Utah is one of my favorite places to visit for outdoor adventures, especially when I’m itching for a quick getaway. It’s so gorgeous, has an abundance of unique destinations to explore, and lots of picture-perfect highways that make it easy to road trip through this state.
This fall I ventured out to Nebo Loop Scenic Byway in search of fall colors. With lots of stunning overlooks and ample opportunities to pull over and enjoy easy day hikes, it’s no wonder that Nebo Loop is considered to be one of the best byways in Utah.
If you’re planning to drive down the Nebo Loop Road, here is our guide covering all the best stops along the way, what to know before you go and other tips to help you prepare for a great road trip!
About Nebo Loop
Nebo Loop Scenic Byway is a picturesque 38-mile long highway that stretches across the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah.
There are two entry points where you can start the drive – near Nephi city in the south or Payson city in the north. Nebo Loop is a two-way road so at any point you can also turn around and return the same way that you came.
This route passes Mount Nebo, the highest peak in the Wasatch Mountain Range sitting at 11,928 feet in elevation.
Some of the highlights of Nebo Loop include scenic overlooks, unique rock formations, lakes, and waterfalls.
This is a great place to come experience the outdoors and enjoy hiking trails within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Although the route itself is only 38 miles long, it provides visitors with an abundance of options for sightseeing, recreational activities, and observing wildlife.
Nebo Loop Byway is paved and smooth but certain sections of the highway are narrow and have steep drop-offs. This is a mountain road with lots of sharp winding turns and no guardrails so use extra caution when driving on it, especially at night.
Starting Point: Nebo Loop Rd, Nephi, UT 84648
Best Time To Go
Nebo Loop Scenic Byway is a wonderful place to visit any time of the year but fall is an especially popular season when out-of-state travelers and locals alike flock to Nebo Loop for fall foliage. I drove this route at the end of September and the trees were already changing colors from lush greens to vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds.
Spring and summer is another great time to visit Nebo Loop when the mountains are covered with wildflowers, especially in the lower elevations.
In the winter Nebo Loop road closes but visitors can enjoy activities like skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Do note that weather in the winter can be unpredictable, dangerous, and often trigger avalanches and rockfall.
Tip: If you’re unsure of current road conditions, I recommend calling the local Spanish Fork Ranger District at 801-798-3571 before you head out there.
How Long Does It Take To Drive
Nebo Loop Scenic Byway has a lot of sights and attractions along the way.
You can drive through this mountain road within 2 hours if you only make quick stops at overlooks. Or you can spend an entire day (or even a weekend) if you decide to go on hikes, fish, or camp along the route.
I visited Nebo Loop as a day trip and made around 10 stops, including some shorter trails. This drive took me half a day, but I travel pretty slow and take a lot of photos along the way.
The distance itself is not very long but most people take their time driving at a leisure pace to enjoy the scenery.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you head out there:
- There are no gas stations along the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway. Make sure to fill up on gas in either Nephi or Payson cities before you travel into this scenic byway.
- Reception is very limited once you reach the mountains. Be sure to look up directions and what sights you want to see ahead of time. I recommend downloading an offline map like Maps.Me especially if you plan to go on any hikes.
- There are no stores or places to get filtered water. Bring any snacks, food, and water that you may need for the day.
- There are several primitive bathrooms along the Nebo Loop for visitors. Bathrooms are located next to the main attractions like Jenkins Flat Interpretive Site, Devil’s Kitchen Geologic Site, and Payson Lakes.
- Nebo Loop is part of the protected Mount Nebo Wilderness. Please stays on trails and keep your distance from any animals that you may spot such as deer, elk, bears, hawks, eagles, and other wildlife species.
Things To See & Do At Nebo Loop
Nebo Loop Scenic Byway offers a variety of things for visitors to see and do in this area. While you surely can drive through the entire mountain road without stopping and enjoy the scenery out of your car’s window, I highly recommend pulling over at a few locations along the way.
Nebo Loop Road has two entry points. I started my road trip from the south entrance off Highway 132 near Nephi city and ended the trip in Payson.
Nebo Loop Map:
There are signs before each of the major attractions giving drivers a heads up on where to turn or stop. Most of the landmarks have designated parking lots so visitors can safely pull off the highway, stretch their legs, and enjoy a picnic or a short hike.
Jenkins Flat Interpretive Site
If you plan to start at the south entrance, Jenkins Flat Interpretive Site is the first stop along the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway. Most people drive past this location, but this is a great place to kick off your road trip.
Jenkins Flat Interpretive Site has a lot of helpful information about Nebo Loop including what you can expect to see along this route along with a detailed map outlining all of the major stops.
Next to it, there is a beautiful crystal clear lake that’s great for fishing and picnics. This is also a good spot to use the restroom if you’re just starting out, or finishing up the drive.
Salt Creek Overlook
Salt Creek Overlook is the first major attraction along Nebo Loop that everyone stops at. This is a scenic overlook that offers panoramic views of the Mount Nebo Wilderness and the valley below it. This is an especially great location to visit in fall as the lower elevation trees and shrubs start changing colors to vibrant hues.
In the early days of Mount Nebo settlement, this area was used for logging trees and excavating grey and red sandstone. Salt Creek Canyon is also an important water source for the Nephi city that’s south of Nebo Loop and the nearby farmlands.
