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THE GREAT OUTDOORS — Eastern Utah is home to many of the nation’s and even the world’s greatest natural wonders. From national and state parks to national forests and monuments, this part of the state has seemingly endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, whether you’re a beginning hiker or expert rock climber.
But, what if you prefer your outdoor excursions from inside a moving vehicle? That’s OK too because eastern Utah is not only spectacular up-close-and-personal but is a sight to behold from the comfort of your very own car.
Here are four road trips in this area that will take your breath away.
So, you’ve heard of the famous Route 66. Maybe you've even sported jeans bearing this classic road’s name. Well, this is not Route 66, but Highway 89. And while we might be biased, we believe it is much better and deserves an entire wardrobe dedicated to its awesomeness.
In fact, this road is so spectacular that it has provided over 22 years of scenic therapy to social worker Tim Einfeldt who has taken this commute to work weekly since 1995.
“I love going through Red Canyon and winding through tunnels,” he said. “I’ll often see eagles perched on telephone poles or trees or elk passing through. I enjoy the farmland of Panguitch and passing by parts of the Sevier River. As I head back toward Highway 12, I love looking at the backside of the mountains that resemble a patchwork quilt of colors and nature patterns. I just never get tired of it.”
Highway 89 passes through some of Bryce Canyon country into Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, with nature eye candy as far as the eye can see.
If your driving legs and sight-seeing eyes are up for a 123-mile excursion that covers two national parks, a national monument, a national forest, historic towns and unique mountain country, state Route 12 has it all.
Also known as Scenic Byway 12, this roadway most definitely lives up to its name. Throughout the drive, you will pass through places like Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and over Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest, then finally to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park.
And according to Bryce Canyon resident and local hotel manager Lance Syrett, this roadway is the destination.
“Highway 12 is a destination all its own,” he said. “Some highways you take to drive somewhere else, but Highway 12 is unique in that the highway is the destination. It is like a national park from start to finish.”
If during your trek, your legs need a good shakeout from sitting in the car, Cannonville has a fantastic visitor center that will educate you on the area’s rich pioneer heritage, and nearby Boulder has a museum that contains the remains of a prehistoric Native American village at Anasazi State Park.
Perhaps you aren’t keen on roughing it by foot but have no problem bobbling around in a high-clearance vehicle over a rocky and extremely awesome historic road. If so, Hole-in-the-Rock Road is for you. This road is 62 miles in one direction and takes you from Escalante to the Hole-in-the-Rock on the west shore of Lake Powell.
While not maintained, this road is still clearly marked, taking you the same way that the Mormon pioneers traveled nearly 140 years ago when creating the namesake passageway to their San Juan settlement. And if you’re interested in important landmarks along the way, the National Park Service has outlined many to be aware of including, of course, the breathtaking view at the landmark itself.
Keep in mind, however, that while this may be a shorter road trip, you will be in the middle of nowhere and could find yourself subject to extreme weather conditions including high temperatures or flash flooding. Make sure to check the weather and to bring provisions including food, water and a first-aid kit just in case you have any some vehicle trouble.
Well, what can we say about Moab, except that it’s awesome! But it isn’t just the slick rock mountain biking, ATV riding and rock climbing that makes this area worth a trip.
If you’re not in the area for the physical adventure, check out the sight-seeing splendor that comes by way of the Potash Scenic Byway (say that 10 times fast). This scenic roadway begins about 4 miles outside of Moab, then travels 17 miles toward Intrepid Potash Mine.
While on the road, you will drive a few miles along the Colorado River and pass sandstone cliffs where you may spot climbers in an area locals call “Wall Street.” You will also be able to pull off the road and see petroglyphs, dinosaur tracks, arches and more.
If your vehicle is a bit beefier and can withstand rough terrain, you may want to consider continuing your road trip on a dirt road to Canyonlands National Park.
What are your favorite local road trips? Let us know in the comments.