4 Absolutely Beautiful Scenic Drives in Utah that You Have to Check Out

The secret’s out – Utah’s one of the most incredible states to visit! Below you’ll find the best scenic drive in Utah to add to your Utah bucket list. Between the five Utah national parks, epic mountains, incredible desert landscapes, and tons of land to hike and camp on, planning a trip to Utah should be on your radar!

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A great way to experience the state is on a scenic drive in Utah – and there are a lot of them to choose from!

Whether you’re a Salt Lake City local wanting to get out and experience the Fall foliage (like me!) or you’re traveling from out of state, this list has my favorite scenic drives in Utah to check out and plan a trip around!

Below you’ll find not only the scenic drives, but details about things to stop and do along the way and places to stay if you want to make it into a longer road trip. Let’s get started

Best Scenic Drives in Utah [mapped]

Below you’ll find a map to show you where each scenic drive is in Utah.

Simply click on the route within the map to see which is which, then read on below for all the details about each one!

Hwy 12 scenic byway in Escalante Utah

1) Scenic Byway 12: An All-American Road

This is by far my favorite scenic drive in Utah!

The drive is about 123 miles through some of the most spectacular, unique, and diverse landscapes that this country has to offer.

Sometimes referred to as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway”, this drive will have you stopping at scenic overlooks, driving under red rock arches, marveling at the red and white sandstone landscape, and saying “wow” about 10 million times.

The Details:

  • Scenic Byway 12 begins (or ends) in Panguitch, Utah. Soon after the drive starts, you’ll pass by the turn-off to Bryce Canyon National Park – a great detour to see a large amphitheater of hoodoos!
  • The drive ends in Torrey, Utah right outside of Capitol Reef National Park.
  • The drive can be done in either direction. I’ve driven it both ways and don’t have a preference. It’s spectacular either way!
  • The road is open year-round, but after major winter storms, some sections might be impassible until plowed. In addition, ice and snow can make some of the drive pretty scary in the colder months, so I would avoid going in winter conditions.
  • The Fall or Spring are my favorite times to make the drive.
  • There are no fees to drive on Scenic Byway 12, but some of the attractions along the way like the state parks do have entrance fees.
  • Pets are allowed, but dogs must be on a leash on the trails and at most of the view areas.
  • It will take about 3 hours to do the drive if you’re just driving, but I would plan for it to take longer with stops at viewpoints, state parks, or hikes along the way.

Things to Do Along the Way:

  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – plenty of slot canyon hikes and dispersed camping options
  • Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike – beautiful day hike to a 126-ft waterfall in the desert
  • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park
  • Escalante River Trail Backpacking – A 15-mile backpacking trip with natural arches, cliff dwellings, pictographs, and 1,000 ft canyon walls
  • Capitol Reef National Park – The least crowded (but seriously beautiful) national park in Utah
  • Bryce Canyon National Park – See a huge amphitheater of red rock hoodoos at this popular national park

Places to Eat or Stay:

  • You’ll have a lot of options for lodging and eating along the drive in the towns of Escalante, Boulder, Torrey, and Bryce Canyon.
  • There are gas stations at the start and end of the drive, as well as in the town of Escalante, which is roughly at the halfway point.

Below are some popular places to eat:

  • Kiva Koffeehouse – they also provide lodging options with incredible views! Not open year-round, so check hours before arrival.
  • Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm – organic, locally produced, seasonal cuisine, not open year-round
  • Burr Trail Outpost is a good place to stop and get a burger after a hike!
  • Mimi’s Bakery and Deli – sandwiches and baked goods
a road lined with bright yellow aspen trees in the mountains in fall

2) Mirror Lake Scenic Byway

With its close proximity to Salt Lake City, epic mountain and lake views, and popping foliage in the fall, it’s not a surprise that this is one of the most popular mountain drives in Utah!

The 42-mile Mirror Lake scenic drive (also known as state route 150), will take you into the Uinta mountains.

The Uinta mountain range is unique in that it’s one of the few mountain ranges in North America to run from east to west instead of north to south.

The Details:

  • Fees: $6 for a 3-day pass, America the Beautiful Passes are honored, just display it on your dash
  • The road is typically open from late May through October. The Mirror Lake Highway closure occurs when the snow is too deep to plow.
  • The drive begins in Kamas, Utah, and ends at the Wyoming border. It can be driven in either direction.
  • If coming from Salt Lake City, I like to start in Kamas, then drive as far as I want towards the Wyoming border until I turn around and drive home the way I came. It’s fun to see the drive from both directions. You notice different things on the way back.
  • The drive peaks out at Bald Mountain Pass at 10,715 feet!
  • There are many places to stop along the way at overlooks, picnic areas, lakes, and hiking trails.

