Cottonwood Canyon Rd. in Grand Staircase-Escalante Natl. Monument
Has anyone ridden Cottonwood Canyon Rd. in Grand Staircase-Escalante Natl. Monument? I'm doing a 10-day tour in northern AZ/southern UT, starting in Flagstaff, AZ and making my to St. George, UT, and am interested in taking this shortcut to get to Bryce Canyon. If you've ridden it, would you say it's doable in a day? How are the road conditions?
I'm not sure what you mean by "doable in a day" -
Where would you be starting from in the morning? I'm guessing you would want to get to the Bryce campground by evening. There are many, many variables. Will you be on a mountain bike? What time of year? How much weight?
Remember that heading north on Paria Road is almost all uphill - 45 miles - then its a steep climb on pavement up to Bryce. If it's rained in the last day or two you can encounter sticky goop or slick snot (As opposed to slickrock).
There's not much water unless you filter from the Paria River - but the river can be no more than slimy puddles by mid-summer - - earlier if it's been a dry winter. Last time I was thru you could get water at the ranger station for the Lower Paria Wilderness - it's past the turnoff from US 89 a few miles - also at Kodachrome Basin State Park - again off the route, but worth the detour.
From Page to Bryce is something like 80 miles - uphill - dirt. Unless you have a good deal of experience riding dirt, I wouldn't attempt anything that long. There's a campsite near the ranger station which would make it a 60-mile day. I still think you will be totally exhausted - but it's truly a spectacular road.
Thanks for the reply. I'm taking this trip in early March, and getting to just Kodachrome Basin State Park or Cannonville by nightfall is enough, so I was thinking just 45 miles of dirt road. Camping a night along the way is an option for me too. Right now, I have a touring bike with 700x32c tires, so I imagine that I'd have to go with something different. I expect to have at most 35lbs of weight, including water.
Originally Posted by jamawani
I do not mean to rain (or snow) on your plans, but March is far, far too early to be bike touring in the high country of southern Utah unless you are experienced with winter conditions. Bryce Canyon has an average March high of only 44 and low of 18 - - lower in early March - - lower still during cold snaps, maybe 30 and 0 - - plus you have significant snow accumulation over the winter and spring snowstorms - which are often the MOST dangerous.
Here is the Utah climate main webpage - click on each specific location for detailed data:
Altitude is the key determining factor if you are planning a bike trip in southern Utah for spring break. Zion - specifically the valley - is much lower and warmer. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed by snow - the road from Jacob Lake usually doesn't open until May - that's because it's above 8000 feet. Bryce Canyon N.P. is even higher and Cedar Breaks higher still.
US 89 runs at lower elevations than US 89A - there is great hiking in the Paria Canyon and Grand Staircase Escalante slot canyons but you should be prepared for flash floods - especially if you are going solo. You may want to consider Coral Pink Sand Dunes or Pipe Springs N.M. then Zion and St. George.
I would urge you NOT to include Bryce in your itinerary and would warn you that Cottonwood Road may be quite difficult to navigate so early in the season. Remember - early March is still winter - and most definitely so on the high plateaus of Utah.
Best - J
Last edited by jamawani; 01-05-06 at 03:11 PM.
I haven't ridden this road but I drove it a couple of years ago, north to south, in April. IIRC it's 43 miles between Cannonville, UT and the jct. with SR89 at the south end. It's paved between Cannonville and the turnoff to Kodachrome Basin (about 10 or 12 miles); the remainder is graded gravel, often with washboards and ruts, with a couple of creek crossings. It gets a fair amount of vehicle traffic since a lot of people use it as a shortcut from northern Arizona into southern Utah. The countryside varies from plateaus with pinyon/juniper forests on the north, to drier grasslands and sagebrush with neat rock formations in the south. There are some hilly sections, but no big summits to pass over and large stretches of the route are pretty flat.
It's definitely scenic, especially though the "Coxcomb" valley near the southern end, where it passes through jagged upturned rock beds on either side- like touring inside the lower jaws of some prehistoric monster. Kodachrome Basin is a short side trip of a few miles and definitely worth it, there are some great rock obelisks there, a nice campground, and as far as I know, the only reliable water along the entire route in the summer. Take a camera!
There are no services along the road other than water at the Kodachrome Basin campground. You have to carry food for 55 miles or so, as the closest services to the SR89/Cottonwood Road junction in northern AZ are at Big Water, about 10 miles east on SR89. There were none at the junction, at least as of a couple of years ago.
In dry conditions you could do it in a road bike with wide tires, but an MTB would be better. I would think that spring or fall is the best time to ride it, I could see it being a pretty dusty ride with summertime traffic. As with any unpaved road in that part of the country its condition varies widely with the seasons, so be sure to get an update from Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument before you go.