Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway

With spring in full bloom, many seasoned visitors claim this is the most beautiful time of year to visit Bryce Canyon Country.  Snow often still caps the red rock hoodoos, creating a magical backdrop for spring’s blossoming wildflowers, lush green alpine forests, and the birth of newborn wildlife.

Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway winds for 78 remote miles connecting Scenic Byway 12 and Highway 89, offering unparalleled views of Lake Powell, the Navajo Mountains, and the Kaiparowits Plateau as it passes through stretches of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Plan about five hours to drive the Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway’s rough terrain from Escalante to Big Water. Travelers along the backway can occasionally see smoke smoldering from 100-year-old coal fires deep beneath Smoky Mountain—hence, the name.

Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway is easily accessible from Escalante in the heart of Bryce Canyon Country, as 500 West turns into Smoky Mountain Road. The road quickly turns remote as you head into the high cliffs of Alvey Wash Canyon about three miles in. The old cowboy digs at Big Sage Junction are located about 30 miles south of Escalante. The next highlight will be the deep canyons of Left-Hand Collet. From here, it’s about 15 miles to Hole in the Rock Road. You can head north back to Escalante via Scenic Byway 12, or keep traveling Smoky Mountain Road.

Much of Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway passes through stark canyonlands and desert slickrock with little vegetation—but the route is anything but boring, with a colorful backdrop of cliffs and hills, slot canyons, and Lake Powell’s sparkling blue waters in the distance. A thrilling five-mile stretch of switchbacks climbs 1200 feet up Smoky Mountain. From the top, there are sweeping, spectacular views of the Kaiparowits Plateau, Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, Fifty Mile Mountain, Bryce Canyon, the Table Cliffs, and Boulder Mountain.

A 15-minute drive through the dramatic twists of Crosby Canyon leads to the shores of Warm Creek Bay, a major inlet of Lake Powell. Near Big Water, Smoky Mountain Road passes through wide-open landscape with views of Lake Powell, then crosses a rocky section of dry wash bed near Wahweap Creek.

The final section of road is paved toward Big Water. With that exception, the rugged passage is mostly dirt, clay, and gravel, and is recommended for high clearance vehicles only. Smoky Mountain Scenic Backway will be impassable during inclement weather. There are no services along the backway, so be prepared with a full tank of gas, spare tires, and supplies, especially if you plan to drive or hike any of the rugged side trails. Dispersed camping is permitted along the rugged route, and there are plenty of camping spots on the beaches along the shores of Lake Powell. Be sure to check for current road conditions before beginning your trip.

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