Beginning in Parowan, Highway 143 very quickly climbs up to nearly 10,000 feet, ascending some of the steepest paved roads in Utah in the process (some of the grades here are 13 percent). The terrain changes from arid desert to pine forests to alpine aspen forests in just 14 miles.
At an elevation of 9,850 feet, Brian Head is the highest municipality in Utah, with a year-round population of about 100. Winter skiers like Brian Head for its abundant snow, challenging terrain, and good accommodations. Summer visitors come to enjoy the high country and to plunge down the slopes on mountain bikes.
The beautiful colors of Cedar Breaks National Monument  lie just a few miles south. Panguitch Lake, to the east, receives high ratings for its excellent trout fishing.
General information is available from Brian Head Chamber of Commerce (435/677-2810, www.brianheadutah.com ).
You can drive all the way to Brian Head's 11,307-foot summit by car when the road is dry, usually July-October. Panoramas from the top take in much of southwestern Utah and beyond into Nevada and Arizona. Sheep graze the grassy slopes below. From Brian Head, follow Highway 143 about two miles south, then turn left (northeast) and go three miles on a gravel road to the summit. The stone shelter here was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Brian Head Resort (329 S. Hwy. 143, 435/677-2035, www.brianhead.com , $45 adults full day, $52 holiday, $32 children 12 and under and seniors full day, $37 holiday) comes alive during the skiing season, late November-late April. While it's not Utah's most exciting ski area, it's a good place to bring a family, and new lifts and a skier bridge make it easy to get between the two mountains comprising the main ski areas.
Navajo Peak is good for beginners and families, and Giant Steps has more advanced runs. Lifts carry skiers up to elevations of 10,920 feet; the resort has 65 runs and 650 skiable acres, with a vertical drop of 1,320 feet from the lift and 1,707 feet from the top of Brian Head peak. Forty percent of the terrain is rated beginner, 40 percent intermediate, and 20 percent advanced. The resort also features three terrain parks, for all abilities, and a tubing area.
Brian Head's second season is during the summer and fall, roughly June-October, when the area comes alive with mountain bikers taking advantage of great terrain and discounted accommodations. Brian Head Resort opens itself as a mountain bike park, complete with chairlift ($24) and trailhead shuttle services, bike wash, rentals, and repair services. They also supply free maps (preview the routes and print maps online at www.brianhead.com ).
Thrifty bikers can come away with some really good deals by shopping area hotels for mountain bike lodging packages, which combine a few days of lodging with lift tickets, shuttle service, and sometimes even food and bike rentals. Mountain bike rentals are available from Brian Head Resort (866/930-1010, ext. 212, $35-54).
Rates at Brian Head are steep during the ski season, though not nearly as high as at fancier ski resorts, and most places offer skiers package discounts. Several reservations services can help you book a condo: try Brian Head Resort Reservation Service (435/677-2042, www.brianheadtown.com ) or Brian Head Condo Reservations (435/677-2045 or 800/722-4742, www.brianheadcondoreservations.com )
This 1,250-acre reservoir sits in a volcanic basin surrounded by forests and barren lava flows. The cool waters have a reputation for outstanding trout fishing, especially for rainbow. Resorts line the lakeshore; many are venerable older fishing lodges with basic lodging in freestanding cabins; a couple are more upscale. Panguitch Lake is a popular site for resort homes.
Panguitch Lake lies along Highway 143, about 16 miles southwest of Panguitch  and 14 miles northeast of Cedar Breaks National Monument . The lake has public boat ramps on the south and north shores.
Moss and luxuriant streamside vegetation surround the crystal-clear spring waters at this beautiful spot. Mammoth Springs is about 5.5 miles south of Panguitch Lake. The last two miles are on gravel Forest Route 068. A footbridge leads across the stream to the springs. See the Dixie National Forest map (available at the Pine Valley and Cedar City Ranger District offices) for details.
Step a few feet underground to explore the inside of a lava flow. When this mass of lava began to cool, the molten interior burst through the surface and drained out through a network of tunnels. A cave-in revealed this section of tunnel, which has two levels. One of them you can follow through to another opening. The lower tunnel (with the large entrance) goes back about a quarter mile.
To explore beyond that or to check out other sections, you'll have to stoop or crawl. Bring at least two reliable, powerful flashlights; the caves are very dark. Mammoth Cave is about 14 miles south of Panguitch Lake. Roads also lead in from Duck Creek  on Highway 14 and Hatch on U.S. 89. You'll need a good map to navigate the back roads, though there are some signs for Mammoth Cave.
Lodgings and campgrounds along Highway 143 are concentrated around Panguitch Lake, and there are a number of accommodations that serve Brian Head. Bear Paw Lakeview Resort (905 S. Hwy. 143, 435/676-2650 or 888/553-8439, www.bearpawfishingresort.com , early May-mid-Nov., $69-79) is on the east shore of Panguitch Lake and has lakeview cabins and a clientele composed mostly of anglers. There's also a small store, an on-site restaurant, a post office, and boat rentals.
Blue Springs Lodge (225 N. Shore Rd., 435/676-2277 or 800/987-5634, www.bluespringslodge.com , $85 and up) is also a ways from the lake—right on Highway 143—and comprises a line of modern log cabins with kitchens.
There are a couple of upscale lodging choices in Brian Head. Cedar Breaks Lodge (223 Hunter Ridge Rd., 435/667-3000 or 888/282-3327, www.cedarbreakslodge.com , $85 and up in summer, $120 and up in winter) is at the base of Navajo Peak on the north (lower) side of town. All rooms come with jetted tubs, a refrigerator, in-room coffee, and cable TV; kitchens are available in some rooms. There's also an indoor pool, two hot tubs, a steam room, a sauna, a day spa, and a fitness center. Lodging choices range from hotel rooms to three-bedroom suites.
The newest lodging at Brian Head is the Grand Lodge at Brian Head (314 Hunter Ridge Dr., 435/677-9000, www.grandlodgebrianhead.com , $99-149 summer, $190-295 winter) with nicely decorated rooms, an on-site spa, an indoor pool, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, pool tables, and a fitness center. It's pet-friendly to boot.
At the Brian Head Mall, Bump and Grind (259 S. State Hwy. 143, 435/677-3111, Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-3 p.m., $5-10) serves burgers, deli sandwiches, and pizza, with breakfast offered on weekends. Typical ski-area grills operate in both the Navajo and Giant Steps lodges.
At Cedar Breaks Lodge, there are a couple dining rooms, plus a comfortable lounge. The Cedar Breaks Café (435/667-3000, 8-11:30 a.m. and 5-10 p.m. daily, $6-16) is the most casual, while the Double Black Diamond Steak House (435/677-4242, 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and most holidays, $11-26, reservations recommended) serves Western-style fine dining.
The U.S. Forest Service has three campgrounds at Panguitch Lake (435/865-3200 or 877/444-6777, www.recreation.gov , June-Sept., $10-12). Panguitch Lake North Campground, on the southwest side of the lake, has developed sites in a ponderosa pine forest at an elevation of 8,400 feet.
Panguitch Lake South Campground (no reservations) across the highway, is more suited for small rigs and tents.
White Bridge Campground, elevation 7,900 feet, lies among diseased cottonwoods (slated for removal) and junipers along Panguitch Creek four miles northeast of the lake.
Panguitch Lake General Store and RV Park (53 W. Hwy. 143, 435/676-2464) has an RV park with a few hookup sites for self-contained RVs. The store is open year-round and sells groceries, gas, gifts, and fishing supplies.