Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 Corridor

dixie national forest dispersed camping

bryce canyon

The stretch of red canyon cliffs and alien rock formations along Utah Highway 12 from just south of Panguitch in the west to Torrey in the east was our favorite part of the trip so far. Along this curvy little road lie the geological wonderlands of Dixie National Forest (Powell Ranger District), including Red Canyon; Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; Bryce Canyon National Park; Kodachrome Basin State Park; and Capitol Reef National Park. We spent 12 days in three different campsites along Rt 12:

Six days boondocking in Dixie National Forest

dixie national forest dispersed camping

dixie national forest dispersed camping

dixie national forest dispersed camping

dixie national forest dispersed camping
Before heading down Rt 12, we stopped in Panguitch for surprisingly good groceries, supplies from the wonderful family at the hardware store, a terrible lunch–expensive, bad food and barely any service–at Kenny Ray’s, and advice from the Forest Service office, which was lucky, because the campground we were headed for was not yet open for the season. The Forest Service man showed us a few places in Dixie National Forest where we could try boondocking, or “dispersed camping,” and let us fill our freshwater tank from the spigot out front, since we were headed for Forest Service land. It took a few tries, but we finally found the Forest Service road we wanted and slowly felt our way back into the woods, looking for a nice spot. We found one, tried to back the Airstream into it, jackknifed the rig, and got the truck stuck in a tree several miles from civilization in the span of a couple minutes. With a little problem solving and teamwork we extricated ourselves and got setup in a lovely spot overlooking a canyon… and found a better spot 100 yards farther down the road a half hour later when we went for a walk. So we moved the next day and spent the next five days watching sunsets, cooking campfire meals, exploring our little part of the forest–which was EMPTY except for us and wildly gorgeous–and doing a ton of hiking at the nearby parks. I’ve written separately about our visits to Red Canyon, Kodachrome, Bryce, and GSENM. Oh, and we visited Zion National Park, just over an hour from Scenic Byway 12, from our Dixie home, too.

Three days at Shooting Star RV Resort in the town of Escalante

escalante outfitters

shooting star rv park escalante

hell's backbone grill

Shooting Star used to be an Airstream-only park, but is now open to anyone. They have stationary Airstreams for rent, like cabins, and a big drive-in movie screen showing movies during high season. Apparently they park old-timey cars in front of the screen and people can rent seats in them for the show. We were pleased that movie time hadn’t yet started up as our site was right under the big screen. The park is nice and quiet and a short drive to town. There is another park right in town (with a clean public laundromat which we used) but the RVs there were much closer together, so we were happy with our campground. Escalante is cute and functional with several restaurants, a few outfitters, a natural grocery, and hiking galore.

We had a stellar local (some from their own farm nearby) ingredient-focused meal at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder–a highlight of our trip thus far; internet and coffee (and later yummy pizza and local beer) at the dog-friendly Escalante Outfitters; post-hike sandwiches and a few grocery items at the also dog-friendly Escalante Mercantile and Natural Grocery; an oat-milk mocha, a decadent muffin, and a view to die for at Kiva Koffeehouse just east of Escalante; a fresh, doughy bagel from a local baker bought on impulse at a gas station; a margarita and bean dip (both really tasty) (also, Utah restaurants can’t serve patrons alcohol unless they order food first, which has proved to be an annoyance in a state which we are otherwise loving) at Cowboy Blues, advertising the best margarita in town.

And, of course, we hiked. Here’s a separate post about the incredibly gorgeous hikes we did in GSENM.

Three days at Sandcreek RV Park in Torrey

hells backbone grille

sandcreek rv park torrey

cafe diablo

Sandcreek RV Park is small, was fairly empty when we were there, and has a fantastic backdrop of glowing red cliffs. It’s a perfect base for visiting Capitol Reef, and we also found a fun hike just behind the campground. I’ll put the hikes in another post because this one is getting too long. On the way to Torrey, we stopped in Boulder to have breakfast at the wonderful Hell’s Backbone Grill. Other eating in Torrey included good food and subpar service at Cafe Diablo, just across the street from the campground; beer and canned goods from the Chuckwagon General Store; pre-hike coffee and breakfast burritos to go from CastleRock Coffee, which we saved for a post-hike picnic at an overlook in Capitol Reef.

Summary

Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 is insanely picturesque, and crammed with spectacular hiking opportunities. I have much more to say about the hiking, so stay tuned!

Update

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kodachrome. However, I have just been informed that I have sung the chorus to the Paul Simon song one too many times, and Kodachrome is now J’s least favorite park and he wishes we had never gone. So be warned about that downside to visiting an otherwise lovely park.

One thought on “Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 Corridor

  1. I am so grateful that I was not present when the airstream/truck got stuck…I can only imagine James’ language…probably words I never heard before. Oh, well, maybe not. Pictures are gorgeous and as I am still waiting out my time after thyroid medication, I am dying to eat. Of course, nothing as delicious as your meals awaits me. Oh, for a dog’s life. Lucky Bugsy!

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