Utah Scenic Route 12 – Red Canyon

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Utah’s Route 12 is easily one of the most extraordinary roads in the country.  It is, quite simply, scenic from one end to the other.  I discovered this in 2004, when I drove from Capitol Reef National Park (in the middle of the state) down Rte. 12 to Kodachrome Basin State Park.  On that trip, however, I chose to turn south along Cottonwood Canyon Road, cutting across the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  That, too, was an extraordinary drive, but I missed out on Bryce Canyon and the final few miles of Rte. 12.  On this trip, I made up for that.

Utah Route 12 begins at US 89, just a few miles south of Panguitch. 

This time, I was heading East on Rte. 12, and within a couple of miles, the road was already living up to its scenic reputation.  The two lane ribbon of asphalt quickly climbs uphill, and before you know it, there’s brilliant red rock everywhere.  Appropriately enough, the area is known as Red Canyon.

You’ll probably slow down, and even stop a few times, as you drive by these remarkable rock formations, that rise by the side of the road.

Then you come to the real showstopper: a very short tunnel carved through a huge chunk of red rock.  Actually, there are two of these tunnels, one right after the other, but far enough apart that you can only photograph one at a time.

There’s a good chance that you’ll be in a hurry to get to Bryce Canyon as you drive through Red Canyon, and you’ll probably just admire the cliffs and hoodoos from the road, as you drive by.  That’s great, but there is plenty more to do, if you get out of your car.  A network of trails covers this entire region, starting with a short 8/10 mile hike along Birds Eye Trail.  Longer walks take you deeper amidst the rocks, and there is also a path devoted to off-road vehicles.  If you plan to camp, there’s a campground here (just 9 miles from the entrance to Bryce Canyon).  Check in at the nearly-new visitor’s center (in the middle of Red Canyon) for more information. Oh, and since it all lies within the Dixie National Forest, there’s no day-use or parking charges.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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