The Best Scenic Drive: Route 12, Utah

I’ve been on quite a few Scenic Byways, not all of them obviously but enough to determine that so far, this has been the best Scenic Byway I have ever been on. Utah is a strange and wondrous world. Out of all the states (29) that I’ve been to, this one is the most interesting. From the Salt Flats (out of this world strange) in the North to the rocky formations and aspen forests in the South. Route 12 cuts through many of Utah’s most amazing features.

Scenic Sights

Unless you have several days to spare, there’s no way that you’ll be able to see all that Route 12 has to offer. Sadly, we didn’t have the time but that just means we’ll return someday when we do. We started at the southern part of Route 12 and worked our way up. The first stop and where we spent the most time is Red Canyon. There are many places to hike throughout this area. We did the Birds Eye Trail and Mossy Cave Trail (which has a pretty neat little waterfall at it). There are several options, however, and the trails are open all year round.

Red Canyon
Red Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is the next major stop along the route. We didn’t have time to explore, sadly, but Bryce is on my list of National Parks to visit. We decided to save it for another time. Still, along the road, you can see some pretty impressive hoodoos.

Hiking in Red Canyon
Hiking in Red Canyon
Waterfall at Mossy Cave
Waterfall at Mossy Cave

After that was Kodachrome Basin State Park and the Grand Staircase National Monument. The Grand Staircase is broken into three parts; the Canyons of Escalante, The Grand Staircase and the Kaiparowits Plateau. We stuck to the Kaiparowits Plateau and saw some pretty interesting landscapes. There was a lot of gray rock here, with red highlight which was fascinating to me.

Grand Staircase National Monument - Kaiparowits Plateua
Grand Staircase National Monument – Kaiparowits Plateua

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is one that I REALLY wanted to see but we ran out of time and had to keep moving. There is camping and boating available at the park, and large petrified logs and exhibits of dinosaur bones and marine fossils.

Outside Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Outside Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Additional stops along the way are the Canyons of the Escalante, Calf Creek Falls, Hell’s Backbone Backway (4×4 vehicles only. My Jeep would have loved it), Burr Trail, Anasazi State Park, Boulder Mountain and the Route finishes at Capital Reef National Park.





Capital Reef National Park

Road and mountains

This National Park isn’t technically on Route 12, but you can follow Route 24 right at the junction and drive through a portion of the park. We did this as we needed to head east anyway for our next stop. There is a lot of history here about the first settlers, including an old school house and the cabin of the family who settled in the park, for a year and found the conditions too harsh. Either flash floods that destroyed their irrigation or droughts. There are a lot of neat rock formations, bright red and orange, along the route and a few hiking trails.

School House
School House
Homestead cabin
Behunin Cabin. A one room cabin built by Elijah Cutler Behunin and his family in 1882.

More Information

For more information about Utah’s Scenice Route 12, visit Highway 12 – All American Road There’s a lot of great information there and a map of the route.

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