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It’s no secret that I love Utah. I love the desert, the mountains, the parks, and especially the scenic drives. If it’s not entirely possible, it’s at least pretty darn close, to cross the entire southern part of Utah on scenic drives. There may be small sections you’ll have to take the Interstate or something, but even for being the Interstate, it’s not the worst.
The section from the Hanksville exit to Salina is really pretty. Anyways, for your road trip, make sure you take as many of these scenic drives in Utah as possible and check all kinds of awesome things off your Utah bucket list.
On this list, you’ll find a combination of paved roads suitable for any vehicle and a couple of dirt four-wheel-drive roads, but I’ll let you know what they are so you can properly prepare for a drive on any of these scenic highways in Utah.
I will continue to update this as I find new roads and drive them.
A few things to keep in mind:
- This isn’t every scenic drive in Southern Utah, just my favorites and some that are on my list to do.
- There is a mix of passenger car-friendly and 4-wheel drive necessary. I’ll let you know which they are.
- Most of these can be incorporated easily into a regular road trip route, others will be more of a side trip to certain locations.
- If you have the time and proper vehicle, I’d also recommend just checking out some of the million dirt roads down here.
- These are in no particular order of quality of the scenery.
- Some of the maps included will have landmarks marked along the route so I could get the specific route to actually show up on Google Maps. You don’t have to stop to see all of those things, but it helped me find the route to show you.
- The pictures of each road are below the information from it.
- If anything is one way (Boulder to Escalante, Moab to Cisco, etc.) it can be done either direction depending on where you’re going and coming from.
- These roads are all great for camping. Most have official campgrounds, but some will also have free camping options as well.
What to bring on a Utah road trip
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season. I usually use my rain jacket for this.
Sleeping pad – Gotta make the tent comfy! The one I have isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s self-inflating and just needs a little help filling all the way. Buy the sleeping pad here.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Lantern – I love having a lantern for in the tent at night, reading in the dark, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The LuminAID is my favorite and you can charge your phone on it. Buy the LuminAID lantern here.
How long: 47 miles, 2-3 hours depending on stops
Where: Moab to Cisco
Cell phone service: No
Gas: Moab. There is none along the road, but if you take the interstate around, you’ll find some.
Road conditions: Paved
Vehicle: Any car will be fine
Things to see: Start off with a hike to Morning Glory Natural Bridge. Negro Bill Canyon and Fisher Towers are two other great places to stop for a hike. For a great view of the towers (heading from Moab towards Cisco), go past them a bit and pull over into a pullout and turn around.
You’ll get to see them with the La Sal Mountains in the background and Colorado River in the Foreground. Before getting to the abandoned town of Cisco, you’ll see Dewey Bridge, or what’s left of it. You can easily get to the La Sal Mountain Loop road from here, too.
If you want to camp along the road, Lower Onion Creek Campground is a great option. There are a few other campgrounds as well. There is also the Sorrel River Ranch if you want to stay in a nice, higher end lodge. (Fun fact, I applied to work there for my first seasonal job!)
Important information: This road isn’t a loop, but you can drive it either direction. If you’re staying in Moab and want to do the drive, you can either turn around at the end or drive around on the interstate. If you’re coming from Grand Junction, CO, you can take this into Moab. This is a great way to get to or from Moab, but it’s also a great drive for an afternoon. If you do it in an afternoon, I’d take it both ways so you can see more of the scenery.
Valley of the Gods + Moki Dugway (UT 261)
How long: 28 miles, 1.5-2.5 hours depending on stops
Where: Moki Dugway on UT 261 to Mexican Hat
Cell phone service: No
Gas: Blanding, Hite, Mexican Hat (depending on where you’re coming from)
Road conditions: Moki Dugway and Valley of the Gods road are dirt, between and after are paved
Vehicle: Moki Dugway: any car and RV’s if you feel comfortable on switchbacks (I know semi trucks take it). Valley of the Gods: any car is fine
Things to see: Enjoy the views from the Moki Dugway, or as I call it, the Moki Deathway. Before turning onto the Moki Dugway, drive out to Muley Point Overlook. You’ll see Monument Valley and the San Juan River below. Take the drive through the Mini Mounment Valley that is the Valley of the Gods. Pop into Goosenecks State Park while you’re here if you have time. There are a few Geocaches on the Dugway and a few before Monument Valley.
Important information: This is a great drive if you’re going to Monument Valley. Take the Moki Dugway then at the bottom, take the Valley of the Gods loop. The Moki Dugway is a set of switchbacks that can be rather intimidating. I’ve driven it and I don’t think it’s that bad, I think the Burr Trail switchbacks are a lot worse, but I have guests tell me they were terriffied on the Dugway, so your mileage may vary on that. You can take RV’s on the Dugway, I know semi trucks take it.
