Spanning a route of more than 120 miles, Utah’s Byway 12 Scenic Byway travels through some of the most diverse and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. Included in this natural showcase is the newly created 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Scenic Byway 12 is one of two paved highways in the monument.
Rated among the top ten Scenic Byways in America by Car and Driver Magazine, Scenic Byway 12 is a unique route well worth traveling. It winds through slickrock canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns.
Scenic Byway 12 travels from west to east through Garfield County, the home of three national parks, three state parks, a national recreation area, and the nation’s newest national monument.
Byway 12 Scenic Byway begins at U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch and eight miles north of the town of Hatch. From the junction, the byway quickly bisects the beautiful red rock formations of Dixie National Forest’s Red Canyon. A Forest Service campground, visitor center, and hiking trails are in the canyon.
The route continues eastward, crossing the top of the Paunsaugunt Plateau through the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park. The main section of the Park, with campgrounds, Visitor Center, overlooks, and hiking trails, is just a short drive from Byway 12.
Continuing to the east, the Scenic Byway passes through a combination of private and public lands including the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Spectacular views along Byway 12 include Powell Point and rock formations like the Blues. Stone and mud food storage structures called granaries can also be seen along the route.
Travelers pass through the rural communities of Tropic, Cannonville, Henrieville, and Escalante. Kodachrome Basin State Park and Grosvenor Arch in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are short drives from Byway 12. Escalante State Park is well worth visiting. Visitor centers and businesses located along Byway 12 have additional information about the area.
From Escalante, the road turns north, winding through vast expanses of slickrock country including the Escalante Canyons and other popular desert canyon hiking areas on the way to Boulder, Utah. Along the way, travelers are rewarded with views of the Escalante River, Calf Creek Canyon, the Hogsback – where Byway 12 crosses a narrow ridge with steep cliffs on either side and magnificent views of the surrounding slickrock canyon country – and Boulder Mountain. Many of these areas are located inside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Other areas inside the monument can be accessed via Scenic Backways that branch from Byway 12.
The Hole-in-the-Rock Road and the Burr Trail are two of these backways that provide opportunities for hiking, camping or sightseeing. Another optional side trip from Scenic Byway 12 is the spectacular Hell’s Backbone in the Dixie National Forest.
At Boulder, visitors can get a firsthand look at life in a prehistoric Native American village at Anasazi Indian Village State Park. North from Boulder, Byway 12 crosses the eastern flank of Boulder Mountain with spectacular views of Capitol Reef National Park, Boulder Top, the Henry Mountains, Circle Cliffs, and Navajo Mountain on the far side of Lake Powell. On a clear day (and there are lots of them), travelers can see more than 100 miles into Colorado and Arizona.
Hiking trails, campgrounds, and side roads along the way provide numerous opportunities to further explore the area. Byway 12 ends at its northernmost point where it joins Highway 24. Travelers can take the short drive east along Highway 24 to Capitol Reef National Park, thus adding to the Byway 12 experience.