Duck Creek & Navajo Lake ~ Dixie National Forest
The Dixie National Forest has elevations that range from about 2,500 feet above sea level to nearly 2 miles high on Cedar Mountain. The higher that a visitor goes, the cooler the temperatures get. Destinations on Cedar Mountain can be more than 35ºF cooler than Las Vegas on any given day, which spells plenty of relief from the extreme summer heat!
The Dixie National Forest is only about a 3 hour drive northeast from Las Vegas, Nevada and it is just a short hop from St George, Utah. When cruising on Interstate Highway 15, Cedar City is the offramp to look for. From Cedar City, heading east on Utah State Road 14 through the Dixie National Forest is the way to get to Cedar Breaks National Monument, Navajo Lake and Duck Creek. Utah SR 14 ends at the intersection of Highway 89, which goes to Bryce Country or Zion. With all these majestic destinations being in one region of Utah, it is easy to imagine that there is plenty to see and do!
A previously published article titled as Markagaunt High Plateau Scenic Byway describes Utah State Road 14 from one end to the other. The long scenic byway name of this road certainly is much easier to refer to as SR 14, especially when asking for directions! SR 14 first snakes its way uphill over some steep grades till it gets near the apex of the mountain, where Cedar Breaks is located. From the Cedar Breaks access road, it is just a few miles east to Navajo Lake. Most of the side roads in this area are National Forest dirt roads, so a high ground clearance vehicle will be needed to explore places like Navajo Lake and Duck Creek. If it is a late heavy snow melt season, a 4×4 is the best choice, because the roads will be muddy.
Navajo Lake is at the 9,000 foot elevation and Duck Creek is at just about the same elevation on the other side of the mountain crest. At this high elevation, the snow melt season can last well into July. After a winter of drought, the roads will be open sometime during the spring season, but it can be mid summer by the time the top of the mountain finally thaws out after a heavy winter. Therefore, it is best to research the conditions before making plans to visit destinations way up high on Cedar Mountain.
Navajo Lake is a natural lake that was formed by ancient lava flows. The black lava rock boulders can be seen all around the shoreline of Navajo Lake and the oblong shape made it easy to turn it into a reservoir. The lush green forested mountains, glowing white snow drifts, cobalt blue skies and the turquoise color water all add up to quite a splendid place to be! Navajo Lake offers both a lodge resort and Dixie National Forest camping with full facilities, so planning a lengthy stay is easy to do. The best part is Navajo Lake is stocked with gamefish, so it is a fly fishing paradise!
The Duck Creek area of the Dixie National Forest starts just a few miles east of Navajo Lake and this wilderness area does cover a lot of ground. Duck Creek runs through the mountain meadows and it feeds a few ponds along the way as this creek flows downhill. After a recent snow melt, the Duck Creek area can be nothing but deep mud, so it does pay to check on conditions ahead of time. Duck Creek Village is the mountain lodge resort area to look for and there is plenty to do in this is place. Camping and fishing are the main activities, but mountain biking and ATV trail riding have caught on in this region too. Duck Creek is the perfect choice for setting up a rustic basecamp for adventures on Cedar Mountain, because all the popular attractions are close by.
Spending time in the crisp cool mountain air at Duck Creek and Navajo Lake in the Dixie National Forest certainly is a good way to work up a mountain of an appetite. After doing the scary downhill run when heading west on SR 14, the road starts to smooth out as is goes through the canyons near Cedar City. This is where a couple of landmark old fashioned western style steakhouses can be found! These restaurants offer a good value for the money spent and the dining room atmosphere spells comfort all the way. In the old fashioned steakhouses, the beef steaks are top notch and so is the barbecue. BBQ was my choice when dined at Rusty’s Steakhouse on the way back to Las Vegas and I was still full well into the next day! Mountain food is all about big hearty portions, so being hungry prior to arrival is the way to go!
Cedar Mountain has plenty to offer during the summer season and the Brian Head Ski Resort takes up the slack when the white stuff comes down. Cool relief from the heat is easy to find at this high elevation, so this is all the motivation that is needed to make the venture happen! As can be imagined, both Duck Creek and Navajo Lake do get busy when the snow finally thaws, so making reservations ahead of time is best to do. If you are into camping and fly fishing in a mountain top wilderness area, then Duck Creek and Navajo Lake will certainly need to be chalked up high on the board!