Scenic Byway 12: One Of The Best Scenic Drives In The USA

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Driving Scenic Byway 12, sometimes called Scenic Highway 12, is a must-do on any Utah road trip. This is not only one of the best scenic drives in Utah but one of the best scenic drives in all of the USA.

I really can’t believe I haven’t written a post about this drive yet. I don’t even know how many times I’ve done it but it’s a lot. I’ve only driven the whole thing maybe 3-4 times but I’ve driven the Capitol Reef to Escalante section a lot more.

And I still love it. I do think I like Burr Trail more but this is a close second. Not only is it bookended by two incredible national parks, but it goes through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and is dotted with state parks and other great hikes.

I don’t personally think this road is very scary but I know other people do so if you have a very, very strong fear of heights, this might not be the drive for you, but if not, it’s incredible. 10/10, would recommend.

Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential. – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.

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A view on Scenic Byway 12 in Escalante

National Park Goodies

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Escalante Petrified Forest State Park on Scenic Byway 12 in Utah

Scenic Byway 12 map

This map of Scenic Byway 12 shows where the road starts and ends. It can be driven in either direction and no matter which you choose, it will be incredibly beautiful!

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Scenic Byway 12 winding through Escalante

How long is Scenic Byway 12?

Scenic Byway 12 is 124 miles from one end in Torrey to the other end between Bryce Canyon and Panguitch.

How long do you need to drive Scenic Byway 12?

If you are just driving and not stopping at all, it says 2 hours 37 minutes, but that could vary. I would plan 3 hours for minimal stops, but more if you plan to stop a lot or do some hiking. And how long for hiking would depend on the trail.

I would highly recommend doing this drive over 2-3 days if you can, not because it’s long but because there is so much to see and do along the way! You could honestly make a whole trip out of just this drive. It would actually make the perfect weekend trip in Utah.

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From an overlook on Scenic Byway 12, the 100 Hands Pictograph Trail is down there

Is there a fee for Scenic Byway 12?

Nope! But there are for state and national parks along the way if you plan to visit any of those. The drive itself though has no fees.

Towns along Scenic Byway 12

  • Torrey
  • Boulder
  • Escalante
  • Henrieviille
  • Cannonville
  • Tropic
  • Bryce
  • Panguitch
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A view of Scenic Byway 12 below

Is Scenic Byway 12 paved?

Yup! The whole thing is paved but there are dirt roads the branch off of it and some are more difficult to drive than others, but the main Scenic Byway 12 road is paved.

Can any car drive Scenic Byway 12?

Almost! Any car should be fine, and small RVs but I would reconsider this if you are driving a large RV or pulling a big trailer/camper. Some of the turns can be a little tight so keep that in mind when deciding your route.

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The view from Escalante Petrified Forest State Park on Highway 12 Utah

Is Scenic Byway 12 dangerous?

Kind of, I suppose. There are some drop offs, especially on the Hogback section just outside of Boulder (toward Escalante) but as far as scary and dangerous drives go, I personally don’t think it’s that bad. I know other people that think it is though.

Things to do along Scenic Byway 12

There are so many things to do on Scenic Byway 12 and just off of it, you could stay busy for weeks. I’m not including every specific hike but a few of them.

Everything included is right along Scenic Byway 12, but a few things that make great short detours are Burr Trail, Hells Backbone, Escalante slot canyons, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Willis Creek Slot Canyon.

Capitol Reef National Park

Scenic Byway 12 can be driven in either direction but I’m starting at the Capitol Reef end of it. A lot of people overlook this national park but it’s amazing and deserves a visit.

There are three areas to explore and tons of hiking to choose from like Sulphur Creek, Hickman Bridge, and Cohab Canyon just in the main area. The Gifford Homestead has delicious snacks and you can even pick fruit in the orchards here!

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One of the views of the desert below Highway 12 in Utah

Cool off in the Dixie National Forest

Enjoy the cooler temperatures compared to the desert below as you drive over Boulder Mountain. There are some incredible views as you drive through here and plenty of camping options if you want to do that here, too. If you are driving Scenic Byway 12 in the summer, watch out for cows on the road, especially here.

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Anasazi State Park Museum

Once you get to Boulder, you’ll be able to visit the Anasazi State Park Museum! If you are interested in human history of the area or Native American culture, this is a great stop!

