Cottonwood Canyon Road, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Utah > Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument > Cottonwood Canyon Road
Paria River valley
Approaching the Paria River valley from the south
The unpaved Cottonwood Canyon Road is a relatively popular cross-country route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, starting in the south along US 89 near milepost 18, and eventually leading past Kodachrome Basin State Park to Cannonville on UT 12. Some sections of the road are rather steep and narrow, with overhanging rocks, but 2WD cars usually can make the 47 mile journey although for a few hours after heavy rains the route may be impassable even by 4WD vehicles, and in recent years the level of maintenance has lessened, resulting in the surface being rough in some places. The surrounding land has much of interest to explore, including slot canyons, arches, springs and endless colorful, eroded rocky scenery.


Panorama of jagged rocks along the Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Cottonwood Canyon

The surface of the southernmost few miles of Cottonwood Canyon Road, along the top of the Paria Rimrocks, is very ridged and bumpy as the road crosses wide open, rather desolate and empty terrain with undulating badlands, grey to brown in colour with no covering vegetation - layers of the Tropic Shale formation that border much of US 89 between here and Lake Powell. The track eventually drops down into the Paria River Valley, running across a wide flat area that is occasionally flooded then along beneath crumbling cliffs at the east side of a low canyon that begins a little way upstream. The Paria soon turns away northwest at the junction with Cottonwood Creek; road then follows creek for the next 10 miles, along a very straight canyon bordered by the upturned strata of the Coxcomb - an elongated series of ridges running along the valley, created by erosion of upwardly-pointing folded rock layers. The rocks at either side have strange faded whitish-grey colurs; steep, tilted cliffs again with almost no trees or bushes. There is a general air of remoteness, only slightly spoilt by rather conspicuous telephone wires that run alongside the course of the creek, which is dry for some of the year. One of the few recognized hiking destinations along the road, reached by a short but steep hike, is Yellow Rock, a smooth dome of swirling, multicolored Navajo sandstone.

Cottonwood Wash Narrows

After a lengthy stretch along the main valley, the creek takes an abrupt turn west and thereafter flows through a much narrower canyon; the road continues north between ridges of the Coxcomb. One mile beyond it passes through a particularly colorful section with many steep, jagged pinnacles in shades from red to white (see QTVR). From this location begins the hike into the Cottonwood Wash Narrows.

Grosvenor Arch

30 miles from US 89 and 17 miles from Cannonville is the turn off to Grosvenor Arch, the most accessible and spectacular natural feature along the Cottonwood Canyon Road. This is a large, spectacular double arch at the end of an isolated ridge of yellowish-white Henrieville sandstone, and is one of the most photographed places in the national monument. The main road then bends westwards and crosses up and down several steep ridges en route to Kodachrome Basin State Park; the surface is paved from here to Cannonville. There are several side tracks including a short spur to Round Valley Draw, and the Skutumpah Road, which crosses a large area of wooded hills and valleys back south to US 89 and Johnson Canyon. Along here are the intriguing slot canyons of Willis Creek, Lick Wash and Bull Valley Gorge.

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