Southern Utah Travel Guide
by Joseph A. Sprince – Photography by Gerald B. Allen
One of the west’s, and America’s most scenic byways, Scenic Byway Utah-12 showcases sandstone sculpted into a wide variety of amazing canyons and formations in numerous parks and locales. It offers access to the entire northern region of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Escalante River and its unique side canyons, and exciting state and national parks.
The image, below, is the Head of the Rocks vista from Utah-12, east of Escalante town and overlooking the drainage system of the Escalante River, a virtual “ocean of sandstone”.
Maps and Guides
- Open Grand Staircase-Escalante Locator Map in separate tab for reference. Set zoom (width) at 100% for best viewing.
- Official Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Map. Small PDF suitable for on-line viewing.
- Official Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Map. Large PDF file (33MB) suitable for sectional printing. Download can be slow.
- Geologic Road Guide to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. PDF provided by the Utah Geological Association. Mile-by-mile guides for the back roads. Good navigation aid.
- Road Conditions for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (NPS).
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Centers. (BLM)
Points of Interest along Scenic Byway Utah-12
Red Canyon Recreation Area (4)
Red Canyon, in the Dixie National Forest, offers scenery quite similar to nearby Bryce Canyon National Park with far fewer crowds. The vermillion-colored rock formations and stands of ponderosa pines make the canyon exceptionally scenic. The area offers an excellent network of trails ranging from easy to strenuous. Several are only a mile long or less, allowing a quick experience of the area. A few trails allow horses and bikes, two allow ATVs. There is a very nice bicycle path alongside Utah-12. The campground is excellent with great scenery, very large shaded sites, showers, and modern flush toilets. Visit time: a few hours. Good place for an overnight stop.
Bryce Canyon National Park (5)
Bryce Canyon features spectacular geology, unique in the world, consisting of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. The erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater has shaped the colorful limestone rock into bizarre shapes including slot canyons, windows, fins, and hoodoos. All are tinted in a wide array of rich colors. The whimsically arranged rocks create a surreal landscape of mazes, with exciting and unusual hiking trails.
The park offers a network of trails varying from easy to strenuous. Most are fairly short and conducive to day hikes. The park road (quite busy in season) has many excellent vista points. There are two campgrounds and a lodge. Park elevation is at 8,000 feet which bring cold, snowy weather and limited services during the winter. More lodging and services are available outside the park entrance and are listed in our Bryce Canyon Travel Guide.
- Bryce Canyon National Park Travel Guide
- Bryce Canyon National Park – Photographer’s Dream
- Bryce Canyon National Park Guide (NPS)
Kodachrome Basin State Park (6)
The name, Kodachrome Basin, was suggested by the National Geographic Society, for the highly colorful sandstone formations in the area. The park features many chimneys and numerous examples of an unusual formation known as a sand pipe (right). This area was thought to be thermally active in the past (like Yellowstone National Park), with hot springs and geysers. As the area became dormant, the geysers filled with sediment and became solidified. The sand pipes are “petrified” geysers covered by sandstone.
The park offers a number of trails through the formations. Besides hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking are permitted. There is a very nice, small campground which is quiet and off the beaten path. Spectacular Grosvenor Arch, a fantastic double arch named for the founder of the National Geographic Society, is eight miles south on Cottonwood Canyon Road. Visit time: a few hours. Our experience: We stayed one night in the campground and hiked the Panorama Trail.
More on Scenic Byway Utah-12 (7, 7a)
One of the west’s, and America’s, most scenic routes, Scenic Highway Utah-12 showcases sandstone sculpted into a wide variety of amazing canyons and formations. The route starts at US-89, a few miles west of Bryce Canyon National Park, then runs east, finishing at UT-24, a few miles west of Capitol Reef National Park. From US-89, the highway passes through Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Kodachrome Basin, with whimsical formations like hoodoos, chimneys, spires, etc. East to Escalante, the route passes through ranch country with beautiful scenic backdrops. From Escalante to Boulder, the highway passes the drainage of the Escalante River with the fantastic “sandstone ocean”, as seen from the Head of the Rocks vista point (at top of page). It then climbs the Hogback (7a), a ridge with sheer dropoffs on either side, offering amazing views. North of Boulder, the route climbs and crosses the Aquarius Plateau, high-elevation, wooded mountain country offering a respite from the summer heat, and good camping in the Dixie National Forest Camping & Cabins.
Utah-12 is also the starting point for the Burr Trail and the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Each offers adventure beyond the pavement with outstanding scenery. Visit time: the route can be driven in less than a day but there are many attractions along the way worth stopping for.
- Utah’s Scenic Highway 12
- Scenic Highway-12 – National Scenic Byways (U.S. Dept. of Transportation)
- Scenic Byway 12
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (8)
The park is located just west of the town of Escalante several miles off the main road in a quiet agricultural area. The pretty campground which has flush toilets and showers, is adjacent to the Wide Hollow Reservoir. Swimming and fishing (for trout) are permitted. Camp sites are reservable.
The area is noted for petrified wood and dinosaur fossils, some of which are on display in the small visitor center. The one-mile long Petrified Forest trail on the ridge behind the campground goes through a field of petrified wood. The rougher Sleeping Rainbows trail (.75 mile, off the main trail) accesses larger specimens of petrified logs.
Visit time: an hour or two to walk the trails, but a good place to stop overnight or use as a base while visiting the area. The lake is especially attractive during the heat of the summer. The nearby town of Escalante offers services for the area, with a market and a few motels and restaurants. Hiking permits and information can be obtained at the Interagency Visitor Center.
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (State of Utah)
- Escalante – Boulder Chamber of Commerce (Services, Activities)