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.
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.