Cottonwood Canyon Road is a 46 mile dirt road touring route through the central Grand Staircase-Escalante wilderness. There are many majestic views and points of interest to be found along the way, but this long bumpy dirt road does have a way of leaving a driver totally fatigued at the end of the day. For this reason, it is best to split this tour into at least a two day trip with an overnight campout near the midway point. There is so much to experience in this region that a longer camping trip can easily be planned, especially in the majestic Cottonwood Narrows section of this park.
Camping overnight definitely is the best option for touring this vast remote wilderness area, but when looking at a map, no developed campgrounds will be found. Primitive dispersed camping is the only option along Cottonwood Canyon Road and there are no water resources other than the Paria River at the south end of this long drive. All this has a way of putting the mainstream tourists off, while those who seek a place to get away from the big crowds will certainly be pleased with this prospect.
Basically, the primitive dispersed camping mode in Grand Staircase-Escalante involves selecting a preexisting campsite and following the pack it in-pack it out rules. This leave no trace camping mode includes packing out the sanitation refuse and the cold firewood ash, along with any trash. Leaving a campsite cleaner than you found it is the rule of thumb. Finding a campsite is as easy as following any of the short side roads while looking for a barren parking pad. A stone fire ring is a good indicator of being at an existing campsite too.
While driving down one such dirt side road near the Cottonwood Narrows I found a unique campsite with a stone fire ring next to an old abandoned cattle corral. The junipers provided plenty of shade and a cool breeze blew through the dry wash canyon. A high multi color sandstone cliff overlooked this campsite and this area definitely had the look of being mountain lion territory, so being aware of the surroundings was necessary to do. For this reason, it is best to keep pets and children within view when camping in this remote wilderness area.
The Cottonwood Narrows is a great place to listen to owls at night and deer can occasionally be heard rustling in the brush. This is a peaceful place to do an overnight campout and it is a great place for doing some serious dark sky star gazing. Breaking up the long grueling 46 mile dirt road drive through central Grand Staircase-Escalante with an overnight campout definitely is the best way to go. After settling down in this picturesque wilderness, it certainly will be difficult to regain the gumption to leave this ideal place!
Leave no trace!
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