Northern Arizona is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the Southwest, most notably for the bright colors, red cliffs and sand. Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness spans Southern Utah and Northern Arizona and is home to Coyote Buttes and the Wave. Coyote Buttes North (the Wave) and Coyote Buttes South are two separate areas of the wilderness, each with their own draw, access points and permits. This post will focus on Coyote Buttes North.
What are Coyote Buttes North and South?
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness was established by Congress in 1984 to protect 112,500 acres of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The area is known for Navajo bedstone rock, which has formed hoodoos, cones, ridges and ravines. The colors span from reds and pinks, to yellows and oranges, and even some green. The colors come from oxidized iron compounds.
Erosion has created different formations and strata, some soft and fragile, some hard as rock. It’s one of the most stunning landscapes, and a reason in and of itself to do a Southwest road trip.
Coyote Buttes South and North (the Wave) map
Visiting can be a bit confusing as the hikes are in Arizona, but you need the permits and access from Utah. You can stay in Kanab (Utah) or Page (Arizona). To make it more difficult, cell phone reception is weak at best outside of the towns, so you want to have your locations and maps planned offline.
Coyote Buttes North, the Wave permits
Both Coyote Buttes North and South require permits to enter. North is home to the Wave, and notoriously one of the hardest permits to get (you either go for the daily lottery or apply in the online lottery in advance). In 2017, over 160,000 permit applications were submitted!
Permits are issued for 20 people per day, 10 of them online in advance, and 10 during the walk-in lottery the day before.
You need to get the permit from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah, or you can get the permitting information online at the BLM website here. Dogs are allowed on the hike but need to be included on the permit.
Permit prices for Coyote Buttes South are $5.00 per person or dog per day. They are $7.00 per person or dog per day for Coyote Buttes North. Permits must be obtained in advance and are not available for self-pay at the access points.
Coyote Buttes online permits
You can apply for permits online, 3 months in advance of your target date. BLM states that permits for South are usually available, whereas chances are tougher for North. Once you apply online, you will get instructions for payment and receiving your permits.
Coyote Buttes walk-in permit lottery
The draw for Coyote Buttes permits happens daily, for the next day’s permits; the Wave lottery (North) is at 9:00 am and South is at 10:00 am. Permits must be paid for in cash or by check (no credit cards). Mid-November through mid-March, permits are only drawn on weekdays, so permits for Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays are drawn on the Friday prior.
Hiking the Wave without permits
There will always be people who are tempted to try hiking the Wave without a permit, but it’s a serious offense. Rangers patrol the area looking for permits. Depending on where you are caught, you could face over $1000 in fines and potentially jail time. Hikers without permits are easy to spot – the permits are brightly colored and have to hang on a backpack or be visible on one hiker in each group. This means that even in a large expanse, it is easy for rangers to spot if people have permits or not.
Plus, going without a permit can be risky. The hike is already dangerous, but being out there without anyone knowing means that no one will know to help if anything goes wrong.
When to visit Coyote Buttes
Both for permitting and weather, winter is the ideal season for Coyote Buttes North. Monsoon season can make the area very dangerous for both hikers and drivers, as flash floods can ravage the park and roads.
Not only is it a cooler hike in the winter, but having snow on the ground makes it much easier to figure out where you’re going. You can follow other footprints, and your own on the way back.
Coyote Buttes North hiking trails (directions to the Wave)
The hike to the Wave is 6 miles out and back, but one of the best parts of heading out to the Coyote Buttes area is that there really are no trails. You are free to roam where you want (with your permit). AllTrails does have trails marked and I recommend viewing this on your phone before you head out – it will keep the map available while you are offline.
When you get your permit, you will be given a printout with instructions to follow. The instructions will have photos of the visual cues of where to turn and head. These are helpful, but can be difficult. The AllTrails map is precise and worth having handy.
Be careful, however, to not stray from the paths in any method. If you try to take a “shortcut,” you will likely run into a slot canyon and lots of vertical hiking (up and down).
Dogs at Coyote Buttes
What’s a beautiful hike if you can’t bring your dog with? Good news! Dogs are allowed in both Coyotes Buttes South and North, but they need to be included in your permit. The restrictions do not say that they need to be on-leash, but that they must be under control at all times. And all dog waste must be packed out.
Safety at the Wave Arizona
It can’t be stressed enough that this hike can be very dangerous. With a lot of sun exposure (and heat in the summer), no services or water, no trails and no way of contacting help, things can go sideways very quickly. One hiker died hiking the Wave in 2018, and three died in 2013. Flash floods are very dangerous, especially in slot canyons.
With that in mind, it is important to check the weather and follow all preparation suggestions.
Important Coyote Buttes North logistics
There are some important things to consider when you’re planning to head out to the park. It is off-road and has no cell phone reception, so preparation is key.
