If the Kodachrome Basin State Park was almost anywhere else in the US, it would get a lot more visitors… but it’s overshadowed by its far more famous neighbour, Bryce Canyon. Where Bryce Canyon receives over two million visitors a year, Kodachrome State Park has under 200,000 visitors. Despite receiving a fraction of Bryce’s visitors, the park has some impressive scenery and dramatic rock formations – the park even gets its name from a National Geographic Society expedition in 1948, which named the area Kodachrome after the popular colour slide film:
It was a beautiful and fantastic country. A mile to the left near the base of the cliff I could see red pinnacles thrust up from the valley floor. The few natives who had been here called this area “Thorny Pasture,” But we renamed it “Kodachrome Flat” because of the astonishing variety of contrasting colors in the formations.The Legend of Kodachrome Flat
The Panorama Trail is the longest of the six hiking trails in the park, and does a loop that passes many of the rock formations for which the state park is known. I’m starting early – just before dawn – as we need to hit the road again by mid-morning on our south-west US road trip,
Although it’s still fairly dark as I set off along the Panorama Trail, the Sentinel Spire stands out against the horizon – this rock formation is on the shorter Shakespeare Arch – Sentinel Trail.
Kodachrome Basin State Park has 67 monolithic stone spires, called sedimentary pipes, and I soon reach the first one along the Panorama Trail: the Fred Flinstone Spire.
The loop starts just after the Fred Flinstone Spire, where the track splits into two. I turn left to do the loop clockwise – and so I can be at Panorama Point in time for sunrise. Although still pre-dawn, it’s already starting to get a bit brighter and the wide track is easy to follow.
After about a kilometre, there’s another junction with the “out and back” side-track to Panorama Point, which climbs fairly gently to the top of the small hill.
The sunrise is not as spectacular as I hoped… although the sun casts a nice red glow on the cliffs of Bryce Canyon, which are across the Paria River valley.
From here it’s back the same way for a short distance, to re-join the Panorama Trail loop.With the sun up, the rock formations are glowing orange in the morning light.
The Panorama Trail now heads towards Mammoth Spire, which is the largest spire in the park. It’s a white sand pipe rock formation, although in the morning sun it looks almost red.
There’s more great views of the spire as the track gets closer.
The Panorama Trail goes past Mammoth Spire, and a side-track goes up to the base of the rock – where you can see the real (white) colour of the rock formation.
There are views of rock formations and tall cliffs in almost every direction as the trail heads towards the Cool Cave.
The Cool Cave is a large rock chamber at the end of a slot canyon, that’s been enlarged over many millions of years by floodwater. It’s
The Cool Cave is in the middle of another small loop, which is at the far (western) end of the Panorama Trail loop. It’s also the highest point on the loop hike.
I’m now heading back to the start via the slightly longer northern part of the loop, along the base of large, reddish sedimentary rocks of the Claron Formation – the same spectacular structures that Bryce Canyon is known for. The Claron Formation includes a limestone strata which is less prone to weathering, resulting in a white spire jutting above the red sandstone layer.
In the distance the Mammoth Spire comes into view again, with its white colour juxtaposed again the red rocks of the reddish Claron Formation rocks.
This section of the Panorama Trail has some of the most dramatic scenery.
The trail traverse s a large (dry) drainage…
…before passing another spire that’s right next to the trail.
A short, optional side-trip takes you to the Secret Passage. Hard to photograph due to the extreme contrast between the sunlit cliff walls and the shadows of the passage, it’s a miniature slot canyon carved into the slickrock.
There’s a few more unnamed spires and rock formations along the trail.
The next rock formation considered worthy of a name is Hat Shop, where… wait for it… the spires (or at least one of them) is wearing a hat (a harder layer of sandstone that hasn’t eroded as quickly).
A little further and perhaps less obvious is the Ballerina Spire – a tall column which is nearly 100 feet (35m) in height.
Next stop, just off the trail, is the Indian Cave, which has hundreds of what look like handprint impressions carved into the rock. Are they really American Indian handprints? I suspect not.
I’ve now almost finished the loop as I rejoin the same trail that I came in on, which descends to the trailhead on Kodachrome State Park Road.
The Panorama Trail “long loop” is about 5.8 miles (9.3km), and is fairly easy hiking with minimal elevation change and well-formed trails (allow more time if the trail is covered in snow). You can also do a shorter loop that leaves out the Panorama Point or Cool Cave features.
Getting to the Panorama Trail loop
Kodachrome Basin State Park is to the east of Bryce Canyon, and is accessed from the UT 12 highway from the town of Cannonville, Utah via Cottonwood Canyon Road. It’s about 277 miles (4:30min) from Las Vegas or 286 miles (4:40min) from Salt Lake City to the Kodachrome Basin State Park Visitor Center. From the visitor centre and the park entry gate it’s only 0.6 miles to a large carpark that serves both the Panorama Trail and Grand Parade Trail hikes.
- State Parks Utah – Kodachrome Basin State Park / Map and Guide [PDF 40MB]
- State Parks Utah – Park Visitation Data
- National Geographic – The Legend of Kodachrome Flat
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