First Time on Utah Route 12

One of our major questions when traveling in the southern Utah area was whether we could take our RV on Scenic Route 12.  This is by far the easiest route between Bryce and Capitol Reef, and we knew from descriptions it was a gorgeous road with lots of amazing things to see.

Courtesy of BLM Visitors center


We also heard conflicting reports from numerous sources on whether or not this road was big rig safe so we decided to take our own day trip on Monday to see for ourselves.  We knew the road was probably too long for a single day trip, so we decided to go to the halfway point from Bryce.  Later we traveled the other half from Torrey and on several other occasions were on the road going to another destination.  At the end of our stay we had driven every inch of that road going both ways.  I have combined all the pictures from these trips into one post in order to make a serious point.   I would never recommend taking a big RV on this road.  And here’s why.

Now you may be thinking, I have handled grades before and I’m careful so it’s not that bad, and I agree…except here is what was at the end of those grades.  None of them were straight down. Oh and the road during the Dixie National Forest section can get icy and on more than one occasion we experienced snow in April up there.

What is unfortunate is there are several parks and campgrounds along the route, and to be fair we did see numerous C Class and travel trailers on the road.  If you travel in one of these by all means, but proceed with caution.  On the other hand, we never saw fifth wheel, Class A, or semi truck, which again should tell you something.  It’s really unfortunate that there is no warning at the beginning of either section of the road.  I am not sure why, because we have been on less difficult roads that have had warnings.

Now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you about how amazing the road is. First of all, it starts at both ends at higher elevations, with pine trees and snow, and then drops down into the Grand Staircase Escalante, which has desert terrain.  The contrast is stunning, and we learned later from the Escalante Visitors center that the route passes through six elevation zones.

Beautiful views on one of the clear days traveling west through Dixie National Forest from Torrey.


There are three state parks along the route, which is maybe why no big rig warning ??


One clear day the views were spectacular. You can see the differences in landscapes and the picture doesn’t come close to doing it justice.


One of our favorite sections near Boulder is the Hogback.  This section has steep drop-offs of 1000 feet on each side and is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s difficult to capture in pictures, but Lee tried.

Several of these turns…this is just the beginning


Here’s the steep drop on one side


And on the other. The dark ribbon along the right is is the top of a canyon, so it goes even deeper.


Lee stood at the point of the curve and took this pic to try to capture it.  Really you have to drive it to experience it.


After Hogback you start to come down into Grand Staircase and the views go on for miles.  At the bottom is a campground called Calf Creek where we took a hike that I will talk about in another post.  It’s beautiful though as the rocks change from white to red as you go down.




It isn’t all rocks and vistas though.  There are several small towns to visit along the way and as I mentioned, three state parks.  We visited two of the three which I will cover in other posts, but they are all worth a look.  Really you can’t see it all in one day, which is why after Bryce we decided to stay over in Torrey for several days, although I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me just show you some of the other things we saw.

There is a nice Hole in the Rock museum which commemorates the Mormons crossing this area.. Great place for Jack to stretch his legs. And stay tuned for a post on the Hole in the Rock!

Old Farm Equipment


And the bathrooms were super clean.

Many of the historical stops are run by the Mormon church and most of the small towns have a church as well.  Aside from them the only other church we saw was a small catholic church.   This might be the smallest Catholic Church we have ever seen in our travels.

In addition to the Mormon history, the entire area was home to Ancient Puebloans and there are hints of them everywhere if you look hard enough.

We also saw several ancient puebloan granaries. This cool marker had perfectly aligned pipes that acted sort of like scopes so you could find them.


And a description of what they area

So much to sniff.


Just in case you forget how wild this area still is though, we saw this large skeleton right off the road.

No matter which way you travel the road, I highly recommend a stop at the Visitors center.  They can give you the most up to date information on what is happening, in particular the state of the roads.  As you can see from the map at the beginning of the post there are lots of scenic byways off of 12.  Before traveling on any of them though, I absolutely recommend talking to a ranger, because you don’t know what the condition of the road may be.  We learned for example that all roads north of 12 were closed due to snow.  That wasn’t readily apparent from the road and we might have found ourselves stuck because many of the scenic roads can be very narrow with no room to turn around for miles.

Really great visitors center.


Cool lizard.


This report is extremely important if you are planning on going off the main road. There is a similar report and visitors center on the southern portion of Grand Staircase as well. Because we have 4WD we have to be especially cautious, but even 4WD can get stuck in snow and mud.


I loved this sign!


Based on the road report and talking to the ranger, we did decide to try a short drive on nearby Cedar Wash road. At a much lower elevation it was clear and dry.  It’s a good thing we did talk to them because the signs really aren’t that great.  We started out going down Hole-in-The-Rock road and eventually hit Cedar Wash which circles around to Main Street.  It was fun getting off road a bit and because we were going so slow I could let Jack hang out the window which he liked.

Hole in the Rock road


Small sign for Cedar Wash


The road was recently graded and in very nice condition.


Quite a bit of the surrounding property was private land so we had to stay on the road.


Jack enjoyed the views and it was a beautiful day. There was a 20 degree difference in temperatures between Bryce and Escalante, which is common.


Here is an example of why you shouldn’t travel these roads without checking first. This washout had been recently repaired, otherwise we would have been backing out.

We absolutely love the road, and highly recommend more than one day to travel it.  It is a great way to see Grand Staircase Escalante and there are enough different things to do that most people will find something they love.  It also has a remoteness and outwordly quality that we absolutely love.  This is highlighted by the UFO cloud we saw near the end of one of our days.  It was interesting, because we saw a similar one last year when we traveled on Cottonwood Road into Grand Staircase from the south.  At first glance this park seems barren, but like many other special places the more you look the more you see.

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12 thoughts on “First Time on Utah Route 12

  1. Wow great photos, we have never been out that way, excited to try that route. I love your top photo, the truck parked in front of the rock. How perfect of a shot was that. looked just like a trailer. Love it. Look forward to seeing more.

  2. Thanks for the road report on 12. Very helpful! We just went on Cottonwood Canyon Road fron south to North. Sounds similar. It had several awesome hikes along the route and had recently been graded. It was in great shape.

  3. Great post Trace…lots of good info which we will benefit from during our travels…Thanks!!! Really like the Lizard & Trace photo…cool smirks:o))

  4. Route 12 is a beautiful drive. We drove it with a 3/4 ton truck pulling a 30′ fifthwheel. Coming from flat southwest Louisiana it was a very different type of drive. My old truck didn’t have near the exhaust break of the new trucks. We hope to explore the area again in the future. Glad ya’ll are having down time to enjoy seeing new things.

  5. Just came across your article. Have been planning to include 12 on our Utah loop but now reconsidering. We’ll be traveling in a 25′ RV (for the first time) and now wondering if we should take an alternate route?

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