Year-round Vibrance on the Nebo Loop Byway
A National Scenic Byway that Enchants at High Elevations, by Road or Trail
One of Utah's best paved routes through the high elevation of the Wasatch Front is the Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway, which provides stunning views of Utah and Nephi Valleys, while looking up at the tallest peak in the Wasatch Range, the 11-928-foot Mount Nebo.
Views from Mount Nebo encapsulate sweeping vistas into Central Utah and down into Utah Valley. Closed in the winter (though a great snowmobiling and snowshoeing destination at that time) locals eagerly anticipate the opening of this winding scenic drive. Beautiful throughout the summer with high elevation hikes and cooling lakes and waterfalls, the Nebo Loop further comes alive with the vibrance of autumn.
Among the diversity of deciduous and evergreen forests exists surprises like the out-of-place-and-time orange hoodoos of the Devils Kitchen Geologic Site and seemingly infinite dispersed camping amid — but a couple hundred feet from — a myriad of streams, lakes, meadows and wildlife. The road climbs from the valley floor through scrub oak into maples, quaking aspens and the conifer forests of fir, engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine, then drops back down to the other side, for a total of 38 miles.
George Garcia is District Ranger for the Spanish Fork Ranger District on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Reflecting on the Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway, he captures the sensation both literally and figuratively.
"Mount Nebo is ‘life elevating' because it gives you perspective of where you're at. At the high elevations you're overlooking some pretty incredible vistas," he says, specifically citing one incredible stop:
"The Utah Valley overlook," says Garcia, "Really makes you feel like you're on top of the world. And at the top of Nebo looking down into the valley it gives you a whole new perspective. With canyons on either side your view funnels to the lake in the valley."
While summits and many areas are accessible by trail, Garcia says the Utah Valley Overlook is great for auto tourism on the weekend.
"Get up early, get the family together and pull the old classic out of the garage," he says.
Of course, with incredible overlooks decorated with the season's fall foliage, consider packing a lunch and spending the day. You'll want to take your time on this drive.
"Get up early, get the family together and pull the old classic out of the garage."
Loyal Clark is the Public Affairs Staff Officer for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. She builds on Garcia's reflections by pointing to the wide range of opportunities on the Nebo Loop for all levels of adventurer, running the spectrum from paved journeys that are ADA accessible to multi-day backcountry treks.
"Payson Lakes are very family friendly, including for families with small children, and we've just reconstructed the paved nature path around the lake," says Loyal.
The aura of Utah's autumn is a presentation of intoxicating flavors and vibrant colors set against diverse and otherworldly backdrops of entrada sandstone, iron-rich limestone and quartz monzonite. In the cooling high country air, subalpine evergreen forest brings a degree of constancy to landscapes in flux.
Even as the last leaf falls, nature welcomes. Stretch the limits of that three-season tent. Think: comfy down sleeping bag. Or, maybe synthetic? It's not chilly, it's crisp. No better cup than the jetboiled French press.
For classic car travelers, drive carefully. Backcountry trekkers: watch for bears. Either way, the season is now, the dance is underway and there's still really great seats for the show.
To access from the south, from I-15 at Nephi, take Exit 225 to travel east on state Route 132. Five miles from the Interstate, look for a left turn (north) onto Forest Road 15. Travel north on the byway, following the signs at junctions. The byway ends just outside Payson, from which you can access I-15 again.
To access the byway from the north, from I-15 take Exit 248 in Payson, heading east on 800 South. Turn right onto 600 East, which becomes the Nebo Loop Road (FR 15) into the mountains. Be aware of seasonal road closures.
Utah Valley Visitors Bureau
Spanish Fork Ranger District Office
44 West 400 North, Spanish Fork, UT
Recreation on the forest is permissible year-round though developed campgrounds close around November. Make camping reservations for the Mount Nebo Wilderness at recreation.gov.