Hiking in Utah’s Red Canyon – A Quiet Alternative to Bryce
Red Canyon marks the start of Utah’s Scenic Byway 12. Its features are similar to those in Bryce Canyon National Park – located 13 miles further along the Byway. Consequently, many visitors simply drive through while on their way to Bryce, admiring Red Canyon’s scenery from their car. But, Red Canyon is worthy of a stop in its own right. It features a Visitor Center, large parking lot, and several great hiking trails with some spectacular scenery. We visited Bryce Canyon again this summer…..because it’s amazing. But during that trip, I also made it a point to spend some time hiking in Red Canyon.
Utah’s Scenic Byway 12
Scenic Byway 12 starts just south of Panquitch Utah in the southwest part of the state – a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City. This 120 mile stretch of highway is considered one of the most scenic in the United States. It starts at Red Canyon and ends at Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way, it passes the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park (transecting its northern corner), passes near the entrance to Kodachrome Basin State Park, passes through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, crosses up and over Boulder Mountain, and ends at Torrey Utah just outside Capitol Reef. The drive along the Byway offers an amazing variety of Utah topography and grandeur. And, every stop along the way is a highlight.
Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon sit on opposite sides of the Paunsaungunt Plateau, and demonstrate similar erosive geology. The limestone edges of the plateau have been eroded with time to reveal spectacularly colored cliffs and hoodoos. Red Canyon sits within the Dixie National Forest. Its red rock features offer striking contrast to the Forest’s green ponderosa pines.
Red Canyon is managed by the US Forest Service. Its large visitors center and parking lot sits right alongside the highway. From here, you can access several trails through the canyon. A paved biking trail also runs for 11 miles along the highway in this area.
We hiked the Pink Ledges Trail and the Birdseye Trail. Another popular trail that I’d hoped to hike – the Golden Wall Trail – had been damaged by recent heavy rain, making certain sections difficult to pass. We skipped it this visit.
Pink Ledges Trail
This trail starts at the eastern end of the main parking lot. It’s relatively short, but packs in a lot of great scenery over its 0.7 miles. Because it’s so short, even if you are just passing through, I recommend that you stop and hike it. It’s a little steep in a couple of sections, but AllTrails.com rates the entire hike as Easy.
Hiking the Pink Ledges Trail is similar to hiking through the bottom of the Bryce Amphitheater. You find yourself passing by and looking up at awe-inspiring hoodoos. The colors here though are more uniform than Bryce’s – a deeper red color in contrast to the pinks, oranges, reds, and whites of Bryce Canyon.
Here’s what you can expect to see along the trail:
At the end of the Pink Ledges Trail, you can return to the Visitors Center, or you can continue hiking westward along the Birdseye Trail. This is a 1 mile hike that offers a different taste of the Canyon’s topography. This trail follows along the edge of the lower canyon walls, offering views out across the entire area. The hoodoos aren’t as concentrated or close along this trail, but the scenery is no less spectacular. It’s also rated an easy hike by AllTrails.com.
Here’s some photos from along this trail:
The Birdseye trail ends next to the highway. Rather than retracing your steps along the trail, you can cross the highway and returned to the Visitor’s Center along the paved bike trail (a shorter 0.5 miles)
Final Thoughts and Tips
There is no entrance fee when visiting Red Canyon. And it’s not crowded! Sometimes getting into Utah’s National Parks can be an exercise in patience, and Bryce Canyon is no exception. If you are looking for a great way to enjoy hoodoos without crowds, then be sure to stop at Red Canyon. We only encountered one other couple on our 2.2 mile Sunday afternoon hike.
But, this is not a suggestion to skip Bryce. You shouldn’t!! I rate the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater as Utah’s single greatest sight. But Red Canyon is a great late morning or early afternoon alternative during those periods when Bryce is packed.
For further insight to some of the other wonders along Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, then check out my posts about Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.
And if you are looking for a great place to stay while exploring this part of Utah, then check out my post on the Sevier River Ranch and Cattle Company.
Stefan (Berkeley Square Barbarian)
Never heard of Red Canyon, but sounds and looks like an awesome place to visit, Steven!
Some of the tops of the cliffs almost look like stalagtites.. or is it stalagmites..? I never remember.
Rest assured, I wouldn’t skip Bryce, but I think if I have a bit of time left when I’m in the area, this might just be where I’d spend it.
Definitely worth a quick stop while in the area Stefan
Carina | bucketlist2life
Bryce Canyon is on our bucketlist already but Red Canyon looks like a great addition (or alternative?). All the hoodoos without all the people? Count me in!
Hoodoos without people…. That really sums it up nicely!
Red Canyon is an excellent tip to avoid crowds. We’ll skip an attraction if it’s crowded because we prefer to find places where we’ll mostly be alone outdoors. Another great place!
I really love to avoid crowds too. It can be such a problem with the Utah National Parks. But they are so beautiful, I can’t blame all the people for wanting to see them. Red Canyon is great place to escape for a bit
Paul (Paul Explores the World)
I love these pictures! We passed by Red Rock on our way to Bryce last year. I would have liked to stop but we didn’t have time. After reading this I’ll definitely have to check it out next time I’m there!
Thanks Paul. It’s a picturesque place. And well worth a stop next time
I feel like I say this a lot, but what a gorgeous place! Those red formations are incredible.
Yeah, I get it. Whenever I write about some of these Utah sights, I run out of superlatives as well.
I’ve always wanted to visit Bryce Canyon but seeing as Red Canyon is just as amazing with fewer crowds sounds even better! I think it’s good for the parks if not everyone goes to the same few and ventures out to less visited ones. The colors in Red Canyon are stunning and love the shapes of the hoodoos!
See them both for sure!
So happy you’re back so I can get my Utah fix! Beautiful images as always. Adding Red Canyon to my list when I do finally visit your beautiful state!
I’m sure you’ll love it when you do make it here!
I love Utah and have visited the National Parks and some of the State Parks, but I have not seen Red Canyon – yet! I cannot believe you only saw one other couple on a weekend hike. It looks absolutely stunning with some amazing hikes. Definitely on my hit list the next time I am in Utah.
Given your extensive travels in this part of the US, I’m surprised you haven’t stopped there yet Jane. I’m sure you’ll love it when you do
Elena at TravelByExample
Red Canyon looks amazing and absolutely a must see in Utah. Love the pictures of those red rock formations!
Very cool to hike through them…
Travel for a while
Wow, the scenery of the Red Canyon is amazing and having it all to yourself doesn’t hurt either. All photos are screensaver material 😃
It really was kind of surreal to have it all to ourselves!
I would love to visit both Red Canyon and Bryce Canton and the Byway sounds like an incredible drive. Our family would enjoy the hike with those stunning rock formations. Can’t wait to visit Utah one day.
So many great things to see along the Byway. If you do eventually make it over here Wendy, they you need to see it all!
Did you say Red Canyon and not Red Planet? Well look at those rock formation and the terrain! I feel like stepping into an entirely different cosmos. Perhaps Utah after all is otherwordly 😉 Fabulous pics! #flyingbaguette
Excellent point! I actually do think that various Utah locations have been used to fill in for Mars in movies before…