Vermilion Cliffs National Monument: The Complete Guide

The Wave rock formation, panorama in Coyote Buttes north, Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona.
Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty Images
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Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Address
Marble Canyon, AZ 86036, USA

Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) , Vermilion Cliffs National Monument sprawls across 280,000 acres in the Colorado Plateau at the Arizona-Utah border. Chances are you’ve seen photographs of the monument or, at least, its most famous feature without realizing it. The Wave unfurls in a striated mix of red, rust, and gold across the desert floor. Hiking is the most popular activity, but visitors to the area also enjoy camping, photography, and wildlife viewing.  

Things to Do

Most visitors come to hike The Wave, one of the most exclusive hikes in the country. Other trails through the monument offer alternatives, but some of them also require permits. Because the trails are undeveloped, you’ll need to be skilled at navigating with a map and compass. In the summer, temperatures can exceed 120 degrees F (49 degrees C) while, in the winter, there can be snow on the ground. The best times to visit are typically April, May, September, and October.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument has no visitor centers or scenic drives. For permits and information, you’ll need to visit the Paria Contact Station on Highway 89, the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab, or the Interagency Information Center in St. George, Utah. If you do attempt to drive into the monument even on the maintained House Rock Valley Road (BLM 1065), stop if it threatens to rain. The clay dirt becomes as slick as ice when wet, making the road impassable.

Hikers can camp with a permit in Paria Canyon or at one of the two first-come, first-served campsites at Vermilion Cliffs. If you’re not hiking, it’s not really a destination for camping since it’s so rugged and remote and there’s little else to do other than watch for the once almost-extinct California Condor soaring overhead.

Famous "The Wave" rock formation with a mirror reflection in water
Andrew Coleman / Getty Images

The Best Areas for Hiking

Vermilion Cliffs doesn’t have marked trails so much as areas popular with hikers, and you will need a permit to hike in most of them. Depending on where you want to hike, you’ll have to enter a lottery online or in person, or you may be able to purchase a permit by scanning a QR code at the trailhead.

On the day of your hike, bring a gallon of water per person, and be sure each member drinks the full gallon, even in the winter. Know the physical limits of each member of your group, and do not push them beyond what they can do. People do die while hiking in the Vermilion Cliffs wilderness, often from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

  • Coyote Buttes North (The Wave): This strenuous, 6.4-mile roundtrip hike begins at a riverbed and crosses challenging terrain. There’s no clearly marked trail or directional markers, so you’ll need a map and compass to find your way. Once you get to The Wave, you can continue to a nearby second wave formation, natural arches, petroglyphs, and dinosaur tracks.
  • Coyote Buttes South: There are no marked trails in this area, so you’ll need excellent navigation skills to make your way. You’ll also want a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle since the roads leading into this permitted area cuts through deep sand. Every year, inexperienced, unprepared drivers get stranded on these roads. Don’t be one of them.
  • Paria Canyon: Hikers follow the Paria River, walking on trails alongside it or through the water itself. Even using the trails, you’ll get wet. You can go as far as you want; experienced backpackers will even make a 5-day trip of it. Permits obtained through a lottery are required for an overnight stay.
  • Buckskin Gulch: A 20-mile hike best completed over a period of several days, this trail navigates through the longest and deepest slot canyon the Southwest. Be prepared for obstacles, including rocks, pools, escapable quicksand, and possible flash floods.
  • White Pocket: There are no marked trails to these whitish-grey sandstone formations, so once again, you’ll need strong wayfinding skills to get to them. And a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. The out-of-this-world landscape is worth it, though.
White Pocket
 Bobbushphoto / Getty Images

How to Get a Permit to Hike or Camp Overnight

Many areas in the national monument require a permit for hiking. Some permits are available on demand while others are available only through lottery to protect the fragile geographic formations there. Access to Coyote Butte North (The Wave) is only available by lottery and your chances of easily scoring a permit are very low. 

That’s because only 64 people are allowed to enter the canyon on any given day. You can apply online four months in advance or through a walk-in lottery the day before at the Kanab Center Gymnasium. Up to 48 people are awarded permits through the online system and up to 16 people through the next-day lottery system. Coyote Butte South uses a similar advance permitting system.

At Paria Canyon and the other permitted hiking areas, you can scan a QR code to obtain a day-use permit. However, if you want to overnight in Paria Canyon, you’ll need to obtain a permit in person from the Interagency Information Center in St. George or the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89. Overnight permits are limited to 20 people.

Permits are $6 per person for day hiking and $5 per person for overnight camping. When submitting an application for a lottery, you are required to pay a $9 nonrefundable administrative fee.

Where to Camp

Dispersed camping is allowed outside the wilderness area in previously disturbed areas. Additionally, there are two developed campgrounds at Vermilion Cliffs: Stateline and White House.

  • Stateline: Located just off House Rock Valley Road, Stateline has seven campsites, a pit toilet, shaded structures and picnic tables. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no water.
  • White House: Set in a sandstone cove beside the Paria River, this campground has seven drive-in campsites, five walk-in campsites, two vault toilets, fire rings, grills, and picnic tables. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis for $5.
Gumdrop-shaped sandstone with pink, orange, and yellow rock striations
Adria Photography / Getty Images 

Where to Stay Nearby

Staying in Kanab makes the most sense, especially if you need to pick up permits from the BLM Visitor Center or want to try your luck in the next-day lottery for the Wave. You’ll find all the major chains in town, including Hampton Inn, La Quinta Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and Days Inn & Suites. The historic Parry Lodge is another good option.

However, if you don’t need a permit, the drive is the same distance from Page, Arizona. This city on Lake Powell has similar chain hotels and, like Kanab, has a good selection of restaurants.

How to Get There

House Rock Valley Road is the main access road. You can reach it from Highway 89, between mile markers 25 and 26, heading from Kanab towards Page. Or, you can take Highway 89A from Marble Canyon towards Jacob Lake and watch for a dirt road between mile markers 565 and 566. There won’t be a sign for House Rock Valley Road. Instead, look for a sign reading “BLM 1065.”

Man backpacking at Vermilion Cliffs
Layne Kennedy / Getty Images 

Accessibility

The Vermilion Cliffs area is not really accessible although the campsites and vault toilets at the developed campgrounds are.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Dress in layers. Bring sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Make sure you have enough food, water, and clothing for several days in case you run into problems.
  • If you plan to participate in the walk-in lottery, bring exact cash or a check to pay for your permits. Credit cards are not accepted, and staff cannot make change.
  • Check the weather before heading out. Rain in the area or north of Vermilion Cliffs can result in floods. When in doubt about weather conditions, consult the BLM.
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Vermilion Cliffs National Monument: The Complete Guide