As resources started to deplete the residents realized that Mount Nebo needs to be preserved to ensure the survival of ecosystems and animals that reside here. Now Mount Nebo serves as a natural habitat for local wildlife and plant species.
Location: Salt Creek Overlook, Nebo Loop Rd, Utah
If you’ve been to Bryce Canyon in Utah, Devil’s Kitchen geological site is very similar to that, just a smaller version of it.
Devil’s Kitchen is by far the most visited stop along the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway so make sure not to skip it!
Devil’s Kitchen is made of orange and red sandstone deposits that have eroded into unique formations over the past 80 million years.
There is a short trail that leads to a designated viewing platform overlooking Devil’s Kitchen geological site. Along the trail, you are surrounded by mountains filled with aspen trees and oak brush that in fall turn to beautiful hues of yellow and orange.
From the viewpoint you can see that some of the formations look like cones, some are shaped like columns and others are layered. Unlike Bryce Canyon, here visitors are not allowed to walk amongst these rock formations because they are very fragile and wear away easily.
Devil’s Kitchen is a very popular stop so it has two designated parking lots on each side of the highway along with restrooms and a picnic table for visitors.
Mount Nebo Overlook
The next few stops along the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway include overlooks and viewpoints. You can stop at all of them, as I did, or as many as you have time for.
Mount Nebo Overlook is easily accessible and has a large parking area where visitors can pull over to stretch their legs and take in the views. Mount Nebo is located higher in altitude so the fall colors here are not as vibrant but you can still spot sections of colorful trees on the mountain slopes in the distance.
Mount Nebo peak sits at 11,928 feet in elevation and its name translates to mean “Sentinel of God”. Mount Nebo is unique geologically because here the oldest rocks are found at the base while the newest rocks are exposed at the top of the peak. It really is quite a marvel!
Note that on a smoky day you might not be able to see the entire mountain range so try to go on a clear, sunny day.
Bald Mountain Overlook
Bald Mountain Overlook is another great stop along the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway. Here you can see a variety of vegetation, trees, and plants all intertwined.
The lower elevation areas are covered in an abundance of sagebrush, scrub oak, and serviceberry that are very lush and colorful. As the elevation increases, these trees and shrubs can’t grow due to cold weather and harsh conditions so they are replaced with subalpine forests like Alpine fir and Engelmann spruce. The type of vegetation depends on the elevation and weather conditions and at Bald Mountain Overlook you can observe a mix of it all.
Past the timberline point at 10,500 feet, no tree can survive earning this mountain the name as “Bald Mountain”.
Santaquin Overlook is the next stop along the Nebo Loop Drive but it’s easy to miss it unless you know where to turn for parking.
This was also one of the least impressive overlooks because it was overgrown with bushes barely offering any views. If you’re short on time, I would recommend skipping it and heading directly to the next location.
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Utah Valley Overlook
Utah Valley Overlook is a great stop where you can get out of the car, stretch your legs and go on some quick trails that oversee Utah Valley in the distance. Parking spaces here are limited but it wasn’t as crowded as some of the other more popular viewpoints before it.
If you have the time, there is a quick hike directly in front of the parking lot that passes next to beautiful Quaking Aspen trees. These trees are known to make a rattling sound as wind and breeze blows by and look especially stunning in fall when their leaves turn from bright green to yellow.
Beaver Dam Overlook
Beaver Dam Overlook is a beautiful mountainside viewpoint with a roundabout so you can quickly pass by and see it from your car. This was one of the last viewpoints that I visited and was located on my way off the mountain at 8655 feet in elevation.
The next stop along the Nebo Loop Drive is Payson Lakes, one of my favorite destinations of this byway. This is a great spot to come relax by a lake, enjoy fishing, camping, canoeing, and other outdoor recreational activities.
There are three lakes at this location although two of them barely had any water in the fall and looked more like dry ponds. Big East Reservoir is the largest of the three lakes so this is where most people end up spending their time. It does cost $10 to visit Payson Lakes for the day so be sure to bring along small bills in cash to pay for the entrance.
Payson Lakes are located just a short drive from Payson city so this location can get busy, especially on the weekends. If you are interested in camping by Payson Lakes, you can browse campsite availability and make reservations on the Recreation.gov website here.
If you’re looking to do a quick hike along the Nebo Loop Highway, Grotto Falls is a scenic trail that leads to a waterfall inside a small, picturesque cave. This trail is very short in the distance so I decided to hike it at the end of my road trip right before sunset.
Grotto Falls Trail is 0.5 miles long and passes next to a stream. There are several creek crossings along the trail with designated wooden logs to help you get across. I do recommend wearing hiking shoes (if you have them with you) instead of sandals since parts of the trail are slippery and rocky.
Overall it’s an easy, fun trail that’s great for families and little kids.
The trail dead-ends at a waterfall situated inside a grotto. In the fall there wasn’t much water so it might be best to do this hike in spring or summer, but it was still rewarding for such a short trail.
We hope this post has helped you prepare and get ready for your road trip through Nebo Loop Scenic Byway. Have any other questions? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below!
Looking for more Utah inspiration? Check out some of our other popular Utah posts below:
- Driving Logan Canyon Scenic Byway In Utah
- Guide To Visiting Wind Caves In Logan
- Donut Falls Hike In Big Cottonwood Canyon
- Tips For Hiking Tony Grove Lake In Utah
Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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