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.
Here’s what you need to know before you go:
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is in northern Arizona, near the Utah state line. The nearest towns are Page, Arizona, and Kanab, Utah.
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:
Some of the best slot-canyon hiking in the Southwest.
Home to The Wave and many other swirling sandstone formations.
One of the longest continuous slot canyons in the world.
Otherworldly sandstone feature with primitive backcountry camping.
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.
Permits are also required for day hiking and overnight trips in Paria Canyon, which are limited to 20 people per day. There is no limit on the number of people who can day-hike in Paria Canyon. Just proceed to your preferred trailhead, fill out a permit, and deposit it (along with $6) into the self-pay station.