If the burrito truck is in the parking lot, I’ve heard great things about it. Otherwise Burr Trail Grill and Hells Backbone Grill are both delicious options. We would literally drive here from Bullfrog to eat at both.

If you’re in Boulder for a while or want to do a little side trip, consider driving all or part of Burr Trail! It’s one of my favorite places ever. You could drive it both ways in one day easily but probably not that and all of Scenic Highway 12.

Boulder hotels

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Photo by Phliar Flickr

Upper Calf Creek Falls

If you want to get out and hike but don’t mind a difficult trail, Upper Calf Creek Falls is perfect! The trailhead is near the Hogback section of Scenic Byway 12. The trail is steep and can be hard to follow in some areas but it’s much less busy than Lower Calf Creek Falls.

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Lower Calf Creek Falls

If you want an easier hike but don’t mind a longer hike, then go with Lower Calf Creek Falls. If you do this, plan to be on the trail for 2-3 hours as it’s a six-mile round-trip hike.

On the way there, you can see pictographs on a canyon wall on the right. They’re far away but definitely visible from the trail! This is one of the most iconic hikes in Utah so I would definitely try and do this if you can.

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View from Kiva Koffeehouse on Highway 12 in Utah – Photo by Linda_and_Ben Flickr

Kiva Koffeehouse

As long as you aren’t going through the area on a Monday or Tuesday, try to stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse! Enjoy a cold (or hot) beverage with a beautiful view. There is no phone service here and the WiFi isn’t great but the view is worth the stop.

Escalante hiking guides

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100 Hands Pictograph

From the Escalante River Trailhead, you can either hike the river trail or hike up to the 100 Hands Pictograph. This is a really interesting rock art site that’s fairly easy to get to.

It’s probably tough to get right up to the 100 Hands because it’s fairly steep, but there are petroglyphs lower that you will be right next to. This trail isn’t too long, but if you do plan to hike it, plan 1-1.5 hours for this, just in case.

Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:

  • Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
  • If you find artifacts, do not take them.  Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
  • If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can.  Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter.  Mesa VerdeEdge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
  • And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks!  I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.
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Sunset down Hole in the Rock Road off Scenic Highway 12 – Photo by Josh Milliken

Hole in the Rock Road

Most cars can make it most of the way down Hole in the Rock Road, right off of Scenic Byway 12, but the last ten miles or so are rough. Hole in the Rock Road is where you’ll find the Escalante slot canyons, Coyote Gulch, Neon Canyon and more.

I wouldn’t drive down here just to drive it, only if you’re going with a purpose. The road is terrible. It may be impassable during rain or snow, too.

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Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is just off of Scenic Highway 12

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Just on the other side of the town of Escalante is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. This is a fun way to spend a few hours hiking and seeing petrified wood.

It’s not as exciting as Petrified Forest National Park, but if you’ve never seen petrified wood or just really love it, this would be worth going to. There is some hiking you can do to stretch your legs on a long drive.

Escalante hotels

Photo by m01229 Flickr

Hike Red Canyon

Just outside of Bryce Canyon, you’ll drive through Red Canyon. It has a similar landscape and a few hiking trails which could be great options if you want to get away from the Bryce Canyon crowds.

Even just driving through here is beautiful and I would try to time it so you are driving this during the day. Really, try and drive all of Scenic Byway 12 in daylight. Red Canyon also makes a great day trip from Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park view

Bryce Canyon National Park

Finally, all the way at the other end of Scenic Byway 12 is good old Bryce Canyon. Before you get into the main area of the park, hike the Mossy Cave Trail to see the waterfall over there. This trail is right along Scenic Highway 12.

Once you’re in the main are of the park, hike at least the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trails and if you want to hike more, any part of the Rim Trail (especially Sunrise to Sunset Point) is great as is the Peek-a-Boo Loop.

Bryce Canyon National Park view

Is driving Scenic Byway 12 worth it?

Absolutely 1000%! This is one of the most beautiful drives in the country for a reason and it lets you see a lot of what Utah has to offer. Not only do you get the red rock of Capitol Reef, but you get to drive over Boulder Mountain, through the white rock of Escalante, to a different kind of red rock in Red Canyon.

It’s beautiful and is home to some of the best views in Utah. It’s definitely one of the best scenic drives in Utah (Burr Trail is tough competition) and i would definitely take this road if you can.

Have you driven Scenic Byway 12? What did you think of it? Did you think it was scary? What did you do along the way? Do you want to drive Scenic Highway 12?

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