Dixie National Forest

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The Dixie National Forest occupies almost two million acres and stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. The largest National Forest in Utah, it straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

Elevations vary from 2,800 feet near St. George, Utah, to 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin, near the Colorado River, provides spectacular scenery. Colorado River canyons are made up of many-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges.

The Forest is divided into four geographic areas. High-altitude forests in gently rolling hills characterize the Markagunt, Paunsaugunt, and Aquarius Plateaus. Boulder Mountain, one of the largest high-elevation plateaus in the United States, is dotted with hundreds of small lakes 10,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level.

The Forest has many climatic extremes. Precipitation ranges from 10 inches in the lower elevations to more than 40 inches per year near Brian Head Peak. At the higher elevations, most of the annual precipitation falls as snow. Thunderstorms are common during July and August and produce heavy rains. In some areas, August is the wettest month of the year.

Temperature extremes can be impressive, with summer temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit near St. George and winter lows exceeding -30 degrees Fahrenheit on the plateau tops.

The vegetation of the Forest grades from sparse, desert-type plants at the lower elevations to stands of low-growing pinyon pine and juniper dominating the mid-elevations. At the higher elevations, aspen and conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir predominate.

Recreation Opportunities
Three National Parks and one National Monument are adjacent to the Forest. The scenic beauty for which these areas were set aside prevails over much of the Forest. Red sandstone formations of Red Canyon rival those of Bryce Canyon National Park. Hells Backbone Bridge and the view into Death Hollow are breathtaking. From the top of Powell Point, it is possible to see for miles into three different states. Boulder Mountain and the many different lakes provide opportunities for hiking, fishing and viewing outstanding scenery.

Recreational opportunities on the Forest are highly diversified. Visitors may enjoy camping, hunting, viewing scenery, hiking, horseback riding, and fishing in very primitive settings away from the sight and sounds of motorized vehicles. Others, who prefer more developed areas and less primitive conditions, may enjoy vehicle-based activities, camping, picnicking, resort lodging, recreation residence, sledding, skiing, hunting, gathering forest products, viewing interpretive exhibits, viewing scenery, driving for pleasure, snowmobiling, biking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and water skiing. Opportunities for winter sports, such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, are available in many of the areas. The Forest works with the State Parks to maintain some trails for skiing and snowmobiling. There are also over a thousand miles of timber roads that can be used for these sports.

Developed facilities are available for those who prefer to have drinking water and restrooms. There are 26 campgrounds and 5 picnic sites on the Forest. In addition, the Forest has several group camping areas and group picnic areas available for those who are traveling together, and would like to camp or picnic as a group. The group sites can be reserved by calling ahead. Some of the campgrounds are located near lakes and reservoirs (Panguitch Lake, Navajo Lake, Enterprise Reservoir). These areas have boating and fishing opportunities available. There is also downhill skiing at Brian Head that can accommodate 3,200 skiers at one time.

The Dixie has 641 miles of trails. The more popular areas are located on Pine Valley Mountains and the Boulder Mountains. Pine Valley Mountains has over 100 miles of trails that climb from the valley bottoms to the top of the mountain. Whipple Trail, which was designated a National Recreation Trail, is the most heavily used trail and provides the easiest access to the top of the mountain and the wilderness area. The trails at the lower elevations are steep and winding, however, once the top is reached the steep side slopes give way to broad open valleys and gentle slopes. Water is scarce on top of the mountain and campers need to bring the necessary supply with them.

Boulder Mountain does not have the steep side slopes like the Pine Valley Mountains; however, the area is steep and rough. Many small lakes provide opportunities for fishing and camping. Water is available in most areas on the mountain but it should be treated before you use it for drinking. Boulder Mountain can be reached from many small communities in the area. The top can be reached from Escalante by taking the Forest Road 153 north for approximately 16 miles. From Boulder the top is approximately 11 miles and it is only 9 miles from Torry on the Boulder-Grover Road.

The Dixie has many great areas available for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The flat terrain in many of the areas reduces the hazard of avalanches and yet the snow condition at the higher elevation is excellent. The Markaguant Plateau, 22 miles east of Cedar City on State Highway 14, is one of the more heavily used areas for both snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. An area on the Paunsaugant Plateau, which can be reached by going south out of Panguitch on State Highway 89 to the Highway 12 Junction, then east on 12 six miles, is also heavily used. The Boulder Top sees heavy use from snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.

