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Scenic Byway 12 | A place to make memories that will last a lifetime

scenic byway 12

This stunning scenic byway connects Capitol Reef National Park with Bryce Canyon National Park. Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of sandstone canyons, dramatic cliffs, and towering rock formations.

Length: 197.7 km
Constructed: 1914
Highway system: National Highway System
West end: US 89 near Panguitch
East end: SR-24 near Torrey

History of scenic Byway 12

Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

The road from Bryce Canyon Junction to Tropic was added to the state highway system in 1914, and in 1923 a branch from Tropic Junction to Bryce Canyon was built as a forest road. The State Road Commission numbered the route to Bryce Canyon SR-12 in the 1920s,and in 1927 the state legislature assigned it to both branches, to Bryce Canyon and Tropic, but split off the branch to Tropic as State Route 54 in 1931. That same year, a new State Route 120 was created, continuing the road from Tropic to Henrieville, and in 1935 it became part of SR-54. Another road was also added to the state highway system in 1914, connecting SR-22 at Widtsoe with Escalante,[10] and it was numbered State Route 23 in 1927. An extension took SR-23 northeast to Boulder in 1941, and in 1947 SR-54 absorbed SR-23, with the Widtsoe-Escalante road dropped in favor of Henrieville-Escalante. State Route 117, running southeast from SR-24 near Teasdale to Grover, became a state highway in 1931,[14] and was extended south to Boulder in 1957, becoming part of SR-54 in 1966.[15] In 1969, SR-54 became part of SR-12, but most of former SR-117 was dropped, leaving SR-12 to stretch from Bryce Canyon Junction to the north limit of Boulder (at the Dixie National Forest boundary), with a short spur to Bryce Canyon. This spur became a new SR-63 in 1975, and in 1985 the route was extended back north from Boulder to SR-24, using a different route than the old SR-117 north of Grover.

Exploring Scenic Byway 12

This is one pretty epic road. Sure, the whole drive can be completed in three hours if you’re just passing through. But even a four-day itinerary would just scratch the surface thanks to the byway’s proximity to multiple state parks (Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, Anasazi State Park Museum), national parks (Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef), scenic backways for well-prepared travelers (Cottonwood Canyon, Hole-in-the-Rock, Burr Trail, Hell’s Backbone) and virtually endless outdoor recreation options on the expansive Dixie National Forest.

For now. Let’s focus on the road ahead: Hit the pedal straight through to the various geological oddities along the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or check out the many other stops along the way. Scenic Byway 12 begins to the west in Panguitch and ends in Torrey to the northeast. It connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, and, of course, brings visitors to a number of other amazing destinations along the way.

What You’ll Remember about Scenic Byway 12

As you proceed east from Panguitch, you’ll enjoy driving through the two red arches in Red Canyon. Then, you’ll be in awe as you lay witness to the actual “stairs” in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just past Henrieville — a different color of sandstone to the north and to the south. Along the “Hogsback” between Escalante and Boulder, hairpin turns dare you on a road that drops off drastically from the shoulders down into deep canyons below. You’ll yet again change geography as you traverse through the aspen and pine groves, and meadowlands of Boulder Mountain before finally heading back to the desert near Capitol Reef. Don’t worry, there are plenty of pull-offs and scenic overlooks so you don’t have to take pictures while driving (not recommended).

In short, fans of scenic driving, motorcycle touring, epic bike rides and people with eyes with love this journey. It’s even better if loved ones don’t mind you saying “wow” a thousand times over the course of the 122-mile drive.

What Makes Scenic Byway 12 Great

The sheer diversity of geography is incredible and unique to Utah and the United States. Scenic Byway 12 affords access to a number of national parks, state parks, national monuments, scenic overlooks, and plenty of great restaurants and shops. You can enjoy the highway over the course of your vacation as you make stops along the way, or you can drive the entire expanse in one 65 m.p.h. whirlwind of beauty in a day.

When is the Best time to Drive on Highway 12 in Utah?

The best time to drive this stunning route is in October when the weather is dry and days and nights are cool. March and April are lovely too and you will see more vegetation and flowers blooming in the spring.

Highway 12 is passable year-round unless there is a major snowstorm, but the white-knuckle driving in winter makes the road unpleasant to drive on. Summer, while hot, is beautiful in the canyons and honestly not as crowded as I would have thought.

What’s the Best Way to Get to Scenic Byway 12?

If you have to fly in and rent a car, you will be driving just under four hours to get to Panguitch where your Highway 12 journey begins. It’s a toss-up between using McCarran Airport in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City International Airport, so do your research ahead of time and find the

What’s the Best Way to Get to Scenic Byway 12?

If you have to fly in and rent a car, you will be driving just under four hours to get to Panguitch where your Highway 12 journey begins. It’s a toss-up between using McCarran Airport in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City International Airport, so do your research ahead of time and find the best deals on flights and car rentals before booking.

