Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon
Southern Utah is home to five national parks and so it goes without saying the region’s beauty is beyond compare. Naturally, any scenic byway connecting two of these parks is going to be outstanding. And Scenic Byway 12 is exactly that. This All-American Road starts at the backdoor of Capitol Reef National Park and ends at Red Canyon, just past Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive meanders through millions of years of sedimentary erosion. Along with the stunning array of colors, from forest green to the various shades of yellow, red, brown and white rocks, the elevation shift is dramatic. It changes almost 4500 feet along the route, from 5223 to 9636 feet above sea level, meaning there are about as many ups and downs and twists and turns as you’ll find on any scenic road. The drive is fabulous going either direction and no matter where you start or end, it’s about a 3½ hour drive to Salt Lake City. Coming from Las Vegas, however, you’ll drive this Wide Open Ride in reverse, from Red Canyon to Torrey. There are many places to pullout and enjoy the scenery. Two of the best stops also make for quick hikes. Mossy Cave Trail is on the backside of Bryce Canyon. It features a waterfall and topography similar to the park’s. The other must-stop is in Red Canyon, starring in another Wide Open Ride. This four-mile section of the highway displays colorful rock spires and cliff faces set among ponderosa and pinyon pines. Both stops are free.
Route & Map
3 hours with stops
Best Time to Visit
Spring and fall are generally mild and pleasant. Summer gets hot and winter brings treacherous driving conditions.
There are numerous places to eat, gas up and stay along this drive, particularly at the western end in Tropic, Bryce Canyon City and Panguitch. But lodging options also book fast in summer and can be closed for the season in winter.
Visit Utah has a helpful page on Scenic Byway 12. The official sites for Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are also worth checking out, including a section on Mossy Cave. And here’s a link to the U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon page.