Things to do Along the Way:

  • have a picnic at a lake or overlook

  • paddle around Mirror Lake
  • go fishing in one of the many lakes you pass along the drive
  • hike the Bald Mountain Trail
  • camp at one of the campgrounds

Places to Eat or Stay:

  • There are no lodges or facilities along the drive.
  • Make sure you have plenty of food, gas, and water for the day. Restaurants and gas can be found in Kamas, Utah
  • Just as you start the drive leaving the town of Kamas, you’ll pass the Samak Smokehouse. I love stopping in the shop to buy their famous beef jerky and get a coffee for the drive!
fall drive through the mt Nebo scenic byway

3) Mt. Nebo Loop Scenic Drive

This is another incredibly scenic drive close to Salt Lake City, Utah.

It’s my favorite drive in the fall months, and it’s something I try to do every year.

In the fall, the colors through the mountains are incredible, and this drive is often a lot less crowded than some other mountain drives closer to the city like Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

The Details:

  • There are no fees to take the drive, but there are fees for staying at the campgrounds.
  • The byway is 38 miles long and is closed in winter.
  • The ends of this scenic drive are in Nephi, Utah, and Payson, Utah. You can drive it in either direction.
  • Along the drive, you’ll reach over 9,000 feet in elevation and get incredible views of the Wasatch Mountains and Mt Nebo, which is the tallest mountain in the Wasatch Range at 11,928 feet. It’s a spectacular view!
  • Many scenic overlooks, hikes, horseback riding trails, and camping opportunities exist.
  • The drive will take about 1.5 hours to complete if you’re just driving, but for me, it usually takes a few hours because there’s so much to stop and see along the way.

Things to do Along the Way:

  • bring a lunch and have a picnic at one of the overlooks or picnic areas
  • the Payson Lakes Recreation Area has paved trails, picnic areas, camping, and fishing
  • Devil’s Kitchen Geological Interest Site is a short paved trail to an observation deck where you can see a red rock amphitheater that reminds me of Bryce Canyon National Park
  • hike the short Grotto Falls Trail to a small waterfall

Places to Eat or Stay:

  • There are no lodges along the drive, but there are plenty of campgrounds and dispersed camping options
  • Food, lodging, and gas can be found in Payson, Utah
  • Nephi, Utah is smaller than Payson, but it does have gas, food, and lodging options as well.
Mt. Timpanogos as seen from the Alpine Loop scenic drive in Utah

4) Alpine Loop Scenic Drive

The Alpine Loop road is the closest scenic drive to Salt Lake City on this list.

In the late summer, this area is one of my favorite places to come and see the wildflowers and go for a hike. The drive is especially popular in the fall months as a destination to see the changing leaves in the mountains.

The Details:

  • The drive is typically open from late May to late October. It is closed in the winter months.
  • Fees: A 3-day pass is $6, a 7-day pass is $12, and an annual pass is $45. America the Beautiful Passes are honored, just display it on your dash
  • The Alpine Loop scenic drive is about 20 miles from the mouth of America Fork Canyon (Hwy 92) to Provo Canyon (Hwy 189).
  • Along the drive, you’ll see incredible views of Mount Timpanogos.
  • There are campgrounds, picnic areas, and overlooks along the drive.
  • This drive typically takes an hour to complete, but it will depend on how much you stop!

Things to do Along the Way:

  • Timpanogos Cave National Monument
  • Hike to Stewart Falls – a popular 3.3-mile hike to a large waterfall
  • Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon – You can see this huge waterfall right from the car, but if you prefer to walk, you can park your car down in Bridal Veil park and walk along the paved route.
  • Cascade Springs – clear natural pools and cascading terraces filled with fish

Places to Eat or Stay:

  • Along the drive, you’ll find several campgrounds. Since this area is close to the city, it tends to be crowded so it’s best to look into reservations to secure a spot.
  • The beautiful Sundance Resort is located right along the drive.
  • Gas, food, and lodging can be found in both American Fork and Provo.
Scenic drive in Utah during the fall

What to Pack on a Scenic Drive in Utah

Below are some of the essentials I always take on scenic drives!

homemade trail mix road trip snack

Lots of snacks

No good road trip is complete without snacks, right? These are some of my favorites:

binoculars for viewing animals on the scenic drive

Binoculars

Binoculars are a must on these scenic drives.

They allow you to see so much more than you can see with your naked eyes, and it’s a lot of fun to sit at a viewpoint and look for animals.

Patagonia jacket

Extra Clothing

These scenic drives in utah through the mountains can actually get very chilly since the roads get high in elevation. Having extra layers in the car will keep you warm at the top!

Hydro Flask water bottles

Water

As always, it’s important to stay hydrated, so I always pack a large water bottle.

Enjoy Your Utah Scenic Drive! Which drive are you going to do first? Let me know in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. Re Mt Nebo Fall Foliage Drive, when is peak Foliage? Is Oct 8 too late? And how is the drive on a weekend, say a Sunday in terms of traffic? Will be headed that way soon!

    1. I don’t think that will be too late! The photo in this post was taken in mid-October. Since this drive is a little further from the city, I don’t think it gets quite as much traffic as the Cottonwood Canyons or the Alpine Loop.

  2. Thank you for the Alpine Loop suggestion. We came in for a quick trip from Texas and wanted a day trip into the mountains. This was perfect!