Sightseeing Off-Season Around Brian Head, Utah
During the seasons when there is little or no snow on the slopes for skiing, Brian Head lodging provides a base from which to see a large portion of the beautiful scenery of southern Utah. This article provides photos and descriptions of places I have enjoyed seeing. The reader can use this information to help plan a tour through the area.
In addition to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, there are Cedar Breaks National Monument, Brian Head Peak, Aspen Mirror Lake/Duck Creek, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
To do justice to Zion National Park, one should stay either at the park lodge or in neighboring Springdale for at least two nights. Because of this, Zion will not be treated much in this article. Springdale provides RV and tent camping, hotels, and Bed & Breakfasts which are suitable for exploring this area as thoroughly as it deserves.
Aspen-Mirror Lake, Cedar Breaks Monument, and Brian Head Peak
Aspen-Mirror Lake is not visible from Highway 14. It is between Duck Lake, which is visible, and the True Value Store.
South of Brian Head on Highways 143 and 148
A gravel road leads from Highway 143 up and around to a parking area on the peak.
This is the lake pictured in this article's lead photo. The wind was stirring up too many waves the day I took the photo for the lake to behave much like a mirror. It is about 23 miles, or 35 minutes away from Brian Head, assuming Highway 148 is open between Brian Head and Highway 14. It is a very peaceful and relaxing place to visit. If you are a photographer, you will love this place! I am including a few more I took with my point and shoot camera.
Not far down the highway is Aunt Sue's Diner. It is a decent place to eat, and a lot less expensive than the Brian Head resorts.
My wife and I also enjoy looking around inside the True Value Hardware store down the road. They have things you wouldn't normally expect to find in a hardware store, such as the jigsaw puzzles we bought there once.
The following video is short, but shows a more panoramic view. It also conveys the dynamic effects of wind and wave on the scene. You might want to turn your volume down quite a bit before starting the video because the only sound is the wind blustering in the leaves and the camera microphone.
Video of Aspen Mirror Lake on Duck Creek, Utah on a Windy Day
Cedar Breaks National Monument
About six miles, or ten minutes south of Brian Head is Cedar Breaks National Monument. According to the National Park Service website, "Crowning the grand staircase, Cedar Breaks sits at 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater."
Brian Head Peak
Five miles, but 25 minutes from Brian Head is Brian Head Peak. A gravel road leads from Highway 143 around and up the rest of the way to the top of Brian Head Peak. There is a rock structure at the top build by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and later restored by the Sierra Club.
Brian Head PeakClick thumbnail to view full-size
Brian Head Off-season
Not being a skier, I would not even dream about going to Brian Head during ski season. I'm sure it is a lot different then, mostly busier, colder, and slipperier (yes, that is even worse than "more slippery"). Other times of the year you will find the place largely shut down.
You can get gas and groceries in Cedar City or Parowan. There is a nice little market on the main road through Parowan, although some of the fresh vegetables didn't look fresh, probably because the locals have fantastic gardens and seldom buy squash and so forth at the store. They had a decent meat counter for what they had, but I was unable to find any of the steak cuts I really like, such as T-bone or Porterhouse. They have a good range of packaged and canned goods, soaps, shampoos, paper products, and more. The store was closed when we passed by on our way home one Sunday.
My wife and I have eaten at the Korner Kafe for breakfast and were both pleased, except that I had to go to the general store a few doors down to buy a second cup of coffee for my wife. When we found that the cafe had no coffee that morning, I retrieved from the car our still hot cups from the coffee shop in our resort, Cedar Breaks Lodge.
Be aware of the free range cows in and around Brian Head. They sometimes hang out on the highway or on the resort grounds. Remember to slow down if you are driving near them. You will also want to pay attention to the speed limits and wildlife signs on the rural highways. On our last trip, I saw a fawn lying beside one spot on the highway. Apparently it had tried to cross and didn't make it. You don't want to have to explain to your kids why you killed Bambi.
Bryce Canyon National Park
There is a lodge in Bryce Canyon where you can stay a night or two if you want to spend more time in the area. But my wife and I both enjoyed just driving around the park and pulling into several of the main lookout points on the main road. Near the park entrance there is a large souvenir shop and a place across the street that sells ice cream as well as souvenirs. Both are fun to look through.
Bryce Canyon is about 58 miles, or an hour and 15 minutes from Brian Head. In between is the town of Panguitch. If you drive through around lunch or dinner time, you can get some good barbecue at the Cowboy's Smokehouse Cafe in downtown Panguitch.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Zion National Park
If you haven't seen Zion and might not get another chance, forget about Grand Staircase and at least drive through Zion. See note under the Zion pin.
To make a circle through Zion from Brian Head, go east on 143, take 89 south, turn east on 9 through Zion, and then return on 17, I-15 and 143 again.
Bryce Canyon National ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
If you keep heading east from Bryce Canyon on Highway 12 for another 10 miles or so, you will get to Cannonville. From there, you will be able to drive in (still on Highway 12) to see part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I say part because this National Monument takes up 1.9 million acres and most of two counties in Utah. It is more of a geological feature than a tourist attraction.
The idea is that there are geological strata between Bryce Canyon and the high Paunsaugunt Plateau. These strata are evidenced by brightly colored cliffs in between. I don't know where exactly these cliffs are, but if you are a geologist, you should be able to find them. But then again, if you are a geologist, you might not want to go in there, as you might never want to come out.
My wife and I stayed in a motel in Panguitch a few years ago, went to Bryce Canyon in the morning, and then drove on along Highway 12. We saw some interesting sights, some of which are pictured here. But we never seemed to come to any kind of central point (like a giant staircase, for example) where, if you went to that spot, you could then claim you had been there. So we just kept going on Highway 12, to Highways 24, and 62, which circled back to 89, which took us back to Panquitch. It was definitely a worthwhile trip. And we finished it nicely with a very good barbecue dinner at the aforementioned Cowboy's Smokehouse Cafe.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National MonumentClick thumbnail to view full-size
This information should help you in deciding what you would like to see in person if you are able to travel to southern Utah. Zion National Park was left out, because like Yosemite and Yellowstone, it will probably already be on most people's travel list, and an abundance of information is already available for it.
I did include a pin (D) for Zion on the last map in case someone wants to see Zion instead of Grand Staircase-Escalante. If your situation requires you to miss one or the other during your lifetime, don't miss Zion. See the notes on pins C and D in the last map.