First Time On Cottonwood Canyon Road

We are huge fans of scenic drives, and we are very big fans of the National Monuments/Parks that aren’t visited as much, so when we heard from Cori about Cottonwood Road we absolutely knew that was something we wanted to do.  We talked to a couple of BLM offices about whether we could do the road without four-wheel drive and when they both said yes (as long as it was dry), we headed off down the road, with a packed lunch and a list of things to see that was provided by the BLM.  Some of the things I will mention are on that sheet, but others we stumbled across on our own.

We had a wonderful day, so I am going to provide a visual tour of what we saw and did, and if you reset your tripodometer when you enter the road from Highway 89 these mile markers should be pretty close.  As an FYI, we started the road at 10:11am, made the roundtrip drive with multiple stops and one 3 mile hike, and still were finished by 4:30pm.  That being said this is an isolated road and before heading out check your tires and bring water and some snacks just in case.

Grand Staircase is really huge. I highlighted out route in green so you can see how deep we were able to go into the park

It’s 40 miles to Kodachrome Basin State Park, where the road is again paved and we turned around and started back. You can start this route from the north and come the other way, which I would actually recommend if you only want to see the arch, but there’s a lot to see on this gorgeous drive no matter how you do it.

MM 3.5 – Our first stop along the route was some prehistoric oyster beds that were over 93 million years old.  Look for low cliffs of sandstone and get out and walk across, and then you can see (and touch) the fossilized oysters.  For many people this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I loved touching something that was verified to be so old.

These are pretty low profile and easy to miss so keep an eye on your odometer

The oyster beds are pretty near the road



I definitely should say that the road, although challenging, wasn’t even close to the worst we have been on.  It was  smooth in several places with patches of washboard, but only a few deep ruts. I actually found the steep climbs and dips the most scary, but Lee loved them, and our truck handled them like a champ.

The scenery kept changing as we drove, which I loved.

MM 7.4 –  We took a short road to the see big boulders and a huge rock with a table on the backside.   Lee noticed that it looked a little bit like a fifth wheel so he moved the truck and we took a picture.

Love me a big rock!

This is what you see from the road and check out our new Flintstones fifth wheel 🙂

MM 7.6 – You start to see the Pariah river off to the left.  It was a muddy little creek when we were there, but there was enough water for a small group of cows to hang out.  Plus lots of vegetation.

MM 14.2- There are two trailheads hereHackberry canyon on the left and Big Yellow Rock on the right.  Big Yellow Rock is a “strenuous climb” according to our paper, and looked like it might be right up our friend Deb’s alley! I should also mention that electric power lines were along the road we were driving for the first 25 miles or so.  In places I got out to walk a bit and take a pic and the ground had lots of snake holes in it.  We didn’t see a snake all day, but were constantly on the lookout, so I ultimately took the pictures and photoshopped out the lines, when I wanted to.  I did leave them in though in a few pictures so you could see.

Big Yellow Rcok on the left you can see the power lines that ran along the road

Beautiful rock and I photoshopped the power lines out of this pic

Loved the thick strip in this rock too and I walked out into the field to get this pic without the power lines.  I think this was at MM 15.6

MM 19–  On the left there was this huge purple and white rock.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.  Then we came up over a hill and we saw an incredibly neat cloud formation that looked like a UFO hanging over the valley.  I’ve done my best to capture that moment, but it looked much better in person.

If anyone knows what this rock is please let me know

Definitely felt like I was in a sci-fi movie for a moment

The cool landscape helped with that feeling

MM 24.4- This is the Cottonwood Narrows south entrance which we went into and MM 25.4 is the north entrance.  I would actually recommend going in at the north entrance and I’ll tell you why later in the post.  The hike is 1.5 miles long (each way) through the canyon, or 1 mile if you walk back on the road. It is a narrow canyon so you may want to time the hike when you will get good light, but we chose to do it at the end and it was still very pretty.  Near the north entrance you go up a hill and see some of the most amazing scenery I ever ever seen on one of these scenic drives.  The landscape makes a change and it truly looked like a fairyland or ogre land as Lee thought of it.  Fantastical!

This is what the outside of the canyon looked like. There was a long stretch on the left with this landscape

This is the hill right before the scenery changed

And this is what we saw


It was a short little section of road but what a delightful surprise

MM 28.9-  This is the turnoff for Grosvenors arch, and we arrived at 12:06, just in time for lunch.  Thankfully the road quality was the same as the other road we were on, but it would be worth the 1 mile hike there if it wasn’t.  There are a couple of picnic tables and a pit toilet at the location, but I would definitely recommend bringing your own toilet paper because it was out when we got there.  It is a short walk up a paved path to a great viewing area or you can go farther and walk right up to the arch itself. At 152 feet I really didn’t understand exactly how big it was, and the views changed the closer you got.  This was our first experience with a large stone arch like this and what a wonderful one to start with.

