Visiting Bryce Canyon NP Through Route 12: The Journey Through Time Scenic ByWay

One of many canyons carved out of the White Sandstone along Route 12.
One of many canyons carved out of the White Sandstone along Route 12.

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.

Calf Creek recreation area.
Calf Creek recreation area.

You travel from Capital Reef NP to Bryce Canyon NP and pass through two different National Forests and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument  ( ). 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:

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.

One of many canyons along Route 12.
One of many canyons along Route 12.

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.

The Hogback is a very narrow stretch of road with deep canyons on both sides just a few feet from the blacktop.
The Hogback is a very narrow stretch of road with deep canyons on both sides just a few feet from the blacktop. I climbed up on top of the van to take this picture.

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 pictures don't do it justice so I walked up to the narrowest spot and took a picture of the both sides. This is the right side, you can see there is very little shoulder before it drops off very steeply.
The pictures don’t do it justice so I walked up to the narrowest spot and took a picture of the both sides. This is the right side, you can see there is very little shoulder before it drops off very steeply.
The left side is just as steep and just as close to the road. It's not for the faint of heart!
The left side is just as steep and just as close to the road. It’s not for the faint of heart!

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.

The road is hard to see, but it enters at the upper right edge, makes three “S” curves ,and leaves at the upper left edge.

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.

My camp in the woods  above Byrce NP.
My camp in the woods above Byrce NP. The Verizon tower was on that hill in the middle of the picture–I had an excellent 4g signal.
The view toward Bryce from the top of the NF road.
The view toward Bryce from the top of the NF road.

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.

Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon.

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.

Bryce Canyon is eroding a few feet every century and as it disappears it leaves the roots of the trees that grow on it’s sides exposed as you can see in this tree.

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.

The drive through Red Canyon.
The drive through Red Canyon. The pictures don’t do justice to how deeply red it actually is. 

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.

The van in Red Canyon.
The van in Red Canyon.


A tunnel in Red Canyon.
A tunnel in Red Canyon.

29 Comments on “Visiting Bryce Canyon NP Through Route 12: The Journey Through Time Scenic ByWay

  1. Hi Bob,
    Really great pics. I have been over the Hogback 3 times throughout the years and your right, it flat gets your attention (or it should). Looks like a great trip you have going for you.
    So much to see, so little time (relatively).

  2. Informative posts here. Where I live the road goes around a 10 thousand foot high volcano. One side is a rain forest, the other side is essentially a leeward desert. I often think about how we drive through forested areas occasionally getting a glimpse of a view through the trees. On the dry side, the same type of valleys, gulches and gorges are all in plain view because there are no trees. Southern Utah is laid bare and the geological sights are fantastic.
    I’m looking forward to your posts. Manti-La Sal NF, Skyline Drive, Hwy 264 looks inviting.

    • I agree jonthebru, I love the forests and mountains but honestly, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. A big view can be very inspiring!

  3. I have never gotten down in that area to explore but hope to in the next couple years so am soaking up your posts with enthusiasm! Thanks for great photos and information as always!
    Sherry in MT recently posted…A Rainy TaleMy Profile

  4. Did a hike at capital reef yesterday and heading up to Moab today. Unsurpassed beauty throughout!

  5. Stunning photography. The picture of the sun on the cliffs with the black cloud background… Yep, that’s my favorite.

  6. than you! I’m really enjoying the virtual tour of the area, and it helps tremendously with planning my eventual visit to the area.

    What’s your gas mileage in the van without your trailer again?

    • Ming, I haven’t really checked it to be 100% sure, but I think it is in the ballpark of 12-13 MPG. It’s a big heavy van and the 350 never was very economical. Plus I’m always in the mountains so I can live with that.

      • horses for courses… it’s great to see how well your system is working out for you. Of course, it sounds like it’s all going to change in a year or 2!

  7. Hi Bob,

    What great pics and directions to where you go! Thank you!

    It looks like I’ll be heading that way in August. So, I have a question: these roads you said can be traveled by “any” car…I have a 25′ Class C and will be towing a car….would I be able to get to those campsites you use in my rig?

    • Cindy, you could get into the camp in Moab no problem, there were big 5th wheels in there. You couldn’t get into the camp on 95, but there was one just a few miles down the road I think you could. The one at Capital Reef you could get in okay. The one at Bryce would be a NO-GO. The road is too narrow and tight. However, my guess is there are designated sites along the river you could get in, but I’ve never been there so it’s just a guess.

      You really are pretty limited with a toad. When I head down a road I think the worse thing that will happen is I have to back out which is a pain but no big deal. With a toad you’d have to break it off and back it out and then back out the RV which might be a problem.

      Also, I’m in the mountains in the spring so running into snow or mud is always a posibiity. I headed up a road In Idaho that turned real muddy real fast. I was very lucky to make it out of there without getting stuck. I’ll try to start telling you whether RVs are okay.

  8. Hey Southern Utah and Bryce Canyon. I think that whole area is much prettier than the Grand Canyon ! Though the North Rim is very pretty too..the Southern Rim is too commercialized for me. Paul

  9. We travel in a class A 36 foot motorhome. Would we be able to take this route? Thanks for all of your information.

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