TTG – Features – Why Utah offers the best road trip in the entire United States

FOur hours and a half from the nearest town, in the middle of the Utah desert, I’m watching a drive-in from the front seat of a cotton candy pink 1959 Edsel Ranger, the radio crackling when I find the right frequency. That’s not normal.

This morning, I went 20 meters into the wall of a canyon, got through the narrow space with my legs and dragged my butt along its steep walls. That’s not normal either.

And the day before, I walked a very tame and exceptionally photogenic llama named Tadpole through the remote red rock desert in 100 degree heat. Now I know that this is not normal. Who would go out in that heat?

Turns out I would. Because the only way to properly “road” through this frankly obscenely scenic and lightly traveled part of Utah, in fact, lightly traveled part of America, is to get out of the car.

In your confinement, you may have had a travel fantasy or two. For many, it was hitting the open road. From #vanlife Instagram posts to a desire for freedom and adventure, the road is calling. More specifically, Utah is calling.

“With its wide open spaces, stunning scenery and unique experiences, we’re finding that Utah offers the environment many travelers are looking for post-COVID,” says Jody Blaney, global markets specialist at the Utah Office of Tourism, who says the The state expects a 21.5% increase from 2019 to 2026 in international spending, noting that “there is especially renewed interest in destinations like national and state parks due to people’s reluctance to be in and around many others.” .

Llamas walking in Capitol Reef National Park © Claire Dodd

Llamas walking in Capitol Reef National Park © Claire Dodd


Utah has five national parks, the third largest of any US state. Zion, the oldest, received a record number of visitors exceeding five million in 2021, making it the second most visited park in the country .

But if, like me, your lockdown fantasy was to be completely away from other people, the lesser-known gems of southern Utah are for you. And if a road trip through this region is a trip to escapist fantasy, Scenic Byway 12 is our gateway.

“The nearest traffic light is 80 miles away,” says our guide, Shybree. “We have definitely left everyone behind.”

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From Salt Lake City it’s a four-hour drive through meadows, silos and farms to the dusty red rocks to reach the trailhead in Torrey, where you’ll find Capitol Reef National Park.

Byway 12 stretches 123 miles from here to Red Canyon, just beyond Bryce Canyon. Four more hours will take you to Las Vegas to fly home. Although I could drive all of Byway 12 in three hours, if you do it the right way, the slow way, it will take at least five days.

Monumental, remote and little visited, this national park, with its amazing plateaus and arches, attracted around a million visitors last year. In addition to hiking its red rock plateaus with the help of my trusty llama with Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas, here’s where you have to look up.

“You’re following a strange hairy man into the national park, so we want you to feel safe,” says Mason, our shaggy guide from Sleeping Rainbow Adventures, waving a torch in the dark. Utah has the highest concentration of International Dark Sky Association certified locations in the US, including Capitol Reef. From late June through October, the park is open for night tours of the Milky Way.

From Torrey, Byway 12 rises like a dinosaur’s backbone, winding through crevasses, mountains, canyons, forests and towns of only a few hundred people, reaching a height of 9,000 feet before descending to hug the successive interior cliffs of the Grand Staircase. Escalante National Monument.

Escalante has some of the most beautiful and difficult to climb canyons in the world © Claire Dodd

Escalante has some of the most beautiful and difficult to climb canyons in the world © Claire Dodd


The town of Escalante provides access to some of the most unique natural attractions in the area. Along with petrified forests and dinosaur footprints immortalized in the rock, there are the canyons.

“For canyoning fans, Escalante is the ultimate in the whole world,” says Rick Green, owner of Excursions of Escalante, who has been “pushing butt in these canyons” for 23 years. “It’s what the North Shore of Hawaii represents for surfing. The toughest guns in the world are here. Some of the most beautiful are here, and most are here.”

“That’s it, donate some fabric,” Rick says as I make my way over a 100-foot empty void, wedged and pinned by my butt against one canyon wall and my foot against the other.

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Here, deep in the desert, when it rains, the violence of flash floods has carved the soft the slippery rock of the valley floor into hundreds of intricate canyons, with folds, ledges, sudden curves and ravines. Descending on them is a sport.

Building confidence, we climbed and rappelled down dramatic drops that terrified me earlier in the day. Although a little strength and agility help, Rick maintains that some of his best clients are groups of inexperienced women in their 70s. “It’s about teamwork, that’s all,” he explains.

Claire enjoys a drive-in experience © Claire Dodd

Claire enjoys a drive-in experience © Claire Dodd

It’s time for bed and the new opening Yonder is calling. Described as an open-air luxury resort, its collection of vintage Airstream RVs, purpose-built modern cabins, community fire pits, food trucks and barbecues — not to mention its drive-in theater with a classic movie every night — tap into nostalgia for the great American . trip. Escalante is the first of many planned sites in “iconic” US destinations.

“With travel becoming more experience-driven, we’re having a lot of success,” says Emma Sallquist, Yonder’s director of sales and marketing, who says that while the property was aimed at attracting “glamping millennial types,” they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of families since it opened in March 2022.

“What we’re doing is really untapped, where families can experience this part of the country without having to rough it. It’s about that nostalgic component of the great American West.”

Nostalgic is right. Rising on the last morning to hike Bryce Canyon’s rocky spiers, or hoodoos, at sunrise, this is a landscape shaped by time and yet seemingly unaffected by it. In these valleys and plains, cowboys still roam, hikers still roam, and classic cars still haunt the desert.

Reserve: North America Travel Service offers an eight-night Scenic Byway 12 itinerary from £2,166 per person, including return flights to Salt Lake City and from Las Vegas, eight nights’ accommodation (one night in Salt Lake City, two in Broken Spur in Capitol Reef, two in Escalante, two in Ruby’s Inn Bryce Canyon, and one in Kanab) and all-inclusive car rentals with Hertz.; E-mail [email protected]

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