The Wave and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Home to The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument offers the best of northern Arizona's wilderness. Learn how you can explore this remote high-desert wonder.
Bordered by Kaibab National Forest and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, some of the most unusual geologic formations in the country are found in northern Arizona. It took millions of years for nature to make this magical place, anchored by an isolated maze of rock formations known as Vermilion Cliffs. In fact, the area is so removed from human activity, the cliffs were chosen as a site for the reintroduction of the California condor into the wild. Permits are required to set off on one of the most exclusive outdoor excursions in the country.
The incredible geologic formations of Vermilion Cliffs take some effort to experience, but it's worth the planning and the trek to get an intimate look at this unspoiled natural area in northern Arizona. The product of millions of years of water and wind erosion on ancient layers of sandstone, this unusual rock wonderland features 3,000-foot cliffs, sinewy slot canyons and massive formations jutting out of the earth. Be on the lookout for petroglyphs on cliff walls and dinosaur tracks embedded in the sediment while touring one of the most stunning geologic features found anywhere on earth.
How to visit Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Coyote Buttes, the location of The Wave, uses a lottery system to determine the number of hikers permitted per day. Access to this natural marvel requires a trek through rugged, unforgiving terrain with slot canyons prone to flash floods. This is as rugged as hiking gets and services are limited, so if you are one of the lucky permit winners pack in what you need for a day of hiking and wildlife viewing.
Other areas within the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness are accessible with permits for day hiking, such as Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, arguably the best slot-canyon hiking experience in the Southwest.
Advance permits are required for overnight camping in Paria Canyon. Multi-day backpacking excursions and primitive backcountry camping are also permitted in designated areas. Those seeking Vermilion Cliffs camping will also find two developed campgrounds just outside the monument.
Weekend getaway: visiting the Wave
You won the lottery and are heading to see The Wave, a natural cathedral unlike any other on the planet. Plan for wilderness conditions including dirt roads and extreme variables in weather conditions. You'll also want to be honest about your own fitness level and abilities.
Chances are you'll be driving for a few hours to reach this remote outpost, which can be an adventure of its own with 8 miles of travel on winding, rugged and dirt roads. Most two-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles can make it to the trailhead; however, four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles may be a necessity to get there when the road is wet. Fall's monsoon season and winter snows can bring their own challenges as the road may become impassable even for those with four-wheel drive.
Once you've arrived, the hike to The Wave is a physically demanding 6.4-mile round-trip hike and there is no developed trail. Wilderness navigation skills are a must for permit holders.
Plan to stay the night in Page to recharge for another day of sightseeing in northern Arizona's canyon country. Options for more of the best hikes in the Vermilion Cliffs area take visitors through the slot canyon at Buckskin Gulch, around the sandstone arches at Paria Canyon and along a Colorado River trail that leads to a photo op at Horseshoe Bend.
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