Cottonwood Canyon Road is a scenic, unpaved road that travels through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It connects the town of Cannonville with Highway 89, just west of Big Water.
Tim and I drove this road during our road trip through Arizona and Utah. Since we were traveling from Page, Arizona up to Escalante, Utah, Cottonwood Canyon Road was the perfect shortcut through Grand Staircase-Escalante. It was a great decision, as this route saved us the time of driving much longer distances on the highways and we got to see a beautiful part of Utah.
Distance: 46 miles one way
Road Conditions: Most of the road is a dirt and gravel surface. For nine miles, from Cannonville to Kodachrome Basin State Park, the road is paved.
Endpoints: Cottonwood Canyon Road starts (or ends, depending on the direction you are traveling) in Cannonville. It ends at Highway 89 just west of Big Water (GPS coordinates: 37.104983, -111.846877).
When to go: Year round, although the road can be impassable after it rains, even in a 4×4.
Length of Time for the drive: Roughly 2 hours, but this depends on how often you stop to take photos or enjoy the views.
We drove Cottonwood Canyon Road from south to north. Our journey took just under two hours and we did stop frequently for photos and for a visit at Grosvenor Arch.
During our drive, there were very few other cars on the road. It is a beautiful drive through desert and mountainous terrain. Cows graze alongside the road, you are treated to numerous panoramic vistas, and there are several spots where the scenery is just amazing.
Photos from the Drive
Turning onto Cottonwood Canyon Road from Highway 89
At first, the road is relatively flat and the views are expansive.
We were amazed to see so much greenery here.
Entering the canyon.
About halfway into the drive, the scenery is really amazing.
Approaching Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
What kind of vehicle do you need?
You can do this drive in a 2WD car. During our drive, the road was in good condition, mostly flat with very few ruts or bumps along the way. We saw several cars on this road and they were driving without any difficulties. Having a 4×4 is ideal but not necessary.
I recommend checking road conditions at the Visitor Center before you drive on Cottonwood Canyon Road (especially if you do not have a 4×4). Road conditions can change from month to month, year to year, depending upon weather conditions and maintenance. When we did this in 2017, the road was in excellent condition. However, that is not always the case. In Cannonville and in Big Water (at the start and end of this drive) there is a Visitor Center where you can get updated information.
If it rains, the road may be impassable
If it recently rained, Cottonwood Canyon Road can be impassable, even if you have a 4×4. You will have to take a detour around Cottonwood Canyon Road.
Things to see along the way
There are several trails and viewpoints to visit during the drive.
This quick detour is worth it to see these giant, sandstone arches (if you look closely, there are two arches up there). From Cottonwood Canyon Road, it takes just a few minutes to drive to this viewpoint, and then it is just a short walk to get to the arch.
Getting Here: Grosvenor Arch is 30 miles north of Highway 89 and 16 miles south of Cannonville. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot are 37.454383, -111.833030.
Cottonwood Wash Narrows
This easy, 3-mile hike wanders through a narrow sandstone canyon. You will be walking through a creek. Depending on recent weather conditions, the floor of this canyon could be filled with water so your feet can get wet.
This is another short and easy hike that takes you on top of a giant, yellow sandstone rock. From the top, enjoy panoramic views of the area. It is 2.5 miles round trip and takes about 3 hours. The trailhead is at Hackberry Wash, 14 miles north of Highway 18 on Cottonwood Canyon Road.
This short hike through a slot canyon shares the same trailhead and parking lot with Yellow Rock. It is 4 miles round trip and the slot canyon floor may be covered in shallow water, so your feet may get wet.
Cottonwood Canyon Narrows
This trail takes you through a narrow gorge of Cottonwood Creek. The hike is 3 miles round trip and takes about 2 hours. The trailhead is 25.5 miles north of Highway 89 and 20.5 miles south of Cannonville. See the Visit Utah website for more information.
More Things to do in the Area
We did not do any of the short hikes located right on Cottonwood Canyon Road, although we did make the short detour out to Grosvenor Arch. We had limited time, time we were saving for Hole-in-the-Rock Road and the hikes to Zebra Slot Canyon and Peekaboo and Spooky Gulches. For us, Cottonwood Canyon Road was a scenic shortcut between Page, Arizona and Escalante, Utah.
There is plenty more to see and do in Grand Staircase-Escalante. This place is huge and absolutely amazing to explore. It does not have the same popularity as nearby Bryce Canyon and Zion, so the trails are less crowded and this part of Utah feels more remote.
One hike that we did not have time for (but is first on our list on a return visit here) is Coyote Gulch. This is an all day hike, almost 11 miles in length, but some people split the hike into 2 days as a backpacking trip.