If you’ve seen photos of The Wave—a striated sea of rust-red and sun-gold sandstone, rolling across Arizona’s high desert—then you have seen Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
But only a fraction of it.
This geologic wonderland is three times the size of Las Vegas, and 3 million times as wild. There are no visitor centers, no developed campsites. Just 3,000-foot cliffs, sandy slot canyons, pulled-taffy rock formations and miles of unmarked paths.
This is where you go if you prefer unspoiled wilderness to well-trafficked trails, and starry silence to crowded campgrounds. The solitude is a factor of Vermilion Cliffs’ remoteness and rugged terrain, yes, but also a lottery-based permitting system that helps preserve the national monument’s wild beauty for generations to come.
Things To Do
The monument is a rugged playground for hiking, backpacking, camping, off-roading, wildlife viewing and photography. You can explore the following areas within the monument:
Home to The Wave and many other swirling sandstone formations. Coyote Buttes and The “Wave” are some of the world’s most famous natural phenomena. This fantasyland of sculptured sandstone on the Utah/Arizona Border consists of undulating U-shaped troughs that remind the visitor of large ocean swells. Nearby you’ll find acres of sandstone and rock formations that inspire the imagination. Due to its fragile nature, access is limited and requires a permit. 20 people daily are alloted to visit the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area. 10 permits are obtained via online lottery, the other 10 permits are obtained through a walk-in lottery that takes place at the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. This extremely rugged and remote region is best experienced with a guide and off-road outfitter, which can be arranged through the Kanab Visitor Center once you’ve obtained a permit.
Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the United States. At nearly 20 miles long, Buckskin Gulch connects up with the Paria River and ends at Lees Ferry along the Colorado River. Over-night hikes from Buckskin Gulch to Lees Ferry are via permit only. Access Buckskin Gulch for a day hike via House Rock Valley Road. You can begin your hike from Buckskin Gulch Trailhead or Wirepass Trailhead. Buckskin Gulch trailhead will take you 4 miles in an open canyon until you reach the beggining of Buckskin Gulch slot canyon. Hike as far as you would like, then turn around to exit the same way you entered. You may also begin your hike from Wirepass trailhead (recommended). Wirepass Trailhead will take you 1 1/2 miles in a slot canyon until you reach the confluence of Buckskin Gulch. Hike as far as you would like, then turn around to exit the same way you entered. No matter which trailhead you choose to begin your hike from, keep an eye out for the Big Horn Sheep Native American Petroglyphs on the walls at the Buckskin Confluence. This series of slot canyons are a great hike during the peak heat of the summer as the tall canyon walls create much shade and help keep you cool. Never enter a slot canyon if rain is in the forecast. There may not be rain forcast for your area, but higher elevation that drain into slot canyons such as Buckskin Gulch may be experiencing heavy rains. Those heavy rains may take hours to reach your location, resulting in flash flooding that can become dangerous.
The area of White Pocket on the Paria Plateau in Northern Arizona is very impressive indeed! While many are lured and wait their turn to visit the infamous “Wave” in the North Coyote Buttes, the “White Pocket” area to the east is seldom visited. Maybe because of its remoteness or the requirement of 4WD to access the area. The impressive White Pocket will fill the senses beyond imagination! The drive to the swirling, twisted, multicolored natural artwork is an adventure in its own right, and the exploration by foot is endless. Whether spending just a couple of hours or an entire weekend, “White Pocket” will surely become “top of the top” in the list of special places. This area has colors, shapes and textures that are hard to beat, but remember that it is an extremely fragile environment and the utmost care should be taken to preserve this place. Tread lightly and make it a point to see if you can leave the area without anyone ever having known that you were there. Stay on the slickrock when possible, but be careful not to snap off thin fins and don’t trample the delicate vegetation between the small mounds of beautiful stone. This area should, and can be, saved for any and all that visit in the future.
Permits are required for hiking in Coyote Buttes South and Coyote Buttes North (site of The Wave). Only 20 people per day are allowed in each area, and the number of permits awarded each day depends on the size of the groups that win them.
The Bureau of Land Management allocates permits to Coyote Buttes via a lottery system. Half of the daily permits are awarded via an online lottery, and the other half are allocated via an in-person lottery at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. Visit the Coyote Buttes Permit Website for detailed information about how the permitting process works.
Marble Canyon is a section along the canyon of the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell (Page, Arizona) to the confluence of the Little Colorado River. The Grand Canyon officially begins below this confluence. The key location in Marble Canyon is Lee’s Ferry where river-runners launch their boats for excursions on the Colorado River. Some motorized sightseeing boat trips go up-river from Lee’s Ferry to the bottom of the Glen Canyon Dam and return. Down-river trips start here and usually go for several days into the Grand Canyon before concluding at various points within the canyon.
Near Marble Canyon is the famous Navajo Bridge where US Highway 89A crosses the Colorado River. Travelers will find this route handy for going to and from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and into southern Utah. Marble Canyon is the western boundary of the Navajo Nation (the largest Native American tribe in the U.S.).