Coyote Buttes North access
You will access the hike to the Wave from the Wire Pass Trailhead on House Rock Valley Road. Visitors should be aware of road conditions before heading out, but generally, this part of the road is bumpy, but easily driven in vehicles with higher clearance or with large tires.
Before the hike
While not exceptionally physically strenuous, Coyote Buttes is a difficult hike. No reception, no trail markings and long exposure to the sun mean that visitors need to pay attention and plan ahead.
Every visitor should:
- Tell someone who will NOT be on the hike your plans (and who they should contact if they don’t hear from you at the end of the day when you’re out)
- Drink lots of water the day BEFORE your hike; if you wait until you are thirsty in the desert, you will already be dehydrated
- Download any tools you need for offline use; you will not have reception
- Fill the gas for your vehicle and bring appropriate tools to deal with flat tires or car issues (you won’t be able to call anyone or flag anyone down driving by)
- Make a communication plan for your group before the hike so you know what to do if anyone is separated
- Visit or contact the BLM office in Kanab for the day’s conditions
What to wear
Clothes: There is very little shade in the Coyote Buttes North area, especially along the hike to the Wave. So, you will want to wear clothes comfortable for hiking, but breathable and to protect from the sun.
Footwear: The terrain is rocky and sandy, but still desert (meaning there are cacti). This means that you will want to wear hiking boots with enough protection to keep the sand out and tough enough for cactus spines. I bought these hiking boots from Amazon for about $40 just for this hike and was very happy.
What to bring
There are no services at Coyote Buttes. This means no water or food and no restrooms. You need to be prepared to pack in and out everything, including human waste. Note, there are restrooms at the Wire Pass Trailhead.
Water and snacks: You should bring at least 4 liters of water per person and more snacks than you think you need. Being out in the dry Arizona conditions is more taxing than you might expect. Do not take this lightly.
Sunscreen: There is very little shade, and even in the winter, you will find yourself exposed to a lot of desert sun.
GPS, maps and communication: There is no cell reception and no marking for trails (apart from the access point). You should download maps for offline use; available in both Google Maps and AllTrails (though there is a fee for the latter). You may also consider a handheld GPS and walkie-talkies if your group might separate.
Trash and human waste bags: Coyote Buttes is one of the most beautiful parts of Arizona and it is our responsibility to keep it that way. Pack in and out everything. EVERYTHING. Human and dog waste needs to be packed out.
Driving conditions for Coyote Buttes North
Four-wheel or all-wheel drives are recommended, with high clearance. You will receive driving instructions along with your permit, but you need to turn off of Highway 89 on House Rock Valley Road (marked on the map above). Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, but not usually necessary unless you are planning to go to Coyote Buttes South.
The BLM office in Kanab reports daily on conditions and is worth visiting before driving out. Rain and snow can make these roads impassable.
Be extremely careful when driving in these areas. Even if you are comfortable off road, loose sand and changing conditions can put you in a bad situation very quickly and you will not be able to call for help.
Other hikes and areas to see near the Wave and Coyote Buttes North
Coyote Buttes South: Just as beautiful as Coyote Buttes North, South is made up of hoodoos and Navajo sandstone just the same. It is definitely worth a day.
Buckskin Gulch: Buckskin Gulch is accessible from the Wire Pass trailhead (the entrance to the Wave and Coyote Buttes North). This hike requires a day-use permit, but you can pay for it at the trailhead.
Wire Pass: Wire Pass is another hike at the Wire Pass trailhead, which also requires a day-use permit, available on site. This is a shorter and less difficult option, similar to Buckskin Gulch.
White Pocket: White Pocket lies to the East of both sections of Coyote Buttes and is made up of beautiful formations similar to Coyote Buttes.
Vermillion Cliffs: Vermillion Cliffs lie South of both sections of Coyote Buttes and are worth a nice scenic drive (tip: head South on House Rock Valley Road after your Coyote Buttes hike to catch the Vermillion Cliffs near sunset; the sun lights them up in the afternoon). There is also a hawk-viewing area along the road.
Grand Falls (Chocolate Waterfalls): Grand Falls is a gem of a waterfall northeast of Flagstaff, but it’s only around a few months out of the year (March-April and monsoon season). But these muddy waterfalls are taller than Niagara!
Antelope Canyon: Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon near Page. There are two hikes, upper and lower. It is located on the Navajo Nation reservation and requires a permit and a guide.
Kanab hotels (Utah)
While Coyote Buttes South itself is in Arizona, the closest place to stay is Kanab, Utah. This is especially ideal if you don’t already have your permit because you will need to get it from the BLM office in Kanab. I enjoyed the Kanab Travelodge as a comfortable place to stay with decent breakfast.
Best Western Red Hills
Travelodge by Wyndham
Page hotels (Arizona)
Page, Arizona is the next best option after Kanab and it has a few more options (plus a little more to do). Lake Powell Canyon Inn is a nice motel-style option, with breakfast, popcorn and is conveniently located right next to a bowling alley.
Lake Powell Canyon Inn
Knights Inn Lake Powell
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