Thanksgiving Desert Road Trip….The Cottonwood Canyon Road

Our quest to replace the photos of our previous visit to Bryce Canyon National Park satisfied, we packed up and headed east down the Cottonwood Canyon Road to the nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park.  I’ve had an interest in visiting this area for a long time, but never bothered to investigate during past trips. The park is about a half-hour drive from Bryce and is a nice alternative to the usual tourist crowds you can expect at the national park.  The park got its name from a 1948 National Geographic Society expedition; the color and beauty of the park’s rock formations reminded them of the brilliant color saturation of photos taken with the once-popular film.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Once inside the park, we did a short walk to a high point where we could get a good overview of Kodachrome Basin. Afterwards, we drove to the far eastern side of the park to the base of a small spire, and then to a short trail where we walked to Shakespeare Arch, the park’s only natural arch formation. The dark clouds from the continuing snow showers in nearby Bryce Canyon offered a spectacular contrast with the brilliant red and white color of Kodachrome’s geology.

After our brief visit to Kodachrome Basin, we decided to check out the Grosvenor Arch, located 10 miles south of the park entrance on the Cottonwood Canyon Road. From the entrance, the pavement ends and the road is passable to 2WD vehicles, but the beginning of this section has a big sign that says “Impassable When Wet”. This became a serious concern as the rain began falling steadily as we started driving down the road. I’ve been on roads like this in the past, and have nearly been stuck in 4WD’s when the rain would turn a normally solid desert road into a strip of goo. The storm produced light, but steady rain which didn’t appear to be causing the road to turn to mush, but we kept a wary eye on the weather and the condition of the road as we approached Grosvenor Arch.

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch is a magnificent double-arch formation that towers 150 feet above ground level. The site is very well-developed with picnic tables, bathroom, and even a concrete path that takes you a short .10 mile to the base of the arch. By the time we got to the arch, the rain had stopped, but the skies were mostly cloudy.

I was hoping for a blue sky background for my photos, but I went ahead and took my shots with the cloudy background. After the photo shoot, we were just getting back to the car when the clouds broke up and the sun came out. I immediately grabbed my camera, ran back down the trail, and re-shot all my photos so I’d have some blue sky shots of the arch.

With the weather clearing, we decided to take a chance and continue down the length of the Cottonwood Canyon Road another 30 miles to where it joins Highway 89 near the Arizona border. The road takes you through the heart of the Grand Staircase of the Escalante National Monument, a vast area of canyons and rock formations.

Cottonwood Narrows

The road offers excellent access to the monument for those folks without 4WD vehicles. There are numerous spots along the road where you can park and just head out into the canyons. About 15 miles from Grosvenor Arch, we made a short stop at the north entrance of the Cottonwood Narrows. From here you can walk the length of one of the narrow canyons to the southern entrance along the Cottonwood Road, making a nice loop or car shuttle hike. It was getting late when we arrived, so we opted to just wander into the dark, narrow canyon a short distance to take some photos before getting back in the car and continuing down the road to Highway 89.

We reached the highway just before sundown and headed west to Kanab, Utah for a nice hotel room, hot shower, and dinner. Our plan was to get up early the next morning and head out to our next destination: Coyote Buttes.

Also, please watch our video about exploring Cottonwood Canyon Road.


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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