The Moki Dugway is a great scenic way to get to Monument Valley from the North Lake Powell/Hanksville area, or vice versa. If you have time, Valley of the Gods is a good addition to the drive, but it would be a good day trip if you’re staying in Bluff, Blanding, or Mexican Hat. I would recommend Valley of the Gods if you haven’t done many scenic drives in Utah yet. I liked it but was pretty underwhelmed based on how it was described to me (like the Grand Canyon, it is not.)
How long: 27.5 miles, 2 hours unless you want to do the Corona Arch hike
Where: Moab to the end of Potash Road
Cell phone service: I believe so, but it may be patchy. Let me know if this is incorrect and I’ll update it.
Road conditions: Paved
Vehicle: Any vehicle will make it
Things to see: There is a surprising amount of things to do on this rather short road. It starts with rock climbing at Wall Street (if that’s your thing). If not, don’t worry, there is more. Not too far past that you’ll see a sign on the left side of the road for petroglyphs. There a lot of them here, kind of high up, but they’re really cool.
Keep going and you’ll see a parking area on the right for the Poison Spider Trail. You can do a short hike here to see some dinosaur tracks and more petroglyphs. The trail continues past these. The last major attraction is the hike to Corona Arch. Finally, there is Jug Handle Arch. This is easy to spot on the side of the road.
Important information: You don’t really need to go past Jug Handle Arch. There isn’t much to see after that. If you do go to the end, you can just turn around and go back the way you came or you can hop on Shafer Trail to Canyonlands. You may need 4WD/high clearance for that.
How long: 40-46 miles per side, 143 miles driving from Bullfrog to Halls Crossing NOT taking the ferry
Where: Bullfrog Marina to Halls Crossing Marina
Cell phone service: No, except in Bullfrog and Halls
Gas: Bullfrog, Hite, Halls Crossing
Road conditions: Paved
Vehicle: Any car is fine
Things to see: There isn’t much specifically to do on either side, really, but the views are wonderful. I know on the Halls side, there are some ruins along the side of the road. On the Bullfrog side, you can stop and learn about Mount Hillers, hike a bit in Maidenwater and Trachyte Canyons.
Enjoy the views of the Henry Mountains, Navajo Mountain, and Monument Valley (on the Halls side). No matter which side you’re on, it’s really pretty and you can go do a little walking pretty much anywhere. If you’re on the Bullfrog side, there are a few Geocaches along the way!
Important information: For the sake of clarity, I made this map to take you from Blanding to Capitol Reef, a likely route, passing through Lake Powell by taking the Ferry. This allows you to see 276, but if you can only choose one to drive (all of Highway 95 or 276) I would go with 95 because, unless you really want to see it, Lake Powell is out of the way.
If you do want to see it, I’d recommend spending a night there. This is a road to do on the way, not just a side trip. I would say this is one of the best scenic highways in Utah even after driving this approximately 1000 times.
Highway 95 (Bicentennial Highway) + UT 24 to Capitol Reef
How long: 173 miles, 3-4 hours depending on stops
Where: Blanding to Torrey
Cell phone service: Not on 95 or most of 24, but yes in Hanksville
Gas: Blanding, Hite, Hanksville, Torrey
Road conditions: Paved
Vehicle: Any car is fine
Things to see: Oh man, where to start. I’ll be listing things starting from Blanding. First, you’ll come across the Butler Wash Ruins. These are marked and very easy to find. There is a short(ish) hike out to an overlook so you can see the cliff dwellings.
There are a lot of other ruins on Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa if you want to camp in the area and see more. A really cool ruin site to see that is easily accessible is the House on Fire down Texas Flat Road. Mule Canyon Ruin site is just past that and a nice quick stop.
The main (popular) attraction is Natural Bridges National Monument. You’ll find this I believe just before the turnoff to Halls Crossing. There are so many unmarked things. If you want, you can go into Bears Ears here, too, but there isn’t any infrastructure, so go prepared. There are a lot of hikes along 95 that are worth checking out. Get lost in this website and have a wishlist that’s three miles long.
Once you’re past Hanksville, there isn’t quite as much to do, but you can check out Factory Butte. There are also a ton of Geocaches (really cool containers) between Hanksville and Capitol Reef. This could be a fun place to get started.
Important information: There isn’t much to know about this road. It’s easy driving. Really, just be careful on some of the turns. It’s a kind of twisty road, but it’s a must-do scenic byway in Utah.
