Utah is a perfect destination for those who love the great outdoors. The rocky trails and deep valleys are great for hiking, while the grasslands filled with a variety of flora and fauna are ideal for camping or just some good old-fashioned sightseeing. Utah is also a good travel destination for those who want to dip their toes in outdoor adventuring. There are so many natural wonders to see in this state that even driving through it can be a scenic wonder to remember.
What to Know Before Driving in Utah
But before you hop into a vehicle and explore what Utah has to offer, you first have to know the rules and regulations of driving there. Much like with every new place that you travel to, the traffic laws in Utah can be slightly different from the ones in place where you come from. It’s best that you follow these rules to the tee, as law enforcement there may not take so kind the excuse that you come from another state, or even a completely different country. Keep your trip hassle-free by following the laws we’re about to discuss.
First and foremost, everyone who drives in Utah must have a valid driver’s license. Operating a motorized vehicle with an expired driver’s license carries quite the hefty fine in this part of the US. You may even find yourself barred from applying for a new driver’s license if you get pulled over while driving with an expired one. If you’re visiting from another country, you can drive in Utah as long as your driver’s license is valid and you’re at least 16 years of age. You could also apply for an international driving permit, which is issued by the American Automobile Association. Make sure you have all the necessary documents with you at all times.
If you come from a country that drives on the left side of the road – for example New Zealand, Malaysia, or the United Kingdom – driving in Utah can take some getting used to. This is because in the United States, they drive on the opposite side of the road. On that note, you can turn right even when you’re at a red light just as long as you come to a complete stop to check traffic beforehand. Once the coast is clear, you can turn even when motorists around you are stopped. Some roads prohibit this though so watch out for signs.
Being protected while on the road is also very important in the state of Utah. If you’re travelling with a child aged eight or below, they have to be in a child safety seat. This rule, however, does not apply to children that are over 57 inches tall. Everyone over the age of eight should wear a seatbelt at all times while in a moving vehicle. You could even get an offense if you’re not wearing a seatbelt in your car, even if you’re just a passenger. This only applies for people over the age of 19, though. Similarly, if you’re riding a motorcycle in Utah, you need to wear a helmet.
You should always follow the speed limits set in Utah when you drive there. Those are placed there for a reason, primarily to avoid road accidents. Stop signs are placed in different locations for the same reason, so make sure to come to a full stop when you see those as well. In a majority of the highways in the urban areas of Utah, the speed limit is 65 to 70 miles per hour. This applies in places such as Park City as well as Wasatch Front. This is also around the same limit imposed on state highways. As you get closer to the interstate roads, you’ll notice the speed limits getting higher at around 75 to 80 miles per hour.
Now that we’ve gotten Utah’s road rules and regulations out of the way, we can now talk about the scenic routes you can take on your next road trip there. Perhaps the most popular spot on this is list is the Byway 163, which goes right through the heart of Monument Valley. Taking this route will bring you across the border of Arizona, so you’ll get to experience some of the beauty that state has to offer as well. You may not have seen this place for yourself, but you’ve probably seen this in commercials, TV shows, and movies.
What people enjoy most about passing through Monument Valley are the countless spires that give it the feel of being in an old Western movie. The surrounding red rock desert has also become a favorite among visitors. Other famous spots on this route include the volcanic core of Alhambra as well as the village named after its inverted rock formation – The “Mexican Hat.” You could even pass by the San Juan River through its famous bridge.
Up next, we have the extremely scenic Highway 12. Despite its unassuming name, this route was given the distinction of being an “All-American Road” all the way back in 2002. If a road you’re going to pass through was given such an honor, then you know you’re in for a treat. Highway 12 is actually home to two of America’s national parks – namely the Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. These by themselves can give you sufficient reason to drive through here. However, there are many more sights to see aside from just these two parks.
If you’re a fan of trekking, you should visit the Bryce Canyon National Park as well as the aptly named Red Canyon. The Burr Trail and the Blues Overlook are other spots on Highway 12 that are perfect for a hike. If you’re feeling a bit hungry after all of those driving and outdoor activities you’ve been doing, you can stop over at Calf Creek Campground and have yourself a little picnic. If you just want to relax while taking in the sights and sounds of nature, you can go to Boulder Mountain and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.
Speaking of Capitol Reef, driving through this part of Utah is considered by many to be a scenic drive in and of itself. It’s over a hundred miles long, so it’ll be quite hard for you to run out of things to do and places to see. You actually need to drive to make your way through Capitol Reef, unlike Zion and Bryce Canyon where you’ll have to depend on a shuttle service to get around. You could even go to Capitol Reef from other states completely through the road. You can go there directly from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
The “Fruita” portion of this national park is more accessible to drivers. It’s named as such because of the many beautiful orchards that surround it. Aside from these orchards, there are also various hiking and camping spots scattered across the area. The best part is, most of this section of Capitol Reef is paved. On the other hand, the Waterpocket Fold and Cathedral Valley are more remote destinations. These scenic spots are perfect for backpacking. However, they’re ideally approached with an off-road vehicle. You might have some trouble getting there even if you use your “trusty, old” sedan.