This is the picnic table we ate at

This is a double arch

Looking up at the arch

Looking up at the arch

Lee’s pic

Lee’s pic

The arch had layers with different colors which surprised me

Every view was different and it was hard to select just a few to post here. This was one of my favorites because of the dead tree in the foreground. I was going to make it black and white but didn’t want to lose that bright blue sky.   Really special place to take pictures.


MM 40ish
– After leaving the arch, we drove another 12 miles to Kodachrome Basin State Park (if you are using your tripometer don’t forget you just put a couple extra miles on going to the arch)  The traffic did get a little heavier in this section since many people were coming south from the park to see the arch.  Originally we were planning on paying the $8 and driving into the park, but the attendant said it was a really small park and in order to see it you really needed to do a hike.  Since we were planning on doing the canyon on the way back we decided to just head back, but I did put the park on my list of places to stay and we will try and go there and do a hike while we are in the Bryce area.

Nice views from here of the Kodachrome Basin

On the way back we stopped at the Cottonwood canyon and although the hike was one of the best we have ever been on it was much harder physically than we expected.  Part of the problem was walking in sand in many sections and another problem was piles of rock we had to clamber over at both ends. You decide for yourself if it was worth it though, and if nothing else I recommend starting at the north entrance and walking at least to the arch if you don’t feel you can do the whole thing.  The best part was on a Sunday we only saw three other single hikers, and it really felt like we had the place all to ourselves.

South Entrance

Pretty major rock pile near the entrance. We chose to go around on the right, but it was still tough

The path was a mixture of sand in rock in the toughest places, but some section were just sand, which in a way was harder to walk in.

Lots of places with these little holes that Lee really liked

We saw a tiny arch high up pretty close to the south entrance

There was a turnoff to the left about a half mile in that led to an amazing slot that was a dead end. Lee took my picture pointing to the way back to the entrance which I thought was really smart

This was one of the coolest things we saw. Beautiful in there, and very private.

Not too long after that (sorry we aren’t good at judging distances on hikes) we saw a huge arch

After the arch the canyon got narrower

And the path was a little more challenging in sections although it was very neat to walk on.  Just had to be careful.

There was another pile of rocks close to the north entrance, we managed to get around

This isn’t as steep as it looks, actually the path was mostly flat which is why we walked both ways in the canyon instead of taking the shorter (but steeper) path on the road. I think this would make for a cool picture when the light was coming in.

Check me out Deb…I’m hiking!!

When we reached the end we turned around and headed back and although it was a long walk back, there were some different views.

I would absolutely recommend the road and if you are able take the hike.  It’s rough in places, but completely worth it.  We loved the day and are definitely adding this to our list of favorite, remote scenic roads.  I would like to go again and explore some of the other slot canyons and maybe take the half day hike to a 120 foot waterfall.  Definitely stop at the Big Water BLM office and get information before you go, and don’t forget to take plenty of water and snacks just in case.  Oh, and one last thing.  This whole day only cost us a quarter tank of gas and an inexpensive packed lunch.  I really don’t think it can get better than this 🙂


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18 thoughts on “First Time On Cottonwood Canyon Road

  1. Gorgeous pictures, thank you. We didn’t get to take the road because it has rained shortly before we got there and we didn’t want to risk it, but your pics help us vicariously experience the wild beauty. Grand Escalante is a gorgeous, rare and fragile place that must be preserved! You offer rare witness to that. Safe travels. You are now in one of our most favorite places in the country…

  2. Your photos are amazing. We stopped in at Kodacrhome Basin once, but just a quick stop. Your photos and stories were so great, I had to add everything to my list of places to go back to next time we are in Utah. Wonderful!

  3. Love the 5th wheel looking rock! I hate those damn power lines too. Strange how they always get in the way of a good pic! I don’t know what the purple stone is but it’s pretty! I had another friend send me this info. Ingrid just did this drive/hike too! Look at you all out there being badass! We camped years ago at Kodachrome but I don’t think we saw the arch. I’d LOVE to do that drive and hike. We love slot canyons! Rock scrambling always adds to the fun! Great videos.

  4. I am taking notes and at this rate, I do not think we will get out of Utah once we get there!!! The scenery is just amazing and you got right in the middle of it:o)) Spectacular Photos!!!

  5. You need to get a camel back for water when you hike and also a walking stick. It helps with your balance when climbing thru rocks and down hills. Plus you always need to hydrate, so a camel back works great, so you can drink water as you walk without having to hold onto anything. Went on some hikes in Apache Junction where I was glad I had my walking stick and camel back.

  6. Great recap of Cottonwood Road. We will be driving this road from Bryce at least to the arch in the next week. Looks like we need to drive the entire road. Kodachrome Basin State Park is a must do when you are at Bryce. Amazing trails there.

    • Gene – Yup, I have a Go Pro mount permanently attached to the top of the grille, right where the hood meets the grille trim, and then I also have one just behind each front tire, between the door and the tire, and I have one in the center on the roof just back from the windshield, and one on each side of the roof right above the top of the side windows. – Lee

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