Highway 12 Road Trip: A Journey through Time Scenic Byway
Created by Roadtrippers – March 19th 2016
Utah’s Highway 12 Scenic Byway is a stunning Southwest journey between Capital Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon. This stretch of road has been designated as an “All American Road” and it’s been enchanting travelers with its colorful, rocky landscape since the early 1900s. Home to two National Parks, three state parks, a National Monument, a National Recreation Area, and a National Forest, this truly is a scenic roadtrip of a lifetime.
Beginning at Grand Staircase-Escalante, prepare for a truly incredible experience: you can see multicolored sandstone cliffs, ancient Native American settlements, abandoned Western movie sets, and stunning scenery. The Escalante Canyons are the more popular and less remote unit, but if you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Grand Staircase. It’s worth it to experience what it’s like when it’s just you and the rocks.
Hidden in the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness is Pahreah Ghost Town, founded by a group of Mormon pioneers. It’s not hard to see why it was abandoned: getting there isn’t exactly easy with a car, and it would have been even tougher with horses and wagons! Plus, it was known to flood a lot, but the people who once lived here sure enjoyed some gorgeous surroundings.
Zion National Park
Just when you think Utah can’t get any gorgeous, you finally reach Zion National Park, and you’ll probably have your mind blown by the beauty of this wild state over and over again. Whether you’re climbing to the top of the famed Angels Landing, or you’re taking your adventure down below and hiking through the slot canyon known as The Subway, this is one of America’s most striking parks.
Next stop, Bryce National Park, filled with brightly colored sandstone hoodoos, it’s a virtual forest of rock pillars, sweet-smelling Ponderosa pines, and tons of scenic lookouts and hikes. The best places to watch the sunrise are Bryce Point and Sunrise Point. The best view at sunset is at Fairyland Point or Paria View.
Hiking through this part of the country is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in it, but you can cover more ground from your car, and if you’re on the famed Scenic Byway 12, you won’t have to sacrifice the incredible views. Veer off the trail for the Hole-in-Rock Scenic Byway or the epic switchbacks of the Burr Trail for bonus points!
Route 12’s other end will take you near Utah’s State Parks, Kodachrome Basin State Park and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. The colors and shapes of the huge rock formations here are different than at Bryce Canyon or Zion, and some think it’s because this spot used to be almost Yellowstone-esque, with hot springs and geysers that eventually formed the stones we see today. Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is filled with Agate logs and fallen trees fossilized into gemstones, and dinosaur bones which can be found in this beautiful and fascinating state park.
By now you might be tempted to skip another park but resist. Capitol Reef National Park is loaded with all kinds of offbeat and awesome things to do! Hike Cathedral Valley, visit the Elijah Cutler Behunin cabin (famed outlaw Butch Cassidy frequented Mr. Behunin’s house back in the day, and called Robber’s Roost, only 70 miles away, home), or just cruise around and take it all in.
Expect to drive around 40 miles an hour while on Scenic Byway 12. Cell service is also pretty spotty, and you’re going to be traveling through very remote and rugged terrain, so plan accordingly. If you go off the highway, be aware that the backcountry roads can be quite rough, and off-roading is really only suggested for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Also, check the weather before hitting the road because when it rains driving can be quite precarious. Monsoon season is late summer, and during this time there are thunderstorms that can produce significant downpours which if you’re lucky enough to see, you’ll never forget how the scenery magically changes from dry dessert to running colors of rainbows and rivers.
This road trip is definitely one of the most memorable ones we’ve been on and reminds us of how vast and beautiful our country is. The best part is Utah is so large, it’s also uncrowded and these miles are truly what road tripping is all about.