Cottonwood Slot contains some of the most spectacular slot narrows in the Cottonwood Mountains but requires advanced bypass and strong climbing abilities in order to fully explore the canyon. This hike should never be carried out alone and we highly recommend notifying NPS staff members where you will be going in case you get stuck. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper HC (or better yet 4WD) vehicle to reach the ideal starting point at the slot canyon mouth, being able to use a challenging bypass if you want to see the upper 1st Narrows and all of the 2nd Narrows, and being able to climb up and down smooth dry falls and awkward chockstones without getting trapped in the 1st Narrows (as some past hikers have). Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the ideal parking area are 36.562581, -117.330355. GPS coordinates for the beginning of the advanced bypass are 36.562685, -117.332990. GPS coordinates for the end of the advanced bypass are 36.564258, -117.336308.
Cottonwood Slot is an impressive side canyon which branches off to the west from Cottonwood Canyon and trends northwest for about 2 1/4 miles before reaching an area of wide-open foothills. The main highlight of Cottonwood Slot is the impressive slot narrows which are considerable in length and height and made of polished white marble. These slot narrows are equally as impressive as what is found in places like Marble Canyon, Fall Canyon, and other great Death Valley canyons. However, seeing the slot narrows of Cottonwood Slot comes at a price. First, you need a capable vehicle in order to drive Cottonwood Canyon Road past the 2nd Narrows of Cottonwood Canyon and reach the ideal parking area for the hike. Second, there are a number of important preparations to make before carrying out this hike. Some of those were touched on above in the Overview, but I will expand upon that information here. It is not a good idea to do this hike alone. I would actually suggest having a minimum of three people within your hiking group (as we did). It is also a good idea to let other people know that you will be hiking Cottonwood Slot for the day. You might want to let some family members know at home and also NPS staff members working at the FC Visitor Center or Stovepipe Wells ranger station. Check in with them before you do the hike and after you finish it, so that they will know you are safely out of the area. (Keep in mind that Cottonwood Slot is not an official name. It is simply what I call the canyon. For reference purposes, Cottonwood Slot is located about 6 1/2 miles past the Marble Canyon junction or 2 1/2 miles past the well-known cave on Cottonwood Canyon Road.) The reason for all of this caution is that Cottonwood Slot is a very challenging place to explore. The hike starts out simply enough as a wash that heads around a bend into a canyon that begins tightening up. The lower 1st Narrows then begin and quickly cause you to get lost in the scenery all around. Two chockstones must be climbed in short order. Both have the potential to stop hikers without strong climbing experience. The reward for getting past the two chockstones is being able to see the best part of the lower 1st Narrows and the 30-foot-high major dry fall which will stop everyone. The dry fall is made of beautiful rock and it has an impressive curve at the top. Seeing more of the 1st Narrows requires hiking back to the original bend in the canyon (before the narrows) and then climbing the hillside to the west. This can be considered an advanced bypass because of being difficult and challenging. There are three sections to the bypass -- climbing up a steep gully, turning left at the correct spot and climbing a very steep hillside, and then making your way along the use trails up and over the ridge and back into the canyon below. The bypass really is not fun to do and should not be attempted by regular hikers who do not have advanced bypass experience. Plan anywhere from 30-60 minutes to do the bypass one-way. Upon getting back into Cottonwood Slot, you will now be in between the 1st Narrows and 2nd Narrows. Turning right, you can head down into the upper 1st Narrows. This is where the most challenging part of the hike can be found. As you descend into the upper 1st Narrows, a number of major obstacles are encountered. The obstacles become increasingly difficult and are mostly chockstones that have rolled into the canyon and become wedged between tight canyon walls. Water has then polished the rock in such a way that some hikers will be able to get down the chockstones on the sides but not be able to get back up. There are no footholds and hardly any handholds. The height, the smoothness of the walls, and the awkward angles all increase in difficulty with each obstacle. Thus, an individual hiker could easily get down one of these obstacles and then become trapped in the canyon with no way out. If there are two hikers, they could potentially help each other out by giving a boost or helping hand. And if there is a third hiker who stays above all the obstacles, then that person can go get help if the other two hikers get stuck in the canyon. If you explore this area, please make sure you don't try to climb down anything that you aren't completely sure you will be able to climb back up. The upper 1st Narrows truly do contain some extremely impressive white marble walls that tower high above you. We were grateful that we were able to see everything that it is possible for a hiker to see. But it wasn't easy. If I remember right, there are around four major obstacles before reaching the final obstacle -- a double major dry fall with a giant wedged boulder visible which is trapped partway up the canyon walls. Thus, we had seen almost the entire 1st Narrows, only having missed a small section of canyon in between the double major dry fall and the 30-foot-high major dry fall. After taking some pictures, we turned around. It took some effort, but we worked our way back out of the upper 1st Narrows, continued up canyon, and fully explored the 2nd Narrows, which are also quite impressive. We then hiked beyond the 2nd Narrows to the spot where the canyon opens up wide at about 3,300 feet in elevation. Had we continued hiking another 2 1/2 miles, we would have ended up at the Cottonwood Canyon - Dead Horse Canyon crossover dry spring. But instead, we headed back to our vehicle. The round-trip hike took us 5 hours.
In preparation for writing this report, I went back and reread two hiking reports written by other hikers who got trapped in the upper 1st Narrows in between chockstones and dry falls. One report is entitled Terror in a Slot Canyon and describes how a hiker named Morrie and his brother kept climbing down the increasingly difficult obstacles until they found themselves in great danger. As the hiker said: "It was extraordinarily unlikely that we would see another person come our way for days, weeks or even months. Who would be stupid enough to end up here?" He later added: "Reflecting on this, I was most disappointed in myself. With all my years of outdoor wilderness experience, how could I let us get into such a near-death situation?" Fortunately, they both were able to work their way back up the obstacles and escape Cottonwood Slot unharmed. The other report is entitled Cottonwood and Unnamed Canyons and a hiker named Lance recounts how he made a wrong turn while using the crossover in between Cottonwood Canyon and Dead Horse Canyon and ended up being trapped in the upper 1st Narrows of Cottonwood Slot. He used a rope that he had combined with a makeshift rope of pieces of clothing tied together in order to get out. (As a side note, the makeshift rope made of clothing was left behind by yet another group who became trapped in this canyon and had to tie pieces of their clothing together to escape.) But I thought I would share this information with you to be sure that everyone reading this realizes how dangerous Cottonwood Slot can be. Joining me on this hike was my sister Tiffany and our friend Tom. Our hike took place on February 26, 2017.
This hike contains sections of climbing, exposed bypasses and/or high dry falls and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should not use the advanced bypass and should not attempt to climb or descend any chockstone dry falls which feel unsafe, beyond personal abilities, or that could leave you trapped. Do not hike alone and notify others of your hiking plans.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT