Cottonwood Canyon Road is a 46 mile long dirt road touring route that runs through the center of the remote Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument wilderness. This bumpy dirt road goes from the Visitor Center in Cannonville all the way south to Highway 89, so this long grueling ride definitely is not for everybody. The dirt road conditions are mentioned in two previous articles about the trek to Grosvenor Arch, which is the first major point of interest along this touring route when starting the trip in Cannonville. From this starting point, Grosvenor Arch is an easy going dirt road day trip, but in order to go any further south, it is best to strengthen the preventative measures. Stocking up on survival supplies is necessary, because this remote wilderness can be very unforgiving if the unexpected occurs.
Cottonwood Canyon Road does get rougher when going south from Grosvenor Arch and a high ground clearance vehicle is recommended from this point on. Regular ground clearance passenger cars can do the trip, but the going will be very slow and a driver's kidneys will likely shake all the way down to the socks. No matter what kind of vehicle is chosen, it is best to call this trip off if rain is in the forecast, because the red silt dirt will turn into deep impassible mud that even a 4x4 cannot get through.
The 46 six mile tour of Cottonwood Canyon Road is a fatiguing bumpy dirt road drive that is best done as an overnighter. In fact, there is so much to see and do along this long dirt road that an entire week can be spent camping here and boredom will never enter the picture. Camping near the halfway point is the best plan for an overnighter trip and there are plenty of campsite options near the Cottonwood Narrows. BLM style pack it in-pack it out dispersed camping rules are in effect in this National Monument, so wherever a fire ring or a parking pad is seen off the road, it is okay to camp in the spot.
When heading south from the big arch the landscape changes from grassy high elevation meadows to a mountainous bare bedrock terrain that is riddled with deep canyons and towering rock outcrops. The multi color bedrock tiers of the Grand Staircase are on full display and the mesmerizing views stretch out to the horizon. The white volcanic tuff domes, gothic looking crags and otherworldly rock outcrops are inspiring to see, so be sure to bring a good camera along for the ride so the memories of this rarely pictured region can be brought back home!
For those who have been to the neighboring Capitol Reef National Park, the unique landscape in the Cottonwood Narrows region will look familiar. This too is a towering geological reef upheaval area that runs along a long fault line. The earth crust is splintered where opposing forces met and the result is some of the most dramatic looking jagged bare rock peaks on earth. There are deep ravines and canyons in the gaps, so the Cottonwood Narrows is both a hiking and rock climbing paradise. Because of the disorienting nature of the Cottonwood Narrows upheaval reef terrain, this is a very easy place to become lost, so be sure to carry a GPS or a map when taking on the trails.
The Cottonwood Narrows is a prime time destination, so be sure to set aside plenty of time for exploring this unique landscape. There is usually a fair amount of traffic on Cottonwood Canyon Road on any given day, so as long as a visitor does not go deep into the back country the chances of being stranded will be slim. The Cottonwood Narrows is a popular spot for weekend group events that range from geology club outings to competitive rock climbing, while during the weekdays this place is nearly empty. The Cottonwood Narrows is a top choice for making the great escape happen and the majestic scenery along the lengthy dirt road trek will certainly make this venture all the more worthwhile!
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