Cottonwood Canyon to Kodachrome Basin
About a million acres, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument lands somewhere in size between Delaware and Rhode Island, the nation’s two smallest states. For a park, that’s huge. Grand Staircase-Escalante was the last part of the lower 48 United States to be mapped and became a national monument in 1996. Of course, Native Americans have known about the area for thousands of years, leaving cultural remnants like rock art and granaries. Surrounded by national parks – Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches – you know this monument is a stunner. But its remote location and late arrival on the tourism scene mean it’s much less developed than its world-famous neighbors. As its name implies, this monument is a grand staircase of geology, where millions of years of sedimentation, upheaval and erosion are laid out in layers, canyons, buttes, arches and pinnacles. Of course 4WD, long hikes and camping are the best ways to fully experience Grand Staircase-Escalante. But there are a few backroads, drivable by passenger car in good weather, that give insight to the monument’s grandeur. Cottonwood Canyon Road is one of the best. Heading east of Kanab on US 89, it’s a 45-minute drive to the dirt road’s start. Now, before heading out, heed your mother’s nagging and check conditions. Better yet, confirm with the locals in Kanab. The road usually isn’t too bad but if it’s too wet or too dry it becomes impassable. For almost 40 miles, the dirt road travels north through Cottonwood Canyon, a worn-away landscape of red, white and gray rock. There are three units to Grand Staircase-Escalante and Cottonwood Canyon Road crosses a chunk of the Kaiparowits Plateau, the middle section. Saving the best for last, 30 miles along is a turnoff, parking area and short walk to Grosvenor Arch, a not-to-be-missed double span. Another dozen miles of dirt and the road turns to pavement, at the entrance to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Showcasing 180 million years of geologic transformation, 67 stone spires, called sedimentary pipes, are scattered throughout. In 1948, a National Geographic Society expedition named the park after Kodak’s color film. In the digital age, the brand name is dated but the vibrant sandstone layers will always be relevant.
Route & Map
From Kanab, it’s about 47 miles to Cottonwood Canyon Road then another 30 miles to Grosvenor Arch. Kodachrome Basin State Park is 12 miles farther and then it’s only seven miles to Cannonville and Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, the next Wide Open Ride in this series.
Length & Time
Just shy of 100 miles, the drive from Kanab to Cannonville and Scenic Byway 12 takes about three hours. But add a couple more, allowing time for Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin.
Best Time to Visit
Summers are hot and winters cold. Plus, Cottonwood Canyon Road isn’t advisable during really dry or wet weather. Fall and spring are best. Definitely check road conditions before heading out, preferably with the locals.
Near several national parks, Kanab makes an attractive base that’s not too touristy but offers plenty of lodging and dining options. To the east is Page, Arizona. Close to Vermilion Cliffs, Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell, this well-served town is 30 minutes from the start of Cottonwood Canyon Road.
For information on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument take a look at Bureau of Land Management and Visit Utah writeups. Visit Utah also has a separate page on Grosvenor Arch. Kodachrome Basin is featured on Utah State Parks’ site. And as bigtime travel destinations, Kanab and Page can help with planning, too.