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Winter Road Trip: Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon

Traveling along scenic Highway 12 as the winter weather swirls around you is a truly wondrous driving experience. Bookended by Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, there’s plenty to see between these two famous national parks.

Written By Jeremy Pugh

NPS/Chris Roundtree

You can start your winter road trip at either end, Torrey for Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon City on the flip side. The path between is marked by two little towns — Escalante and Boulder.  By taking the scenic drive between the parks, you can see Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Escalante Petrified Forest, and much more. 

Feeling ready to make the trip between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon? Give yourself a head start and check out the following itinerary. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out these handy packing tips for a winter road trip in Utah.

Day One: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park's winding canyons and Parisian boulevard-like washes offer stunning displays of the power of wind and water to shape the land. And it is essentially empty during the winter months – perfect for family vacations or weekend getaways.

What To Do 

You will be delighted by the view of snowcapped Entrada and Navajo sandstone formations of the park's Waterpocket Fold from Scenic Byway 24 or enjoy the parks many hikes from trailheads along S.R. 24, when conditions permit. In the winter, the visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except major holidays. If you want to camp here during the winter, keep in mind that it will be fairly empty so make sure to be prepared with food, water, and supplies. 

Where To Stay & Eat

Base Camp: Torrey

Lodging Suggestion: Broken Spur Inn

The Broken Spur is one of the most affordable lodging options open off-season (March – mid-November) in Torrey, just outside Capitol Reef. The homey, family run establishment is the type of place with Zane Grey books in the lobby and a hearty western breakfast included.

Address: 955 E. Utah Highway 24, Torrey
Phone: (435) 425-3775

Dining Suggestion: The Pioneer Kitchen

Across from The Rim Rock at the Capitol Reef Resort, this family-style restaurant serves up tasty, hearty meals like short rib stew, pork chops, enchiladas, pasta and much more. It’s a perfect stop after a long day of hiking at the park. 

Address: 2523 E Highway 24, Torrey 
Phone: (435) 425-3388

Day Two: Grand Staircase–Escalante

For more than 25 years, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has wowed visitors with its incredible cliffs, terraces, and rugged terrain. This stunning monument offers a diverse range of monoliths, slot canyons, natural bridges, and arches. Additionally, the Anasazi and Fremont cultures had a strong presence in this area. Visitors can see rock art panels, campsites, occupation sites, and granaries dating back to 950-1100 AD.

What To Do

For unique scenic drives, jump on Highway 12 or check out Hell’s Backbone Scenic Byway. Looking for some great hiking trails? Calf Creek Falls, Coyote Gulch, and Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon Hikes are sure to impress. To learn more about the rich history of the area, visit the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park or the Anasazi State Park Museum.

Where To Stay & Eat

Base Camp: Escalante

Lodging/Dining Suggestion: Escalante Outfitters

Escalante Outfitters is a one-stop-shop for gear, guide services, actual real coffee, and advice along with some fine pizza and calzones. The store also has an RV park, campsites and small cabins for rent.

Address: 310 W. Main Street, Escalante 
Phone: (435) 826-4266

Boulder Mountain Lodge

If you find yourself stopping for a night in Boulder, the Boulder Mountain Lodge has spacious rooms in a variety of configurations. Whether you’re looking for something that’s dog-friendly or need a full kitchen, this lodge offers flexible accommodations and great views for everyone.

Address: 20 N. Highway 12, Boulder
Phone: (435) 335-7460


A Winter Trip Through the Heart of Utah’s Desert

4 Days

Experience a world unlike anything you’ve ever imagined in the high desert mountains and plummeting canyons of south-central Utah. You’ll step into two national parks, three state parks, and all the scenic winding roads your heart could desire.

Read More

Day Three/Four: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is a world-renowned area, famous for its abundant hoodoos spitting out of the canyon floor like giant stalagmites. Some hoodoos are small while others are as large as 10-story buildings. The park is the highest elevation out of Utah’s Mighty 5 and often gets heavy snow, which makes for a startling contrast on the red rock hoodoos. It also hints at the forces of nature behind the creation of miles of the stunning landscape. You’ll want to share photos of these places!

What To Do

In the better snow years, Bryce has one of the best winter scenes around, with opportunities to check out snowshoes for rim hikes and a Winter Festival at the gateway town of Bryce Canyon City. There is also cross-country skiing in and around the park, and certain spurs of the road are intentionally left unplowed for winter sports and other fun activities.

Otherwise, check at the visitor center for current conditions — trails may require additional traction to safely use — or keep the camera handy for photos from stunning overlooks into the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon with the warmth of your vehicle always nearby.

See winter park alerts here and learn more about the President's Day Weekend Winter Festival, one of the park's most popular cold-weather events.

Where To Stay & Eat

Base Camp: Bryce Canyon City

Lodging Suggestion: Ruby’s Inn

Founded by Reuben “Ruby” C. Syrett, an intrepid pioneer who settled in the area in 1916 to ranch. These days, the hotelier has two lodges on either side of the highway and is home to one of the only liquor stores in the area. The rooms are clean and situated nicely at the edge of the park boundary. It owns much of the land adjacent to the park and offers a slew of wintertime activities on the property.

Address: 26 S. Main Street, Bryce Canyon
Phone: (435) 834-5341

Dining Suggestion: Foster’s Family Steak House

This wooden-walled diner offers good meat and potatoes fare, with well-cooked steaks and meatloaf that makes you think of mom. But the main attraction at Foster's Family Steak House is its selection of fresh-baked pies, spinning on a hypnotic wheel in a ’50s-style bakery case you’ll pass as you walk in.

Address: 1150 Highway 12, Bryce City
Phone: (435) 834-5227

Bryce Canyon National Park.

Photo: Hage Photo

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