One of the most exciting drives in the United States is along Scenic Byway 12 in Utah. Along this drive, there are constantly changing dramatic landscapes that look out of this world. You’ll pass through two national parks, three state parks, one national monument, one national forest, one national recreation area, and plenty of intriguing little towns. Needless to say, this drive has no shortage of interesting places to stop.
I would recommend taking your time exploring each of these destinations. You don’t want to rush through this 123-mile long trek. The journey is only three hours without stops, but you’ll want to take your time and explore each place in depth.
April and May or September and October are the best times to make this road trip. Utah winters can be harsh, and summer is sweltering, so those tend to be the mildest months. Make sure you check the conditions on the route before embarking on your road trip.
Day one is a travel day from Salt Lake City International Airport to Red Canyon. The drive takes about three and a half hours. The Red Canyon Visitor’s Center is the first official stop on Scenic Byway 12. If you feel up to it, you can do the short .8-mile Birdsey Trail to get an overview of red rock formations.
Red Canyon, Utah, USA
After spending some time at Red Canyon, continue to Tropic, where you will set up base for the night (about 30 minutes).
From Tropic, backtrack about 20 minutes to Bryce National Park. This spectacular destination has impressive rock formations called hoodoos, canyons, and hiking trails. You’ll want to spend a whole day exploring Bryce.
I recommend starting your journey at the park museum, where you can learn about Bryce, its geology, and its history.
Then, I would check out Sunrise, Sunset, Bryce, and Inspiration viewpoints.
You can also make the 18-mile drive to Rainbow Point and stop at 13 viewpoints on the return trip.
Rainbow Point, Utah, USA
Next, you’re going to travel from Bryce National Park to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The drive between the two parks takes about 30 minutes.
Kodachrome is like an art gallery of 67 natural monolithic sandstone spires known as sedimentary pipes. These structures have over 180 million years of geologic history. It is worth stopping here and spending a few hours admiring these structures.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park, Cannonville, UT,...
After Kodachrome, continue on the road to Escalante. Along the way, stop at the Powell Point Vista. Escalante is a little less than an hour from Kodachrome. You can either pack a lunch to take with you or wait until Escalante to eat.
Escalante, UT, USA
Check into your hotel at Escalante and spend the rest of the day exploring the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. There are numerous hiking trails and water sports you can check out in the park.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Reserv...
Continue along the Scenic Byway 12.
While traveling, make sure you stop at the Hole in the Rock Wayside. This stop is a beautiful scenic lookout point where you can see straight cliffs that extend out 50 miles to the Colorado River.
After, stop at Kiva Koffeehouse for breakfast with a view.
Kiva Koffeehouse, Hwy 12 Mile Marker, Escalan...
About 40 minutes from Escalante is the Anasazi State Park Museum. Along the route, you’ll hit a stretch of road called the Hogback, with stunning views on both sides of the highway. There are no guardrails here, so drive carefully.
Anasazi State Park Museum
Anasazi State Park Museum, Utah 12, Boulder, ...
Once you reach the museum, you can learn about the long and fascinating history of the Puebloan (Anasazi) people who occupied the area from 1050 A.D to 1200.
Grab lunch in Boulder before the next part of your trip.
Boulder, Utah, USA
After that, you’ll be driving through some stunning forested landscapes for the next few hours. Take some time to stop at the Homestead Overlook and the Larb Hollow Overlook for spectacular scenic views.
The last part of your Scenic Byway 12 journey is the descent into Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park. This drive will make you feel as if you are approaching Mars. It is a breathtaking drive that was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Once you arrive in Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 is officially over. However, there is much to see in the area before you return to Salt Lake City.
Once you check into your hotel in Torrey, spend the afternoon doing a short driving tour of Capitol Reef National Park. There is a driving loop that you can complete in less than an hour. However, you can stop off at different areas and do some hiking if you feel up to it.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA
On day five, you can spend the morning exploring Capitol Reef a little bit more.
After having lunch in Bicknell (my favorite spot is Curry Pizza), drive back to Salt Lake City, about three and a half hours.