Highway 12 is a stunning Southwest journey between Capital Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon. This stretch of road has been designated as an "All American Road" and it's been enchanting travelers with its colorful, rocky landscape since the early 1900s. Home to two National Parks, three state parks, a National Monument, a National Recreation Area, and a National Forest, this truly is a scenic drive of a lifetime.
Beginning at Grand Staircase-Escalante, prepare for a truly incredible experience: you can see multicolored sandstone cliffs, ancient Native American settlements, abandoned Western movie sets, and stunning scenery. The Escalante Canyons are the more popular and less remote unit, but if you're feeling adventurous, head to the Grand Staircase. It's worth it to experience what it's like when it's just you and the rocks.
11175 Paria Valley Rd, Kanab, UT, US
Check into the Paria Canyon Guest Ranch as your home base. This hostel has accommodations for tent and RV campers, but it's also got a bunkhouse and its own private canyons. You won't find a better place to immerse yourself in this special part of the country: the ranch offers cowboy dinners, horseback rides, a dance hall and tons more.
Paria, UT, US
Hidden in the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness is Pahreah Ghost Town, founded by a group of Mormon pioneers. It's not hard to see why it was abandoned: getting there isn't exactly easy with a car, and it would have been even tougher with horses and wagons! Plus, it was known to flood a lot, but the people who once lived here sure enjoyed some gorgeous surroundings.
State Rte. 9, Springdale, UT, US
Just when you think Utah can't get any gorgeous, you finally reach Zion National Park, and you'll probably have your mind blown by the beauty of this wild state over and over again. Whether you're climbing to the top of the famed Angels Landing, or you're taking your adventure down below and hiking through the slot canyon known as The Subway, this is one of America's most striking parks.
US-89, Mount Carmel, UT, US
When you're hungry pull over at Thunderbird Restaurant in Mount Carmel. This place has been keeping adventurers in the area well-fed for years. You won't find anything too crazy here: classics like chicken fried steak, pasta, beer, and table wine make up the menu, but the service and "ho-made" pies are what keep people coming back. Try the apple pie with hot buttered rum sauce!
Bryce Canyon, UT, US
Then it's back to brightly colored sandstone hoodoos, a virtual forest of rock pillars, sweet-smelling Ponderosa pines, and tons of scenic lookouts and hikes at Bryce Canyon National Park. The best places to watch the sunrise are Bryce Point and Sunrise Point. The best view at sunset is at Fairyland Point or Paria View.
Route 12, Escalante, UT, US
Hiking through this part of the country is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in it, but you can cover more ground from your car, and if you're on the famed Scenic Byway 12, you won't have to sacrifice the incredible views. Veer off the trail for the Hole-in-Rock Scenic Byway or the epic switchbacks of the Burr Trail for bonus points!
Po Box 180069, Cannonville, UT, US
Route 12's other end will take you near another park: Kodachrome Basin State Park. The colors and shapes of the huge rock formations here are different than at Bryce Canyon or Zion, and some think it's because this spot used to be almost Yellowstone-esque, with hot springs and geysers that eventually formed the stones we see today.
710 Reservoir Road, Escalante, UT, US
Then it's on to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Agate logs, fallen trees fossilized into gemstones, and dinosaur bones can be found in this beautiful and fascinating state park.
Hwy 12 Milemarker 7386, Escalante, UT, US
The espresso and baked goods at Kiva Koffeehouse in Escalante are great, but the view from the shop is the main attraction. Seriously, there isn't a better place for breakfast, lunch, or a quick snack break in Southern Utah!
3621 Hells Backbone Rd, Boulder, UT, US
Or if you're interested in a more hearty meal, head to Sweetwater Kitchen in Boulder. It's attached to the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch, and it's truly out of this world. The local take on fine dining classics, like the green chile bacon buffalo burger, the juniper and sage duck breast, the buffalo-poblano lasagna, and more, are executed to perfection. And the breakfast is amazing: Sweet potato duck confit hash and milk biscuits and sausage gravy are just the beginning!
20 N Hwy, Boulder, UT, US
Since you'll probably want to have dinner and breakfast at Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch's Sweetwater Kitchen, you might as well book a room here for the night. Luckily, they go above and beyond in the accommodation department, too. You can "glamp" in the cowboy tent or the Native American tipi, or keep it simple with a cabin or a room in the lodge.
460 N. Hwy 12, Boulder, UT, US
The ancient history of this region is also fascinating to explore. At Anasazi State Park Museum, you can see the remains of an Anasazi village from 1050-1200 AD, explore a recreation of a dwelling, and see artifacts excavated from the site.
165 E Main St, Torrey, UT, US
When you're hungry after a long day of exploring, you can't go wrong with a burger and fries from Slacker's Burger Joint in Torrey. This place also has veggie burgers, shakes and malts, sammies, and more, which all really hit the spot.
2600 East Highway 24, Torrey, UT, US
Why stay in a cabin or room when you can stay in a Conestoga wagon, like the pioneers who originally settled the area? Of course, those pioneers didn't have king-sized beds, private bathrooms, and heated outdoor pools when they first got here... but those are just a few of the rad amenities offered by Capitol Reef Resort.
Speaking of Capitol Reef, Capitol Reef National Park is loaded with all kinds of offbeat and awesome things to do! Hike Cathedral Valley, visit the Elijah Cutler Behunin cabin (famed outlaw Butch Cassidy frequented Mr. Behunin's house back in the day, and called Robber's Roost, only 70 miles away, home), or just cruise around and take it all in.
Expect to drive around 40 miles an hour while on Scenic Byway 12. Cell service is also pretty spotty, and you're going to be traveling through very remote and rugged terrain, so plan accordingly. If you go off the highway, be aware that the backcountry roads can be quite rough, and off-roading is really only suggested for four-wheel drive vehicles. Also, check the weather before hitting the road because when it rains driving can be quite precarious. Monsoon season is late summer, and during this time there are thunderstorms that can produce significant downpours.