A Drive Down Utah’s Beautiful Highway 12


I was completely unprepared for the scenic journey that awaited me on UT 12.  Most of my pre-vacation research focused on US 163 and UT 95.  But UT 12 ranks right up there with scenic drives everyone must take, some time in their life.

UT 12 climbs up from Torrey into the Dixie National Forest.  Suddenly, there’s snow by the side of the road (during my visit in late March, I was fortunate the road wasn’t completely snow covered).  The air is cool and thin, and it’s almost impossible to believe you were in a dry, hot desert, just on the other side of the Waterpocket Fold.

This picture was taken probably around 9,000 feet, at one of several scenic viewpoints.

I didn’t feel well driving along this stretch of road, and I believe the elevation may have affected me. Elevation sickness can feel like the flu, and give you a headache.  The best treatment is to head for lower ground.  But if you develop a serious case, see a doctor.

The road tops off at Roundup Flat, at an elevation of 9,400 feet.  This is the highest point we’ll reach on this trip.

Back at Lake Powell, you could see signs of the drought that affected much of the southwest for several years.  This photo provides a perfect illustration of the problem: not enough snowfall in the mountains.  In late March, you’d expect to see much more snow up here.

The Hogback

The sign says “Steep Grades, Sharp Curves”, but it doesn’t mention drastic drop-offs and a noticeable lack of guardrails.  This section of UT 12 is known as the Hogback — winding along the crest of a ridge that’s not much wider than the blacktop.  Add a strong breeze, and your grip on the steering wheel will quickly tighten.

I guess what goes down, must go back up again.  Such is the case with UT 12.  After coming down off the Hogback, the road once again makes a steep, curvy climb, up to a viewpoint that let’s you look back upon where you’ve been.

Scroll to the right to see this complete panorama taken by the side of the road.

Another shot along highway 12, just in case you needed proof.

Once you reach Cannonville, you have two choices: either continue west on UT 12 into Bryce Canyon, then eventually back to US 89, or make a left hand turn at the gas station, to visit Kodachrome Basin State Park, followed by a wild 40 mile ride down a dirt road.  It’s a shame you have to choose, since both paths take you through some incredible scenery.

My choice… Kodachrome, and the dirt road.

Kodachrome Basin is roughly 9 miles from UT 12, paved all the way. While my route continues south through Cottonwood Canyon, you could choose to return to UT 12, and head towards Bryce Canyon.

I finally finished scenic Utah Route 12 in 2007, and visited Bryce Canyon.  Check it out here.  I also drove Route 12 again in 2013, and drove down Hole In The Rock Road.  It’s all worth checking out.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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