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Highway 12 – The Best One

Highway 12 – The Best One

Posted in: Outdoor adventures, Travel on January 25, 2021.

A Roadtrip to Remember

Hey! We’ve been thinking a lot about roadtrips. (Being inside during the winter tends to make us do that.) This is Southern Utah, so of course there are a lot of amazing routes to discover. But one of our favorites is still Highway 12, connecting Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. This scenic route is like the perfect sample-pack of what makes Southern Utah so special. It passes through sandstone mesas, breathtaking overlooks, alpine forests, and two of the greatest national parks in the state. It just might be the greatest roadtrip ever. In this post, we’ve highlighted a few of the must-see stops for you to see along the route.

A large barn sitting in a field with red cliffs behind

The iconic barn in Capitol Reef. Photo by Tracey Zhang via unsplash.com

Start in Torrey

The Highway 12 route starts in Torrey, Utah. And since Torrey is the gateway to Capitol Reef, you really want to start there. We’ve written a thing or two about what to do in Capitol Reef, including a fully-fleshed-out itinerary, and since we’re focusing on Highway 12 in this blog post, we’ll just kinda gloss over Capitol Reef. But before you start your roadtrip, plan on spending some time in the park. You wouldn’t go all the way to Torrey, and NOT go to the park, right? Anyway, head south from Torrey in the direction of Boulder, Utah.

Boulder Mountain and Boulder Town

The trip up the mountain to the town of Boulder is great. The area is densely wooded with pine trees and quaking aspens. (It’s especially nice in the early fall, when the leaves are golden.) Be sure to stop at some of those overlooks and enjoy the view! Once in Boulder, check out the Anasazi State Park Musuem and maybe grab some lunch. Continue south, into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Light and shadow play on sandstone mesas

The high desert mesas of the Grand Staircase. Photo by Ian Liberry via unsplash.com

Calf Creek Hike

Drive carefully as you enter the Grand Staircase, the roads become windy and there are steep drop-offs on either side. But the scenery is spectacular! As you continue along Highway 12, you’ll encounter the main attraction in this part of the Grand Staircase – Calf Creek. This great, six-mile hike leads to a 120-foot waterfall in the middle of the desert. Definitely not to be missed during the heat of summer.

Escalante State Park

Just outside the town of Escalante, you’ll find the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. It’s an impressive 1,400-acre landscape of petrified logs and fossils. And there are a lot, A LOT, of fossils here, about 5 million tons of them. Walk along the main path in the state park and enjoy this petrified forest.

A double arch high in the sandstone cliff

Grosvenor Arch near Kodachrome Basin. Photo by Doug Dolde via Wikimedia Commons

Kodachrome Basin State Park

This is one of the little gems that many people pass by. But if you’re doing this roadtrip, we highly recommend that you stop and check out Kodachrome Basin. It’s located just a short distance off the main road, near Canonville, Utah. There are sixty-seven monoliths and sandstone spires all packed into on dense area. The tallest of which are over 170-feet high. The sandstone of the park is so colorful that the area was named after Kodachrome film. (Which was really colorful film, back in the day.) There is also a really unique arch near the park called Grosvenor Arch, which makes a for a great afternoon hike.

Bryce Canyon

After 160-miles of amazing scenery and stops, Highway 12 will eventually connect you to Bryce Canyon National Park. We’ve covered Bryce in detail here. Just know that there is plenty to see and do in the park. So stop in and check out those hoodoos. But wait, there’s one last surprise for you on this epic roadtrip…

Dixie forest sign in Red Canyon

Red Canyon, just west of Bryce Canyon. Photo by Nicole via unsplash.com

Red Canyon

Before Highway 12 ends, kicking you out onto State Road 89, you’ll get to pass through Red Canyon. It’s a complex, craggy, and twisty canyon, located in the heart of Dixie National Forest. There are lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. So stop the car and stretch your legs among the amazing red rocks and soaring pines.

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