Now and then somebody publishes a list of “Ten Best Scenic Roads.” Most of these lists contain Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana and Cabot Trail (west side) In Nova Scotia. We’d add to the “Ten Best” Utah Highway 12. It is off the beaten path for those cruising I-15 that bisects Utah north and south.
Located in the Southwest corner of Utah, Highway 12 begins at US Route 89 just north of Hatch and within a few miles enters world famous Bryce Canyon National Park. In 1987 the last section of this road was paved. Highway 12 disappears where it joins Highway 24 at Torrey — entrance to Capitol Reef National Park.
Of course the road connects Red Canyon (part of Dixie National Forest), Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park — outstanding scenic natural areas in their own right, but the 124-mile connecting road itself is one of the best scenic windows on the beautiful west. It winds and twists and climbs and descends as it snakes its way from one beautiful place to another.
Shortly after entering the southern terminus of State Scenic Biway 12 you pass through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses. Bryce Canyon National Park is famous worldwide for red water-carved pinnacles. But there is far more: you see vermilion cliffs, white cliffs, pink cliffs, bad lands, steep switchbacks, slickrock, and soaring vistas over deep valleys and canyons. At Boulder Mountain the road climbs to 6,600 feet giving heart-stopping views left and right on a road perched at the 100-foot-wide crest of the mountain. The Anasazi State Park Museum at Boulder is well worth a visit. Beyond a comprehensive presentation of Ancestral Puebloans and Fremont Culture, you learn that Anasazi is not a politically correct term anymore.
What makes this state Byway so exciting? It is the way it strings together the best that the Southwest has to offer in high density of scenery, National Parks, State Parks such as Kodachrome Basin State Park and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, museums, and backways — Class B-possible dirt roads that go to off the beaten path wonderlands. A Route Guide to Scenic Byway 12 is a great guide offered free in the region — click here.