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    On the road on the UT-12 Scenic Byway: all stages from Panguitch to Torrey

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    Joel Fulleda

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    Before talking about the UT-12, one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the United States, I'd like to make a little introduction: it happens very often that, during our West Coast tours, to save a few hours of travel between one stop and the other, we decide to do the fastest and not the most beautiful road. If on the one hand this choice is understandable for those who find themselves a bit tight with the times, on the other hand the risk is to bite your hands when you return home to see what we have lost.

    An example? I was still a beginner when I decided to arrive from St. George to Bryce passing through the anonymous I-15 N instead of the UT-9: moral of the story? I saved half an hour on the road but I missed one of the most beautiful scenic drives in all of Utah! Don't make the same mistake as me ...

    Don't even do it if you have to go north from Bryce, towards Capitol Reef / Moab: the temptation is in fact to cut through the I-70 to save a couple of hours of time. But at what cost? What if I told you that by doing so you are missing out on one of the most beautiful views in the whole of the West? Precisely for this reason today I want to talk to you about Scenic Byway UT-12.


    • UT-12 Scenic Byway: things to know
    • Route on the UT-12
      • Panguitch
      • Red Canyon
      • Bryce Canyon
      • Kodachrome Basin State Park
      • Grosvenor Arch
      • The Blues/Powell Point Overlook
      • Upper Valley Granaries
      • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
      • Hole in the Rock Road
      • Head of the Rocks Overlook
      • Boynton Overlook
      • Escalante River Trail
      • Calf Creek Recreation Area
      • The Hogback
      • Boulder
      • Homestead Overlook
      • torrey
    • How to choose accommodation based on interests?

    UT-12 Scenic Byway: things to know

    Red Canyon

    Here is some brief information on what you need to know before you hit the road:

    La UT-12…

    • it is not a toll road
    • it is 200 km long and can take from 3 hours upwards if you stop for a while, about 2.30 hours if you never stop (highly unlikely)
    • it is all paved, but there are many unsurfaced secondary scenic roads that require a 4 × 4 vehicle
    • touches numerous natural areas: in addition to Bryce Canyon, Dixie National Forest, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, Boulder Mountains and Capitol Reef National Park
    Map. Click to enlarge

    Route on the UT-12

    When you ride UT-12, you will find that the gist of the experience is for the most part the view you will enjoy behind the wheel: landscapes are constantly changing! You will pass through dizzying red rock canyons framed by bright green woods, your gaze will cross strange rock formations, you will rest along vast pristine moors of white and gray rock. The color contrasts change from mile to mile, and blend in a way never seen before.

    Do you need a tested and ready-to-use itinerary for your itinerary? Take a look at our ebooks American Dream Routes, available on computer, tablet and smartphone, and complete with day by day itinerary, interactive maps, suggestions on where to stay and much more!

    Here what to see along the way: in some cases it is better to stop for a little longer, so take note.


    Our itinerary starts just outside UT-12 for strategic reasons: like Hatch, Panguitch it is practically at the beginning of the road (just over twenty minutes from Bryce Canyon) so if you want to start on the road early in the morning you can find accommodation here.

    The town is very small but there Main Street, with its historic red brick buildings, it has all the credentials to exert on you the western style town charm. In fact, having been founded in 1864 by Mormons, Panguitch has quite an ancient history, so much so that according to the Utah Historical Society there is one of the highest concentrations of historic houses built in red brick in the style in vogue between 1880 and 1940, distributed not only in Main Street but also in the surrounding streets. If you want to get a better idea of ​​the Panguitch Historic District, take a look at this link.

    Culinary tip: we ate at Cowboy’s Smokehouse Cafe (95 N Main Street) but, although the environment was very nice inside and outside, the food did not particularly satisfy us.

    All accommodations available in Panguitch

    Red Canyon

    The start of UT-12 will blow your mind as the Red Canyon it is the perfect antechamber to the highly anticipated Bryce Canyon. The passage by car under the red rock tunnels of the Red Canyon is a must of all on the road in Utah. The red color of the rock that characterizes these places is due to the combination of iron and oxygen and, as you will see, it will be a distinctive feature of a good part of the itinerary.

    Bryce Canyon

    This is certainly not a hit and run stage, but the highlight of the whole itinerary: after 28 km in fact you will find the detour to the Bryce Canyon, one of the essential must-haves on West Coast park tours. It is a natural amphitheater dotted with hoodoos, pinnacles of red rock. To visit the Bryce it takes at least 2-3 hours: the numerous trails and observation points on the scenic drive must be approached with the necessary calm. To learn more about the topic, I refer you to our article dedicated to Bryce Canyon.

