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Cottonwood Canyon and Bitter Creek

This hike consists of travelling down Cottonwood Creek to the junction of Bitter Creek and then back out the Bitter Creek Canyon.

Cottonwood Creek runs from forest road 032 (the Danish Ranch Road) in the Cottonwood Wilderness to join Quail Creek just before it enters the Quail Creek Reservoir. The northern end of this Creek passes through a scenic canyon.

Bitter Creek crosses forest road 032 about 1/2 mile East of where Cottonwood Creek crosses this road. The Bitter Creek Canyon is quite narrow from 5 to 10 feet wide. It has a series of 10 rock waterfalls about 10 feet high with pools at the bottom. Navigating these rock falls going upstream is quite difficult particularly in cold weather.

Trail Rating

Overall rating = difficult

Distance: 7 1/2 miles round trip – difficult
Elevation gain: 600 feet – moderate
Terrain: extremely difficult climbing rock falls and wading through water – extreme difficulty
Exposure: risk of falling on each climb – difficult

To see the trail rating system used here see Trail Rating System

Recommended Gear

The water in Bitter Creek is meltwater from the mountains and is very cold – just above freezing – as the sun does not get to the bottom of the canyon to warm it up. Thus you need a wetsuit or quick dry clothes and shoes to avoid hypothermia which is a real danger in this canyon.

A 50 foot rope with grappling gear to throw up over the rock walls to enable climbing up the rock wall. In some places we tied loops for hand and foot holds. In a couple of places there was a log lodged in the canyon which we were able to climb up.

Waterproof camera gear.

Getting There

Take exit 23 from the Interstate I15 and turn right onto Silver Reef Road. Follow the paved Silver Reef Road for 1 mile where it changes to the Oak Grove Road.

Follow the paved Oak Grove Road 0.4 miles where the pavement ends at a bridge and the Dixie National Conservation Area sign.

From here follow the gravel forest road 032 up the hill bearing right at an intersection a short ways along. Continue on road 032 to the Oak Grove Campground Road which turns to the right. This junction is 3.2 miles from I15. Keep straight ahead at this junction where the road changes to forest road 031.

Follow road 031 in a westerly direction for another 8.9 miles for a total of 12.1 miles from I15 to Cottonwood Creek. At this point the road runs parallel to Cottonwood Creek for several hundred feet. There is a Cottonwood Creek sign in the middle of the creek to verify that you are at the right place. Park alongside the road in a wider section near the creek.

Directions from I15 exit 23 to the Oak Grove Road

Directions from the Silver reef Road to the Danish Ranch Road


Topo of road to Cottonwood Creek


For a one page printout of the directions click Cottonwood and Bitter Creek Directions

Road Condition

The Danish Ranch Road, forest road 031, is a fairly good quality road for the most part. There are some rutted and rocky sections which need a high clearance vehicle to navigate.

The Trail

The section down the Cottonwood Creek to the junction of Bitter Creek is fairly easy to travel with the canyon being fairly wide and high. The creek bed is gravel and rocks and can be navigated without difficulty. This section is about 1.5 miles to the Bitter Creek junction but we hiked a further 2 miles down Cottonwood for the views and then back up to Bitter Creek.

The section back up the Bitter Creek Canyon is very difficult. The canyon is quite narrow – 5 to 10 feet wide with walls over 100 feet high. The first half mile is free of obstructions. After this there are about 10 rock waterfalls about 10 feet high. In December there was not much water flowing down the canyon. The first rock fall was dry in November; the next had a pool about 2 feet deep below it; and the pool at the bottom of each subsequent rock ledge was deeper. The final canyon obstruction was impassable. There is a large boulder about 8 foot diameter wedged in the canyon about 2 feet above the pool which is 8 to 10 feet deep, 20 feet long, ending in a vertical rock wall about 10 feet high. At this point we had to go back down ~200 feet and climb out a side canyon to the plateau above the canyon. This section is about 1 mile in total length.

As a side note when we were mid way up Bitter Creek some people started pushing rocks off the ledge above and they were landing about 20 feet from us. The largest was 4 to 6 feet across. They finally heard us yelling and stopped. Shows you that you never know what is below you when you do something so foolish.

From here you need to hike back out to the Danish Ranch Road and back along it to the vehicle. This section is about 1 mile length.

Cottonwood and Bitter Creeks

It would be much easier to do this trail in the reverse. Most of the rock falls have hooks to rope down.

Here are some pictures taken on November 26, 2011.

We took a few pictures in the Bitter Creek Canyon before we had to pack our cameras away due to the deeper water and the cold.

Here are some pictures taken on May 3, 2012.

Here are some pictures taken on April 3, 2015.
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