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.
The Wave in Coyote Buttes North is one of the most sought-after permits in the country, but Coyote Buttes South is equally stunning and much easier to get access to. Marked by hoodoos and textured formations created through erosion, it is probably the most unique and beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on.
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.
Is “the Wave” at Coyote Buttes South?
Short answer, no. The Wave is a specific point in Coyotes Buttes North. Though that particular point became incredibly popular, the whole Coyotes Buttes area, both North and South, is jaw-dropping. Many visitors try for permits for North to see the Wave, but skip South. THIS IS A MISTAKE.
Coyote Buttes South 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 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 lottery in advance. 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; 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.
When to visit Coyote Buttes
Both for permitting and weather, winter is the ideal season for Coyote Buttes South. 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 South hiking trails
One of the best parts of heading out to Coyote Buttes 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.
Coyote Buttes South access
There are two main access points for the Coyote Buttes South area: Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove. Visitors should be aware of road conditions before deciding which to go to, but both require high clearance vehicles and four-wheel drive (see driving below). Visitors with 2WD can park at Lone Tree and hike in 2.5 miles.
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.
Important Coyote Buttes South 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.
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 South area. 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.
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 South
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, and at some places necessary, for getting to the Coyote Buttes South access points.
House Rock Valley Road itself is not as tough driving, but when you turn off for the access points, it is loose sand. 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 Coyote Buttes South
Coyote Buttes North (the Wave): This is the one most people visit the area for and if you’re lucky enough to get a permit, you will be treated.
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 condor-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 a decent breakfast (tip: try Nedra’s Too for dinner).
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. I also stayed at the Super 8, but was a bit underwhelmed by the breakfast.
Lake Powell Canyon Inn
Knights Inn Lake Powell
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