Driving Highway 12 Utah: Canyons, Plateaus, and Valleys
Utah State Route 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12 (SR-12) or “Highway 12—A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” is an approximately 123-mile-long state highway designated as an All-American Road.
One of the many scenic drives in Utah, State Route 12 takes you through stunning views of canyons, plateaus, and valleys, with plenty of vantage points as well as historic sites in between.
In today’s article, find out how to plan and which stops you should make on your road trip along Highway 12 Utah.
Prepare For Your Highway 12 Road Trip
State Route 12 starts at an intersection with US-89 to the west, then passes Red Canyon, the towns of Bryce, Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville. It then continues to the northeast to the towns of Escalante, Boulder, Aquarius Plateau, and Grover. The scenic byway ends at Torrey, at its intersection with State Route 24.
Driving west to east without stopping will take you around 4 to 5 hours, but you’ll want to take a few days and camp or stay in accommodations along the way if you want to completely explore what the surroundings have to offer.
Depending on how many stops you plan to make and how long you plan to stop, you’ll want to set aside at least 3 days for your road trip.
Summer is a popular time to go on this scenic Utah road trip, so if you want to avoid the crowds and get better rates on accommodations, the spring and fall months are probably your best bet.
Winter is a bit tricky; you can expect some road closures as parts of the highway will need to be plowed.
No matter what time of the year you go on this trip, make sure to stay hydrated and wear sunblock all throughout the trip. Take as many water bottles with you as you can carry comfortably, and whenever you encounter a visitor center, refill them.
Think about whether you want to stay in hotels and lodging in the towns, camp in the many campgrounds you can find along the highway, or if you want to take an RV or any camper-type vehicle.
Scenic Byway 12 Utah Road Trip Itinerary
These are a few Highway 12 Utah stops that are worth stopping for to hike, climb, take pictures, or simply to marvel at nature’s beauty.
These are organized from west to east, and potential detours to other scenic paths and driveways aren’t included.
Top Places To Visit Along Highway 12
Byway 12 Scenic Byway begins at U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch and eight miles north of the town of Hatch.
Either of these towns is a great jumping-off point for your road trip, with plenty of places to stay, stores for any last-minute shopping supplies, and rental shops for bicycles and ATVs.
If you have some time to explore, though, I’d recommend starting from Panguitch.
Panguitch is a national historic district with roots to the early Mormon pioneers. History and culture are found everywhere you look, with beautiful red brick homes and buildings scattered throughout the small town.
If you’re coming from Panguitch, follow Center Street southbound to Highway 89 and turn left at Scenic Byway 12. On the other hand, if you’re coming from Hatch, follow N Main Street northbound to Highway 89 and turn right at Scenic Byway 12.
1. Red Canyon
Part of the Dixie National Forest, the Red Canyon features hoodoos that have been eroded by wind and water.
Stop and explore the vermilion sandstone tent rocks by hitting the well-marked trails for hiking and cycling, as well as ATV and horseback rides.
Part of the Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon features a five-mile paved bike trail that takes visitors on a scenic route through ponderosa pine forests to the great Paunsaugunt Plateau.
From Highway 12, take a right at UT-63 to get to the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park, where you get treated to the sight of a series of amphitheaters etched into red-stained limestone.
They look kind of similar to the hoodoos at Red Canyon because they were made the same way: by wind and water erosion.
There are plenty of viewpoints, hiking trails, and winter activities to fully experience the park’s beauty.
During the summer, you can park your car at designated parking lots and take the shuttle to certain points of interest inside the park.
There are also campgrounds in the area, as well as places for mobile homes to park. Restrooms and showers are available.
3. The Towns of Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville
Continuing on your journey from Bryce Canyon, you’ll pass the towns of Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville.
These are mostly small towns that offer lodging, food, and supplies when you need them.
If you need to stop in these towns, remember to be polite to the locals; you’re only guests, after all.
Named after the then-revolutionary Kodak film, the Kodachrome Basin State Park features 67 monolithic stone spires with multicolor sandstone layers.
It offers a modern campground if you want to stay longer, but you can explore the area during the day by hiking and cycling.
From Highway 12, turn left on Reservoir Road and follow it north until you get to the entrance of the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.
Petrified wood is fossilized trees from millions of years ago. They look like rocks from a distance, but when you get up close, you get to appreciate the unique colors of the petrified wood.
Remember, though, that it’s illegal (and reportedly bad luck) to take petrified wood from the state park.
The park offers plenty of hiking trails, as well as water activities like boating, kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the Wide Hollow Reservoir. There are full-service campgrounds, including a disabled-friendly campsite.
6. The City of Escalante
When you exit the petrified forest, you’ll pass by Escalante City.
This provides more options for lodging and food compared to the three earlier towns you passed.
This national monument stretches around 2,900 square miles established to preserve the wilderness and its ecosystems. It is divided into three regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.
The “staircases” or sandstone cliffs are visible from the highway, but if you want to get up close and personal, you’ll have to be driving a vehicle that can handle unpaved, uneven roads, and you need to have plenty of water (at least 1 gallon per person per day), as there aren’t any establishments or homes nearby.
Calf Creek is a perennial stream within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
If you have it in you to hike 5 miles to and from the trailhead, you can visit the Lower Calf Creek Falls, where a clear stream descends 126 feet into a pool where visitors can take a swim.
When hiking to the falls, you’ll pass plenty of points of interest, so you won’t get bored of seeding red rock on all sides.
9. The Hogback
When you exit Calf Creek, before you get to Boulder, you’ll get to drive an internationally famous stretch of the highway known as the Hogback.
It features hairpin turns on a very steep ridge that drops off into deep canyons on both sides.
You shouldn’t have to be reminded to be extremely cautious when driving the Hogback.
10. The City of Boulder
Another peaceful town on your route, Boulder offers a few lodging options and restaurants to rest and recharge before you go on your final leg.
The Anasazi are considered to be descendants of the Pueblo Native Americans, who abandoned this area due to drought or fire.
Their abandoned village is now preserved as a state park, and the unearthed artifacts displayed in the museum also showcasing their history.
12. Boulder Mountain
Also known as Utah’s Aquarius Plateau, Boulder Mountain is part of the High Plateaus section of the Colorado Plateau. It ranges over 11,000 feet in elevation, covers more than 900 square miles.
The mountain is covered in various trees, such as ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper.
Capitol Reef National Park was established to preserve around 380 square miles of desert landscape, especially the Waterpocket Fold.
The park features several cliffs with dome formations, similar to the white domes often placed on top of capitol buildings, which give the park its name.
You can see some of these domes from the highway, but if you want to explore them further, you’ll have to take a significant detour.
Highway 12 ends at its northernmost point where it joins Highway 24, in the town of Torrey.
Where To Eat Along Highway 12
Here are some recommendations when you stop over these towns.
Where To Stay Along Highway 12
There are lodges and inns in the towns you’ll pass along the highway, and there are also campsites along the route and inside the state and national parks.
Here are a few lodging recommendations.
Bryce Canyon Area
Want To See Some Canyons?
A Scenic Byway 12 Utah road trip is truly unique. Getting to see a national forest, two national parks, a national monument, and three state parks along a single road is something only Highway 12 in Utah can offer.
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