    Advice on where to sleep at Bryce Canyon

    Kodachrome Basin State Park

    35km after Bryce Canyon you will find a much smaller and much less well-known park: the Kodachrome Basin State Park. Even this natural gem is not exactly located on UT-12: it will be necessary to make a short detour (about 12 km along Cottonwood Canyon Road) at the height of Cannonville, where is the Visitor Center of the Grand Staircase Escalante, is a nice classic very strategic motel where I recommend you to stay overnight: the Grand Staircase Inn, immersed in a fantastic landscape.

    All accommodations available in Cannonvilee

    Returning to Kodachrome Basin: you have to imagine a handful of paths that cross a secret red rock garden, where towers and red rock buildings with surreal shapes stand out. Kodachrome Basin State Park is a family-friendly park, to be visited with wide eyes!

    Grosvenor Arch

    Driving from Cannonville along the Cottowood Canyon Road, at some point you will find yourself at a crossroads. Turning left, well signposted, you will find the aforementioned Kodachrome Basin State Park, continuing straight ahead you will find yourself on a dirt road.

    If you drive along it for about 16 km, you will come to a small parking lot that indicates the start of the Grosvenor Arch Trail, a very short path that leads to the imposing homonymous double natural arch. It is the largest arch in all of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

    The Blues/Powell Point Overlook

    Returning to Cannonville and following the road to the north-east, the landscape changes again: we recommend a stop at Blues Powell/Point Overlook, 24 km from Cannonville, in correspondence with a pitch with parking. After leaving the car you can easily approach the ridge: a breathtaking view awaits you on a rocky land scattered with gullies with gray shades and topped by high peaks brushed in soft pink.

    Upper Valley Granaries

    About 16 km after the Overlook, on your right you will see a niche carved into the rock wall by the natives: this space was probably used as a barn. How to identify it? When you cross a bridge (immediately after the junction with a secondary road) look up to the right at a clearing on the left along the river!

    Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

    After Cannonville, the first inhabited center you will encounter is Escalante, which gives its name to a section of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. Called "Heart of Scenic Byway 12" for its privileged location, this town of Mormon origin has its own petrified forest, called - without much imagination - Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.

    Certainly not as famous as the Petrified Forest in Arizona, this small natural area adjacent to the reservoir Wide Hollow Reservoir (710 North Reservoir, Escalante) is still worth a visit if you are in the area, as it is the most accessible site in the area where you can see millennial petrified logs and logs.

    All accommodations available in Escalante

    Hole in the Rock Road

    Golden Cathedral Trail

    Perhaps you have heard of it… travel the approximately 90 km of Hole in the Rock Road (actually a section of the much longer Hole in the Rock Trail opened by Mormons in 1880) is the off-road enthusiast's dream in Utah. What does it have to do with the UT-12? Well, the well signposted Hole in the Rock branches off from UT-12, 6km later Escalante. Just think that the opposite end of the road overlooks a remote section of Lake Powell!

    Along this long dirt road are some of the best kept and inaccessible secrets of the Grand Staircase National Monument, most notably the Canyons of the Escalante. The area is really remote, so before proceeding along this road it will be necessary to study the excursion properly and above all to inquire at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center of Escalante about the practicability of the road: if it is in good condition, you can venture out with an SUV, preferably with 4-wheel drive, which becomes necessary for the last 9 km of the road (from Soda Spring onwards).

    Along the Hole in the Rock Road you will have the opportunity to take many very beautiful and adventurous hikes, including lo Zebra Slot Canyon, the area of Dry Fork, a point that gives access to various canyons (Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon, Spooky Slot Canyon, Brimstone Gulch), the surreal area of Devil's Garden (Metate Arch), the Golden Cathedral Trail, the amphitheater Dance Hall Rock and, last but not least, the Reflection Canyon, which is one of the most sought-after and hard-to-reach photography spots in Lake Powell. Hole in the Rock, the scenic rock hole on Lake Powell that gives the road its name, is just down the road. If you got there, well, you have to come and tell us!

    Head of the Rocks Overlook

    After Escalante, the red color returns strongly as a protagonist together with the creamy white. 16 km after the town, it is advisable to take some pictures fromHead of the Rocks Overlook, which offers a very significant panorama onEscalante Canyon. 

    Boynton Overlook

    The road continues passing through steep walls of smooth red rock, but after just over 4 km you will have to stop the car again. The Boynton Overlook offers another exceptional glimpse of the valley carved by the Escalante River: you will see vertiginous escarpments, red rock domes, arches and pinnacles in the distance. At this point the road is really fun to go, passing right in the middle of the red rocks.

    Shortly after Boynton Overlook you will see signs for Kiva Koffeehouse, a small restaurant on a panoramic summit: if you want to take a refreshment stop with an exceptional view, stop here!