The Forest has 83,000 acres of wilderness in three areas: Pine Valley, Box-Death Hollow, and Ashdown Gorge. Pine Valley and Ashdown Gorge offer opportunities for solitude, horseback riding and hiking. Box-Death Hollow offers opportunities for solitude and hiking, but the terrain is much too rough for horses.


Navaho Lake - This lake, on top of the Aquarius Plateau, was formed when a lava flow blocked off the natural drainage. Water from the lake empties into two drainages. Part of the water flows through a lava tube and surfaces at Duck Creek pond, then into the Sevier River to eventually end up in the Great Salt Lake. The other half of the water also flows through a lava tube to surface at Cascade Falls and eventually drain into the Colorado River. Three campgrounds and two lodges with cabins provide opportunities for camping around the lake. Boat rentals are available for those who wish to go out onto the lake to fish or just enjoy the quiet of the lake.

Cascade Falls and Trail - Cascade Falls is the head waters of the North Fork of the Virgin River. The water, which originates at Navajo Lake, gushes from a limestone cavern and cascades down a rocky hillside. The trail to the falls has been designated as a National Recreation Trail. It traverses the scenic pink cliffs that form the southern edge of the Markaguant Plateau. The trail, which is only 3,000 feet long, is located three road miles southwest of Navajo Lake/U-14 junction on Forest Road No. 054, 26 road miles east of Cedar City.

Pine Valley Mountain - The mountain is an intrusive rock outcrop that forms the Pine Valley Laccolith. It is a mountain island surrounded by desert. Elevations range from 6,000 to 10,365 feet above sea level. The warm days and cool night temperatures attract many who are seeking relief from the heat of the lower valleys. The Pine Valley Mountains Wilderness covers 50,000 acres of the mountain top. The main recreation area can be reached by going 23 miles north out of St. George, Utah on State Highway 18 to Central and then east 11 miles on Forest Road 035 to Pine Valley Recreation Area. Many trails lead from the recreation area to the top of the mountain.

Hells Backbone Bridge - The bridge was first constructed in 1933 to overcome the obstacle of crossing the narrow gap between Sand Creek and Salt Creek. The road to the bridge and the bridge itself were first constructed by CCC crews with the help of mules. This was the first automobile access to Boulder from Escalante. Spectacular views into the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness are available from the bridge and the narrow ridge on both sides. The bridge can be reached by taking State Highway 12 to Escalante, Utah, and then Forest Road 135 north for 12 miles.

Red Canyon - Red Canyon is similar to Bryce Canyon but on a smaller scale. Red rock pinnacles and cliffs have been formed by many years of wind and water erosion. Red Canyon is 3 miles east of State Highway 89 on Highway 12.

Boulder-Grover Road - This road has just recently been paved, providing an all weather road between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. The road skirts around the east side of the Boulder Mountain. The location of the road affords outstanding views of the Circle Cliffs, Waterpocket Fold, Henry Mountains, and even the La Sal Mountains in eastern Utah when the weather permits. The road is an extension of State Highway 12 on past Boulder, Utah, to Grover.

Fall Colors - The vegetative mixture of aspen, mountain maple, and oak on the Forest provide spectacular scenes of yellows, golds, reds, and browns mixed with the dark green of the evergreens. Since these species occur over the whole forest, most areas are good to view the scenery; however, the more spectacular views are available along three routes: State Highway 14 between Cedar City and Highway 89, the Cedar Breaks-Panguitch Road, and the road between Boulder and Grover, Utah.

Multiple Use Management
The Forest Service is charged by Congress to manage the National Forests for a variety of public benefits. "Multiple use" is the key phrase. During your visit to Utah and the Dixie National Forest area, you might encounter evidence of many management activities. Wildlife habitat projects including aspen regeneration, chaining, and controlled burning to retain openings are often visible. You will see cattle grazing, mining, and timber activities.

Approximately one-fourth of the Dixie is used to produce timber. These lands are dedicated to this purpose. However, many other activities are taking place on the forest such as wildlife, range, recreation, and minerals. Many of the roads developed to remove timber from the land also provide opportunities for gathering firewood, hunting, driving for pleasure, or snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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