One Of America's Most Scenic Road Trips Shows Off Utah's Impeccable Natural Beauty

Utah has the third-most national parks of any state after California and Alaska. The so-called Mighty Five can all be visited on a road trip through the southern part of the state. While that road trip allows you to see all five of Utah's national parks, driving that way means you miss some of the state's most untouched natural landscapes. Next time you're in Utah, we suggest you take the road less traveled and enjoy Scenic Byway 12.

This designated "All-American Road" runs 122 miles from Panguitch to Torrey through some of Utah's most astonishing landscapes. Beginning in the south, you'll pass the towering, colorful hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, drive through charming small towns, have a chance to explore the sprawling Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, and finish near the red rocks of Capitol Reef National Park. Scenic Byway 12 takes you away from the crowds, and though it's not the fastest route between the two national parks, it is undoubtedly the most picturesque.

Bryce Canyon to Escalante

You could cruise through Scenic Byway 12 in under three hours, but that would be a waste. This is a route to be savored. After leaving Panguitch, you'll soon come to the turn-off for Bryce Canyon. Here, you can see the largest concentration of hoodoos on earth. One of the park's best views is from Sunrise Point — rise early to enjoy the landscape bathed in morning light. Several hikes in the park can be done in less than three hours. That includes part of the Rim Trail for views of the hoodoos from above, and the Queen's/Navajo Combination Loop, a visitors' favorite, which takes you among the unique rock formations and between steep canyon walls.

A little way past Bryce Canyon, you'll come to Cannonville. Take a 7-mile detour here to reach Kodachrome Basin State Park. The park's name comes from the monolithic chimneys rising toward the blue sky from the sandstone rocks. The park's three campgrounds receive rave reviews from visitors.

Get back on the road and drive to Escalante, stopping at the breathtaking viewpoint of Powell Point along the way. From here, you can see the famous stairs of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The town of Escalante is the main access point for the Escalante Canyons region of Grand Staircase. Grab a map and hike to see waterfalls, arches, and narrow canyons carved from ancient Navajo Sandstone.

Boulder Mountain and Capitol Reef

The road between Escalante and Boulder is called the "Hogsback" and is a route of twists and turns, with steep drop-offs on each side. Thrill-seeking drivers, like TripAdvisor user Gini7, love the ever-changing views and say this route is "one of the most spectacular roads you can drive." Just take it slow and keep your eyes on the road.

After Boulder, the scenery changes again, and you'll drive through pine and aspen forests in the Boulder Mountain area, a premier destination for fishing in its many lakes. Drive onward to see the glorious scenery become desert-like again as you reach the end of Scenic Byway 12 in Torrey. But the fun isn't over yet! Just a few miles east on State Route 24, you'll find Capitol Reef, an underrated national park with incredible hiking. The Scenic Drive is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the park's red rocks and narrow canyons. It's also a starting point for several of the park's best day hikes.

If you're exploring more of this area of Utah and planning to visit several national parks, consider getting the incredibly affordable America the Beautiful pass. For around $80, the pass gives you one year's access to all U.S. national parks, including the two on our route and the other three in Utah.