Tucked between Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kodachrome Basin State Park offers a handful of short hiking trails set amongst colorful sandstone formations. It was this vibrant geology that earned the park its moniker back in 1948, when a National Geographic Society expedition named the park after Kodak’s iconic color film.
Kodachrome Basin is easily accessible from Bryce Canyon – about a half hour drive – and sees just a fraction of the foot traffic of its more famous neighbor. The park is small, with just twelve total miles of hiking trails, but is a great place for a family-friendly hike away from the well-worn paths of Bryce. The trails here have very little elevation gain and range in length from about one and a half to six miles. Two trails offer access for horseback riding, and there are a few dozen campsites spread out across three campgrounds. While we only spent a day exploring the small park, we imagine it would be the perfect place to spend a few nights camping. It’s close enough to Bryce that you could still explore the national park while also enjoying the more remote solitude of Kodachrome Basin.
The trails at Kodachrome were fun – by no means the most epic we’ve experienced, but a gorgeous spot to spend a day wandering amongst the stone spires. Our primary reason for choosing the state park was for its dog-friendliness, and Sanchez definitely appreciated having a nice, quiet place to spend a day on the trails. If you’re looking to get off the beaten path for a bit, Kodachrome is certainly worthy of consideration.
Angel’s Palace Trail
One of Kodachrome’s shortest routes, the Angel’s Palace Trail has some of the most interesting rock formations within the basin. The only vertical gain on the route is the couple hundred feet near the beginning of the trail that leads you to the top of a small butte. From here, you’re treated to some lovely views of the park. The main loop here is only a mile and a half, though a handful of short spurs offer the chance to get some different vantage points of the colorful landscape below.
From atop the butte, you also get a bird’s-eye view of some of the park’s sedimentary pipes (sand pipes). Kodachrome Basin contains nearly seventy of these unique columns – massive, monolithic rock spires ranging from 6 to 170 feet in height. The tallest is Chimney Rock, for which the park was once named. The pipes remain somewhat of a mystery to geologists, who have put forth several theories in an attempt to tease apart their origins. While the pipes clearly have a harder rock structure relative to the surrounding terrain, it’s unclear how that erosion-resistant rock first formed. Current hypotheses suggest their cement-like cores could be the result of powerful seismic activity, the remnants of ancient geyser tubes, or even the consequence of underground water pockets whose effluent was forced upward under extreme pressure. Whatever their exact origins, the pipes remain a truly distinct feature of Kodachrome’s landscape.
In addition to the sedimentary pipes, dozens of small hoodoos and sandstone sculptures keep the short walk interesting. The highlight for us, though, was the amphitheater-like chamber near the end of the trail. The grand, white walls evoked the feeling of a heavenly palace, while at the bottom sat what looked like a sandstone turtle, whose shell was fittingly festooned with a small sedimentary pipe. For such a short little trail, it was surprisingly enjoyable.
Total distance: 1.9 miles
Elevation gain: 226 feet
Shakespeare Arch & Sentinel Trail
The lone trail in the southeast corner of Kodachrome Basin, the Shakespeare Arch & Sentinel Trail feels much more isolated than the others we visited. The two-mile loop is only a couple miles away from the main area of the park, but it feels like it could be fifty. During our short trip out here, we never saw another person.
We hiked this route counterclockwise, beginning near what are now the remnants of Shakespeare Arch. Once a highlight of the trail, the arch unfortunately collapsed in the spring of 2019. Aside from The Sentinel, a soaring sedimentary pipe that does resemble a sentry keeping watch over the remote path, there weren’t as many curious rock formations as Angel’s Palace. That said, the views out to Grand Staircase-Escalante were spectacular.
About three-quarters of the way through the hike, the trail split. The left-hand branch headed up Slick Rock Cutoff, while the main trail continued straight ahead (although both lead back to the trailhead). We chose to return via Slick Rock, surmising the views would only get better from a hundred or so feet higher. Sanchez raced up the short scramble with ease as we trailed behind her. She had so much fun bounding up the sticky sandstone, and we did, in fact, enjoy the ensuing views.
In addition to the vivid landscape, we even got a closeup look at The Sentinel, rising prominently amongst the fiery Entrada Sandstone. As we continued clambering over the red rock, Sanchez spotted a huge jackrabbit, and almost lost her mind as it quickly scampered back into the scrubby brush. We then finished out the trail along a series of short switchbacks that zigzagged back to the trailhead from the top of Slick Rock. Overall, we really enjoyed this trail. We had the whole little corner of park to ourselves, and were able to just hang out at the highpoint and soak in some pretty spectacular views.
Total distance: 2.2 miles
Elevation gain: 413 feet
The longest trail in the park, Panorama’s full distance covers six miles of dusty terrain, passing alongside small caves, sedimentary spires, and towering chimneys of Entrada Sandstone. The trail consists of one main loop with a few short spurs branching out to notable landmarks such as Cool Cave and Panorama Point.
We hiked the trail counterclockwise, first encountering the diminutive Indian cave, the soaring Ballerina Spire, and the crimson cluster of sandstone columns known as the Hat Shop. From the towering sand pipe, the trail then wound around to a short, narrow drainage coined the Secret Passage.
With the sun retreating lower in the sky, we decided to skip the next mile-long spur that lead out to Cool Cave and Mammoth Spire. We were more interested in the Angel’s Palace Trail we’d hiked earlier that morning, and decided we wanted to make a quick return trip to check out the formations in the late-afternoon sunlight. Continuing along the loop to the south, we made the short trip out to Panorama Point – a stunted knoll that provides a modest view of the park while looking out on Mammoth Spire to the north. From Panorama Point, we descended back down the hundred-foot-tall hill and headed back toward the trailhead. We closed out the loop along a largely featureless section of trail, albeit with a lovely view out to one of the park’s most dramatic sedimentary pipes.
Total distance: 4.0 miles
Elevation gain: 330 feet
Know before you go
- Summer temperatures can get pretty toasty, climbing above 90°F in July and August, and there’s very little shade. Make sure you’ve got sufficient water and sun protection gear, especially if visiting during these hotter months.
- There are four main loop trails in the park, all easy and with very little vertical gain. Angel’s Palace is about 1.5 miles, Shakespeare Arch & The Sentinel is roughly 2 miles, and Grand Parade is just over 2 miles. The Panorama Trail, the park’s longest, is 6 miles hiked in full (3 miles for the loop alone, 4 miles including the spur to Panorama Point, and 6 miles including both Panorama Point and the spur to Cool Cave). Horses are allowed on the Grand Parade and Panorama Trails.
- A day-use pass costs $15 per vehicle and provides access to Kodachrome Basin for two consecutive days in the park. If you plan to camp overnight, there will be additional fees.