The majestic red rock canyons and the dusty open plains made for the perfect backdrop. Robert Redford called this region one of the “best locations possible”, making filming of 1969’s iconic movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ a “joy”. Much like Redford enjoyed the scenic vistas, travelers are discovering the serenity and adventure that is Southern Utah.
I highly recommend Cedar City as your vacation headquarters. Cedar City is an easy hub for me because my grandparents spent their last days here and some of my family still live there. It became our winter escape for Christmas and our summer getaway for the 4th of July. Many good memories have been had in this small town and, obviously, I keep coming back to make more.
Now I have already blabbed about the Utah Shakespeare Festival. So you know what that’s about. Cedar City isn’t called Festival City for nothing. Yes, you can see fabulous plays, free shows on the green, and taste nice pastries. But for the moment, let’s talk about Cedar sans soliloquies. So what can you discover if you venture this way?
A short 18-mile drive will take you to Zion National Park where you can hike into the glassy Emerald Pools. Stop at the lodge for a bite and you can wander their small museum of taxidermy creatures. Cedar Breaks National Monument is 23 miles from town and offers amazing trails and views of deep canyons and cliffs. Look closely and you might find hidden arches in the rocks or the small long-tailed weasel popping out of the landscape. Not far from here you can go horseback riding through the meadows. I have done this a couple times and the local guides there are great even with beginners. Near Cedar Breaks is the local ski resort area of Brian Head. You will find lodges, shops, and lifts that will serve all your winter sport needs. Drive up to the peak at an elevation of over 11,000 ft. and on a clear day, you can get spectacular views of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.
About 16 miles out of Cedar is Parowan Gap. There you will see the petroglyphs which are historical sketches by Native Americans and early settlers. The wind is all you will hear when you gaze upon the old writings. Standing there can feel quite spiritual.
If you are a golfer, you can hit the green in Cedar or drive about about an hour to St. George and tee off at one of their luxury courses. Some even have dress codes so be sure to ask when you book your game. St. George also has three fishing ponds if you are eager throw some lines.
Back in Cedar, there are a few great places to eat. For a fresh salad bar with great blue cheese dressing and meats full of flavor, check out Milt’s Stage Stop on Highway 14. A quick 5-mile drive will get you a wonderful meal for around $30. On that same highway – and with a similar price range – you will find Rusty’s Ranch House which offers steak, ribs, and seafood. The Depot Grill in downtown Cedar City offers fine dining with well-thought cuisine and cocktails. Dinners range from about $16 to $35. Sip some savory blends at Iron Gate Winery on West South Street. Tastings start at $10. Go for the slow pour in their secluded garden and you will also enjoy locally crafted cheeses.
The Iron Gate Inn Bed & Breakfast is an ideal place to rest those hiking legs. Quaint and perfectly located, the Inn is on the same property as the winery and mere steps away from the Utah Shakespeare Festival. (See how I slipped the festival back in?) There are several other places to sleep such as the Abbey Inn, Crystal Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Quality Inn. Clearly, you have your choice of Inn’s.
If you want to take a dip, the Cedar Aquatic Center offers a giant indoor pool for kids, a lap pool, an outdoor leisure pool, and a hot tub. The pool for the kiddos includes slides, a lazy river, and a central play structure. Day passes are only $4. Right next to the aquatic center is a man made lake stocked with trout, bass, and catfish. Non-motorized boats are welcome and you can also rent kayaks and paddle boards for $4-$6 per hour.
Getting to Southern Utah takes some planning. It’s about a 7-hour drive north on the I-15. You can also fly to Las Vegas, then rent a car and drive for 2.5 hours. Lastly, you can fly to Salt Lake City, then connect to Cedar City through the Delta Airlines partner Skywest. I drive up from L.A in the wee hours of the morning. This allows me to skip traffic, watch the sunrise, and pull into town for lunch. With so much see, I like having my own car on hand to zoom off into the mountains.
So there you have it! A taste of what Southern Utah has to offer. And there is so much more that I haven’t mentioned like the amazing lightening shows above the valleys, the camping, the shooting ranges, and all the other historical spots along the way. Speaking of which, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in a little ghost town called Grafton. It’s not far from Zion, but I spent the better part of a day searching for it with my dad (hint: It’s across the river). He loved ghost towns so much that he insisted that I and some of our adventurous family members hunt it down. We did. Not many people love empty graveyards and dilapidated buildings, but he sure dug it. My father passed away not long after that. We spent many wonderful days exploring Southern Utah and I hope you do, too.
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