Classic Roads: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Classic Roads: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

This south-central corner of Utah offers a strikingly beautiful landscape that captures the mystique of the Southwest—specifically Bryce Canyon. The area is packed with visually stunning scenery, with SR 12 gently weaving through it all.

It’s casual and easy-going motorcycle touring combined with amazing sightseeing.

Starting in the eastern part of the state in Panguitch, UT, pick up SR 12 about eight miles south of the town and begin the 100-mile weave of gentle corners through Red Canyon. The route then proceeds to Henderson Canyon, turning slightly northeast to Petrified Forest State Park, Escalante, and north to Upper Falls, Boulder, and finally to Capitol Reef National Park.

It’s an impressive and pleasantly laid out route of scenery somewhat exclusive to this part of the world.

The real spectacle, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, is named for its multicolored rocks, cliffs and buttes. The canyons were formed over millions of years, the great plateaus and mesas being cut through and reshaped by nature and the elements into canyons. The resulting layers of the exposed underlying rock present a range of dynamic colors and create the appearance of a staircase.

Although only about 100 miles, allow a full day for this ride, as you will find numerous reasons to stop, whether for photos or merely to take in the breadth and scope of the area. Along with numerous stops to enjoy panoramic views, there are hiking trails that will get you further into the magic of this unique and peaceful place.

Despite names like Hell’s Backbone, the scenery is quite beautiful, with rocky landscapes as well as dense forests of pine and aspen trees. Escalante and Boulder are well-placed towns along the route to regroup and have a meal.

Points of Interest

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon has earned a mystical reputation over the years, and for a good reason. From its red rocks and pink cliffs to its endless vistas and its famous hoodoos—the strangely beautiful irregular columns of rock—Bryce Amphitheater is perhaps the best viewpoint to fully appreciate these unusual geological wonders.

Bryce Canyon is actually not a single canyon, but a series of natural bowls and amphitheaters carved out of the high plateau. You can view the hoodoos from four main viewpoints, all located within a few miles once inside the park.

The key viewpoints are Bryce Point, the aptly named Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. Bryce Canyon offers a serene atmosphere that invites peace of mind, so make sure to stop from time to time and find your own spots to take it all in.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, also known as Escalante State Park, is located just half a mile from the town of Escalante, UT. The visitor center features displays that explain the many plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones to be found here. These items represent a passing of some 150 million years, dating back to the Upper Jurassic Period.

There is a one-mile trail that loops out and winds its way up to a mesa where fossil wood can be seen. Some of the fossilized wood is multicolored and is believed to have been deposited here by a river that once ran through this region.

The optional Sleeping Rainbows Trail adds a bit less than a mile to your hike. This trail is steeper than the main one and requires some rock scrambling.

For those who fish, Wide Hollow Reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout and bluegill, and is a popular watersports destination.

Anasazi State Park Museum

Located in the town of Boulder, UT, near Capitol Reef National Park, is the Anasazi Museum. This museum shelters the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) village that dates back to around 1050.

One of the largest Native American communities west of the Colorado River, known as the Coombs Site, it is believed to have been home to as many as 200 Anasazi. The museum has a full-size six-room replica of one of the dwellings typical to this type of village. It is set with artifacts excavated from the site for a true depiction of the ways this ancient Native American people lived.

The Museum has a store, an auditorium, an outdoor picnic areas, and an information center offering maps for the area, including maps of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Facts & Info

An ideal location, Bryce Canyon Lodge is one of the most sought-after choices for overnight stays in the park. An architectural treasure, the lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This government-operated lodge located inside the park offers comfortable motel-style accommodations that include private balconies. There are also cabins available.

Situated inside Bryce Canyon, you can experience all the drama of steep cliffs, rocks, and the wilds of nature in absolute comfort. There is a general store on-site for snacks and food, as well as the lodge’s restaurant for a proper sit-down meal, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Best Time to Travel

Bryce Canyon is a very popular tourist destination and the summer months attract crowds, often jamming the narrow two-lane road that cuts through the park. From April to October, the weather is warm, with summer months bringing the most tourists. Visiting in either spring (April, May) or fall (September, October) provides the best bet for solitude and fewer crowds.