When thinking of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, many have in mind the mind-boggling, twisted landscape of the Wave that has become the lure of photographers from around the world hoping to snap the perfect picture of this extremely photogenic site. However, because Coyote Buttes where the Wave is located is a sensitive Wilderness Area, you are required to have a special permit to access it and groups are limited to six people. For Coyote Buttes North, also known as the Wave, BLM receives an overwhelming number of permit applications annually (the most recent we saw was close to 50,000). With only 20 visitors per day allowed in, the permits issued total roughly 7,200, leaving a lot of hopeful hikers disappointed. The procedure to apply for permits in Coyote Buttes North and South is fairly complicated and should begin four months in advance of your planned trip. Read thoroughly here then head to the page where you can pay the fee and join the online lottery where ten spots/day are selected. Alternatively, if you’re feeling lucky or made a spontaneous decision to head to Vermillion Cliffs, you might get a chance to be selected at the walk-in lottery held at the Grand Staircase-Escalante Visitor Center in Kanab (read details regarding the procedure on the same BLM page linked above; notice that there are no visitor centers in the monument). Since we were unsure of our exact travel plans four months in advance and didn’t get lucky at the walk-in lottery, we did not visit the Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area. However, there is a lot more to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument beyond its now iconic and ever photographed sites. This monument was established in 2000 to protect a stunning country of complex geology and historic heritage stretching on 293,000 acres (118,500 ha) at the border of Arizona and Utah (BLM map here, but for more adventurous hikes get the detailed NatGeo Map). A small section of the monument containing one of the trailheads to Paria Canyon, as well as the trailheads to the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch is located in Utah. We camped at the beautiful White House Campground and hiked along the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch trails, through intimidating, narrow canyons. Petroglyphs are visible on one of the walls of the Wire Pass trail close to the junction with Buckskin Gulch trail, but we couldn’t advance much more because we weren’t prepared with the right footwear to wade through water and mud. Slot canyons get easily flooded and can become traps with heavy rains, but the thrill of walking through them brings you back to your childhood dreams of exploring extraordinary faraway places. From this northern section in Utah we crossed the stateline into Arizona along the unpaved House Rock Valley Road and stopped at the Condor Release Viewing Site. The Peregrine Fund has been working in Vermilion Cliffs to release captive-bred endangered California condors since 1996, and you can check with them or with the BLM (contacts at the bottom of linked page) for dates when they release new condors and the public is invited to watch. At the viewing site you might get the chance to spot from afar already rewilded condors and use the telescope lenses available there for visitors. After seeing them far in the distance we continued driving on SR 89A, bordering the Paria-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and all the way to Marble Canyon inside Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The entire time we were overwhelmed by the surreal beauty of the Vermilion Cliffs towering 3,000 ft (900 m) above us on the edge of the Paria Plateau, with their colorful layers of shale and sandstone. In Marble Canyon we spent the night at Lees Ferry Campground on the Colorado River, a common start point of rafting journeys through the Grand Canyon. Nearby you’ll find the trailhead to the long hike inside the Paria Canyon which can take you to Whitehouse Campground in Utah along a 40-mile, difficult backpacking trip which can take up to five days (a good description of this adventure here). Note that overnight permits are required for Paria Canyon and are limited to 20/day, which means you need to apply in advance here. We did a day hike from Lees Ferry starting at the Lonely Dell Ranch Trailhead along the refreshing Paria River. The first ten miles from this trailhead go through a more open landscape along the river banks and will give you a different insight into the diversity of the monument than what you see when exploring the maze of slot canyons with their impressive walls and arches in the central and northern sections.
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