We are often asked what our favorite place has been that we’ve traveled to while RVing. While that is impossible to answer as so many places have touched us in many ways, some more than others, each place with its own unique charm, scenery and newness; southern Utah pulled us in with unexpected force!
We spent 4 months just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, our time split between a cozy RV park in the small town of Panguitch and at an employee only National Forest campground in the middle of the forest, off a long dirt road. We loved them both! In town, he had the pleasure of walking anywhere in town: to the library for story hour, to the grocery store, the park. In the forest we had daily visits from pronghorn antelope, horses to pet and talk to and dark, quiet, starry nights.
We were only a few miles, as the crow flies, from the entrance to the National Park. Small bumpy dirt forest roads led us, what I felt, as the secret way to the park. Shhhhh only the cool people get to go on those roads.
Why were we there? Why were we staying at an employee campground? I (amy) volunteered at the Red Canyon Visitor Center, handing out hiking info, answering questions about the local area and informing the masses that No, they were not yet at Bryce Canyon. We explored the area as much as possible when I wasn’t at the visitor center or when Jeff didn’t have an art show. We had plenty of free time.
Here’s our list of must see and do things in the Bryce Canyon area, if you ever find yourself there. And you should go! 😉
1. Scenic Byway 12
This scenic road runs 122 miles, from highway 89, to highway 24. There are so many things to see along this road. So many in fact, that you’ll want more than 1 day to make the drive. The landscape, elevation and temperature change a lot during these miles. Read the points below for some highlights along the road.
2. Red Canyon
Located only a few miles from the 89 junction, many people assume they have arrive at Bryce Canyon when they enter this land of tall, red hoodoos. But you are indeed within the Dixie National Forest. The national park is another 14 miles away. Red Canyon has some amazing hikes, many of which you’ll often never see another person on. Dogs are allowed! Stop in the visitor center and get a hiking guide and chat with a volunteer if you’d like more in depth info, hike suggestions and boondocking locations within the forest.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park
If you plan to hike into the canyon, prepare for a full day or multiple day visit. That will give you time to spend in the visitor center, ride the shuttle, hike and even see the canyon at sunrise and/or sunset (both are glorious in their own way). Keep in mind that the visitor center is around 7900ft in elevation. Many of the hikes are mostly exposed so bring your hat and always have lots of water;) **TIP** during peak season summer, weekends or holidays: park at the shuttle parking lot in the town of Bryce Canyon City and ride the free shuttle throughout the park. This will help avoid the headache of limited parking and crowds. THEN after you’re done hiking, you can hop in your car and drive the 18 mile scenic road to the end, where you are then over 9000feet (the shuttle doesn’t go there). There are viewpoints easily accessible within the main amphitheater area as well, though they require more of a walk. You won’t see the canyon from the interior of your vehicle.
Traveling with little kids or just not into a long hike yourself? There are plenty of rim trails with little elevation change where you can view the canyon from up above, peering down on the hoodoos, peekaboos and miles of views.
There are campgrounds within the park as well as private ones nearby. Boondocking/wild camping is available within the Dixie National Forest outside the National Park boundaries. Don’t forget to grab a Junior Ranger booklet for the kiddos! This is one of few parks we have visited that gave them a glove for collecting trash as one of their activities.
Traveling with pets? They are only allowed on paved paths within the park. It gets hot here in the summer, so have a plan. The hot car is not a good one 😉
Out of the main part of the park, a short drive down Highway 12 is the Mossy Cave Trail. Though we weren’t impressed with the “cave”, the small waterfall and river are a site to see! This water comes from Tropic Reservoir and flows to the town of Tropic. This is really a great beginners trail.
Looking for a unique Bryce visit? Go on a fullmoon hike! Or visit in the fall/winter when there are less people and chances of snow.
4. Tropic Reservoir
Traveling west on highway 12, just outside of Bryce you’ll pass the Bryce Wildlife Adventure and look for the sign for Forest Road 87/Tropic Reservoir. This is a long, dirt road. It’s slow going, but easily accessible by all vehicles, including RVs. The reservoir is 9 miles down the road. There is a seasonally open campground. Beyond that you will find dedicated free forest camping spots off either side of the road.
Another 9 miles down the road is the Podunk Guard Station, which is a cabin that can be rented out. Expect to see cows, horses, pronghorn antelope, hawks, deer and maybe the rare bear. Look closely along the meandering river and you may spy a beaver dam…or 5.
