From Antelope to Horny Toads: A Wonderful Hike on the Paunsaugunt Plateau

On our drive out to our hike Tom and I spotted a total of four antelope, all fairly close to the road: one group of 3 and one lonely fellow about 30 miles later. I’m pretty sure this was a good omen since we had a fantastic day exploring new sections of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The Paunsaugunt is an uplifted area famous as the location of Bryce Canyon National Park, but much of the rest of the plateau is part of Dixie National Forest and in my opinion, just as beautiful. The section that is in the national park generally has less erosion of the hoodoos that are exposed along the plateau’s edges, but I prefer the dramatic vistas and healthy forest in the other parts. Not to mention that I can hike all day wherever I want without seeing anyone. Oh, and fun fact: Paunsaugunt means “land of the beavers” in Pauite.

In any case there is a lot of this area that neither of us has seen so we decided to head that way since the recent late spring snow had melted. We started by heading out along the East Fork of the Sevier River Scenic Backway which, as you might expect, parallels the river until you reach the dam and the mile-long Tropic Reservoir. Once past the lovely reservoir we turned off the graded gravel onto less developed dirt roads and the adventure began. We actually drove quite a ways before deciding to stop and walk – though deciding is not quite the right word since what happened was that we suddenly encountered steep, snow-covered switchbacks that were impassable. We parked and began walking up the hill at this point; lucky for us the snow almost disappeared once we started crossing more exposed areas. Plenty of mud in some places though.

In characteristic fashion we veered off the road after a mile and found ourselves an incredible overlook with hundreds of hoodoos below and views for miles. Hiking up the limestone to the top of the amphitheater brought us to 9,200 feet. We continued walking for another 3ish miles after we had our fill of the bowl and found ourselves more views and more hoodoos as we circle the edge of the plateau. We stayed close to or on the forest roads while walking since we were unfamiliar with the terrain but since the road seemed to more or less follow the rim of the plateau we had ample opportunities for views and cross-country exploring without having to worry about getting lost.
Too soon it was time to turn around but we had another surprise for us on the return – a horny toad. They aren’t all that uncommon or anything but I happen to think they’re cute in a weird way. Plus he/she provided a bookend to a lovely day that had begun with antelope sightings.