Undiscovered Southern Utah: Orderville, Torrey, Boulder, Elephant and more

Written by Becky
I’m an adventurer at heart.  I thrive in sketchy, unfamiliar places situations and unexplored territories.  I recently took a road trip with my husband and some of our closest friends to some of the more remote areas of Southern Utah in hopes of an adventure and returned with plenty of memories and blog-worthy stories. 

Our friends, being Utah locals for a few decades, knew of some great small towns and lesser-known state parks for us to visit.  We planned little for the trip with just a few goals in mind: find a ghost town, run along pink sand dunes, catch a good hike, enjoy a dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grille, and visit Orderville (a long standing joke between all four of us to visit this random small town that originated as an area designed for communal living established by Brigham Young, leader of the Latter-day Saints Religion).

Here is how our trip itinerary unfolded:
Day 1
leave SLC around 2pm
I15 to Cove Fort (got the royal tour as well as insider secrets about this old Mormon Fort)
Exit 95 to Panguitch
Dinner at Henrie’s Drive In, home of the Chubby
Hwy 20 to Hwy 89
Check out small towns- Hatch, Glendale, and Orderville, home of the Ho-Made Pies (stop at Valley High School in Orderville to check out the spray painted mountain-side)
Hwy 89 to Coral Pink Sandunes, arrive at dusk and camp ($16)

Day 2
Hwy 89 back through Orderville, driving along the aesthetic Asay Creek
Breakfast in Hatch at Adobe Cafe
Hwy 12 to Tropic
Check out Utah’s newest National Monument, Grand Staircase- Escalante
Hike at Calf Creek on Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail (excellent waterfall at the end of the hike; *make sure to pick up the map and read about the hike)
Hwy 12 to Boulder, dinner at the infamous restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill (featured in 1,000 Places to See u the U.S.A. and Canada Before You Die)
Hwy 12 to Torrey (one of the Top 10 Scenic Byways in the U.S.)
Stay at Hidden Falls Hotel (best customer service I’ve ever received) 2 queen beds $69/night or Kiva Koffee House in Escalante

Day 3
Enter Capital Reef National Park (free)
Tour Fruita, technically a ghost town although now run by the state
Grab a scone and fresh jam at Fruita Museum
Stop at orchards to pick your own fruit
Daring drive past Capital Reef towards Caineville, stop in Elephant, for fresh bread and fromage blanc cheese plus interesting conversation about Utah outlaws with the store owner of Luna Mesa Oasis
Turn around to Torry for lunch, Slacker’s Burger Joint
Head back to SLC

I can’t speak enough of how beautiful this trip was.  We arrived at the sand dunes just before sunset when the rays of the sun created a bright and almost unnatural pink color across the landscape.  It was breathtaking.  The other stunningly gorgeous moment was our drive from Boulder to Torrey along Hwy 12.  As we drove, we had no idea that this was rated as one of the top ten highways in America.  And I can’t forget to mention our hike at Calf Creek, ending at the most stunning waterfall encircled in a small cove, totally isolated from everything but the natural beauty of the falls. 
Our most random moment occurred in Elephant, Utah. What?  You’ve never heard of Elephant?  Well that’s probably because it’s not on the maps and probably only occupied by two people and a few goats.  This was as close as we got to a ghost town on our trip.  We were thirsty and lost trying to find Caineville, UT (listed on ghosttowns.com) until we found a little café.  Literally, miles of nothing, then all of the sudden a little café with a sign outside which said, “espresso, fresh salad and bread.”  We stopped in to find out we weren’t in Cainville.  We were in Elephant, a town of outlaws and goat’s milk.

The owner of the Café and longtime resident of Elephant, told us that even the strongest of Pioneers didn’t survive this part of the state.  Only the outlaws remain.  He explained that the area of Caineville and Elephant is not really ghost town worthy because most of the buildings and homes were no longer standing.  He and his wife were pretty much the only thing standing in the area.  We enjoyed a strong cup of coffee and a rustic rye bread, which we dipped into his goat cheese mixed with homemade cherry jam – probably the best and most unexpected treat of the trip. 

Some noteworthy food experiences of our trip:
Burgers at Slackers, Torrey, UT
Homemade biscuits and dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grill, Boulder, UT
Caramel shakes at Henrie’s Drive In, Panguitch, UT
Fromage blanc cheese and homemade rye bread in Elephant, UT
Foodie Recommendations for the Southern Area of Utah:
Orderville, UT :  Thunderbird Cafe, home of the Ho-Made Pies
Hatch, UT : Galaxy Diner, Adobe Cafe
Panguitch, UT : Henrie’s Drive In, Cowboys Smokehouse Cafe
Torrey, UT : Cafe Diablo (Zagat Rated), Rim Rock Restaurant, Slacker’s Burger Joint
Boulder, UT : Hell’s Backbone Grill (Zagat Rated and Oprah reviewed)
Elephant/Caineville, UT : Luna Mesa Oasis

If you’re an adventure seeker, or just like the sounds of spurs as a cowboy walks by, you should check out this unexplored side of Utah.

Comments (13)

  1. Oh this sounds so wonderful!!! I wish I were a back seat passenger!!! Thanks for sharing all your insights!!

  2. Holy hannah! I took a very similar trip last year and discovered Orderville (wow… that was a strange one) and tried to get into the Diablo but it wasn't open for service for another hour and with not much to do that we hadn't already done in the area, we decided to head home. It's a quirky, strange and wild little area down there. I enjoyed revisiting with your perspective!

  3. Alec, I've heard of Sunglow! I will try it next trip…pickle pie- sounds like a dare!

    ilikewinter, wild might be an understatement for some of those small towns. 🙂

  4. You gave away all the secrets! Beautiful trip you took. We try to do something similar at least once a year. I grew up in Southern Utah. It is a beautiful place and so misunderstood by most. Now you need to hit the Southwest side of the state. Gotta get some pie in Veyo!

    Did you try out the pinto bean, pickle and buttermilk pies at the Sunglow Motel/Cafe in Bicknell? It's not far from Torrey.

  5. Sounds like a beautiful trip! I have been wanting to take a road trip to Southern Utah and especially to visit Hells Backbone Grill. I think I am going to take your route and try out the places you recommended.

  6. Camille, let me know if you have any questions! It will be a fun adventure!

    Andrew, I will definitely have to check out the Southwest and Veyo!

  7. Becky, you are a master at making this all sound so magical! I've been to many of these small towns and spots, it does make for an interesting ride. I have a few favorites on a different route that I should write about . . . but you have so much class!

  8. when i was in 3rd grade, my family took a southern utah trip and stopped in fruita. did you see the little schoolhouse there?! right by the historic tree? i did a report on it and won the state reflections contest! i love that little place and i love this trip idea!

  9. I enjoyed reading your post so much! My mother was born and raised in Orderville (as well as several generations back from her), but most of the relatives I know have left, so I haven't been there in about 20 years.You brought back some fond memories. Thanks, Kelly.

  10. So glad you posted this! I love the pictures you chose and love how you captured our adventure so well with your words! It was so fun, we are having Rosenyder withdrawls!

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