Scenic Byway 12
Driving Scenic Byway 12 - Focus on the Journey
By Dixie Brunner
While arriving at a destination is rewarding, it’s the journey that is extraordinary when traveling Scenic Byway 12. It’s simply difficult to describe the scenery on the 124 mile route that takes you through some of the most remote, diverse and ruggedly-beautiful landscape in the entire country.
Scenic Byway 12 runs through Utah’s Garfield and Wayne Counties and is home to two national parks, three state parks, a national recreation area, a national monument and a national forest.
You will see slick rock, variegated buttes and mesas, snaking canyons and rock walls varnished with a color palette of mineral stains. It’s extraordinary landscape that has been carved through geologic time by wind, water and temperature extremes.
Slow down and explore the myriad of scenic viewpoints and historic markers, stop in the small, charming communities and learn of their histories. The journey you’re taking is through some of the last regions to be explored and mapped in the continental United States! It’s remote now, but can you imagine back in the horse and wagon days?
Your experience driving Scenic Byway 12 will be so memorable – so fasten your seat belt, put on your shades and enjoy! Below is a shortened highlight list of great stops along the way:
• Red Canyon - its most immediate striking natural feature is its variety of weirdly sculpted erosional forms variously described as turrets, hoodoos, pinnacles or spires. Take time to stop at the Red Canyon Visitor Center and take in the interpretive trails and programs.
• East Fork Sevier River - stretches along the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park. Locals love the Tropic Reservoir area for fishing, camping and ATV use. Wildlife viewing is fabulous.
• Bryce Canyon National Park - actually not a canyon, but a series of amphitheaters that are etched into the pink Claron limestone of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce offers more than 50 miles of hiking trails, and is renowned for its amazing night skies! The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits and excellent, friendly staff to help you plan your trip.
• Tropic - an adorable, quaint town along Scenic Byway 12. It’s interesting name was made by one of the town’s first settlers who claimed the climate here was much more temperate than other nearby settlements!
• Cannonville - settled in 1876 and named after Mormon leader George Cannon. Home to the Old Time Fiddlers and Bear Festivals.
• Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center - this center interprets the human geography through displays and oral histories of early settlers and Native Americans.
• Henrieville - settled in 1870, it retains its pioneer charm. The old town school, constructed in 1881 of rough-cut timber harvested from a nearby mountain.
• Powell Point Overlook/the Blues - Powell Point was named after John Wesley Powell, who led expeditions in the late 1800s to map this region, which at that time was one of the last ‘blank spots on the map’ of the continental U.S.
• Escalante Petrified Forest State Park - 1000 acre Utah State Park is located adjacent to Wide Hollow Reservoir.
• Escalante Interagency Visitor Center - this terrific center focuses on the ecology of the enormous and beautiful Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
• Escalante - settled by Mormons in 1876. It’s often called the Heart of Scenic Byway 12, as it lies between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway. Make plans to attend one of the area’s festivals honoring its rich heritage and its ability to inspire artists.
• Hell’s Backbone Scenic Backway - construction of Hell’s Backbone Road was completed in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Crops (CCC), allowing vehicle traffic between Escalante and Boulder for the first time. The Hell’s Backbone Bridge is a must stop for taking pics, allowing travelers to pass above Sand Creek with views of the spectacular Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area.
• Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Backway - begins five miles east of Escalante, the 57 mile long gravel road closely follows the route take by Mormon pioneers in 1879-80 in an attempt to establish a shortcut across the Colorado River between established communities in the Four Corners area.
• Head of the Rocks Overlook - A must pull over stop – astounding view! Offers expansive views across the Escalante Canyons, where colorful slick rock stretches almost as far as the eye can see.
• Calf Creek Recreation Area - a fabulous stop! A desert oasis that offers a six-mile round trip hike to a stunning 126 foot waterfall.
• The Hogsback - let’s just say ‘wow!’ As the asphalt clings to this thin razorback ridge of slickrock, the terrain spills steeply off each side toward winding creeks and canyons below.
• Boulder - long known as the last frontier in Utah, the high elevation settlement was so isolated that until 1935 mail was only delivered by horseback rider!
The small community of Panguitch is located on Scenic Highway 89. The charming town of about 1600 sits at an elevation of 6600 feet above sea level. It is the county seat of Garfield County, one of the last areas to be explored and settled in the continental United States.