Salt Lake City
Next on this esteemed list is the route going through Salt Lake City. For a lot of people, especially those who are travelling with the complete family, no road trip in Utah is complete without a trip to Salt Lake City. This part of Utah has a wonderful balance of outdoorsy attractions as well as more laidback destinations. For the former, you can take one of the many guided hiking tours available across the city. In case you didn’t know yet, Utah sits in a mountain bowl with over 4,000 feet of elevation. You could also visit one of the many ski spots here.
On the other hand, if you want to relax while you’re in Utah, you can go visit The Roof. While you don’t literally dine on top of a roof here, being so high up means that you can see the far and wide reaches of Utah while having a world class meal for lunch or dinner. There are also many shopping spots scattered across Salt Lake City. If you’re completely drained just from the flight going to Utah, don’t worry. There are plenty of suitable accommodations just a few minutes away. You can drop your bags and take a power nap soon after landing.
Another city you can pass through while you’re driving in Utah is Cedar City. Unlike Salt Lake, Cedar puts more of a focus on nature. Because of this, there are people who refer to it as the “Gateway to the National Parks.” This is because when you’re here, you’re only an hour away from Zion. You’ll also only be one and a half hours away from Bryce Canyon and only three hours away from Capitol Reef. This route is pretty near the Grand Canyon as well. Surprisingly, Cedar City is only half an hour away from Dixie National Forest.
There are also those who call Cedar City “Festival City, USA.” As the name suggests, there are many festivals that take place in this part of Utah. It’s not only music and movie festivals that happen here either. There have been festivals set up here to celebrate classic cars, livestock, or even the sonnets of Shakespeare. Aside from the festivals that take place here, there are also bike races, rodeos, sports competitions, as well as annual parades that feature you and your kids’ favorite storybook characters. It’s actually quite impressive that all of these happen in a single place.
Another highway that’s famous in Utah is Highway 89, which is also known as the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area. The latter name was given since this route leads you through five well-known heritage areas in Utah, namely Sevier Valley, Headwaters, Little Denmark, the Boulder Mountain Loop, and Under the Rim. In these five spots, there are countless shops wherein artists put their best works up for display and even on sale. You can find pottery, furniture, woodcrafts, jewelry and even clothing such as boots and shirts here.
When you go through the northeast portion of Highway 89, you’ll find yourself in Logan Canyon. From its name, you can probably guess that this route passes through the many camping spots and picnic groves that are along Logan River. If you’re a fan of outdoor sports, you’ll also be glad to know that there are many fishing and hiking spots located here. Don’t worry about missing out if you’re only going to pass through here. You’ll also get to see Bear Lake as well as the Beaver Mountain Ski Area as you drive by wonderful Logan Canyon.
Zion National Park is probably already on your itinerary if you’re planning to go to Utah. However, most people don’t know that the drive going there can be as scenic as the park itself. If you have a vehicle suitable for off-road travel, the St. George route is your best bet. This road is largely unpaved, but it’s beauty is unmatched. You can have a glimpse of the North Guardian Angel as well as the East and West Temples on this route. There are also spots here where you can see the Eagle Crags, the Virgin River Valley, and Canaan Mountain.
Dead Horse Point
Just a couple miles off the US-191 is the route through the Dead Horse Point. If you choose to go through here, you’ll be able to see parts of the Green River and Colorado River, as well as the bits of the Canyonlands National Park. That isn’t even the best part. In reality, most people come here to feast their eyes on the Colorado River Canyon. It’s not hard to drive here, too. From the information booth at the base of the Dead Horse Point, it only takes half an hour to drive the five miles all the way to the summit of this beautiful route.
Smokey Mountain Road
Lastly, we have the Smokey Mountain Road, which features countless switchbacks over a thousand feet up on Smokey Mountain. If you drive through here, you can gaze upon the beauty of Bryce National Park and Lake Powell. You’re going to need a rugged vehicle, though, to get through all 78 miles of this route. You can’t actually pass through this route if it’s wet, so take the weather into account for your trip. Make sure that you’re well-hydrated as well since this road is right in the middle of the desert. It usually takes around four to five hours to pass through here.
These are just 10 of the scenic drives you can take through Utah. If you have the time and resources, try to ask the locals for other routes you can take so you can make the most out of your trip in Utah.
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