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Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

The Cottonwood Wash Trail is located in the heart of the San Rafael Swell, which offers two arches and several petroglyphs to view. It’s a very easy hike, as the canyon is flat. The hardest part is walking up a 100 ft section of trail leading to the petroglyphs. That being said, this is a great canyon to explore with kids. The best time to visit is early Spring and late Fall when the day time temps stay below 70F – in October the Cottonwoods were bursting in yellow! 

Bring plenty of water year-round, as you and the dogs can still get dehydrated and thirsty. The hardest part about exploring this area? The drive down the Cottonwood Wash Road. It’s an 8 mile drive down a “Jeep Road” that will take you close to an hour to reach the actual trailhead, due to how slow you’ll need to drive along the road. This road is NOT suitable for small cars – make sure you only take SUVs or larger and with some clearance. 

Searching for petroglyphs is fun – but please don’t touch! These are very fragile pieces left from ancient Indians that have lasted more than 800 years. Let’s keep our history alive!
 

Here is a driving map to the Cottonwood Wash cutoff road via Castle Dale, Utah. Past this, Google doesn’t understand how to reach the TH. Drive 30 miles along the Green River cutoff Road. You’ll come to a 4-way intersection. The better road looks like the one further to the East, but instead take the one more to the West, marked by a brown sign that says “Old Spanish Trail – Route” (see photos below). Turn right here and reset your odometer. At 2.4 miles drive past the Big Hole Wash sign. At 8.3 miles turn right at the small sign for Cottonwood Canyon, then pass a larger more official sign for Cottonwood Canyon. At 8.8 miles reach the end of the road, where the trail begins. Our Nissan Pathfinder (4×4) made it with no issues except for some bumper scrapes. I would not attempt this road with anything less than an SUV.

 

Distance: 2 miles RT

Elevation gain: 250 ft

Time: 1 hour

Dog friendly? Yes, off leash

Kid friendly? Yes!

Fees/Permits? None

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Make sure you turn down this route for Cottonwood Wash Road (not the more Eastern route). Reset your odometer.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

At 2.3 miles pass Big Hole Wash.

 

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Go through the gate, making sure to close it after.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

At 8.3 miles turn right for Cottonwood Canyon.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Pass one more sign.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

At the end of the road is a large turn around, fire pit, and the trailhead.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Drop down the wash and start hiking up the canyon, West.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Really cool “huecos” in the wall. Huecos are depressions in a wall where the rock layer was weak, and eventually collapsed, leaving what looks like holes in a wall.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Walk up the wash about 500 ft. I’ used my 30L LITE Waymark Gear Co pack and it worked great for a short hike! Get 10% off your pack order using the code “GOAH19” over at WaymarkGearCo.com

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

After 500 ft or so, hike up what looks like a ramp leading to the cliff base.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Here you’ll find several petroglyphs.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Looking West into the canyon.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Really cool petroglyphs!

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

1881 was a big year for Pioneers as they made their way West.

Do you think the sheep are being led, or being killed for food?

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

The dogs were pretty happy to find clean water to cool off in, even though it wasn’t even 60F!

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Exploring new terrain with my baby.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Can you spot Cottonwood Wash Arch?

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

At first we missed the next set of petroglyphs and kept hiking – this rock formation reminded me of a fortress.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Completely dry wash in October.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

Not that hot (55-60F), yet the dogs were thirsty!

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

We hiked a total of 1 mile down Cottonwood Wash and didn’t spot anything else so we turned around.

Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

On the way back we finally saw the other set of petroglyphs (not all are pictured).

 

See more of what we did on this trip besides the Cottonwood Wash Trail!

 

The 6 Best Trails in the San Rafael Swell

The 6 Best Trails in the San Rafael Swell, best hikes San Rafael Swell

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Hiking the Cottonwood Wash Trail, San Rafael Swell

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