Imagine driving with your windows down, hair blowing in the wind as you pass by outlandish rock formations with a kaleidoscope of colorful mountains. If this sounds like an amazing adventure to you, then you have to add driving Scenic Byway 12 in Utah to your bucket list!
After spending six months living in a van and driving across countless roads, I can confidently say that this drive is one of the most epic. There’s nothing better than a road that begins at one National Park and leads to another. Route 12 in Utah begins in Bryce Canyon traveling by numerous state parks before winding its way 122 miles to the underrated Capitol Reef National Park. The entire drive only takes two and a half hours!
Why not make this drive your next vacation? Read below to learn all the details about this highway and the stops you should make along the way!
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Table of Contents
8 Scenic Spots on Utah’s Scenic Byway 12
Stop #1: Red Canyon
Begin your journey on route 12 through Red Canyon. You’ll know you’ve gotten to this area when you see the stunning rock formations all around, while driving through incredible tunnels.
Most people just drive through this area. However, it is usually uncrowded, so it’s a great stop to get off of the beaten path. Stop by the visitor center, get information about the area, and take one of the amazing trails listed below through the hoodoos.
Hikes in Red Canyon:
Stop #2: Dixie National Forest
As you continue driving scenic byway 12, you’ll come across Dixie National Forest, approximately 20 minutes from Red Canyon. When we went in the winter, the area was covered in snow, and the dark green fir trees contrasted the pure white snow below. In summer, the fir trees provide shade on a hot day. This forest encompasses more than 2 million acres and is broken up into four distinct areas.
This particular area has wonderful views over the areas below and it is incredibly picturesque. Stop at the overlooks as you drive, go on a short walk through the forest line, or rent a snowmobile for the day! You may want to keep your pets in the car during the winter to avoid any snowmobile collisions.
Stop #3: Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is one of the most beautiful and important stops along the drive. I have been to over half of the national parks and this remains as one of my all-time favorites. Astounding hoodoos cover the landscape of Bryce, which contrast the bright blue skies overhead. Bryce is a small park, so it is a great place to visit for a day or a few hours. You can read my comprehensive guide to One Day in Bryce Canyon for great tips for your trip!
If you only have a short amount of time, you can easily see the highlights and don’t miss out on watching a magical sunrise or sunset in the park!
Best Viewpoints in Bryce:
- Rainbow Point
- Inspiration Point
- Sunset Point
- Natural Bridge
Stop #4: Kodachrome Basin State Park
After exploring Bryce, you can continue on for 30 minutes to get to more astounding rock formations in Kodachrome Basin State Park. This park, named after the Kodak film color, contains hundreds of monolithic spires that extend into the sky. It’s a photographer’s dream.
This park is a family-friendly park with activities to fill up a whole weekend. You can choose to go on a quick visit to the overlooks and trails or camp at their campgrounds and stay longer to try new adventures.
Activities in Kodachrome Basin:
- Wildlife Watching
- Horseback Riding (Hour long ride costs $30)
- Hiking the Panorama Tail (3 miles)
- Mountain Biking
- Playing Disc Golf at the new 18 Hole Course
Stop #5: Grand Staircase Escalante
Grand Staircase Escalante is a spectacular national monument that is larger than the state of Delaware, which means there is a lot of ground to cover. You’ll have to visit many different towns and spend months to see it all. This monument is famous for the colorful rock formations throughout.
Passing through this area, you can spend time hiking, ATV riding, fishing and biking or simply watching the landscape change on the drive. There are many beautiful overlooks on the drive to take pictures.
Wonderful Stops Here:
- Visit Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- Escalante Natural Bridge
- Eat at Kiva Koffehouse and Georgie’s Outdoor Mexican Cafe
Stop #6: Calf Creek Recreation Area:
15 miles from the town of Escalante, you’ll see the Calf Creek Recreation Area. This area is a wonderful place to visit Calf Creek, hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls or spend a night camping. Make sure to bring some cash or your America the Beautiful Pass, because there is a fee of $5 per vehicle!
Last time I drove this route, I missed this hike and I knew that I had to come back! The falls cascade off the cliff edge into a pool below, which visitors often swim in during the warmer months. It’s one of the prettiest small falls I’ve seen!
The Lower Calf Creek Falls trail is one of the most popular hikes along Route 12, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. The hike itself is 6.7 miles, which sounds long, but it’s fairly easy and flat! This trail gets very crowded in the warmer months and parking can fill up quickly. You’ll want to get there early to get a spot.
Stop #7: Boulder
This remote town along Scenic Byway 12 has plenty to offer with 70 miles of backcountry roads, which are popular for ATVs, snowmobiles, and 4WD vehicles. One of the most popular is the Burr Trail, which leads all the way to Capitol Reef National Park. So you can stop your drive along Byway 12 here and take an alternate route if you have the right vehicle!
Despite only having a population of 200 people, the town has plenty of charm and an amazing restaurant. Stop in town to see the area and visited the highly rated Hell’s Backbone, a restaurant focused on local and sustainable foods.
Stop #8: Capitol Reef National Park
Drive one more hour and complete your drive on Scenic Byway 12 in Torrey, Utah right outside of Capitol Reef National Park. After visiting many national parks, I have decided this is one of the most underrated parks in the country! The wall of red cliffs that greets you as you enter the park is extraordinarily imposing.
I recommend that you stay in Capitol Reef for a couple days to explore all that this park has to offer. You can fill your time going on hikes, picking fruit in the orchards, picking up a pie at Gifford Homestead, or star gazing in the dark sky.
Great Hikes in the Park
- Hickman bridge (1.7 miles)
- Cohab Canyon (3 miles)
- Cassidy Arch (3 miles, read my complete guide linked here!)
After driving on hundreds of scenic routes and thousands of miles in our van, this route is still one of my favorites in the country! Scenic Byway 12 will absolutely blow you away and fill your weekend with explorations. If you plan on going to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, then you need to take this route between the two parks. You won’t be disappointed.
Was this guide to road tripping Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 helpful? If so let me know in the comments and feel free to pin it to Pinterest!