Distance: 6.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy or Moderate
Best time of year: Fall, Winter, Spring
Last hiked: 2016 May
The Panorama Trail starts off easily enough, winding through junipers and pinyon pine trees past large sandstone buttes. All of these lie below the signature Entrada Formation of sandstone walls for which Kodachrome Basin State Park is named. The trail gives hikers the option of being a pleasant stroll to a few interesting features, or a moderately lengthier hike. The latter leads to some impressive features that make the detour to the park well worth the drive.
Begin hiking through a small wash passing the south side of a large sandstone butte. After you pass through a fence, the trail forks and an arrow encourages you to head off to the right. It’s here you’ll see the first feature on the west side of the butte: Indian Cave. What’s called a cave is actually more of a small alcove where natives rubbed finger prints into the relatively soft sandstone. Sadly, the trail is open to everyone, which means some people have also left their share of graffiti at the alcove.
Continue a short distance beyond Indian Cave to Ballerina Spire. This tall column shoots out of the ground nearly 100 feet in the air. The name comes from its sandstone base that fans out around the bottom. It’s one of the many signature sand pipes that have been eroded out from the Entrada layer of sandstone, and a great example of it.
Follow the trail on a path toward larger walls at the back of the basin, bringing you to the Hat Shop. Here you’ll see eroded spires and canyons capped with a harder layer of sandstone that hasn’t eroded as quickly, making them look like hats (for those with an imagination).
From here, you’ll travel a bit farther through junipers and over a couple of small hills. After that, you’ll find yourself at an optional detour loop to visit the Secret Passage. It’s a fun little detour that presents you with a bit of a breakup from the standard scenery you’ve been seeing. The Secret Passage itself is tucked away at the base of some larger sandstone walls where a small basin has been carved into slickrock. Along the slickrock, a small miniature slot canyon winds around to the back. Just beyond the Secret Passage, you’ll find solidified sand dunes creating small rolling hills. These are great examples of more slickrock where odd shapes are momentarily frozen in time.
As you leave the Secret Passage area, you’re presented with the option of heading back to the trailhead. In my opinion, the best feature is still up ahead, so plan on doing the whole loop.
Snake along the trail through eroded clay just beyond the fork. Here you’ll see deep drainages in small mounds, giving the landscape a "puffy" appearance. Above the small mounds are vertical cliffs hundreds of feet high. Look for small cracks eroded in them where a number of future arches will be in the process of being created. You may also spot a raven or two occupying one of the alcoves, their echos heard from deep within.
At the western end of the Panorama Trail, you’ll reach a final loop. This brings you around the Cool Cave area. The small detour winds you back into a gradually constricting canyon. Pass a few final conifer trees and you’ll find yourself inside a colorful pastel slot canyon. Twist and turn around a large bend where you’ll see the Cool Cave emerge. It’s a massive room that’s been eroded out dozens and dozens of feet wide and equally as high. At the back end is a crack where your imagination is immediately sparked trying to picture the water pouring out of it in flash floods. You may even then wonder how the room itself fills in such an event. Feel free to explore and relax in the giant room before moving on.
As you round out the loop from Cool Cave, you’ll notice bulbous shapes in the bottom layer of sandstone. For those with an imagination, you may see a long row of cartoonish faces that are being smushed together. Some of them don’t seem to appreciate it. For everyone else, you may see bulbous shapes in the bottom layer of sandstone.
Continue down the trail to the lower end of the loop. You’ll make a jaunt through some painted hills of Claron Formation here. This is actually the same formation that gives Bryce Canyon National Park its signature pink hoodoos. The Bryce Canyon area was thrust upward millions of years ago in an event that lifted up the Paunsaugunt Plateau. You’ll also see other soft shades of oranges and whites join the pinks. The palette creates a sweeping landscape broken up by stark orange buttes on one end that gradually fade into a valley on the other.
Your final detour along the trail is Panorama Point, for which the Panorama Trail is named. You can also access it from the shorter version of the loop. Follow a relatively steep climb to the top of a hill south of the main trail. On top, you’re presented with 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape below and beyond. You can see Bryce Canyon National Park to the west. As you look north and east, nearly all of Kodachrome Basin can be studied and appreciated. Be here for sunset if you want to catch some magical light from a fantastic viewpoint.
To finish the trail, head back down from Panorama Point and continue back on the main trail. You’ll bob up and down over small hills where you’ll rejoin the original fork in the trail. This will lead you back to the parking area.
From Cannonville, Utah, head south on Cottonwood Canyon Road for roughly 7 miles, then left at the entrance into Kodachrome Basin State Park. The trailhead is signed along the main road about 1.5 miles north from the junction.