If you’re like me, you love desert living but long for fall foliage like clockwork every year. While many people flock to Zion this time of year, far fewer continue on to Bryce Canyon National Park to the Northeast. In fact, Bryce is just one of many natural wonders along Utah’s Highway 12, a scenic byway that runs just south of Panguitch and continues 124 miles northeast to Torrey.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Dixie National Forest, and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park are a few highlights, but there are literally turnoffs every few miles that can be readily explored with an all-wheel drive vehicle and a sense of adventure. The last unexplored area of the continental US lies along this route, and it still feels every bit as wild.
Whether you take the 57-mile gravel and dirt Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Dancehall Rock, or the 6-mile backroad to the Stump Springs trailhead, you can literally spend a week exploring the backroads of Highway 12 and not see everything.
Fall is the best time to see peak autumn colors. To make the most of the trip, drive through Zion, exiting the east side of the park until Route 9 meets US-89. Drive north through sleepy towns like Orderville, Glendale, and Hatch until you reach Highway 12, just south of Panguitch. For a cheap place to stay, check out the Bryce Canyon Motel in downtown Panguitch, because you’ll really need a full day to explore all that Highway 12 has to offer.
You’ll pass bucolic dots on the map like Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville, before you hit Escalante. This is the midway point, so refill at Cowboy Blues before continuing north to Torrey. Maybe turn-offroad onto Hell’s Backbone instead? Afterall it’s the journey, not the destination.
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