Your weekend guide to Capitol Reef,
Boulder, Escalante and Bryce Canyon
The siren call of unknown roads and secret canyons draws adventurers into the landscapes of southern Utah each weekend.
Places like Moab and Zion National Park are popular for good reason—but there are other roads to explore. Some of the more promising ones, like Highway 12, wait along the route from Fishlake National Forest to Bryce Canyon.
Here, you’ll find uncrowded, epic destinations, farm-to-table restaurants and campsites with unspoiled views of the wildest country in the lower 48. It’s gorgeous country, but it’s born of vast solitude and demands your respect.
Follow this template for an unforgettable weekend of camping, hiking, canyoneering, mountain biking and indulging. It’s good to have a plan down there, but don’t let it stop you from exploring unnamed roads that call your name—and they will.
Camp With Pando
Three hours from the Wasatch Front, the heaviest organism on Earth, an 80,000-year-old aspen grove named Pando, makes a perfect place to camp. The Doctor Creek Recreation Campground has water and bathrooms—but make sure to reserve a site in advance—or find isolated camping down Forest Service roads.
Campground: 38.527482, -111.745625 Reservations: 877-444-6777
Coffee & Beta
In the morning, stop for coffee at Castle Rock Coffee. The espresso starts flowing at 6:30 a.m. for sunrise chasers. Don’t forget to ask about the weather or check on your phone if you have a signal. Stop next door at Capitol Reef Backcountry Outfitters if you want a hiking book or a map—both could come in handy.
875 E. Highway 24, Torrey, 435-425-2100, CastleRockCoffee.com
Hike Capitol Reef’s Chimney Rock
Capitol Reef is filled with spectacular day hikes. Just inside the park is Chimney Rock, a short 3.5-mile loop that’s worth exploring. Afterward, drive to the must-see roadside petroglyphs or a less-crowded hike up Golden Throne.
Trailhead: 38.315697, -111.303976, 3.5-mile loop, 1-2 hours
Pie & Beer
After a day of exploring, Rim Rock Patio is the best place to eat en route to camp. Serving up tasty pizzas—with satisfying gluten-free crusts to boot—this joint has an awe-inspiring patio to soak up the views of the Reef at sunset with a brew in hand. Toss some horseshoes, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch some live music during the weekend.
2523 E. Highway 24, Torrey, 435-425-3389, TheRimRock.net
Flute Shop Vibes
Check out and play the large selection of handmade Native American-style flutes at the Flute Shop Trading Post & Motel on your way up Boulder Mountain. This shop is also filled with Navajo-crafted jewelry, dream catchers and fossils. The flutes are easy to play and pleasant to have fireside.
1705 Highway 12, Torrey, 435-425-3144, FluteShopMotel.com
Highway 12 Camping
Mind-bending views and secluded campsites abound along Highway 12 from Torrey to Escalante. Calf Creek Campground offers pit toilets and potable water. To get away from the masses, pull down a dirt road onto BLM land for primitive camping. Settle in anywhere that puts Escalante within easy reach the next morning.
Campground: 37.795357, -111.414850
Located in a beautifully restored building on Main Street, Escalante Mercantile & Natural Grocery has all the natural goodies you need—organic fruits, veggies, meats and snacks. There are no better options in town, plus the owner is super-friendly and her dogs are adorable.
210 W. Main, Escalante, 435-826-4114
Stop at Escalante Outfitters for more info on your day’s adventure. Pick up a map and grab any gear you forgot, like sunscreen or a bottle of whiskey. Ask to fill up water if you need it—because you probably do. For a delicious lunch in the canyons, wise explorers order the Neon calzone to go.
310 W. Main, Escalante, 435-826-4266, EscalanteOutfitters.com
Spooky & Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyons
Check these magnificent, nontechnical slot canyons off your bucket list individually, or as a loop. Consider that Spooky is too tight for some—both physically and mentally. Travel Hole-in-the-Rock Road with a full tank of gas and lots of water. It’s 26.3 miles on a rough dirt road through flood country to Dry Fork road and the trailhead.
Trailhead: 37.476782, -111.220040, 3-mile loop, 3-4 hours
Burr Trail and Singing Canyon
The Burr Trail weaves through pristine desert from Boulder all the way to Lake Powell’s Bullfrog Marina. You don’t have to go far on this scenic road to find natural wonders. Singing Canyon, a roadside slot canyon renowned for unique acoustics, awaits after an easy 11 miles down the road.
Trailhead: 37.864826, -111.300527
Hell’s Backbone Splurge
Take a break from roughing it to enjoy a lovingly prepared farm-to-table meal at Hell’s Backbone Grill, one of the truly epic destination dining experiences in the United States. Be sure to make reservations. Then spend the night at the welcoming Boulder Mountain Lodge for a comfy bed and a hot shower. The lodge sits by a lake on 11 acres of beautiful country.
20 Highway 12, Boulder, 435-335-7460, Boulder-Utah.com
As Highway 12 spirals up from the red-rock magic, you’ll find Kiva Coffee House. Enjoy coffee from inside this oaky den, or sit on the patio to soak up the stunning views of the Escalante River. The coffee is tasty, and the homemade baked goods and breakfasts always hit the spot.
Mile marker 7386, Escalante, 435-826-4550, KivaKoffeeHouse.com
Thunder Mountain Hoodoo Ride
Thunder Mountain Trail—an intermediate mountain bike ride—switches through orange and white hoodoos, traverses sandstone fins, and rolls through high-desert forest. With two cars, you can shuttle this as a 7.9-mile mostly downhill jaunt—but the 14.7-mile loop is worth the time. Once you’re done, hightail it back home and to bed—the weekly grind starts tomorrow morning. Ah, that weekend made the long drive worth it, though.
Trailhead: 37.743030, -112.329324, 14.7-mile loop, 3-4 hours