Take A 47 Mile Journey Through Some Of Utah’s Unspoiled and Uncrowded Landscapes
Text and Photos by Dan Sanchez
While Zion and Bryce Canyon are two of the most visited National Parks in Utah, the rest of the state also has beautiful and scenic backcountry that is rarely visited. Taking one of the many roads into Utah’s backcountry that is accessible and easy to do, is Cottonwood Canyon Road. It stretches from Hwy 89 just north of Big Water to Hwy 12 in Cannonville. The actual road is K7000 and it passes through much of Utah’s beautiful backcountry that includes areas such as The Cottonwood Narrows, Grosvenor Arch, and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
The road is unpaved, and in the summer, it can easily be traversed by standard automobiles. In the spring and winter months, however, rains can wash away some of the road to expose some erosion that would require higher ground clearance from a truck or SUV. Nevertheless, we’ve seen many autos pass through this road without any problems and one definitely does NOT need 4WD to get around on it.
We started on the north end coming in from Bryce Canyon NP down Hwy 12 and reached Cannonville, turning south on Main St. Here you’ll come across the Visitor’s Center that showcases the history of the area and the Southern Piute people who once lived there. Main St. turns into Kodachrome Rd. which turns into road 7000, Cottonwood Canyon road.
The road is a flat, hard-packed dirt road that takes you directly to Kodachrome State Park, which should be one of your first stops along this route. Turn North into Kodachrome State Park Rd and enter the park which has a variety of rock formations in brilliant colors and short hikes that take you through short canyons and beautiful desert scenery. Two of the most popular hikes are the Grand Parade, Indian Cave, and Panorama Point. Be forewarned that in the summer, this area gets hot, so bring plenty of water and sun protection.
After visiting Kodachrome State Park, continue down Cottonwood Canyon road (7000) towards the Rock Springs Bench Campsite. As you head South the road cuts through the Utah desert until you reach the road to Grosvenor Arch. The sandstone arch stands alone in the desert at 150ft. high and has a parking area and a paved walkway to see the arch up close.
Head back to Cottonwood Canyon Rd and proceed south through the Cottonwood Narrows. This area has you passing through canyons that are beautiful and suddenly open up to small meadows of trees and brush. There are many areas where Overlanding adventurers pull out to camp overnight in solitude and the narrows offer some respite from the heat in the summertime.
The Narrows is the best area of Cottonwood Canyon Rd. and continues South for several miles until you get to Yellow Rock and the Paria Townsite, an old movie set that burnt down some time ago. Keep heading South and you’ll pass through wide open country until you reach Hwy 89.
There are several hiking trailheads along the way if you want to stop and see more of the landscape. As you exit Cottonwood Canyon Rd from the south, you can proceed west on Hwy 89 which will turn north and take you back into the Dixie National Forrest and towards Zion and Bryce Canyon. Taking Hwy 89 east from Cottonwood Canyon Rd. will take you south to Lake Powell and the Utah/Arizona border.
QUICK TIPS: You can definitely traverse Cottonwood Canyon Rd in a single day. The road is only 47 miles long, but stopping and seeing the many sites can be a full-day excursion. There are no bathrooms, fuel, or water stations along the road so it’s best to go on a full tank and bring plenty of water and food. During the spring and summer, you can pull over and have an amazing picnic lunch or have lunch in Kabab off Hwy 89 heading north to Zion and Bryce Canyon. If you’re coming through Cottonwood Canyon Rd. from the south, you can drive north through Cannonville and up to Tropic to refuel and eat. The Utah office of tourism also has some great information on driving through Cottonwood Canyon road.