Dixie National Forest Overview

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If you're looking for the essence of Utah, look no further than "The Dixie," as the forest is affectionately known in these parts. Here, weather-sculpted formations of Wasatch limestone and giant ponderosa pines compete for your attention, but they're no match for the grandiose red sandstone towers and deep canyons so characteristic of Utah.

Dixie is a canyon-country forest that sprawls across nearly 2 million acres and spans 170 miles in southern Utah. It's the largest national forest in Utah, and it straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. It also surrounds and links together Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Zion national parks, as well as Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

The Dixie's breathtaking beauty and diversity are what attract visitors. Red Canyon is only one example of Dixie's outstanding scenic features. In a day's drive, visitors may marvel at Red Canyon's rock formation, hike in Pine Valley, see scenic Navajo Lake, fish at Panguitch Lake, tour the east fork of the Sevier River, or travel the scenic Boulder/Grover Road on Boulder Mountain. These areas all have camping facilities. Pine Valley, Ashdown Gorge and Box-Death Hollow Wildernesses offer backpacking adventures.

Whether you prefer solitude in the depths of the forest, or more mainstream activities such as snowmobiling, driving, or skiing, the Dixie provides a perfect playground.

Hike the Pine Valley Mountains
The Dixie contains 641 miles of trails. The more popular areas are located on the Pine Valley Mountains and Boulder Mountains. Pine Valley Mountains has over 100 miles of trails, including the Whipple Trail, which was designated a National Recreation Trail. It's the most heavily used trail in the area and provides the easiest access to the top of the mountain and the wilderness area. Trails at lower elevations are steep and winding, but once the crest is reached the grade becomes much easier. Water is scarce on top of the mountain and backpackers must haul their own.

Traipse the Pink Cliffs
Few trails pack as much scenery into such a short distance as the Cascade Falls Trail. The half-mile trail traverses scenic pink cliffs that form the southern edge of the Markaguant Plateau, then visits the Cascade Falls of the North Fork of the Virgin River where it gushes from a limestone cavern and tumbles down a rocky hillside. The trail to the falls has been designated as a National Recreation Trail, but despite this it remains relatively unpopulated—just a nice quiet getaway, especially for families with young hikers.

Ski Markaguant Plateau
The chief problem with hilly cross-country ski areas is that those nice cruiser downhills inevitably lead to hard, sweaty ascents. Not so at the cross-country skiing area 22 miles east of Cedar City, where easy, flat trails follow the Virgin River rim and wander through pine, aspen, and open meadows. Vistas are breathtaking.

Schuss Above the Red Rock
Brian Head is Utah's southernmost ski resort but also among the state's snowiest, thanks to having the highest base elevation. Tucked away in the high mountain peaks above the red rock canyons of southern Utah, Brian Head Resort receives an average of 425 inches of dry Utah powder each year. Terrain ranges from gentle beginner slopes to long, groomed cruisers, as well as glades, bumps, steeps, deeps, and gullies for experts. The resort is snowboard friendly.

Track Critters at Box-Death Hollow
Walking and scoping are not recommended at the same time in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness for the simple reason that you won't find any developed trails. And there's plenty of wildlife to catch your eye and make you stumble: mule deer, elk in the winters, cougars and many species of birds, including the golden eagle and American kestrel. In this rugged wilderness you'll be bushwhacking most of the way, which has a funny way of keeping the number of backpackers, hikers, and fishermen to a minimum.

Fish Navajo Lake
Navajo Lake was formed when a lava flow blocked off the natural drainage feeding it. Water now empties from this 9,000-foot-high lake into two drainages—through a lava tube to Duck Creek Pond and into the Sevier River and eventually onto the Great Salt Lake. Rainbow trout are the big draw here, and the camping's pretty good as well. Pack warm clothing, since the high altitude yields chilly nights, even in summer. Might as well leave the swim trunks at home: This snowmelt-fed lake is mighty cold.

Leaf Peep as you Drive
Come autumn, the forest's mixture of aspen, mountain maple, and oak puts on a spectacular show of yellows, golds, reds, and browns set against dark evergreens. Most areas are good for leaf peeping, but the real showstoppers are State Highway 14 between Cedar City and Highway 89, the Cedar Breaks-Panguitch Road, and the road between Boulder and Grover, Utah.

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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