Visiting Bryce Canyon NP Through Route 12: The Journey Through Time Scenic ByWay
After a day in Capital Reef NP I moved on to Bryce NP via Route 12 south from the little town of Torrey, UT. It’s officially know as the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway and it is a fantastic drive offering an amazing variety of different terrain! I believe it’s one of the most extraordinary drives in the country. Even though it isn’t classically beautiful, it is so unusual you could almost call it other-worldly.
You travel from Capital Reef NP to Bryce Canyon NP and pass through two different National Forests and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (http://www.visitutah.com/places-to-go/most-visited-parks/grand-staircase-escalante ). You also pass through beautiful red rock country, and have numerous overlooks over vast distances of Capital Reef and further south over White Sandstone. Be warned though, at the Hogback Pass you are on one of the narrowest highways in the country and it isn’t for the faint of heart. For more information on the Byway go here: http://www.utah.com/byways/highway_12.htm
The first thing you do is climb high into the Dixie National Forest over a 9400 foot pass where there was still snow on the ground and the Aspen trees were just starting to bud. As you probably noticed in the pictures from Capital Reef, the spring weather continued to be more bad than good and it was dark and dreary as I traversed the Dixie NF. Plus the trees were just starting to bloom so I don’t have any pictures I think are any good from it, but it is a very pretty NF with plenty of dispersed camping.
On the south side of the NF you drop down into a huge area of rolling White Sandstone with many deep, dramatic canyons cut through it. Very shortly you come to the Hogback where the road passes between two steep canyons. At it’s narrowest point there is less than two feet from the edge of the pavement and a sharp drop-off into the canyon below. Fortunately, there are several paces to pull over and enjoy the awesome view.
After you leave the Hogback you drop fairly steeply through numerous curves to Calf Creek Recreation Area. The whole drive is very pretty and Calf Creek is well worth stopping at and hiking. Years ago Homer and I hiked back to Calf Creek Falls and it was a great hike to a gorgeous waterfall and picnic area. I didn’t have time to hike it this trip because I was just passing through, but I’m planning on hiking it later in the year. There is a campground there, but there is so much dispersed camping in the area I wouldn’t even consider it. Just north of the Hogback you can drive down any one of the roads and camp.
The next stunning spot is Head of Rocks Overlook which has a breathtaking view but is hard to photograph. Eventually you enter the Grand Escalante National Monument and it’s headquarters at the town of Escalante, Utah. There are numerous Backcounty Byways in the area but the only one I’ve driven is Cottonwood Canyon which cuts south to 89 near Page, Az. It’s an easy drive and well worth the time. Any car can drive it unless it rains and then nothing can move on it.
From Escalante you continue on to Bryce Canyon NP which is at 8500 feet and in a very pretty forest so it’s a very comfortable temperature in the summer, but cold in winter. I got there late in the day and hadn’t been online for awhile so I took advantage of the good Verizon 4g signal and was online for a few hours. By then it was raining again so I headed out to find a campsite. I’ve camped here a few times before so I knew exactly where I wanted to camp along the East Fork Sevier Scenic Backway. http://www.brycecanyoncountry.com/east-fork-sevier-river-scenic-backway/
To get to my camp, when you leave Bryce NP you turn left (west) and drive just a few miles when you come to a turnoff to the left (south) which is clearly marked as the East Fork Sevier River. You’ll know it’s coming because just before it is an ATV rental and Wildlife Museum. The road goes south to a lake but I’ve never gone that far. You can actually disperse camp right on the river but they are in designated sites and probably crowded so I’ve never camped there. Instead I always go past the information signs and take the first Forest Road I come to to the left and climb high up into the Dixie National Forest. As long as the road is dry any car can take it but there are a limited number of campsites because the forest is thick. Once you get on top there are many more and you also get great Verizon 4g internet.
The next day had poor weather again so I stayed in camp and caught up on the websites and the books I’m working on. It was so beautiful and I had great internet I was tempted to spend a week or two there, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover this summer so I only spent two nights. The next morning I went into Bryce NP, took some pictures and headed west to 89 and then north towards the many mountains passes around Salt Lake City.
Just another few more miles on your way west on Scenic Byway 12 you drive through Red Canyon which is also in the Dixie NF and it is a beautiful place to visit. I’ve hiked and taken pictures there before so I just drove through and snapped these few shots. It also has a campground but with all the great dispersed camping in the area, I see no reason to pay for camping. Red Canyon really adds to the trip to Bryce NP, which is something of a a “one-hit-wonder.” The Canyon is truly beautiful, but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen all it has.
So that’s it for southern Utah on this trip, on my next post we’ll start in on the mountain passes in the Wasatch and Uinta Ranges east of Salt Lake City.