Utah State Route 12

Riding Utah's state parks on a Victory cruiser

Take advantage of the turnouts on Utah State Route 12.
Take advantage of the turnouts on Utah State Route 12.Photography by Andrew Cherney

By now, most riders are well-versed in the touring riches of the Beehive State. Between Zion Canyon in the south and the Flaming Gorge up north, there’s no shortage of world-class riding in Utah. But the one road I keep coming back to is Utah’s State Route 12, in the south central part of the state. The well-kept chunk of asphalt stretches only 125 miles in length, but it’s bookended on each side by a national park, and along the way, scenery you’ll find nowhere else. You could probably charge through it in a couple of hours, but trust me, you wouldn’t want to.

The town of Panguitch is your starting point. From there, head east on U.S. 89 to the turnoff for Rt. 12, and the good stuff starts minutes later, entering Red Canyon. The hoodoo sandstone spires get really supernatural when the setting sun tints them an otherworldly, brilliant red. And if you’re a real early bird, catching sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park 20 miles later is a worthy goal (albeit a chilly one).

If the sunlight hits the spires just right your eyes are rewarded with an otherworldly, brilliant red.
If the sunlight hits the spires just right your eyes are rewarded with an otherworldly, brilliant red.Photography by Andrew Cherney

After Bryce, Rt. 12 runs east through the small burg of Tropic and the turnoff for Kodachrome Basin State Park, but if you choose to stay on course, several miles beyond Escalante the scenery positively explodes. Swoop into a right-hander, drop down a hill, and suddenly, the world is laid out before you. The vista is unbelievable, so best to pull over and let your jaw drop as you take in the curvature of the earth.

If you’re steady enough to ride on, steel yourself for the stretch of Route 12 known as “the Hogsback”, as it picks its way along a high ridge. It’s said to be the highest road without guard rails (on both sides) in the U.S. Don’t be a hero—use the turnouts to do your gawking, as 1000-foot drop-offs loom just feet from the shoulders. Ten boot-shaking miles later, you’ll welcome the town of Boulder, also home to Anasazi Museum State Park and the Burr Trail, a former cattle trail that runs to the southern end of Capitol Reef National Park. Throw on extra layers in Boulder and make the climb up Boulder Mountain. If you ride in mid-September, you’ll probably hit a riot of colors: golden cottonwoods, gleaming aspen and red maples, and finally, pine forests at 9,600 feet. Once you’ve taken in glorious views of the Waterpocket Fold, descend the mountain to the route’s terminus in Torrey. From here, shoot east on Route 24 to Capitol Reef National Park, or just book a hotel in Torrey and grab a margarita and a rattlesnake cake at Café Diablo. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

For more info visit:
www.scenicbyway12.com