Last updated on August 4th, 2022
The first leg of the scenic drive from Bryce Canyon to Arches stretches for 113 miles along Highway 12 to Torrey. This section highlights interesting roadside stops suitable if you’re passing through and not spending the night in Grand Staircase.
As you leave Bryce Canyon National Park in the direction of Tropic, hoodoos begin to give way to homesteads. Before entering Grand Staircase-Escalante, consider hiking the short Mossy Cave Trail. The canyon here gets a lot of water, thanks to an irrigation ditch constructed by Mormon settlers back in the day.
This is the first of many scenic roadside stops. From this viewpoint, Powell Point and its strange rock formations are seen in the far distance.
It’s a long drive on a dirt road to reach one of the national monument’s top highlights at Hole-in-the-Rock, not something that’s plausible without spending the night in the area. So instead, stop at this scenic area to admire the Straight Cliffs as they extend 50 miles to the cliffs of the Colorado River.
Feel as if you’re standing “at the top” of the desert at Head of the Rocks Overlook. From this vantage point, you can see from Aquarius Plateau to Navajo Mountain. That’s a lot of ground in a single frame. I especially enjoyed seeing the next stretch of Highway 12, somehow snaking its way around and atop this rugged terrain to continue the push from Bryce Canyon to Moab and Arches National Park.
This scenic lookout is located high above a sharp bend in scenic Highway 12 just before meeting the Escalante River, hidden by thick canyon walls.
If you’re having a good time, the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls might be the highlight of your day. Calf Creek Falls is one of the most notable and unique features in Grand Staircase-Escalante. Park at the campground, and pick up a few park brochures and a trail map. The six-mile hike takes anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on your speed. Parts of the trail are sandy and strenuous but just think about the reward of taking a dip in this desert oasis.
Shortly beyond the trailhead, a roadside stop offers a bird’s eye view of the lush creek hidden from the monotonous outside world.
If you have the extra time or are curious about the region’s Native American history, stop at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder. The museum is a preserved ancient village that was one of the largest Anasazi communities in Utah.
If you’re having a hard time leaving Grand Staircase-Escalante, consider overnighting in Boulder or camping in the area. Boulder is the starting point for the Burr Trail, one of Utah’s premier backcountry roads. The 66-mile dirt road cuts through the heart of Capitol Reef NP and ends (or begins) in Lake Powell.
The scenery takes a dramatic turn beyond Boulder, as scenic Highway 12 quickly gains elevation up to around 9,000 feet and the temperature plummets. At this elevation, the desert gives way to forests thick with aspen trees and cattle.
Homestead Overlook is one of the possible roadside scenic stops on this stretch. See how diverse the landscape is as you look to the horizon in the far distance.
Scenic Highway 12 terminates in Torrey, but it also marks the return of the “classic” desert landscape. Take a right turn at the junction with Highway 24 and enter Capitol Reef National Park.