Things to do / Travel Guide
With the great distances between attractions in the southern Utah region, you'll become familiar with many a scenic road. In fact, most roads in the region qualify as scenic simply by virtue of being located amidst some of the most ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the United States. Visitors winding their way through the region can expect slick-rock canyons, aspen and pine forests, unique red rock cliffs, and a higher concentration of National and State Parks and Monuments than in any other region in the country. This provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the landscape, guaranteeing photo opportunities and an unparalleled appreciation for natural beauty. Here are some of the best drives the region has to offer.
La Sal Mountain Loop and the Colorado River Scenic Byway near Moab
For a wide variety of canyon county scenery, the 60-mile-long La Sal Mountain Loop won't disappoint. The route follows the Colorado River then approaches the La Sal Mountains through Castle Valley. As it travels through the Manti-La Sal National Forest, motorists will wind their way up to an elevation of 12,700 feet and then drop into the red rock canyons of the Colorado River plateau. The loop conveniently brings travelers back to Moab via U.S. Highway 191. The turnoff for the La Sal Mountain Loop Road is 11 miles from the Colorado River Scenic Byway, another area highlight.
The Colorado River Scenic Byway, or Scenic Byway 128, starts two miles north of Moab on U.S. Highway 191. The 44-mile route follows the Colorado River and passes Negro Bill Canyon and several locations that have been the site of Western movies and commercials, including Castle Rock, a finger-like spire that was the site of several memorable car commercials from the 70s. It also crosses the new Dewey Bridge, and the old one-lane suspension bridge from 1916 can be viewed nearby.
Scenic Driving in Arches National Park
Visitors to Arches National Park can enjoy views of many of the park's major natural attractions all from the comfort of their vehicles. There is one major paved road in the park that begins at the junction with State Road 191, near the visitor center at the park's southern end. This route travels up cliffs to the northeast, about 21 miles past some of the park's primary sandstone pinnacles, spires, and arches to the Devils Garden Trailhead, a beautiful drive that gives visitors a great taste of Arches, a wondrous landscape characterized by the natural sandstone arches, enormous rocks balanced on thin spires, cliff walls hundreds of feet high, and stunning sandstone spanning across the landscape.
A pullout point after 1.1 miles gives drivers great views of Moab Canyon, where rock layers on one side of the canyon have slipped more than 2,600 feet compared to the other side. Balanced Rock, a 55-foot-high boulder resting atop a rock pedestal more than 73 feet up in the air, can be seen on the right 8.5 miles from the visitor's center. Drivers can also turn right off the main road about 2.5 miles after Balanced Rock, following a shorter secondary paved road that leads to the inspiring Windows section of the park, where the sandstone formations seem to frame the vistas located behind them. After traveling north a few more miles down the main road, turning right toward Wolfe Ranch, drivers will be lead to Delicate Arch Viewpoint - where the world's most famous arch, a 45-foot fragile sandstone curve, is located just a mile hike off the road.
Utah State Road 12 Scenic Byway, the “All American Road”
State Road 12 is one of southern Utah's nationally-designated scenic byways and is one of very few routes in the U.S. honored by the Federal Highway Administration as an “All-American Road,” boasting one-of-a-kind features so exceptional that they qualify as a destination “unto themselves.” Visitors can't beat a route that in being a beautiful journey becomes an extraordinary destination!
State Road 12 starts out near Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park, and passes through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Dixie National Forest, ending near Capital Reef National Park. It is a route that is not only scenic, but also that serves as one of the main throughways accessing these area attractions. The 124-mile road winds its way through the Escalante canyons, providing panoramic views over the miles and miles of colorful rock formations. As you drive near the town of Boulder, before Escalante on State Road 12, steep cliffs drop into narrow canyons on both sides of the highway, giving passengers an incredible view out their windows. The route has two entry points. U.S. Highway 89 is the southwest gateway, seven miles south of Panguitch, while from the northeast, State Road 24 in the town of Torrey near Capital Reef National Park provides an entry point.
Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway
For a shorter route that highlights the beauty of the Dixie National Forest and the multicolored scenery of Cedar Breaks National Monument, travelers should head between State Road 14 and State Road 143 to the six-mile-long Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (State Road 148) all located in close proximity to Cedar City. In the morning or evening, the Cedar Breaks amphitheater will glow with orange, red, and white hues from the sunlight, making for very picturesque views out the car window. The paved two-lane highway is open from around June through mid-October, with frequent pullouts and overlooks. Traffic is constant and pretty slow-moving, with a 30-mile-per-hour speed limit through the monument. State Road 148 continues north and hits State Road 143, the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway, another regional favorite.
Brian Head- Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway
The Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway takes travelers from Parowan southeast past the town of Brian Head, near Cedar Breaks National Monument, finally passing through the alpine wonders of the Dixie National Forest. The route climbs through Parowan Canyon up to forests at 10,000 feet, past colorful vermillion cliffs along the way. The scenic byway provides 55 miles of spectacular scenic driving.
Zion Park Scenic Byway
Zion National Park is extraordinary from all viewpoints, but on the scenic byway that is State Road 9, visitors have the opportunity to view the landscape as they follow the path of the Virgin River. The 54-mile road winds through towering cliffs and picturesque towns dipping into Zion National Park, spanning the area between I-15 and Mt. Carmel. It passes through the towns of Hurricane, La Verkin, and Springdale.
Kanab to Mt. Carmel and Long Valley Scenic Byway
The Kanab to Mt. Carmel and Long Valley Scenic Byway is one of the most popular drives in the southern Utah region. The 60-mile route travels through incredible diverse scenery from the town of Kanab to Red Canyon in the north, ascending southern Utah's Grand Staircase. The byway follows U.S. Highway 89 through Three Lakes Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs, passing the exit to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park with spectacular views of the White Cliffs and the towers of Zion National Park. The road then winds through the orchards and fields around Mt. Carmel, all set in a striking backdrop of yellow, red, and white cliffs. The highway then leaves the canyon landscape into a forested mountain valley north of Glendale.