How long: 113 miles, 3-4 hours depending on stops
Where: Torrey to Bryce Canyon (most of it on 12, this will most likely be your destination)
Cell phone service: Not really, except a little in towns
Gas: Torrey, Boulder, Escalante, Tropic, Bryce
Road conditions: Paved
Vehicle: Anything is good
Things to see: This is such a long drive, it’s hard to choose. Make sure you stop at the overlooks in the Dixie National Forest (the second picture below) and admire the aspens. There are a lot of campgrounds here as well.
You’ll pass through Boulder here and a great stop to stretch your legs and get a little taste of the Anasazi history is the Anasazi State Park Museum. You don’t need tons of time here, but it’s a nice stop.
You’ll pass through Grand Staircase Escalante which has a ton of hiking options. Hike to the 100 Hands Pictograph, Calf Creek Falls, Escalante River trail, and if you’re really feeling brave (with a good car) head down Hole in the Rock Road to see some slot canyons.
Once you get to the town of Escalante (stop at the little co-op for delicious and healthy breakfast/snacks/roadtrip food) and pass through there, you’ll find the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A quick jaunt off the main road you’ll find Kodachrome Basin State Park. And before you know it, you’ll be atBryce Canyon.
Important information: There isn’t anything in particular about this drive. I do know there are cows on here near Boulder and in Grand Staircase Escalante earlier in the fall than other places (sometimes September) since it’s higher elevation, so watch out for those on the road.
There are a ton of other scenic drives off of this highway, so if you have the time and right vehicle, make sure to try some of those, too. Scenic Byway 12 is probably the most popular scenic byway in Utah, and for good reason. It’s amazing and takes you through some of the best scenery in the state.
How long: 70-80 miles depending on route
Where: Blanding to Natural Bridges/Highway 95
Cell phone service: No
Gas: Hite, Blanding
Road conditions: Dirt
Vehicle: 4WD/high clearance to be safe, definitely not a regular passenger car, especially if you want to stray from the main road.
Things to see: This may not be the most helpful, but I think the best way to see this area is to just go. I’ve outlined the route we took to the best of my abilities, but there are so many side roads that lead to hikes that are worth checking out. I love the Arch Canyon Overlook area and the road towards Gooseberry Guard Station. The Notch was such a good view! The Elk Ridge area is fantastic as well.
If you want, the Dark Wilderness area is back here too, and it looks really cool. We couldn’t get back to that. I was blown away by pretty much everything we saw and I just kept saying IT’S SO GOOD! Whichever end you start on, you can stop into Natural Bridges for some hiking if you’d like.
Important information: These are all dirt roads. If you want to get further back into the wilderness (which looks fantastic) you’ll need 4WD/high clearance. If you’re sticking to the main roads it isn’t quite and necessary, but still recommended. If you have no experience driving on roads like this, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re prepared, this is a good way to get from Blanding closer to Capitol Reef, but it also makes a great overnight trip with Blanding as your base.
Grab a BLM map of this area (you can find them along the road in a couple spots). We didn’t know where we were going though this area and had to use the map to get us out. If you plan on going down lots of side roads, this is probably your best bet for navigating.
Just keep an eye out for signs of which road you’re on and buildings (ranger/guard stations) or landmarks you pass. Basically, pay attention to the signs and keep track of where you are. This is one of two I wouldn’t recommend for your average road tripper.
How long: 44 miles, 2-4 hours depending on stops
Where: Boulder to Escalante
Cell phone service: No
Gas: Boulder and Escalante
Road conditions: Mostly dirt, but paved at the beginning and end
Vehicle: Regular passenger cars should be fine on the main road unless there are heavy rains
Things to see: The first cool thing (leaving from Boulder) is the Hells Backbone Bridge. The views of the canyon here, which totally surprised me, are fantastic. You should be able to find hiking trails along the way.
On the descent into Escalante you’ll be driving along the Box/Death hollow Wilderness Area which looks wonderful and is great for hiking. Check out Posey Lake while you’re up there. It’s a short detour to a charming little lake that’s easy to get to. You can camp there, too, if you’d like. There are a couple of other campgrounds along the way.
Important information: This road is closed in the winter. No permits are necessary. If you want to see more than the main road, you’ll need a 4WD/high clearance. We had the Ford Escape when we drove this and couldn’t go down a lot of the side roads.
If you have a few days in this area, I would recommend this drive, but if you only have one day I would stick with Scenic Byway 12 to get between Boulder and Escalante. Hells Backbone can be done as a day trip from Boulder or Escalante or it can be done as part of your route.