How Long Should I Spend Driving on Highway 12 in Utah?

From a technical standpoint, you could drive Highway 12 in a single day, but what would be the fun in that?

To take full advantage of the recreation opportunities, I recommend spending 2-3 nights in Bryce Canyon National Park, 1-2 nights on Highway 12 (we’ll list more suggestions below), and 2 nights in Capitol Reef National Park, for a 5-7 day road trip with lots of hiking and exploring.

Will I Have Access to Amenities on Highway 12?

There are grocery stores and gas stations at either end of Route 12, and a few more gas stations along the route. I suggest getting all of your provisions and filling your tank in Panguitch before heading east. There are small stores in both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks.

The Best Stops on a Highway 12 Utah Road Trip

  • Panguitch and Red Canyon
  • Welcome to Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Coffee with a View and a Pueblo Village
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park
  • Grosvenor Arch
  • The Blues/Powell Point Overlook
  • Upper Valley Granaries
  • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
  • Hole in the Rock Road
  • Head of the Rocks Overlook
  • Boynton Overlook
  • Escalante River Trail
  • Calf Creek Recreation Area
  • The Hogback
  • Boulder
  • Homestead Overlook
  • Torrey

Where to Stay on Highway 12 in Utah

We recommend book-ending your drive at Bryce Canyon National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, but you should also consider spending one night somewhere in between the two. Camping at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is a great choice, if you don’t want to camp, here are a few more ideas.

Budget option Ponderosa Inn, Escalante. This small unassuming motel has just five cozy rooms. It’s located in downtown Escalante and within walking distance of eateries.

GlampingYonder Escalante. Looking for a special glamping getaway to celebrate this awesome road trip? Yonder Escalante is an upscale glamping resort with private cabins and Airstreams for rent. Amenities include a pool and hot tub, grab-and-go meals, a general store, and a drive-in theater. Pets are welcome for an additional fee.

Bed & BreakfastSlot Canyons Inn. Choose from rooms, suites, or the Isaac Riddle Cabin on 160 acres near Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. All rooms have an outside entrance and breakfast is served daily.

What to Pack for Your Highway 12 Road Trip Through Southern Utah

Not sure what to pack for your Highway 12 road trip? Go for 100% activewear, as you’ll be doing lots of outdoor adventuring, and spending minimal time in town. Nightlife will include stargazing and marshmallow roasting, so leave the heels at home. Here are a few useful items to throw into your bag for this road trip.

  • Clothes for hiking – You’ll be spending some time outdoors, so clothes that are rugged and comfortable are best. Opt for sturdy non-cotton pants (like these) and a breathable, moisture-wicking shirt. I love merino wool shirts because they keep you cool when it’s hot out and warm when it’s cold out, plus they don’t stink like polyester blends and they dry quickly.
  • Sturdy shoes – You want your feet to take you wherever you need to go. Rugged hikers will work for visiting in every season and will protect your feet from spiny plants and creepy crawlies.
  • Jackets – The weather in Utah is variable, especially since you will be exploring at different elevations. In the summer, you will be fine with a fleece and a windbreaker. For fall travel, add a down puffy jacket and a wool hat. These down jackets pack down really small and are perfect for travel.
  • A Camera – Perhaps your phone doubles as your camera. Awesome! If your phone camera doesn’t take great photos, consider bringing a separate camera to capture all the beautiful scenery. If you want a dedicated point-and-shoot camera that packs neatly into a backpack, check out the Canon PowerShot SX740. Overall, this little camera takes better photos than the best smartphone with a powerful zoom and 4K video. It’s almost as amazing as a DSLR with none of the weight.

Here are some brief points on what you need to know before you hit the road:

Highway 12 Utah:

  • There are no tolls
  • It’s 124 miles long and can take 3 hours or more if you make a stop or about 2.5 hours if you never stop (highly unlikely)
  • It’s all paved, but there are many secondary unpaved scenic roads that require a 4×4
  • It crosses many nature parks and landscapes. Besides Bryce Canyon, it cuts through Dixie National Forest, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, the Boulder Mountains and Capitol Reef National Park.

How to Choose Accommodations Based on Personal Preference

As you may have guessed, if you have some time to go on a drive on UT-12, you can also spend 2 or more nights as you travel! It all depends on how many and which places you want to visit on foot or by car you want to do. In order to help you decide, I list below the towns where you can spend the night along the UT-12, also naming the points of interest nearby.

  • Panguitch and Hatch: Bryce Canyon and Red Canyon
  • Tropic and Cannonville: Bryce Canyon, Cottonwood Canyon Road, Kodachrome Basin State Park
  • Escalante: Hole in the Rock Road, Escalante River Trail, Calf Creek Recreation Area, Hell’s Backbone Road
  • Boulder: Calf Creek Recreation Area, Hell’s Backbone Road, Burr Trail, Anasazi State Park Museum
  • Torrey: Capitol Reef
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