Scenic Byway 12 winds through the heart of scenic Bryce Canyon Country, beginning just five miles south of Panguitch and running for 124 miles through the wealth of archaeological, natural, and recreational wonders this spectacular canyon country has to offer. Whether you have three hours or three days to experience Scenic Byway 12, you’ll find the route breathtaking, intriguing, and well worth the trip.
Red Canyon, The Blues, Powell Point, Upper Valley Graineries
Heading east on Scenic Byway 12, spectacular Red Canyon is one of the first waysides you’ll encounter. Located in Dixie National Forest near Bryce Canyon National Park, you’ll find hoodoos sculpted from red rock Claron limestone much like those found within the national park’s boundaries. Red Canyon’s hoodoos, which follow the byway for about four miles, can be explored up close and personal with short hikes along the many trails, or by biking the paved five-mile Red Canyon Bike Path. Mountain bikers will enjoy exploring the 7.9-mile Thunder Mountain Trail, while ATV riders can access the Casto Canyon Trail from the north side of Red Canyon. Losee Canyon Trail is another popular hiking and mountain biking trail in Red Canyon. The Red Canyon Visitor Center, run by the U.S. Forest Service, is about four miles from the beginning of Scenic Byway 12. A campground across run by the U.S. Forest Service near the visitor center gives you the option of spending the night so you can spend more time exploring scenic Red Canyon.
Continuing along Scenic Byway 12, about 12.5 miles east of Henrieville, you’ll encounter a section of mudstone and sandstone badlands known locally as The Blues. The almost unnatural blue-green-gray landscape is a striking contrast to the red rock canyons typically found in Bryce Canyon Country. The badlands are the result of an ancient ocean that covered the area about 80 million years ago. Yet this seemingly sparse section of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, part of the Kaiparowits Formation, is rich in fossil history from the Cretaceous Period. From Upper Blues Overlook, you’ll have a fantastic view of Powell Point’s pink limestone cliffs. Scenic Byway 12 descends through the valley to Lower Blue Overlook, for more stunning views of The Blues and of Powell Point, named for famed expeditioner John Wesley Powell.
After a short stop overlooking The Blues, the next wayside along Scenic Byway 12 is the Upper Valley Graineries, just eight miles east. The Ancestral Puebloan relic is nestled into a cliff face and believed to have been used as a storage structure for grains, corn, and other foods. A viewing tube helps visitors zoom in on the structure, which blends in well with the surrounding cliffs.
Head of the Rocks / Boynton Overlook / Escalante River Trailhead / Calf Creek Recreation Area / The Hogback / Homestead Overlook
Continuing east from the Upper Valley Graineries along Scenic Byway 12, Head of the Rocks Overlook is located in the Escalante Canyons between Escalante and Boulder. The overlook offers panoramic views across the slickrock canyons, with the Boulder Mountains to the north, the Henry Mountains to the east, and the Navajo Mountains to the southwest. This overlook is a photographer’s paradise, with vistas stretching as far as the eye can see.
Also located between Escalante and Boulder, Boynton Overlook offers a bird’s-eye view of a winding section of the Escalante Canyons that once served as an outlaw hideout. The vista is named for local rancher John Boynton, wanted for murder in 1878. Today’s occupants are far less criminal, primarily dozens of small animal and bird species that have found a haven in the canyons’ life-sustaining riparian habitat.
The Escalante River Trailhead is located along Scenic Byway 12, just upstream of the Escalante River Bridge. Be sure to see Escalante Natural Arch and Escalante Natural Bridge as you hike or horseback ride along the river beneath towering sandstone canyon walls in the shade of cottonwood trees. Be sure to check river conditions before heading out on the Escalante River Trail or into its side canyons.
Calf Creek Recreation Area is just five minutes east on Scenic Byway 12 from Boynton Overlook. This stop deserves a few hours of your time to picnic, wade in the creek, or hike six miles to the lovely 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls. A 13-site campground offers the option to enjoy this high desert oasis just a bit longer.
The Hogback begins about five miles from Calf Creek Recreation Area. This world-famous stretch of road just east of Escalante is known as ‘The Million Dollar Road to Boulder.’ Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935, it was the first road to offer vehicular access into remote Boulder. Rising above the Escalante River, The Hogback offers an exhilarating drive along a narrow, paved slickrock ridge with 2,000-foot drops on each side and unbelievably beautiful views of this majestic canyon country.
Scenic Byway 12’s dramatic views abound, with Homestead Overlook offering panoramic views from a 9,400-foot perch. The vista sweeps from Capitol Reef to Navajo Mountain, with the Henry Mountains to the east, the Kaiparowtis Plateau to the west, and the Waterpocket Fold below. Homestead Overlook is located 11.5 miles east of Anasazi Museum State Park, along a paved stretch of Scenic Byway 12 that ascends Boulder Mountain. Services include a picnic area, restroom, and interpretive signs.