If you’re planning a Southern Utah road trip then you’ve hit the jackpot. But only if you enjoy remote dirt roads that allow you to avoid crowds and bring along your furry side-kick.
Hopefully I caught your attention at “avoid crowds”. So let me introduce you to Cottonwood Canyon Road- a 46 mile long adventure that leads you through varying landscapes, through mountains, and offers some neat little hikes!
In this post I share directions, safety details, hikes, and camping information. Basically everything I know about Cottonwood Canyon road I am sharing with you!
Distance: 46 miles one way
Start & End Points: Turn off Highway 89 just West of Big Water and it’ll take you to Cannonville, meeting up with US 12.
Drive Time: 2-3 hours without stops.
Road Conditions: Unpaved. 4×4 not required.
Seasons: Year round, however check the forecast for it is impassible after heavy rains and snow even with 4×4.
Fees & Permits: No fees. Free permits required for camping.
*Disclaimer: the below links may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through my links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please see my disclosure for more info.
ABOUT COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD
Cottonwood Canyon Road is an unpaved, scenic road that leads travelers through part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was constructed in the 1960s with the intent to build and maintain power lines extending from Glen Canyon Damn to Southern Utah communities.
Since then it has been discovered by hikers and explorers, making it a designated scenic byway. Along the way you’ll travel through vastly varying landscapes, be able to hike, and even camp in some cool locations.
The dirt road is 46 miles one way with one end beginning off Highway 89 just outside of Big Water, and the other ending in Cannonville right off Utah Route 12- National Scenic Byway.
Cottonwood Canyon Road also takes you past Kodachrome Basin State Park, another stop you may want to add to your itinerary!
WHAT TO EXPECT DRIVING COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD
First thing first, you need to understand what you are getting yourself into! Cottonwood Canyon Road is pretty remote, so there are some things you definitely need to be aware of and take into account beforehand. I’ve listed these for you below:
- Zero Services
Cottonwood Canyon Road does not have any gas stations, markets, information stations, etc. You can count on having 0 services for 46 miles (one way).
I highly suggest having a spare tire and knowing how to change it as well as enough food and water for an extra day! It is always better to be safe than sorry in remote places like this.
- Unreliable Cell Reception
You most likely will not have cell reception when driving down Cottonwood Canyon Road. This is when having a Satellite Communicator / Personal Locator like a Garmin InReach Explorer+ would be a good idea if you plan on doing the hikes.
- Uncertain Road Conditions
There are signs posted reading “impassable when wet” and you better believe it. Cottonwood Canyon Rod is a graded dirt road with an underlying base of clay. When the road gets wet it quickly turns soft and muddy, making it impassible even for 4×4.
You can check this website for updated road conditions and more information on visiting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.
- Epic views!
I believe my jaw was dropped for almost the entirety of the drive. This road is simply beautiful and worth the detour even if you don’t plan on hiking.
Keep scrolling to see photos along the way plus hiking and camping spots!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
While Cottonwood Canyon Road is open year round there are some seasons more comfortable for traveling than others. The best being spring and fall, or March-April and September-October.
If you plan on stopping to explore the hikes and even camp I highly suggest avoiding summer. The Southern Utah desert is no joke for it heats up quick and doesn’t offer much shade. It is also the monsoon season and you don’t want to be on this road during one!
This scenic road can be traveled in winter however it will be cold and the road conditions may be even more unpredictable.
If you do visit during the summer please leave your furry ones at home! They overheat faster than humans and this area is very sandy which means their paws will burn.
VEHICLE AND TRAILER REQUIREMENTS
You might be wondering if your vehicle can make it down Cottonwood Canyon Road. Fair question!
In good conditions most 2WD vehicles can make the drive perfectly fine. I will caution that you don’t want anything too low profile and to be sure your vehicle can handle driving up steep inclines. I took my 2WD 2018 Jeep Cherokee Latitude and she did amazing!
As for trailers and large rigs, I’d caution to think twice. There are parts of the road that become narrow, windy, and steep, which is typical for unpaved mountain roads.
Small travel trailers, small RV’s, camper vans, etc. should be fine.
I would not suggest taking a large RV or bus, or towing a trailer with side-by-sides, a boat, etc.
COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD HIKES
When it comes to hiking off Cottonwood Canyon Road, well, you have to be willing to go through some trial and error and have some path finding skills.
A lot of the hikes and points of interest are not marked. This makes it easy to drive right by them without ever knowing, or, get lost off trail.
My suggestion would be to utilize Gaia GPS! It is an app on your phone that allows you to track yourself hiking even when you don’t have signal. It also synchs with CarPlay so as you’re driving down the road you can map your way to these locations!
Take your safety to the next level and sign up for Gaia GPS. Use the free version or unlock all the features for a small annual fee.
Now let’s get to the good stuff- I’ve listed the hikes off Cottonwood Canyon Road below in order as if you were embarking from Highway 89.
Distance: Approx. 4 miles RT
The first trailhead you’ll drive upon is the Paria Box Trailhead. This trail takes you upstream along the Paria River to the Paria Townsite, an old movie set from the 1960’s. In this location you’ll also see the Paria Badlands, exceptionally colorful layers of rock that are popular to photograph.
You can actually drive to the townsite off Paria Movie Road (4250), which is also accessed off Highway 89.
I had researched this area online prior to visiting and no one mentioning Cottonwood Canyon Road seemed to point out Paria Box. When I made my trip down Cottonwood Canyon Road I saw a sign for it so I jotted it down. I didn’t hike it but wanted to make you aware because it seems pretty cool!
LOWER HACKBERRY CANYON
Distance: Up to 12 miles RT
Continuing down Cottonwood Canyon Road you’ll arrive upon the Lower Hackberry Canyon Trailhead. This will be on the left side of the road with a short turnoff for some parking and camping.
