The All-American Road
Sometimes you find yourself on a road that you can sense is something truly special. It is not just the scenery it provides, like the orange hoodoos of Red Canyon or contrasting landscape of alpine and distant sandstone atop Boulder Mountain — though you can't take your eyes off it. It is something about the byway itself. It seems to have a history. There's something in the engineering. The thoughtful lay of the road, the way it connects with the land. It feels somehow part of the landscape. Such is the case with Utah's All-America Road: Scenic Byway 12.
On Scenic Byway 12, discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the tranquil beauty of Boulder Mountain interspersed with national forest lands and state parks like you've never seen. Introduce yourself to the unique communities of adventurous and welcoming folks who call it home. Uncover a sense of prehistory that strengthens the fabric of this memorable road trip. Whether you long to camp in the backcountry or wish seek out Zagat-rated organic cuisine, you'll want to slow down and enjoy this journey. Start planning your road trip vacation below.
Total Driving: 150 miles + 120 miles in options | Driving per day: About 40 miles | Most Driving: Day 2 with Spooky Gulch side trip
At a Glance
*This suggested itinerary travels Scenic Byway 12 from west to east. To combine with S.R. 24 and Goblin Valley as in the Utah Scenic Drives Guide, simply reverse the order of the days. Overnight options depend on your pace and preference – hotels, motels and campgrounds are scattered along the route, and you’ll see many RV drivers.
Utah Red Rock 101Start: Panguitch
See: Heritage and Hoodoos
Explore: Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Cannonville Visitor Center
Options:Mossy Cave, Kodachrome Basin State Park
Scenic Routes: Scenic Byway 12 with options for Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive or Cottonwood Canyon Road
Roads: S.R. 12, 63
Night: Bryce Canyon, Tropic, Cannonville
Utah Red Rock 301Start: Sunrise over sandstone
See: Endlessly fascinating geology and ecology
Explore: Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest
Options: Grosvenor Arch, Escalante Interagency Visitor Center, Spooky Gulch
Scenic Routes: Scenic Byway 12 with Hole-in-the-Rock option to Spooky Gulch
Roads: S.R. 12, BLM Road #200
Miles: 35 + 50 out and back on groomed gravel to Spooky Gulch
Master's Course in Southern UtahStart: Espresso and a pastry at Kiva Koffeehouse
See: Hogsback and History
Explore: Calf Creek Recreation Area, Anasazi State Park Musuem
Options: Hell's Backbone Grill
Scenic Routes: Scenic Byway 12
Roads: S.R. 12
Miles: About 45 + 60 out and back on Paved Burr Trail
Night: Escalante, Boulder or Torrey
Start: Burr Trail Outpost or Robbers Roost
See: The beauty of Boulder Mountain
Explore: Dixie National Forest or Capitol Reef
Options: Burr Trail as far as the Waterpocket District
Scenic Routes: Scenic Byway 12, Capitol Reef Country
Roads: S.R. 12, 24
Miles: 30 + 60 out and back Burr Trail option
Night: Return home
It is difficult to contain descriptions of this drive in short, simple sentences; the scenes and resulting memories are letterboxed, like an AMC film classic, and shot in vivid Technicolor. It makes sense. Big stretches of the Dixie National Forest, two national parks, a national monument and three state parks fill in the windows along the route. It's easy to see why this road is considered a journey. On that note, two recent editions of the Tour of Utah bicycle stage race visited Scenic Byway 12. Imagine seeing this world, all 130 miles of it, by bicycle, in about five hours. You'll appreciate the athleticism of that accomplishment; you may better appreciate the opportunity to take it slow so you can enjoy each attraction on the route.
Taking the journey from west to east, it all begins in Panguitch. Panguitch is unique in that pretty much the whole town is on the National Register of Historic Places' list of historic landmarks. Grab an espresso, take the historic walking tour and check out the western collectibles.
Arriving at Highway 12 from the westernmost terminus almost instantly rewards drivers with glimpses of Red Canyon's terracotta, rust and orange hoodoos, which tower over the forest and give a tiny taste of Bryce Canyon's geology. Summer and fall are peak visitation seasons in Bryce Canyon, but don't let that stop you from visiting the park if it's on your list. Auto tours along its scenic drive pass the awe-inspiring overlooks, beautiful no matter the hour, but especially spectacular at dawn and dusk. Timing your drive to hit one or the other is highly recommended. As always, early-risers and star-chasers can avoid the crowds.
If camping, nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park is another great option for sunrise over red rock, and are both equally fascinated places to stay up for full immersion into Southern Utah's pristinely Dark Skies, where you can see the stars and the Milky Way like you never thought possible. For a quick dip into Bryce Canyon-like territory, hike to Mossy Cave, off Hwy 12 a few miles east of Bryce Canyon City, or explore the region's cultural heritage at the Cannoville Visitor Center.
The stretch of the byway following the high-plateau town of Henrieville is made up of peaceful paths lined with panoramas of the vermilion Escalante Mountains where large dabs of green juniper have been dropped in for dramatic effect. As the journey continues, options abound. Escalante Petrified Forest State Park offers intriguing trails through lava flows and fields of petrified wood as well as a range of fishing and water sports on Wide Hollow Reservoir. An unpaved road into the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante is a half-day side trip to a terrific slot canyon called Spooky Gulch.
Start the day with coffee and homemade pastries or soups at Kiva Koffeehouse to fuel up for a half-day in the Calf Creek Recreation
Area. Stroll Lower Calf Creek Falls between Navajo sandstonecliffs vividly decorated with nature's creative hand, which has leftmineral streaks called "desert varnish," en route to an idyllic waterfall and desert pool oasis. This 5.5-mile round trip hike takes approximately three hours to complete. The lesser-visited Upper Calf Creek Falls is a shorter trail, but a little more challenging.
The next stretch of the byway is the delicate dance of the Hogsback, which traverses a spine of otherworldly rock formations with sheer drops. Take advantage of a turn out or two to stop and appreciate the landscape. Beyond the Hogsback is Boulder, Utah, a gem of a mountain town with passionately local-minded locals, offering world-class cuisine at Hell's Backbone Grill or organic coffee and pastries made from locally sourced ingredients at Burr Trail Grill. Speaking of the Burr Trail, on this scenic backway you'll find your greatest potential detour given the 30 paved miles into the heart of Capitol Reef National Park's backcountry, with many additional miles possible of dirt road before eventually connecting with a whole other Utah world beyond the scope of this itinerary. High-clearance and 4WD vehicles may opt for the long way home via the unpaved road back north through the Waterpocket Fold to Notom and Highway 24. Explore the road a little, or a lot, or consider a deeper dive into this area's fascinated prehistory at the Anasazi State Park Museum.
Continue along the scenic byway into the Dixie National Forest toward Torrey. Atmosphere envelops distant lands, the Henry Mountains, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef National Park, and the immediate surroundings at over 9,000 feet are decorated with contrasting stands of subalpine fir and aspen. With enough time, this journey could continue into Capitol Reef, and there are lots of reasons why it should. Start with great hikes along S.R. 24 and a stop in the U-Pick Fruita Orchard or Gifford Homstead. It takes a little more effort to explore Capitol Reef National Park, but here you’ll find fewer people on the wide array of hiking routes to natural bridges and narrow canyons, comfortable campgrounds with pleasant tent sites amid shade trees, and paved and high-clearance vehicle roads that lead to some of the most incredible landscapes in the Southwest.
Check out the map below to start planning your trip along this amazing driving route!