The Lower Trailhead for Cottonwood Wash is located on the Notom-Bullfrog Road, 9 miles south of Highway 24 in Capitol Reef National Park. The hike we describe follows a strenuous out-and-back route that requires rock-scrambling, wading, and trail-finding skills. There are numerous boulder falls and chokepoints that create a route that will challenge even experienced hikers. The slots in the wash are deep and narrow, and harbor pools for most of the year.
Trail Type: Hiking
Length: 6 miles round trip
Cottonwood Wash is also a popular technical route, starting from the upper wash at the South Draw Road, and rappelling and floating down through the tumble of potholes, dryfalls, and boulder piles for 6.6 miles. This option requires a shuttle - visitors should drop a second vehicle off at the end of the trail on the Notom-Bullfrog Road.
Cottonwood Wash Trailhead (Lower)
The trailhead on the lower end of Cottonwood Wash is situated at the bridge on the Notom-Bullfrog Road, 9 miles south of Highway 24. This trailhead also serves as the end of the journey for those who take the technical route down from the upper wash at the South Draw Road.
Side Canyon (Stay Left)
Just over a mile up the trail, the wash forks. The right canyon is short and heads up higher into the Waterpocket Fold, while Cottonwood continues on through the left fork.
Side Canyon (Stay Right)
Only a few hundred yards after the first fork, the walls close in considerably and the narrows begin. The second fork in the route is less than half of a mile west of the last fork, and Cottonwood Wash continues through the right fork, while the left fork meanders south for a while before eventually swinging west and climbing up into the same jumble of twisting canyons and washes above.
The Cottonwood narrows open up as they reach the maze of canyons that mark the middle of the trail. Just ahead the trail is blocked by a 40-foot dryfall that marks the turnaround point for the majority of hikers on this trail. Those who are intrepid, experienced, and clever enough can circle around the deadfall and continue on up the canyon for a ways longer.
Cottonwood Wash Trailhead (Upper)
This is the trailhead for those who wish to go the technical route, just over 10 miles south of Highway 24.