    Escalante River Trail

    At the bottom of the slope, you will find a bridge over the Escalante River. From here the trail of the same name starts, which however takes a long time: it measures 21 km in its entire length and ends in Escalante along the course of the river. Along this trail there are also theEscalante Natural Arch andEscalante Natural Bridge. The two points of interest are located relatively close to each other (approx. 10 mins), but take around 40 minutes from the bridge. Continuing towards Escalante you will also find some very ancient wall inscriptions.

    Calf Creek Recreation Area

    One of the most popular excursions in the area ever leads to Lower Calf Creek Falls, beautiful waterfalls that flow into a natural pool hidden in the depths of Calf Creek Canyon. Also in this case it is not possible to plan a quick visit, because the path is 9 km long and takes at least 3 hours to go there and back. The starting point of the path is at the Calf Creek Campground: the walk is almost totally under the sun and not easy due to the sandy soil, but the view that awaits you at the bottom of the canyon is truly unforgettable.

    If you don't have time to hike, continue on UT-12. Along the way you will also find a observation point of the same name well indicated, you do not see much of the waterfall however the view is still suggestive as it allows you to see the canyon from above.

    Calf Creek Viewpoint

    The Hogback

    When you are 8 km away from the campsite, be aware that you will not be able to avoid the segment of UT-12 named The Hogback: you will realize that you are walking along it when you find yourself on a ridge without a guardrail and you will see all around you an expanse of mounds of white rock. Here the thrill of on the road becomes more intense, but pay attention to the speed limits!


    Burr Trail Road

    Boulder it is the last town of any importance you will encounter before Torrey, which marks the end of the UT 12 Scenic Byway. Called the "last frontier in Utah," this town framed by the Boulder Mountains is home to theAnasazi State Park Museum, where there are numerous testimonies and finds of the ancient Anasazi who populated these areas between 1050 and 1175. You can see a village (partially reconstructed) of about a hundred rooms and premises.

    Hell's Backbone Road La UT-12 it is not the only road from Escalante to Boulder, there is also Hell’s Backbone Road (FR 153 if you look for it on Google Maps), which was actually the first to be built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) to connect the two cities. The name of the road says it all: it is an adventurous, uncomfortable and very long road that winds through the mountains offering spectacular views of Sand Creek and the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. The most popular point of this 56 km long road is theHell’s Backbone Bridge. This road, closed in winter, is passable with a 4 × 4 car. It is highly inadvisable to venture with other types of car.

    In Boulder, if you have rented a 4 × 4, it is also possible to venture on a famous panoramic road only partially paved, the Burr Trail Road. In all, the road is approximately 150 km long (106 of which on dirt road), and offers sensational views: butte, mesa, plateaus and mountains of the Grand-Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef and the Glen Canyon Recreation National Area.

    All accommodations available in Boulder

    Homestead Overlook

    Larb Hollow Overlook

    After Boulder, we enter the Dixie National Forest and the landscape begins to green all around: fromHomestead Overlook (About 17 km from Boulder) you can enjoy an immense surrounding landscape at the considerable height of 2865 meters above sea level.

    No less breathtaking is the view of the multicolored panorama that can be enjoyed from Larb Hollow Overlook, 17 km later: not even a painter's palette is so assorted!


    Last stop on UT-12: this quaint town deserves one visit of the Main Street, even if in reality we are already on Scenic Byway UT-24, which will amaze you again on the journey to Moab. Along a row of poplars there are art galleries, original buildings from the last century (including theancient village school, near The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and friendly locals rebuilt in rustic-country style.

    We did a small shopping at the Chuck Wagon General Store (12 W Main St), after visiting the Flute Shop (1705 UT-12), a curious craft shop where you can buy flutes built in the style of Native Americans and other Indian artifacts.

    All accommodations available in Torrey

    How to choose accommodation based on interests?

    As you may have guessed, if you have some time available to make this move, you can also spend 2 or more nights on the UT-12! It all depends on how many and which excursions on foot or by car you want to do. In this regard, I list below the towns where to sleep along the UT-12, also indicating which are the relative points of interest in the vicinity.

    • PanguitchHatch: Bryce Canyon e Red Canyon
    • Tropic e Cannonville: Bryce Canyon, Cottowood Canyon Road, Kodachrome Basin State Park
    • Escalante: Hole in the Rock Road, Escalante River Trail, Calf Creek Recreation Area, Hell’s Backbone Road
    • Boulder: Calf Creek Recreation Area, Hell’s Backbone Road, Burr Trail, Anasazi State Park Museum
    • Torrey: Capitol Reef
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