Everyone who drives between southern Nevada and southern Utah experiences the Arizona Strip in the same way: it’s a quick drive on Interstate 15, through the curvy and scenic Virgin River Canyon. While it’s an impressive road, there isn’t much to do here except drive through it. However, I found a way to experience the canyon that involves getting off I-15, and onto a dirt road adventure.
Cedar Pocket Road is located in northwestern Arizona. From Interstate 15, take exit 18 (the second of only three exits in Arizona). You’ll find a rest area on the south side of the Interstate, and Cedar Pocket Road on the north side.
I’ve driven through the Virgin River Canyon on Interstate 15 on numerous occasions, and each time I’ve marveled at the effort it took to build a freeway through it. I’ve also thought about getting out of my car and… well… doing something. While there are wide spots along the side of the highway, it never seemed like a good idea to simply pull off the interstate and start wandering around. Plus, I always had someplace better to get to — like Zion National Park or Las Vegas.
On this day, however, I had a full day to explore, and I decided it was finally time to discover some of the hidden treasures of the area. So, I got off at exit 18 – the exit for Cedar Pocket Road — and looked around.
There are a rest area and campground here, on the south side of the highway. I can’t speak for the campground, but the rest area seemed neglected and semi-abandoned. There is an excellent view of the canyon and plenty of picnic shelters and tables, but because the area charged an entrance fee, I didn’t see any point in stopping. It didn’t look like anyone else was spending time here, either.
Instead, I focused my attention on the dirt road that begins at exit 18, on the opposite side of the freeway. I had no idea where this road went, or what I’d find, but I was in the mood to explore. And while I didn’t have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, it was a high-clearance SUV, so I figured I could handle just about anything.
From the interstate, the road heads north, through a canyon. It looks pretty wide in this shot, but at first, it’s pretty tight, and the road is narrow with some sharp dips. In several places, as I headed over a small hill on the road, I was unable to see anything beyond my hood, and I simply had to trust that there was a road in front of me.
But then, the road widened out, as it continued to climb. I was headed straight towards a distinctive peak, although I haven’t been able to find its name.
On the way uphill, there are some great places to stop and enjoy the view from the side of the road.
You’ll also find some Joshua trees as you climb towards the pass.
As you head up towards the pass, you’ll enter the Beaver Dam Mountain Wilderness, which is managed by the BLM. You should check with them for any rules or restrictions, but driving through is not a problem.
I still had no idea where I was headed, but soon after crossing the pass, an immense valley stretched out before my eyes. I thought I was still headed north, and figured I might end up back in Utah. But instead, the road had turned to the west, and I was looking towards the northwestern corner of Arizona.
The road dropped out of the mountains…
… and straightened out, as it headed towards Mohave County Route 91. Looking back, you can see the low spot in the mountains — this is where the road crosses over into the Virgin River Canyon.
At Route 91, I could choose to either drive north or south. North would have taken me into Utah, and into Joshua Tree National Natural Landmark. But it also would have taken me away from Las Vegas, my ultimate destination for the day. So, I turned south and followed the road into Beaver Dam and I-15. If I had continued, I would have found the town of Littlefield on the other side of the highway.
I decided this was enough exploring of the Arizona Strip for now. I had more places to see before arriving in Las Vegas for the night.
Here’s a look at the drive into the Virgin River Canyon and over Cedar Pocket Road.
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I don’t know if it’s worth your time to explore the Cedar Pocket area, or whether you should just drive over I-15 and move on to other places. Everything in this area seems to be hard-core desert wilderness, so if you’re going to wander into it, be prepared and have a plan. Or, just get off the highway and drive the dirt road alternative — it’s fun!