The Scenic Byway 12/Burr Trail/Notom Road Loop brings you on an unforgettable journey through Capitol Reef Country’s rugged and diverse landscape. Begin the scenic drive in the Torrey, Bicknell, or Teasdale area, and head south on Scenic Byway 12, then east onto the Burr Trail, looping back up Notom Road through the east side of Capitol Reef National Park and back to Torrey.
Torrey is one of the gateway communities to this scenic loop, a pretty community with a tree-lined Main Street where the town’s original log schoolhouse still stands. Stop at the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Information Center for maps and information to get oriented before heading out on the loop.
Scenic Byway 12
As Scenic Byway 12 climbs Boulder Mountain, you’ll pass the Wildcat Guard Station, a seasonal information center housed in a charming 1935 log building. After about 30 minutes of driving, you’ll find Larb Overlook with views of the Henry Mountains and Navajo Mountain, and Steep Creek Overlook with visibility of up to 100 miles on a clear day. From 9,400 feet, Homestead Overlook offers dramatic sweeping views of the Waterpocket Fold, the Henry Mountains to the east, and the Kaiparowits Plateau to the west. It should take just about an hour to reach Boulder via the paved two-lane scenic road.
As you arrive in Boulder–a.k.a. the “last frontier in Utah”–make a brief stop at Anasazi State Park Museum, the preserved site of one of the largest native communities west of the Colorado River. Boulder is where Scenic Byway 12 and the Burr Trail intersect. Big signs ensure you won’t miss the turnoff.
Between Boulder and Bullfrog, this old cattle trail passes through the colorful landscape and slickrock canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park, with striking backdrops of the Henry Mountains, Waterpocket Fold, and Circle Cliffs. The narrow, paved Burr Trail twists and winds between craggy, light-colored Navajo sandstone domes, the petrified remains of ancient sand dunes. As you pass through The Gulch and into Long Canyon, the Wingate sandstone walls soar higher and the road narrows and transitions from asphalt to gravel and dirt as it crosses into Capitol Reef’s boundaries. There are great views of the Circle Cliffs, all five peaks of the Henry Mountains, and the craggy Waterpocket Fold. The junction to Upper Muley Twist Canyon and Strike Valley Overlook is right before the switchbacks.
Burr Trail Switchbacks
About 34 miles into the drive you reach the Burr Trail Switchbacks. This is where things really get interesting, a series of hairy switchbacks with incredible views of the Waterpocket Fold. Things level off in Burr Canyon, where the Navajo sandstone has eroded away and flat top mesas accent the desertscape as you approach Notom Road at the 36-mile mark.
Bear north and continue at a leisurely pace along the Waterpocket Fold—plan about two hours for this section. The drive along this unpaved backway alternates between packed and loose red sand. You definitely want to check the weather forecast because this isn’t the best road to drive during or immediately following wet weather. The Oyster Shell Reef is to the west, and you get a glimpse of the steps of the Grand Staircase in some of the rock formations. The road turns two lanes and paved for the last 11 miles.
Capitol Reef Visitor Center
Wind up your visit with a stop at the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to learn about the park’s interesting geology, archaeology, and history, before heading back to Torrey for the night.
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