bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 Corridor–Big Trip #1

We first visited Highway 12 in April 2016, as part of Big Trip #1. We’ve since returned to Escalante in 2018 and again in 2020, and boondocked outside Capitol Reef in 2020.

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.

[Read about our second visit to Escalante in 2018, and our third in 2020!]

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.

[Read about our 2020 visit to the Capitol Reef area here!]


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!


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. 🙂


10 responses to “Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 Corridor–Big Trip #1”

  1. elizabeth Avatar

    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!

  2. […] done so far on this trip (and I’m writing this after we’ve done a lot more hiking in Utah). Only attempt driving Schnebly Hill Road if you have a high clearance, super badass car (like our […]

  3. […] our tour along Utah’s Route 12, we spent 6 nights boondocking in Dixie National Forest. Red Canyon, with its vermilion cliffs […]

  4. […] everyone is at the National Parks along Rt 12, you can have a quiet visit to the gorgeous Kodachrome Basin State Park, and since it’s a […]

  5. […] and sweeping colorful vistas. We hiked a variety of trails in the Monument from a base in Escalante on Big Trip #1, and from Kanab and Escalante again on Big Trip […]

  6. […] Southern Utah was our favorite part of the first Big Trip, and we were excited to explore Northern Utah a bit this trip. We chose Park City as our base for our first big hiking stop on this trip, and we also got out to several restaurants, knowing we’d likely be cooking at home for the next little stretch post-Park City. Downtown Park City is adorable, and the hiking we did was incredibly gorgeous! […]

  7. […] Escalante was one of our favorite little hiking towns on our first Big Trip. This time we were farther into the off-season, so many stores and restaurants were closed, but we still had our two favorite hangouts, and found a new one! And, of course, the hiking in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was phenomenal. […]

  8. […] for a fall Big Trip was to cruise through that swath, looping back through some favorites maybe in southern Utah or western Texas… but then Covid happened and now we don’t know what to […]

  9. […] deserts that keeps us coming back. This was our third visit to Escalante; read about the first visit here, and second visit here, and for all our Utah content, click here. At some point I should organize […]

  10. […] the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is our favorite place (read about our first visit here and our second visit […]

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