Escape city heat with a scenic drive up a wildflower-covered mountain pass
There’s nothing like a mountain climb to soothe overheated spirits. Just over an hour south of Salt Lake City and past the farm town of Payson, follow the storybook Nebo Loop Scenic Byway and get swallowed up in mountains. You’ll climb 900 feet up Mt. Nebo alongside the Peteetneet Creek, which gets swifter the higher up you go. After passing sharp granite peaks at what feels like the top of the world, you’ll descend into meadows of bright grass full of azure flowers: bluebells, aster, and lupine. You can do the whole drive in two to three hours, but better to take your time, stopping for hikes, swims, and maybe even a night under the stars.
From I-15, take exit 250 onto Main St. in Payson. Turn left on State Rd., then turn right on 600 East and go south. The road turns into Payson Canyon Rd. and eventually becomes Nebo Loop Scenic Byway, which runs 32 miles south, ending in Nephi.
Payson Lakes Take the Payson Lakes turnoff through a pine forest to reach three pendant-necklace lakes that let you see clear to the bottom. Hike the shoreline, swim, boat, or fish. INFO: $5 per vehicle; off Nebo Loop Scenic Byway in Uinta National Forest, 11 miles southeast of Payson; 801/342-5100.
Devils Kitchen Just when you need a leg-stretcher, 28 miles up the byway, stop and take a shaded, paved trail to a picnic area overlooking terra-cotta spires that look like Bryce Canyon in miniature. INFO: Off Nebo Loop Scenic Byway in Uinta National Forest, 26? miles southeast of Payson; 801/342-5100.
Creekside Needlearts Stop in to admire quilted handiwork of great-great granddaughters of pioneers. INFO: Closed Sun; 12 S. Main St., Payson; 801/465-3998.
Daley Freez Fill up on baskets of hand-battered halibut and fries, and cool off with an icy lime soda. INFO: $; 50 East 100 North, Payson; 801/465-3726.
Daltons Skip dinner and go for a warm berry crisp. Local musicians play here Monday through Saturday. INFO: $$, no cover charge; closed Sun; 20 South 100 West, Payson; 801/465-9182.
Buy just-picked peaches from South Ridge Farms (300 West 900 South, Santaquin; 801/754-5511). Deliberate over 20 kinds of peaches plus hot turnovers and peach-pie ice cream. Exit the loop at Nephi and drive north on I-15 for 20 miles.
Stretch out your adventure at Ponderosa Campground ($14; www.recreation.gov), 11 miles east of Nephi, at the tail end of the loop. The clean, primitive campground is next to Salt Creek.