Experience scenic Highway 89’s drive of a lifetime
By Kathleen Curry & Geoff Griffin
U.S. Route 89 is a one-of-a-kind highway in the American West. Running north and south from Arizona to Montana, the 1,250-mile route has had many nicknames: “The National Park Highway,” “America’s Most Scenic Road Trip,” and the “Boulevard of the National Parks.” National Geographic extols its geological diversity, listing it as a Top 10 Drivers’ Drives. “Open roads rarely come finer,” the listing reads.
The highway runs through the heart of the Beehive State. It’s a jumping off point to Utah’s national parks as well as spots known only to locals, accessing deserts, canyons and forested mountains passes—through tiny farming towns as well as thriving cities.
U.S. Route 89 first opened in 1926, originating in Flagstaff, Ariz., running up to Utah and continuing through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, all the way to the Canadian border.
A great way to get to know Utah is to drive U.S. 89 from one end of the Beehive State to the other. The following itinerary takes you south to north with multiple suggestions for places in which to linger. How you travel to the Arizona border before the trip, and return home from the Idaho border afterward, is up to you.
Big Water, Utah
Kick things off from the southern end of the state, with your first night near the Arizona border in the town of Big Water at Dreamkatchers Lake Powell Bed & Breakfast (1055 S. American Way, Big Water, 435-675-5828, DreamkatchersLakePowell.com). After you drop your bags in one of the three rooms (hopefully you brought your own brown-bag dinner snacks—sandwiches, salads, fruit and wine—since dining-out options in Big Water are limited), head up to the rooftop jacuzzi and enjoy views of the stars with no surrounding light pollution.
Big Water to Bryce Canyon National Park
The breakfast menu at Dreamkatchers includes Swedish pancakes with lingonberry preservers or baked French toast stuffed with peach cream cheese.
If you want to head south on U.S. 89 across the border to Lake Powell, you’re just a 20-minute drive from Wahweap Marina (LakePowellMarinas.com), the most southwestern point on Lake Powell, where you’ll find a large fleet of houseboats and recreational watercraft plus restaurants, a campground, swimming pools and lodging.
Another option is to head east on U.S. 89 toward Kanab, a 50-minute drive. Once you arrive in Kanab, 89 turns north. A drive of another 20 minutes will bring you to Mount Carmel Junction and the turn-off to the east entrance to Zion National Park (NPS.gov/zion) at Utah State Route 9. You’ll find shuttle service into the park from March through late October. To really see the park, though, you’ll most likely want to spend more time here and stay the night in nearby Springdale.
Continuing north on U.S. 89 for about 45 minutes, the next major turn-off is Utah Scenic Byway 12 (see “Deja Vu,” p. 18) a road that will take you to Bryce Canyon National Park (NPS.gov/brca) in about 20 minutes. Even a brief visit here at the overlook viewing the expansive crimson-colored hoodoos is well worth a detour. You can then return to U.S. 89 to continue your explorations.
Panguitch to Ephraim
Just past the turnoff to Scenic Byway 12 on U.S. 89 is the town of Panguitch. If you’ve made stops along the way, it should be close to lunchtime. Tandoori Taqueria (5 N. Main, Panguitch, 435-962-9395, TheTandooriTaqueria.com) features the tandoori taco, made with Indian-spiced chicken, sauces and toppings—wrapped in a naan shell. It pairs well with the housemade kombucha and don’t forget the dessert of honey flan brûlée.
From Panguitch, remain on 89 until you reach Gunnison. Here, the highway jogs off to the east, but adventurers can also head west on Utah Route 28 to arrive at Yuba State Park (StateParks.utah.gov/parks/yuba), a 22-mile long reservoir where you can enjoy beaches, warm waters and year-round fishing. There are also zip lines featuring a 1,500 foot ride over desert landscapes with views of the reservoir.
Returning to Gunnison and getting back on U.S. 89, in about 15 minutes, you’ll pass through historic Manti—home of the Manti LDS Temple—followed by Ephraim a few miles further. Once in Ephraim, there are multiple ways to enter into Manti-La Sal National Forest (FS.USDA.gov/mantilasal), where you’ll find deep sandstone canyons, meadows, lakes, archeological sites and several scenic drives perfect for leaf-peeping, including Elk Ridge State Scenic Backway, Ephraim to Orangeville Road and La Sal Mountain Loop State Scenic Backway.
Ephraim to Spring City
Depending on which detours you’ve taken during the day, it may be getting close to dinner time. Before heading out of Ephraim, consider stopping by Kalama’s Island Style (61 S. Main, Ephraim, 435-283-3577). As the name suggests, Leslie and Rick Kalama, who hail from Hawaii, serve up traditional island plates along with poke and sashimi.
