89 or 89A: That is the Question

ROAD CLOSURE ALERT–FEBRUARY 2013
US Route 89 is closed between the intersection with US Route 89A at Bitter Springs and Highway 98 in Page. The closure is the result of damage to the roadway from sliding earth where the highway climbs the Echo Cliffs. Due to the extensive damage, the closure will be in effect for some time. If you are wanting to go to Page, turn east on US Route 160 through Tuba City and north on Highway 98 to Page. The added distance is 49 miles. To reach US Route 89 going north into Utah, take US Route 89A to Kanab. Be aware that 89A climbs to 8,000 feet at Jacob Lake and winter weather may make this route hazardous. Call 511 for current road conditions. The Arizona Department of Transportation has created a website to update their progress on repairing the damage: http://www.azdot.gov/US89/.

US Route 89 is closed between the intersection with US Route 89A at Bitter Springs and Highway 98 in Page. The closure is the result of damage to the roadway from sliding earth where the highway climbs the Echo Cliffs. Due to the extensive damage, the closure will be in effect for some time. If you are wanting to go to Page, turn east on US Route 160 through Tuba City and north on Highway 98 to Page. The added distance is 49 miles. To reach US Route 89 going north into Utah, take US Route 89A to Kanab. Be aware that 89A climbs to 8,000 feet at Jacob Lake and winter weather may make this route hazardous. Call 511 for current road conditions.[/colorbox]

Of all of the questions I am asked about traveling on US Route 89, one of the most frequent is about the two possible drives between Bitter Springs, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. Since both US 89 and 89A are about the same length and take the same time to drive, neither one has a clear advantage over the other. However, each road has unique features and possibilities for exploring this corner of the Colorado Plateau. I’ll describe what you can expect along each road so you can answer the question for yourself. For a map and more information, check out the road trip guides here Flagstaff to Page, here Page to Kanab and here Bitter Springs to Kanab.

89 89A Map 89 or 89A: That is the Question

Two possible roads from Bitter Springs to Kanab-US 89 and US 89A. Map created with TOPO ©2003 National Geographic

 

 

Bitter Springs to Kanab on US 89A

US89 090729 371 373 89 or 89A: That is the Question

Old Navajo Bridge on the right and the new brigde on the left over the Colorado River on US Route 89A

US Route 89A is the original alignment of the highway when it came into existence along with the rest of the federal highway system in 1926. It became an alternative when 89 was rerouted to Page to facilitate the construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. From Bitter Springs it is 14 miles to the low point on this route at the crossing of the Colorado River in Marble Canyon. Navajo Bridge was completed in 1929 as the final connecting link in the border to border highway. A new vehicle bridge was built in 1992. Stop at the visitors’ center and take a walk out on the old bridge to view Marble Canyon and the Colorado River 470 feet below.

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Lonely Dell Ranch at Lee’s Ferry

The road to Lee’s Ferry is on the west side of the river. River trips downstream through the Grand Canyon start here and some of the best trout fishing in Arizona is upstream toward Glen Canyon Dam. You can also visit Lonely Dell Ranch, the home of John D. Lee, now lovingly maintained by the Park Service.

For 28 miles through the House Rock Valley, 89A parallels the Vermillion Cliffs. California condors have been reintroduced to make their home here and can be seen along the cliffs and near Navajo Bridge. Stop at the Donimgues-Escalante Interpretive Site to learn about the history of Spanish exploration across the Colorado Plateau. At the west end of the valley, a dirt road goes north along Coyote Wash and eventually connects to US 89 in Utah.

Straight ahead is the Kaibab Plateau. For the next twelve miles the road climbs 2,500 feet to the top at Jacob Lake. From here, Arizona Route 67 runs south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This road is only open from the middle of May until the end of October depending on snow conditions. If you are traveling 89A in the off season, be sure to check ahead for current driving conditions.

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The Vermilion Cliffs and House Rock Valley from US 89A ascending the Kaibab Plateau

From Jacob Lake, highway 89A descends the west side of the Kaibab Plateau to Fredonia. Pipe Springs National Monument is 13.5 miles west of Fredonia on highway 389. Continue on 89A for 7 miles to Kanab.

Bitter Springs to Kanab via Page on 89

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Navajos display their jewelry at a parking area along US Route 89

From Bitter Springs, US 89 climbs 1,000 feet in 3 miles hugging the face of the Echo Cliffs through Antelope Pass onto the Kaibito Plateau. Near the top, there is a small parking area where Navajos set up tables to display and sell jewelry and other craft items.