How long: 100-111 miles depending on the sights you see, 2-3 days, 10-12 hours of driving
Where: Canyonlands Island in the Sky loop (basically)
Cell phone service: No
Road conditions: Dirt, some deep sand, large rocks, steep climbs, and ruts
Vehicle: 4WD/high clearance
Things to see: Stop at Musselman Arch, Airport Tower, and Washerwoman Arch. White Crack Campsite is one of the most scenic campsites on the trail. Admire the Green River and the Black Crack, a 65-foot deep, 3-foot wide crack in the sandstone where it looks like the rim is falling off. Really, just admire the scenery and stop at everything that looks interesting. I haven’t done this drive yet, but it’s the top of my Utah scenic drive to do list.
Important information: The map I have may not be the exact route, it’s a little short for the distance and I know it goes along White Rim Road/Mineral Road, but it’s been very difficult finding a map of the route. I found this website showing their route for White Rim Road on a motorcycle. I would stop into the Moab or Canyonlands visitor centers to get a better route and more detailed information. If you’ve done this drive and have a map/know the route, let me know and I’ll fix it.
No pets allowed, even in vehicles. No fires allowed. Bikes and motorcycles are allowed, but ATV’s, UTV’s, and OHV’s are not. You do need permits for day and overnight use. There are 20 campsites in 10 different camping areas. Bring plenty of water. Come very prepared with good tires and you should be able to get yourself out of sticky situations. A tow will probably be $1000+ out here. This is two of two I wouldn’t recommend for your average road tripper.
Burr Trail Scenic Backway
How long: 70 miles, 3-4 hours depending on how much you stop
Where: Bullfrog Marina to Boulder
Cell phone service: Not really, but a little bit at the beginning and end of the road
Gas: Bullfrog and Ticaboo (if you’re not going to Lake Powell, towards Hanksville) and Boulder.
Road conditions: Mostly paved, but the section going through Capitol Reef is dirt.
Vehicle: Four-wheel drive is not necessary, my Smart Car made it, my parent’s Chevy Malibu made it, I know motorcycles make it. I would not take an RV on here. The switchbacks are pretty tight and really lumpy. They freak me out in our 4Runner (more than the Moki Dugway.)
Things to see: I’ll start from the Bullfrog end and work my way over to Boulder. Hike Pedestal Alley and Halls Creek Overlook. In Capitol Reef hike into the Headquarters Canyon and Surprise Canyon. At the top of the switchbacks, check out some of Upper and/or Lower muley Twists. If you have a higher clearance vehicle, you can drive Wolverine Loop (it just spits you our on Burr further up) or check out any of the other dirt roads going off of Burr.
For a hike, check out Little Death Hollow. Once you get to Boulder, I would highly recommend lunch or dinner at Burr Trail grill (less expensive but sooo good, we drive there just for this sometimes) or Hells Backbone Grill (more expensive but delicious). There are tons of awesome views along the way to stop for, too.
Important information: It’s not always in the best condition, but it hasn’t been impassably bad for me yet, it’s just washboardy. The only time I would really worry is if it is rainy or has been very rainy recently. This (late July and August usually) is the only time that it gets pretty bad with some big ruts, but is still passable, just use your judgment. If you do get stuck or something, enough people drive this road that I wouldn’t be particularly worried.
There is a wash you have to pass through on the Bullfrog end and it’s usually fine, but after heavy rains, it will flood and you can get stuck on Burr, meaning if you drove from Boulder you either have to turn around or wait it out. While I love Highway 276 nearby, Burr Trail is still my favorite scenic drive in Utah, for sure.
General desert travel tips:
- Get gas all the time. If you plan to do any of these, fill up before you go and if you’re around half a tank and at a gas station, fill up again.
- Keep extra water and food in your car just in case something happens and you break down.
- If you’re traveling in late fall, winter, or spring, watch out for cows on the road. There are a ton of open ranges in the area and the cows can be really hard to see at night. Pay attention no matter what time it is, but you really don’t want to hit one.
- Even if you can’t take the scenic routes, the interstates aren’t completely horrible.
- Drink lots of water, wear lots of sunscreen.
- If you get carsick, you may want to stock up on Dramamine, just in case.
- If you’re renting a car and plan to do some of these drives (mostly the dirt ones) make sure it’s ok to take a rental car on that type of road. If it’s not ok, consider renting a Jeep or something for a day or two. Moab is a great place for that.
- Follow Leave No Trace (LNT) and whatever garbage you have, pack it out. ANd don’t be afraid to pick up garbage other people left behind.
- Be careful and check road conditions of any of the dirt roads if there have been heavy rains. They may be impassible.
- You won’t have cell phone service on most roads, just in towns and if it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, it might not be great service so keep that in mind.
- I would get Spotify Premium (or anything like it) so you can save music for offline use. Basically, if you want to listen to anything other than music directly on you phones music app, download it for offline use.
What are your favorite scenic drives in Utah? Have you done any of these? Which ones?