This small, quaint town has a little of everything. Small grocery store with more options than the markets closer to Bryce, gas stations, a library, playground, RV parks, restaurants & motels.
6. Panguitch Balloon Rally
If you’re in the area during the last weekend of June, checkout the Panguitch Balloon Rally! With only 30+ balloons, it is a more intimate event than larger ones. There is food and merchandise/art booths, live music and a night time glow as well.
**TIP: show up early, volunteer to help crew a balloon. Maybe you’ll get to fly! Fun experience**
7. Kodachrome Basin State Park
Before heading to this state park, stop at the Cannonville visitor center that you’ll drive by. This is 1 of the visitor centers for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They can give you info about all of the nearby roads, hikes, slot canyons, etc within the monument. You will want to check with them for the road conditions and weather updates before heading into this wild monument. When it rains, the roads can become impassible and the slot canyons are dangerous.
This state park has smaller hikes than Bryce, cool rock formations, campground and dogs are allowed on the trails 😀
Other State Parks in the area; Escalante Petrified Forest & Anasazi State Park.
8. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Whew, that’s a mouthful! Abbreviated to GSENM 😉 In this area of the monument, along highway 12, there are two visitor centers. See above #4 for info on the Cannonville visitor center. It houses more of the local history of the monument. The other visitor center is in Escalante. This center has dinosaur info, fossils, etc. Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge. And as always, you can get up to date, important info on the roads, hikes, weather. GSENM is filled with wild places to discover, and you may be the only one there. It is that vast!
**TIP** Drive the bumpy, windy, no guard rail dirt road to Grosvenor Arch. It is worth the long drive.
NOTE: do NOT follow your GPS within the monument! We met someone at Grosvenor Arch in a rental car that thought they were going to the visitor center but had been driving in this vast land for hours, nearly lost!
9. Kiva Koffeehouse
This place used to be an artist’s studio. Now it houses a small cafe, with light lunch fare and views! The building is rounded and lined with tall windows. Sit inside with a view or hang outside with a similar view. Dogs are allowed in the outdoor seating area.
10. Burr Trail
Scenic drive near the town of Boulder. If you have time, do not skip this! There is a small campground along this road that would be good for tents or camper vans only. It didn’t look RV friendly. 5 miles from the campground you’ll see cars parked on the left at Singing Canyon. This is a shallow slot canyon right off the road. This road can be taken all the way to Capitol Reef. But contact them 1st to find out if it is open and passable. *This is NOT the fastest way to Capitol Reef**
11. Upper Pleasant Creek Campground
Camping at 8600 feet in the pines. There are nearby campgrounds as well. Not big rig friendly. This is a nice location with reprieve from the summer heat in GSENM and Fruita area. Make sure to visit the nearby Wildcat Rest Area. It is a an old forest service cabin turned visitor center. We enjoyed complimentary coffee, hot cocoa & biscuits cooked in the original wood burning stove.
12. Capitol Reef National Park
One of the lesser talked about Utah national parks. But fantastic in it’s own rite! The small river running through the orchard area was a fun place to splash around. Red cliffs climbing the sky to one side, bright green grass and cottonwood trees to the other side. When the trees in the orchard are ready for harvesting, you’re allowed to pick & eat what is ready. We had the joy of watching deer munching the fallen fruit.
13. Powell Point
Standing tall in the distance of Bryce is this plateau and view point. It is over 10000 feet in elevation and requires over an 8mile hike to reach but you’re rewarded with views for miles. If you have a high clearance 4×4, you can attempt the dirt road to get closer & lessen your hike. Jeff and friends had to hike a little further than the normal 8 because snow impeded their path. And they went at the end of May!
14. Butch Cassidy Boyhood Home
Just a short drive north of Panguitch is the childhood home of Butch Cassidy. If you’re into westerns, wild west history or just like old buildings, this is a quick stop. Located on the west side of highway 89 near Circleville, near mile marker 155.
15. Scenic Loop
From #14 you can continue on and make a scenic 100 mile loop. From Circleville, head towards Antimony (stop for homemade pie), continuing south towards Bryce and back to highway 89. There aren’t many facilities but there is lots of wide open spaces, roaming cows, historic landmarks, meandering Sevier River and solitude.
So much to see! What do you look forward to on your next visit to the area?