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Winter Road Trip: Capitol Reef to Bryce

Traveling along Scenic Highway 12 as the winter weather roils around you is a truly wondrous driving experience. The scenic drive is bookended by Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Written by Jeremy Pugh

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NPS/Chris Roundtree

Traveling along Scenic Highway 12 as the winter weather roils around you is a truly wondrous driving experience. The scenic drive is bookended by Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. 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 — and intriguing state parks like Kodachrome Basin and Escalante Petrified Forest that sit atop the sprawling Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Check out these winter vacation ideas, travel tips and interesting itinerary for your upcoming Utah road trips.

And don't forget to learn how to pack for your winter road trip.

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. 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.

Tip: The campground is open but no water is available — and only well-prepared, hardy campers need apply.

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its abundant hoodoos spitting out of the canyon floor like giant stalagmites, some are diminutive while others are as high as 10-story buildings. The park is the highest in 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 stunning landscape. You’ll definitely want to share photos of these places!

In fact, 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.

Bryce Canyon National Park.

Photo: Hage Photo

Base camp: Torrey

Where to stay: 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.
955 E. Utah Highway 24, Torrey
(435) 425-3775

Where to eat: Red Cliffs Restaurant

Located in the town center and open year-round, Red Cliffs is a vegetarian-friendly diner that serves up a decent pizza pie along side a lovely pitcher of beer.  
56 E. Main St, Torrey
(435) 425-3797

Base camp: Bryce Canyon City

Where to stay: 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.
26 S. Main Street, Bryce Canyon
(435) 834-5341

Where to eat: 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.
1150 Highway 12, Bryce City
(435) 834-5227

Base camp: Escalante

Where to stay/eat: 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 a RV park, camp sites and small cabins for rent.
310 W. Main Street, Escalante 
(435) 826-4266

Base camp: Boulder

Where to stay: Boulder Mountain Lodge

The Boulder Mountain Lodge has spacious rooms in a variety of configurations, some with a full kitchen or kitchenette, offering great views and accommodating everyone from solo travelers to family groups with a dog.  
20 N. Highway 12, Boulder
(435) 335-7460

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