The Best Road Trip Route Through the Desert in the U.S.
Best Desert Road to Plan a Road Trip Around
Route 12 and Route 24 (connecting)
Bryce Canyon to Arches National Park, Utah
This is a mind-blowingly (okay, that's not a real word) gorgeous road trip route through the desert! Ever fantasize about chucking it all and heading off down the road? Imagine driving through the desert with canyons and wild rock formations everywhere? Route 12 and 24 not only have all that, they're connected (almost - you'll need a brief stint on an interstate for the second one) by two outstanding national parks.
Start your trip with a day in Bryce Canyon – a fantastical landscape of smaller canyons and multi-colored spires and rock formations. If you can, hike all or part of the Fairyland Loop Trail (8 miles) to get up close and personal with the formations – the very best way to see them. If you don’t want to hike all 8 miles, hiking even a portion is well-worth it.
Now it’s time to hit the road and ride one of the best back roads through the canyons and desert in the U.S. – Rt. 12 and Rt. 24 (they connect). These are – not surprisingly – official scenic byways running directly through national forests and parkland. You’ll see all kinds of beautiful rock formations, canyons, buttes and lots of wildflowers from your car. Right after you turn right on Rt. 24 (12 comes to a T and you turn right on 24), stop at Capitol Reef National Park (you’ll be driving right past/through it) check out the gorgeous rock formations either on foot or just do a quick drive through for some amazing views.
Rt. 24 will end at I-70 and then you can head over to Arches National Park (it’s about an hour away) – one of the most unique parks in the Utah with its remarkable sandstone arches. For many, this is an all-time favorite park in the United States.
The ride between Bryce Canyon and Green River is about six hours, so plan on making a day of it and possibly stopping halfway if you want to spend time exploring (highly recommended – why miss all these amazing parks?). The best plan would be to spend a day at Bryce, then a half-day driving to Torrey, Utah through the Dixie National Forest and the afternoon in Capitol Reef (overnight in Torrey or camp in one of the parks), and then continue on 24 and then I-70 to Arches National Park.
I’d highly recommend you spend at least an entire day at Arches NP. This is one of the most photographed national parks in the US for a reason. If you like to camp, be sure to camp there and you’ll get to experience the park in all its glory – when all the busloads of people are gone.
This is the perfect desert road trip route – one you can enjoy year-round unlike the some (Death Valley in particular is no-go all summer). I love the desert and all the cool rock formations, canyons and cliffs, and this route encompasses it all.
Make sure to witness the sunrise and sunset in the desert - that's when the gorgeous colors of the rocks become so Technicolor, it's surreal. If you want to get that “Thelma and Louise” kick, this is the road trip for you as it captures a lot of scenery similar to the latter part of the movie (actually, many movies have been made in this area, so don't be surprised if a sense of deja vu hits you on this road trip).
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