The road slowly descends for 20 miles to Page. Three miles south of Page is short road on the west that leads to an overlook of the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend. US 89 reaches its low point as it crosses the Colorado at Glen Canyon Dam. The visitors’ centers offers tours of the dam including descending inside the dam almost to river level to view the giant turbines that produce electricity for distant cities.

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Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River and Lake Powell

Views of Lake Powell and access to the lake at Wahweap are available along the highway to the west of Page. The road crosses the Paria River 29 miles from Page. A hike into the Narrows of the Paria is one of the highlights of this section of US 89. Check in at the BLM Ranger Station for a permit and for information on current weather conditions. Flash floods are common on the Paria in the summer rainy season, so proceed with caution.

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Hiker in the Narrows of the Paria River

Five miles west of the Paria is the intersection with House Rock Road. Take the road south to access the Coyote Buttes and eventually connect to US 89A. Permits are required to hike to the Wave and other spectacular rock features along this road and are available at the BLM Ranger Station.

US 89 continues west for 40 miles to Kanab.

What about recreational vehicles?
Several people who have asked this question have been driving larger RV’s and are concerned about steep grades. Be assured that both roads can be driven in larger vehicles. They are federal highways and conform to the national standards of construction. Since both roads connect Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, they are heavily traveled by tourists in all kinds of vehicles, especially in the summer months.

When we travel through this area on a round trip from our home near Tucson, we drive 89 in one direction and 89A the other. That way we can enjoy both roads and avoid having to choose one over the other. If you can only choose one, both are beautiful drives so you can’t go wrong either way.

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6 Responses to “89 or 89A: That is the Question”
  1. Josh says:

    I am planning to drive highway 89A from Kanab to Bitter springs on Sunday, March 31. Everything I can find on line tells me that the weather should be good. Has anyone driven the stretch past Jacob Lake and can confirm that the snow is melted and the roadways clear?

  2. Paul Hage says:

    Sir,

    My wife and I are at an RV park in Kanab. We arrived here via Zion. Our next waypoint is the Grand Canyon on our way to Albequerque. If possible, we would choose the north rim over the south.

    We are advised that hwy 89a is an arduous drive between Kanab and Jacob Lake, and less so between Page and Jacob Lake. My drive through Zion was stupendous – other than the stress on my 1995 30 ft Airstream Landyacht motorhome. I would gladly drive around through Page if the stress on my temperature gauge were less than it was through Zion.

    Can you advise me on this question? Is the drive from Page to Jacob Lake on 89a of less grade than the drive from Kanab to Jacob Lake?

    I would like to know as soon as possible.

    thanx

    Paul

    • James Cowlin says:

      Paul,

      To get to Jacob Lake on US 89A from either direction you will be ascending to the top of the Kaibab Plateau. From where you start the climb on either side the elevation change is about 2,000 feet. The distance to the top is also about the same from either direction. We see RV’s and trailers on this road all the time and since it is a federal highway the grades are limited to 6%. If you drive to Page then back to the North Rim you will add at least a half day to the trip. However, the drive across US 89 from Kanab to Page is beautiful. I hope this answers your question and I’d love to hear what you decide and how it works out.

      Jim

  3. James Schlup says:

    Did not mean to “subscribe” to anything other than subscribing to the great scenic attractions throughout Northern Arizona and especially along Hiways 89 and 89A. Thanks again, Jim

  4. James Schlup says:

    Hi, I was surprised that no mention was made of Hiway 89 from Sedona to Flagstaff, which is also a prime recreation area with Forest Service camps with parking for recreation vehicles in some of the campgrounds such as at Pine Flat and at Red Rocks Crossing. This is based on my memory from back in the 70′s when I worked as a Federal Officer in the campgrounds there along Oak Creek for three years while attending and earning my BS Degree in Forestry at Northern Arizona University, class of ’71 in Flagstaff. Lived in Flagstaff altogether for 18 years. Still miss it a lot. So many great toursist attractions close by, not to mention The Grand Canyon, 7 National Forests, Several National Monuments, and just great people to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable as well as educational. Well I better close now, or you won’t read the book. James Schlup

    • James Cowlin says:

      This blog is about the federal highways in northern Arizona. You are refering to what are now Arizona state highways 89 and 89A. The section of US Route 89 and 89A from Flagstaff to Nogales was decommissioned in 1992. Take a look at this blog Where is 89 in Arizona? for details.
      We have spent a lot of time in the Verde Valley and Oak Creek Canyon. It is one of our favorite areas of Arizona which I always recommend to travelers on historic highway 89. You’ll find a Road Trip Guide for 89A on our website with lots of pictures.

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