Kodachrome Basin State Park is neighbour to Bryce Canyon National Park. Both parks share the rich red colors and strange rock formations, but Kodachrome offers more solitude. It’s quiet here, and empty. Full of amazing views, nice hiking trails and a main campground that offers a shady, green oasis in the barren desert landscape.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Location: South of Cannonville, off Highway 12, Utah
Campground: Basin Campground
Trails: Angel’s Palace Trail, Shakespeare Arch/Sentinel Trail, Panorama Trail
Hiked: August 2017
Kodachrome Basin State Park is a relatively small park, surrounded by the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The basin offers views to Bryce Canyon as well. The park is located just off of Highway 12, the scenic byway that connects Bryce Canyon, Escalante and Capitol Reef National Park.
Exiting the highway at Cannonville, make sure to fill up on gas and your last supplies there before you drive 9 miles south on the Cottonwood Canyon Road. The road to Basin Campground is paved and reasonably smooth. Beyond the campground, roads are unpaved.
Entering the State Park, you will find a small visitors center. They sell postcards, drinks, snacks and bags of ice cubes (we bought half a gallon each day for our styrofoam cooling box).
The beautiful colors of the landscape inspired a National Geographic Society expedition in 1948 to name the area after the popular color film, with consent of Kodak Film Corp. But more than the colors, the sometimes extravagant stone spires catch the eye. The sandstone layers of the terrain reveal 180 million years of geologic time.
Among the eroded rock formations of Kodachrome Basin, there are 67 monolithic stone spires, called sedimentary pipes.
We stayed at Basin Campground, centrally located in the park. There are also two group campgrounds, and the primitive Bryce View campground. Bryce View has beautiful views indeed but feels really desolate. Not recommended in summer, for there is not much shade there.
The Basin Campground has very large sites with picknick tables, a fire ring and most importantly: shade. I used my compass to make sure our tent would be in the shade in the morning. We set it up so close to the shrubs it was hard to get inside.
The campground has modern restrooms and showers in the central building. To preserve the dark night sky, there is very little lighting at night. I even managed to get lost at night on my way to the restroom– the 20 yards from our tent.
When we had pitched our tent, we sat down with a drink and a can of salted nuts. Later we left for a short walk around the campsite to the high rock wall surrounding the area. Coming back, we saw we forgot about the nuts. Squirrels had attempted to gnaw away the plastic lid, which was now infested with ants. A reminder to never leave food unattended anymore.
In the evening an invasion of ants attacked our tent, but we managed to keep them out with our securely closed mesh doors.
Shakespeare Arch and Sentinel Trail
With just 1.7 mile (2,7 km) round trip, the Shakespeare Arch and Sentinel Trail is an easy trail. It has a well marked path and no elevation change to speak of. The views are beautiful, and the secluded location makes it very very quiet.
Kodachrome Basin is a very hot place, without much shade (this is basically a hike in the desert), so we hiked in the early morning and we made sure we had enough water, even for such a short hike.
The trail loops around a big red rock formation. The rocks are marked by the typical waterpockets, small holes in the stone eroded by the water that once flooded the area for ages. The rail passes the small Shakespeare Arch and a large sedimentary pipe. Part of the trail travels over slickrock and is well marked by cairns.
Views of the Grand Staircase and Bryce Canyon in the back
Once you pass the southernmost point of the trail, halfway, you leave the rock formation and the trail becomes even more exposed to the sun. From here there are the amazing far away views of the Grand Staircase and Bryce Canyon (which is not a canyon at all, of course, as canyons are not protruding from the landscape). The silence and vastness of the landscape here is truly mesmerizing.
Angel’s Palace Trail
The Basin Campground offers a small patch of green grass with shady trees, perfect for a lunch break with pancakes and a siesta. Not long before the sun was setting, and the heat was receding, we took a very short drive to the Angel’s Palace Trailhead.
Angel’s Palace Trail, just next to the Grand Parade Trail, takes you 150 ft (45 m) above the basin floor. This higher elevation offers great views of the Grand Parade, the Basin and in the distance, the Grand Staircase.
The trail itself is really nice, with some scrambling sections and zig zagging around rock formations. The plateau is surrounded by wall-like rocks and towers, which makes it really feel like a palace. The sunset added colors to the rocks that just cannot be captured by photographs.
To avoid the heat, we hiked this trail in the evening. But night fell much more quickly then we expected, around 8:30 pm. Since we were hiking without flashlights, we hurried our way down. Back at our car, the road was already dark.
The Panorama Trail on Horseback
On our horses Wrigley and Butch.
Next day we did a 3 mile (4,9 km) horse ride on the Panorama Trail. The horse rides are operated by Kodachrome Trail Rides, $40 for a one-hour ride. Reservations are possible but not really obligatory.
Our Wrangler Jeff guided us on the trail. Halfway we met with a rattlesnake hiding under a tree. The snake was hardly visible, but our horses were alarmed by the sound of its rattle.
Along the trail there are several sedimentary pipes, such as the Ballerina Spire, hoodoos, and other colorful rock formations. Riding the horses, we actually did not make the entire trail, so we missed some interesting points like the Cool Cave and Panorama Point. Riding a horse here was much fun though and an excellent way to enjoy the scenery in a different way.
All in all, we found Kodachrome Basin State Park a really nice place to spend two days. If you want to leave the crowds of Zion and Bryce behind you, this is an excellent spot.