Yellow Rock/The Box of the Paria River
Overview: This trip, recommended only for experienced hikers with good routefinding skills, offers a memorable blend of slickrock, mesa top, and canyon landscapes, including tremendous far-ranging vistas.
Start: Unsigned trailhead
Distance: 6.8 miles
Approximate hiking time: 4 to 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous, Class 2 scrambling on the way to Yellow Rock
Trail surface: Traces of old, eroded stock trails, cross-country slickrock routes, wash routes; good routefinding ability required
Trailhead access: Impassable when wet. 4WD advised if road is flood damaged
Best seasons: April through early June; September through October
Canine compatibility: Dogs permitted (not recommended due to steep drop-offs and some scrambling)
Water availability: Paria River; seasonal intermittent flows in Cottonwood Wash; since this water must be treated before drinking, bring your own
Hazards: Exposure to steep drop-offs; flash-flood danger in canyons; risk to inexperienced hikers of becoming disoriented or lost
Topo maps: Calico Peak and Fivemile Valley USGS quads; BLM Smoky Mountain
Finding the trailhead: From UT 12 in the Bryce Valley town of Cannonville, UT, drive south on Cottonwood Canyon Road for 20.5 miles to the Cottonwood Canyon Narrows and continue straight ahead. As you proceed down the course of Cottonwood Creek Wash, pass seven spur roads branching right (west) to undeveloped camping areas beneath the cottonwoods that fringe the wash. One such spur, signed for Pump Canyon Spring, is the former location of a campground, 24.9 miles from Cannonville.
After another 6.7 miles (31.6 miles from Cannonville), the road crosses a west-trending wash opposite the well-hidden mouth of Hackberry Canyon, where flash floods often wash out the road. Continue straight ahead for another 0.2 mile to the junction with an eastbound road that ascends The Cockscomb.
The trailhead can also be reached from US 89 in the south. Find the southern end of Cottonwood Canyon Road (between mileposts 17 and 18) 2.2 miles east of the Paria Contact Station or 26.3 miles west of Page, Arizona. The turnoff is indicated by a large Bureau of Land Management (BLM) destination and mileage sign pointing to Cottonwood Canyon, Grosvenor Arch, and Cannonville.
As the road leads north away from US 89, it is sandy at first as it ascends over the Rimrocks. The road passes the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument boundary after 1.4 miles, then skirts the dramatic gray shale badlands at the foot of the Kaiparowits Plateau. After curving northwest to the broad valley of the Paria River, the road then begins to ascend the course of Cottonwood Wash.
After 14.1 miles, a dirt road branches right (east) to ascend The Cockscomb. Continue north along Cottonwood Wash for another 11.4 miles to the aforementioned trailhead, 25.5 miles from US 89.
Park in turnouts on either side of the road near this junction. No signs indicate a trailhead; look for a prominent slickrock dome on the western skyline — Yellow Rock — to pinpoint your location.
Among the mouth of Cottonwood Creek Wash, Hackberry Canyon, and The Box of the Paria River, rises a high, wedge-shaped mesa punctuated by an array of Navajo Sandstone domes and towers. On the far northern reaches of the mesa are the Death Valleys, upper and lower, and cattle have been grazed there for more than a century. Numerous trails have been forged by ranchers between the rims of the mesa and the Paria River and Hackberry Canyon, affording access to water for their stock. Some of the trails are still used by cattle today, while others are no longer useful and have been abandoned. This premier day hike follows two such long-abandoned stock trails and an interesting cross-country route across the mesa.
While the trail from the mesa down to the Paria River is in fair condition and easy enough to follow in either direction, the old eroded trail from Cottonwood Creek up to Yellow Rock is extremely steep, rocky, and treacherous. It is far easier, and much safer, to ascend that trail, so begin your hike on Cottonwood Canyon Road near the mouth of Hackberry Canyon.