In the United States, only the grades of interstates are required by law to remain under a certain percentage. A grade is based on the number of feet that a road changes every 100 feet at its steepest part. The interstate system in the United States must maintain roads with no more than a 6 percent grade. However, the steepest road in Utah will make you grip your steering wheel tight! Which road is it? We’ll go over the details now.
What is the Steepest Road in Utah?
The steepest road in Utah is State Route 143. Route 143 is so steep that the toughest parts only have a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. This highway is also known as the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway, or as the Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway.
The state highway climbs drivers over 10,500 feet into mountainous terrain near Cedar Breaks National Park. It’s also traversed by skiers headed to Brian Head Resort.
If you’re planning on traveling Route 143, remember that it’s not the drive up to the top that’s the scariest. Most hairy incidents happen while descending, as inexperienced drivers may burn their brakes out. It’s not unheard of for freight trucks to have their breaks catch on fire while navigating hairpin turns with no shoulders.
State Route 143 is the second-highest paved road in Utah. The highest, State Route 150, is the highest paved road by a few hundred more feet.
An unpaved gravel road that travels around Mount Brigham may be the highest in Utah. It reaches over 11,100 feet above sea level as it travels around Mount Brigham. The unpaved road breaks off of Tushar Road on Highway 89 south of Marysvale.
If jeep routes are considered unpaved roads, some jeep passes go higher. There are no official records about exactly how high these routes go, however.
Where is Route 143 in Utah?
Route 143 in Utah is a meandering drive between the small cities of Parowan and Panguitch. Parowan is around 3 hours northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, and a little more than three hours southwest of Salt Lake City.
Brian Head Resort is a small ski area that gets most of its business from surrounding desert cities. It is only accessible via Route 143, and the steepest grade on the route must be traversed to get there.
The main drag into Cedar Breaks National Park is Route 143. The highway also skirts Panguitch Lake about 30 minutes outside of the City of Panguitch.
How Steep is Route 143 in Utah?
Route 143 in Utah has a stretch with a grade of 13 percent. This is over twice as steep as allowed on any interstate in the nation. Between the town of Parowan and Cedar Breaks National Monument, travelers ascend around 4,600 feet in approximately 18 miles.
Because the road takes drivers up high into the mountains, it’s important to carry chains in the winter. The Utah Department of Transportation issues chain controls during bad weather conditions.
Utahn Wildlife Along Route 143
The best place to interact with animals along Route 143 is in Cedar Breaks National Park or at Panguitch Lake. While both places are open all winter, Cedar Breaks National Park is best to visit from spring to fall. Panguitch offers different angling experiences all year. This includes an ice fishing derby.
Animals to See in Cedar Breaks National Park in Utah
During your summer visit to Cedar Breaks National Park, keep a lookout for wildlife that are at home in the area. The usual suspects include mule deer, chipmunks, skunks, and squirrels. Less often, pikas are spotted in rockier terrain.
Cedar Breaks National Park also hosts red foxes, black bears, elk, bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions. However, most of these animals aren’t seen on a quick visit to the area. Don’t let that discourage you as you may get lucky!
Fishing in Panguitch Lake on Route 143
Panguitch Lake is a Utahn reservoir on Route 143 that’s a well-known vacation spot for fishermen. The word “panguitch” means “big fish” in the Paiute language, and this is an apt name as Panguitch Lake is popular for its huge trout.
These trout are stocked fish, however, the fishery is sometimes in danger. Blooms of blue-green algae during summers caused by pollution starve the water of oxygen. This means that there may not be enough oxygen for the fish which causes their deaths.
Utah chubs also threaten the trout population in Panguitch Lake. They were introduced before the turn of the twentieth century. These chubs outcompete more desirable lake trout.
By the early 2000s, most of the fish biomass in the lake was Utah chubs. In response, Bear Lake cutthroat trout, and tiger trout, were introduced as predators. As of 2020, trout numbers are on the rise, and the chub population is drastically reduced.
Excess trout from hatcheries are sometimes added to the lake. This is because the number of trout needed fluctuates with the Utah chub population present. If the chubs are increasing in numbers, more trout are added.
Utah’s Steepest Road: The History of Route 143
Before the 1900s, the western part of Route 143 was used by pioneers. In 1933, it officially became a state highway. By 1985, and after 2 additions, the road had become the length that it remains today.
Route 143 is known as the Patchwork Highway after the perilous journey that a group of Mormon pioneers undertook in the winter of 1864. In desperation, a group in Panguitch decided to walk to Parowan in thick snow for needed food. Everyone back in town was starving to death.
After traveling so far that they were too committed to their journey to turn back, the snow became so thick that it was impossible to navigate. Fortunately, the pioneers discovered that the homemade patchwork quilts they had with them for warmth also allowed them to walk on the snow without sinking. It took them almost two weeks, but the men methodically used their quilts to inch their way to Parowan and back with the desperately needed flour.
What is at the Top of the Steepest Road in Utah?
If you travel to the top of State Route 143 in Utah, you will see breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. At the top, you can find Cedar Breaks National Monument, a sprawling 3,000-acre park that offers stunning vistas. The spectacular alpine meadows and colorful rock formations make this area an ideal spot for camping, hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Cedar Breaks is home to many different species of plants and animals, including wild horses, deer, elk, eagles, and hawks. Visitors will also be able to enjoy some of the most beautiful sunsets in Utah. The park is open year-round and offers a variety of activities for visitors, including interpretive hikes, astronomy programs, stargazing events, and more.
So, if you find yourself traveling through central Utah looking for some amazing views and outdoor adventures, make sure to visit State Route 143—the steepest road in Utah!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com
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