Hiking the Rim of the Paunsaugunt Plateau

After the closing on the house we began our journey by heading east over the mountains to a section of national forest on the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The plateau was within range for day hiking when we lived in the house but frankly we wanted to be able to spend more time here without 3 ½ (roundtrip) hours of driving. Also, this area is full of beautiful places to disperse camp which we wanted to take advantage of. After securing a quiet spot to park the RV amongst the ponderosa pines we cracked open a celebratory beer and pulled out the maps. We had been hiking along the rim of the plateau a couple weeks ago and knew we wanted to walk along another section but first we decided we should explore the area south of the reservoir and possibly (probably) hike one of the trails there.

The next morning we traveled down the road and past the reservoir, following the East Fork of the Sevier River meandering through lush meadows as it collected water from the creeks running down the canyons to the west. And then – somewhat abruptly and without an apparent reason – we encountered a gate. We parked and walked south overlooking the valley but soon formulated a plan in which we’d head up a canyon to access the rim. As we gained altitude the open meadows narrowed and aspens and fir trees began encroaching on the grass. Snow patches became more common too and the road muddied as it began switchbacking up the increasing grades. This was our cue to park the vehicle and walk the final couple miles to the edge of the plateau.

After reaching the rim – and being sufficiently wowed – we began following the edge, cutting back and forth between the eroded limestone at the lip and the safety of the trees when the edge became too dangerous to walk along. As we wound up and over, around and down, we had incredible views of orange and pink hoodoos below as they merged into the dark green fir trees draining into the canyons. Looking straight out, we could see the bright green patches of irrigated fields in the valley and the blue mountains beyond. The rim itself was a magical place, barren except for the occasional tenacious bristlecone pine, twisted and fossilized, half the time already given up to the brutal wind and poor soil drainage of the limestone shale. At multiple points along the edge it was possible to walk out on formations jutting from the cliff too; from here we had the most fantastic 360 degree views.

After we had explored a few miles we turned back and then retreated down the canyon to where we’d parked. But we did it all over again the following day, driving up a different canyon and walking a new section of the rim to the north. Our second day offered us more snow and mud, a higher altitude, and a section of the rim with a profile less dramatic but really no less impressive. I could easily see myself hiking the entirety of the plateau edge someday. It’s seriously that spectacular.