Circle of Painted Cliffs: Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT

At an elevation of 10,350 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks National Monument is the highest national park in Utah. This park is renowned for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin.

The Circle of Painted Cliffs that is Cedar Breaks National Monument. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks is loosely sandwiched between two southwestern Utah national parks—Zion and Bryce Canyon. It towers 2,000 and 4,000 feet above these parks, respectively. The monument lies 22 miles west of Cedar City about 60 miles east of Bryce Canyon, and about 80 miles north of Zion.

The monument gets its name from early Utah settlers. “Cedar” refers to the cedar or juniper trees that grow nearby, and “Breaks” is a word meaning badlands. The early natives called Cedar Breaks the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.”

The canyon’s rim is forested with spruce, subalpine fir, and quaking aspen. Scattered between the trees are broad meadows that come aglow with various high-country summer wildflowers that begin their colorful displays in late June with late-bloomers peaking in mid-to-late August.

Park facilities include 30 campsites, a five-mile scenic drive, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The visitor center which stands next to the amphitheater opens around Memorial Day and closes for the season in mid-October.

The scenic drive has four pullouts for gazing deep into its interior. North View overlook faces south. Chessman Ridge and Sunset View overlooks both have views to the west, and Point Supreme has the only viewpoint that looks due north.

The view from Chessman Ridge Overlook is stunning! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a premier cross-country skiing and snowmobiling destination in the winter with close proximity to Brian Head Resort.

A hike to Spectra Point reveals a bristlecone pine tree that began its growth during the Roman Empire. Another trail leads to Alpine Pond, a backcountry pool surrounded by a forest of spruce, fir, and aspen.

But nothing can rise above the most glorious attraction of the monument—the Cedar Breaks amphitheater.

Shaped like a giant coliseum, Cedar Breaks drops 2,000 feet to its floor. Millions of years of uplift and erosion have carved this spectacularly colored amphitheater. Deep inside the coliseum are delicately eroded spires, fins, columns, arches, pinnacles, and intricate canyons in varying shades of red, yellow and purple.

Up High
The trails are easy walks but can be strenuous for the elderly, persons with respiratory problems, and those who are not in good physical condition due to the park’s high elevation. Experts recommend drinking plenty of water and staying well-hydrated.

Photo tips

Cedar Breaks is located between Zion and Bryce canyon in southeastern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When photographing the amphitheater, weather often determines which overlook will provide the best image. If a thunderstorm starts rolling in from the west, the Chessman Ridge and Sunset View are the best locations for capturing the amphitheater below, with the rolling clouds in the distance. If the western sky is relatively clear, images from Point Supreme or North View will emphasize the depth of the formations below.

The best photos of the amphitheater from Point Supreme are taken a short time before sunset.

The rolling meadows fill with wildflowers in summer and offer a breathtaking scene.

Did You Know?
Cedar Breaks National Monument can get about 250 days of freezing temperatures out of the year. This freezing process adds to the erosion of the rim of the breaks.

Cedar Breaks National Monument


Operating Hours: Visitor center open early June to mid-October

Admission: $4/person, age 16 or older (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry

Elevation: 10,350 feet

Size: 6,100 acres

Location: From Cedar City (I-15, exit 57), 18 miles east on Highway 14, turn left onto Highway 148 for 4 miles; from Panguitch, turn west off Highway 89 on Highway 143 for 32 miles

Camping: $14/night; all sites first-come, first-serve

Address: 2390 W. Hwy 56, Suite 11, Cedar City, UT 84720

Contact: (435) 586-0787 (Monument visitor center); (435) 586-9451 (Cedar City administrative office)

Worth Pondering…
Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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