When we left Moab to drive to Tropic, UT, where we were staying to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, we could’ve taken I70 for 90 miles and then a few state highways. But exiting I70 earlier and taking a different route went right through Capitol Reef and then along Scenic Hwy 12. This sounded like a much better option to me. Andy and I spent a long driving day seeing another national park, a state park, and loads of gorgeous and changing landscapes instead of boring interstate and local highways. Here’s why you should drive Scenic Hwy 12 in Utah.
Capitol Reef National Park
The road from I70 to Capitol Reef was pretty amazing all on its own. It was probably a good thing I was the driver on our road trip so I could simply pull over whenever I saw a pullout near some pretty landscapes.
We didn’t have a ton of time to spend in Capitol Reef, but we pulled over for a few photos and even found a section where you can walk near the rock walls and see some petroglyphs.
Then we drove a little farther to Panorama Point, a lookout point that sounded interesting, and it definitely had some great views. This is where we made lunch, though we ate in the car because it was rather windy. There was a steep dirt road that leads to Goosenecks Overlook, which sounded interesting, but the dirt road kept us away.
The main part of the park that was easily accessible by paved roads was kind of small, but there were other sections we didn’t get to, and lots of areas that sounded great for avid hikers and campers. If you’re looking for a more remote, less touristy park, this is a good one to check out.
After about two hours in Capitol Reef, we continued on our way.
Scenic Hwy 12
We got onto Scenic Hwy 12 and started our drive south. Quickly the road wound its way up into the mountains, climbing higher and higher in elevation. At some points we were as high as 9,000 feet or more, and the temperature was definitely colder. In some places snow covered the ground and trees. Luckily there were lots of pullouts and scenic overlooks, and I stopped for as many as possible.
The road was quite steep and windy, so I couldn’t drive too fast. Which was probably good since there were sections where we had to be on the lookout for black furry cows that were wandering on and off the road. Eventually we started descending again, away from the cows, though some of the curves there were even scarier.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Once we got out of the scary (but beautiful!) roads, Andy started looking at the map for someplace reasonable to stop for a break. He found Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, and it sounded interesting enough. The park was rather small, but we were charged half price ($4 instead of $8) since we didn’t plan on hiking. We wandered around and saw some petrified wood the park is named for and admired the views.
I probably wouldn’t go out of my way for this tiny park, but it was a nice place to stretch our legs, use the bathrooms, and take a break from driving. It looked like a quiet little place to camp if you’re looking for something away from the big national parks.
I’m glad we drove the more scenic route from Moab to Tropic, UT. The gorgeous scenery and varied landscapes are excellent reasons why you should drive Scenic Hwy 12 in Utah. Here’s the route we took so you can plan your trip. Just remember to allow lots more time than what Google says because you will definitely want to stop often for pictures!
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