Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

The All American Road, Utah Scenic Byway 12 is one of the most beautiful drives in America! To top it off, it connects two beautiful national parks!

Scenic Byway 12 has it all: isolated canyons, grand plateaus that rise 9,000-feet above sea level, deep valleys that plunge to 4,000-feet, and the natural and man-made history to prove it. This 122-mile byway is one of the most scenic in the nation and Utah’s first All American Road takes you from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef. Some TripAdvisor reviewers describe the scenic drive as “something out of a movie” or “like a trip to another planet.”

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 begins to the west in Panguitch and ends in Torrey to the northeast. It connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, but getting from point A to point B is only a fraction of the fun. The real adventure lies in what you’ll encounter along the way. From the hoodoos to red rocks and a scenic overlook near the road’s summit at 9,000 feet, travelers enjoy breathtaking views that provide countless opportunities for exploration.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Locals say you can do it in three hours or three days. Others say it will take three years to fully take advantage of all it has to offer. To get the most out of your travels, it’s better to take your time. Here’s a glance at what you might encounter along what’s known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.”

Though there’s more than one way to enjoy Scenic Byway 12, one suggested itinerary is to travel from west to east. The adventure begins in Panguitch and takes you through a scenic drive of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known for its hoodoo-filled red rock desert that contrasts with high alpine forests, Bryce Canyon is the perfect place for hiking, camping, and horseback riding. You can learn about the park’s unique geology through their ranger programs or take guided hikes under a full moon. Shuttles travel back and forth the length of the park from the visitor center 17 miles south to Rainbow Point, with plenty to do at every stop along the way.

Between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, you’ll find some of the most beautiful parts of Southern Utah. The town of Escalante is located along Scenic Byway 12 in the south-central part of the state—about 90 minutes south of Capitol Reef National Park.

This charming little town has seen an uptick in visitors since the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante as a National Monument in 1996. It’s the perfect destination for hiking, camping, fishing, canyoneering, horseback riding, and four-wheeling. Travelers are frequently awestruck by the ancient multi-hued rock formations and the twisting, turning narrows of its famous slot canyons.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers will enjoy dipping their toes in cool riverbeds, hiking miles of soft-sand trails, and gazing at the inscriptions of humans who stood in the same spot thousands of years ago. For a trip to prehistoric times, take the family to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where ancient petrified trees, dinosaur bones, ammonite and shell fossils abound.

The town itself offers a handful of down-home cafes and diners. As an added bonus, while most of Southern Utah experiences sweltering summer heat, Escalante’s higher elevation makes for more moderate temperatures—most of the time. But it’s always a good idea to prepare for an unexpected rainstorm.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park is a great way to cap off your Great American Road Trip adventure. While you’re taking in the view of stunning overlooks, you can discover abandoned Mormon outposts, explore unearthed Fremont Indian villages and petroglyphs, and wind through the slot canyons.

Though the park itself is alluring, there’s also charm in the surrounding areas with its small towns, secluded getaways, and rich history. You can pick fruit directly from the orchard in Fruita, wander aimlessly through a valley full of red rock goblins, camp out under the stars, and stroll an art gallery in Torrey.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As beautiful as it is in the day, the park is even more stunning at night. Capitol Reef is an official International Dark Sky Park which means you can see incredible views of the Milky Way Galaxy in the pitch-black night sky.

As you get ready to pack up the RV, don’t forget to check road conditions and other travel information you may need for your trip. And to ensure a fun and safe experience, it’s a good idea to check current COVID-19 precautions so you can plan for the road ahead.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.