crosses empty, slightly desolate land for the next 40 miles, to the junction with UT 56. This land is part of the Great Basin Desert and without much of particular interest though one site worth visiting is Old Irontown, to the northeast - remains of a small mining town that produced iron ore between 1882 and 1890, A few brick structures remain, all rather overgrown, plus various scattered mining relics.


Towns with hotels around the Dixie National Forest include Cedar City, Bryce Canyon, St George and Torrey.
Highlights: Mostly high elevation, forested land in southwest Utah, in 4 separate units, bordering several national parks and containing similar scenery of canyons, mountains and eroded rocks
Nearest city with hotels: Bryce Canyon, Cedar City, Torrey
Management: USFS
Location: 38.026, -111.345 (UT 12 across Boulder Mountain)
Seasons: Spring, summer and fall are the main seasons, as most land is snow-covered in winter

Dixie National Forest - Photographs

  • 12 images of Dixie National Forest
  • photograph
    Snow on Boulder Mountain
    Brian Head

    National Forest campsite

    UT 12 near Torrey


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