From Ephraim, it’s about 10 miles on U.S. 89 to Spring City, a National Historic District with more than 50 historical homes. One of these homes is The Osborne Inn (216 S. Main, Spring City, 435-462-9338, OsborneInn.com), a good mid-point stop for your overnight stay. The restored Victorian house, which first opened to boarders in 1896, has four guest rooms with private baths. Feel free to explore the town on complimentary bicycles.
Spring City to Draper
Use those bikes to ride over to Das Cafe (33 N. Main, Spring City, 435-462-7484), a German restaurant that opens at 7 a.m., with breakfast available all day on weekends. Get a German sausage with your eggs or try the “Mormon Mocha,” a mixture of hot chocolate and Pero that is topped with whipped cream.
After breakfast, travel north on U.S. 89 for 40 miles to the junction with U.S. 6. Go left onto Utah State Route 116, which later turns into U.S. 89. Traveling north, it’s just a few miles to Exit 258 that will take you to Fifth Water Hot Springs. Head exit east toward the mountains about 10 miles up Spanish Fork Canyon. You’ll see the turn off for Diamond Fork Road that takes you to Three Forks Trailhead. It’s the starting point for a 4.5-mile round-trip hike that gives you a chance to see some beautiful waterfalls and soak in relaxing hot pools.
Draper to Perry
Returning to U.S. 89, travel north through Utah County to Lehi where U.S. 89 merges with Interstate 15. Just north of the Point of the Mountain in Salt Lake County, take the 12300 South exit into Draper, where a lunch stop at Oak Wood Fire Kitchen (715 E. 12300 South, Draper, 801-996-8155, OakWoodFireKitchen.com) will not disappoint. Their oak-fired baked Neapolitan pizzas and skillet cookies are the perfect antidote for the hunger pangs resulting from your hike to the hot springs.
After lunch, head west to State Street (which is actually U.S. 89), and then travel north covering the length of Salt Lake Valley up to 400 South in downtown SLC. There, U.S. 89 jogs west to 300 West, where you’ll turn right and continue north to Davis County, as U.S. 89 parallels I-15 all the way through Bountiful. It briefly merges with the interstate while passing through Centerville and Farmington, then branches off again just past Lagoon amusement park.
Just north of Ogden on U.S. 89, you’ll pass through the town of Willard, where you can take a left at 750 North and travel a few miles to Willard Bay State Park (StateParks.Utah.gov/parks/willard-bay), a fresh water reservoir on the flood plains of Great Salt Lake. The reservoir’s warm waters are perfect for boating, swimming, water skiing, birdwatching and fishing.
The drive along U.S. 89 between Willard and Brigham City is also where you’ll find Utah’s Famous Fruit Way (Facebook.com/UtahsFamousFruitWay) in full harvest mode. You can buy top-quality produce picked fresh at local farms from stands all along the route.
Perry to Logan
For dinner, just south of Brigham City, you’ll find Maddox Ranch House (1900 S. Highway 89, Perry, 800-544-5474, MaddoxFineFood.com), a Utah classic since 1949. The gigantic steakhouse is noted for its grilled beef and bison steaks and fried chicken served with a basket of homemade rolls and cornpones and raspberry butter. It’s best to call en route (or in advance) to get a reservation. And don’t forget to finish up with a slice of peach pie
After dinner, head northeast through Sardine Canyon on U.S. 89 and stay on the route for about 30 minutes until you reach Logan, where you can take the unique opportunity to stay overnight right in the heart of a college campus at Utah State’s University Inn. (650 N. 875 East, Logan, 800-231-5634, Hotel.USU.edu). Once you’ve checked in, it’s just a short walk over to the Old Main building and a beautiful view overlooking Cache Valley dressed in its fall finery.
Logan to Garden City
When it comes to breakfast, Herm’s Inn (1435 Canyon Road, Logan, 435-792-4321, HermsInn.com) features a rich sausage gravy poured over fried chicken and a buttermilk biscuit. Also, when they say their pancakes “are bigger than your face,” they’re being modest. These flapjacks are closer to the size of a hubcap.
As for the final stretch of U.S. 89 in the Beehive State, it winds 40 miles north through Logan Canyon, over the mountains and down into Garden City, located next to Bear Lake (BearLake.org). Getting there, the highway follows the Logan River until it heads into the mountains, rising to an elevation of 7,800 feet, offering exquisite views of Bear Lake’s turquoise waters. The hourlong drive from Logan to Garden City is ablaze with autumn hues, set off by evergreens and the blue waters of area lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
Before returning to Salt Lake City, consider stops at Ricks Spring, Tony Grove Lake and Bear Lake Viewpoint. Or, at Guinavah-Malibu Campground in Logan Canyon, take a 5-mile (uphill) hike to Wind Cave, a unique limestone formation with giant alcoves worth exploring.
Traveling U.S. 89—Utah’s “Heritage Highway”—unlocks adventure every step of the way. It’s truly the path to Utah’s heart and soul.