15 Jun 2015
Best Hiking Trails in Search of the World’s Oldest Trees
The twisted, gnarled limbs of bristlecone pine are weathered and worn from eons of harsh winters. Their spindly roots barely cling to the sides of intricate limestone cliffs which slowly erode over the eons. The bristlecone pine is considered to be the “Methuselah” of all living things—remarkable for their great age and ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems their secret to longevity is the harsh environment in which they grow.
When you first see a bristlecone, the twisted, bare limbs look almost like alien sculptures: beautiful yet almost unearthly. That’s because bristlecone die in portions while the remainder of the tree continues to live, resulting in a twisted, tortured appearance. Bristlecone have been the watchmen of the Markagunt Plateau for thousands of years, surrounded by the most stunning scenery in the country. It’s well worth the time to discover these trees and luckily there are several hiking trails that take you to them and the panoramic vistas that unfold below. The best season for these trails is summer through fall, as they are located at a high elevation.
Bristlecone Pine Trail
This is the easiest trail to encounter bristlecone pine trees. It provides great views of the Virgin River and Zion National Park while winding through ancient bristlecone forest. Hiking distance is approximately half a mile. The trailhead is located on SR- 14 at approximately mile marker #17.
Spectra Point Trail
A two-mile round-trip along the rim of Cedar Breaks National Monument with spectacular views in all directions. Bristlecone pines are found all along this trail, particularly at Spectra Point. The oldest known tree in Cedar Breaks is over 1,600 years old. Please note: at 10,500 feet, this hike is moderately strenuous and is not recommended for persons with cardiac or pulmonary health problems. The trailhead is located at the Point Supreme Visitor Center located inside Cedar Breaks National Monument along SR- 148 (entrance fee required).
Twisted Forest Trail
A one-mile long, out-and-back hike located a few miles from the resort town of Brian Head. The Twisted Forest displays dozens of these gnarled pines as they grow out of a chalky gravel hill on Cedar Mountain. The end of the trail is one of the most breathtaking views in the Dixie National Forest, however, please use caution at this point as there is a very steep drop off. It takes a bit of effort to get to the trailhead but it’s worth it. From the town of Brian Head, head south out of town and turn right onto Forest Road 204. This well-maintained dirt road branches several times. At each fork stay left; each fork is marked by a Twisted Forest sign directing you to the trailhead. You’ll be on the dirt road for approximately 2 miles until you reach the well-marked trailhead kiosk, which is equipped with a trail map and info on the area. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended but not necessary however, this road is impassable when wet.
Looking for more hiking trails? Here are some of our favorites.