This hike is just as it sounds- hiking through a canyon with tall walls towering above. If you’re lucky there will be ankle deep water around spring time. The water makes this hike worth it! But if there isn’t water the sand will be a slog and quite honestly not worth hiking.
Instead, I’d suggest Cottonwood Narrows which I share below. You get a lot of the same views!
If you do end up hiking Hackberry Canyon I highly suggest using Gaia GPS to find your way into the canyon. It isn’t far from the parking lot and easy to find with a map.
You just hike in as far as you’d like, then turn back!
When I visited in late spring there was no water. So I still parked here but decided to explore Yellow Rock below.
Distance: 2 miles
Luckily I had my Gaia GPS to guide me to Yellow Rock because there were zero signs for this little excursion. Nonetheless I still think it was worth stopping for because it is unlike anywhere else I’ve seen!
From the Lower Hackberry Trailhead you’ll go left and straight down into the Cottonwood Creek which at the time I visited was just a dry, sandy wash.
After a little ways you’ll turn right and head up into the mountains. This trail quickly becomes difficult. It is an extremely steep climb with a narrow, rocky trail. But if you do conquer it the views from the top are breathtaking!
This is the only hike I know of that allows you to climb elevation to get a good vantage point of the area. It really puts things into perspective!
Once you reach a little saddle you’ll continue left down the trail and eventually begin to see Yellow Rock appearing in the distance. This is where you are headed! I tried to stay on the official trail but quite honestly a lot of this becomes route-finding your own way to the rock.
Once on the Yellow Rock you can explore for as far as you wish. When you’re done you’ll need to find the trail again to head back down.
If you’re worried about being able to find and stay on the trails you can download my saved GPX tracks and import them into the Gaia GPS app to follow!
cOTTONWOOD WASH NARROWS
Distance: 2.3 miles on way
Arguably the best hike off Cottonwood Canyon Road is the Cottonwood Narrows. It is an easy hike that takes you through a dry wash with tall walls surrounding you. It actually gets narrow at some parts and there are little side areas you can explore!
There are two entrances to the wash- North or South. Both are accessed of Cottonwood Canyon Road. Once you make it through the narrows from one end to the other you have the choice to either turn around and go back the way you came, or exit onto Cottonwood Canyon Road and walk the road back to your car.
Since the hike isn’t that long in distance I would suggest hiking back the way you came in the narrows because it always looks different from the opposite direction. I ended up hiking from North to South, however for blog purposes I hiked the road back so I could measure the distance.
Since the trail is 2.3 miles one way, if you return in the narrows your total trip will be about 4.6 miles. The road portion alone is 1.0 miles, making your total trip 3.3 miles if you return on the road.
Distance: 0.2 mile RT
The last stop off Cottonwood Canyon Road before you hit pavement again is the Grosvenor Arch, a natural sandstone double arch. These arches tower high above us at 150 feet.
To reach the double arch you’ll turn right off of Cottonwood Canyon Road onto Four Mile Bench Road or “Last Chance Road”. About 1 mile down this road and you’ll see the turnoff for Grosvenor Arch on the left.
There are vault toilets and picnic tables at the parking lot. The path to the double arch is well maintained and easy to follow. It is just a short walk to view the arch!
After Grosvenor Arch, Cottonwood Canyon Road continues for a little ways until it turns to pavement and brings you past Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Once you hit US-12 you can head left towards Bryce Canyon National Park, or right and check out another remote Utah road with some epic hiking spots- Hole in the Rock Road.
Past that road is Lower Calf Creek Falls, a beautiful Utah waterfall tucked in an oasis.
CAMPING OFF COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD
When I visited Cottonwood Canyon road I drove through and explored in a day. Now I’m yearning to go back and actually camp there because it seemed so peaceful. I’d highly recommend planning 1 night to camp here!
There are many dispersed camping sites along the road. Some with epic views and some tucked behind cool rock formations. They are first-come-first-serve and seemed plentiful. Below I’ve listed a few GPS coordinates for those of us who aren’t comfortable going out blind!
Use the Gaia GPS App and add these coordinates as “waypoints” in order to save them on your maps!
Of course there are more dispersed camping spots than this. It is just a few to get you started.
Please keep in mind that dispersed camping means camping on durable, already camped on surfaces. Don’t go making your own roads, trails, or camping spots!
PERMITS FOR OVERNIGHT CAMPING / BACKPACKING
The Grand Staircase-Escalante NM requires permits for overnight camping and backpacking. Cottonwood Canyon Road runs through this area so you’ll need a permit if you plan on staying the night.
These permits are FREE and are used to monitor the amounts of visitors as well as have a paper trail for search and rescue in case of an emergency. It is important you fill out a permit for your own safety.
You can pick up a permit from any of the visitor centers.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD
Cottonwood Canyon road is easily one of my favorite scenic roads in Utah. I couldn’t believe my eyes when driving through. The landscape varies greatly and I enjoyed stretching my legs on a few hikes.
While the hikes off the road may not be “epic”, the sights and remoteness of it all make the drive worth it. I keep finding myself wanting to escape here again. You know a place is really great when all you want to do is return for more.
I hope you are able to experience it for yourself and maybe camp for a night or two! Pictures simply don’t do justice.
Any questions or comments about driving and exploring Cottonwood Canyon Road? Leave a comment below!
More in Utah:
- 11 of the Best Salt Lake City Hikes
- Hike to Observation Point in Zion National Park from Zion Ponderosa
- How to Kayak Antelope Canyon from Lake Powell
- The Most Epic Utah Road Trip Itinerary for 7-10 Days
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