Coyote Buttes South – Best Alternative to the Wave

There are two sections to Coyote Buttes, the North (The Wave) and the South (Vermillion Cliffs). Both are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and are amazing places to see. While not as “instagrammable” Coyote Buttes South is far larger than the Wave and actually much more remote. It’s clearly worth a visit on its own, but also a great alternative to the Wave. If you don’t believe me, just keep reading below to find out why!

This post is updated yearly for the most accurate information.

On my road trip to Arizona, we wanted to try to see the famous “Wave” in Arizona. But as you probably already know, the permits are limited for the Wave, and they sell out almost instantly when they are placed online the month before (kind of like Havasu Falls). Hiking Coyote Buttes South is incredible and you won’t regret doing it instead.

We didn’t get a permit for the Wave, but we were able to snag permits for hiking Vermillion Cliffs (Coyote Buttes South) instead. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad we did it!

Getting Permits for the Wave or Coyote Buttes South

Getting a permit requires checking the BLM website for the latest information and joining the lottery. You can find the latest information on the lottery here.

The quota for this permit area is measured in persons visiting the area per day. A daily maximum of 20 people are permitted to visit Coyote Buttes South.

  • Individuals cannot concurrently hold more than one permit per permit area.
  • 10 people are allocated through the online calendar system. 
  • The other 10 people are awarded through the Daily Lottery, a separate process than this online calendar.
  • The maximum group size is 6 people. Joining with those on a separate permit to exceed 6 is prohibited.
  • Everyone, regardless of age, must be included in the permit. This includes infants that are not walking.
  • Dogs do not count against the quota, but must be included on the permit and also require a fee.
  • A maximum of 3 alternate permit holders may be selected when reserving a permit.
  • Selling or transferring permits is prohibited, will invalidate the permit, and may result in citation.

Online Calendar System (Advanced Permit)

Join the lottery 4 months in advance of your trip. Lotteries are done once a month on the first day of the month. You will be notified within a week if you got the permits or not. We entered the lottery for the Wave on three different days with three different accounts. None of us got it… We were able to go online the same day though and see that there were available permits for the southern portion and booked it right away. Permits do run out for both sections, but Coyote Buttes South (not the Wave) is easier to get a permit to.

Permits are $9 a person with a $5 a person with a processing fee. Everyone, regardless of age, must be included in the permit. This includes infants who are not walking.

Reservations are on recreation.gov and are released on the first of the month at 12 MST during the third month ahead. The area is designated day-use only (no overnight). Reservations are not accepted for trips beginning the day of or the next day.

For example, permits for the month of August would become available on May 1st at 12:00 noon MDT. Online reservations would not be accepted starting on August 14th for a trip on August 15th.

Once you’ve been approved via email for your permit, they will send you a paper copy. This is extremely important because it is the way you are able to get into the national monument. They send all the info for getting there and the necessary paperwork needed to park your car and hike.

Daily Permit Lottery

If you don’t get your permit ahead of time, you can also enter the daily lottery through recreation.govPermits are distributed through this Daily Lottery, two days ahead of the permit date.

Application submissions to the Daily Lottery are limited by a geofence. To apply, a group member must be within the geofence during the application window of 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, two days before the permit date. 

The lottery is held daily.

Lottery Schedule: 

  • Day 1 – Application: Apply between 6 AM and 6 PM two days ahead of the desired entry date. Lottery results are sent out at 7:15 PM this evening. Window opens to accept winning lottery.
  • Day 2 – Safety Briefing: Successful applicants must accept the permit and pay fees by 8 AM Utah time and be onsite at a permit pickup location at 9:00 AM local time for a safety briefing. Local time may be different between pick-up locations. During Daylight Savings, 9:00 in Utah is 8:00 in Arizona (except the Navajo Nation).
  • Day 3 – Permit date: Permit-holders have the day to explore Coyote Buttes South. 

Applications can only be submitted via a mobile device (ex. smart phone, internet-connected tablet) through the Recreation.gov mobile app or a browser.

Getting to Coyote Buttes South

Page, Arizona is the closest town to this area. If you want to do a day trip, stay in Page, AZ before heading out to do this hike. It takes about 2 hours to get here from there.

This was probably the most frustrating part of the trip for me. There is very little info online about how to get there or where to park. Thankfully, Sobia did some good research and figured out directions.

The closest cities to this area are Page, Arizona and Kanab, Utah. Both are about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours away. This is the perfect stop on a Utah and Arizona Road Trip. We found out we could park at Pawhole (the Lone Tree sign pictured above was in the spot where you are supposed to park if you do not have 4-wheel drive) and hike from there to the cliffs. You do have to go through Utah via Highway 89 and back into Arizona to get there. Below you will see the Google directions to get there and the map from the Bureau of Land Management website.

Another important thing to know about getting there is the roads are really, really rough. We had to drive very slowly in our rental. While the drive from the highway to the trailhead is only about 20 miles, it is very rocky.

There are multiple signs that say do not drive if the roads are wet and make sure you drive slowly. Follow these warnings! While I don’t know how often it actually rains there, you’d definitely be stuck if you’re there.

Once you get to the Pawhole entrance, you’ll notice a road continues up to the trail head.

Do not drive this road if you do not have four-wheel drive. It will save time to drive this road though so consider renting a car with four wheel drive.

We saw someone get stuck and were told it would be $1000 to get a tow truck to come out there and help. They were stuck the entire time we hiked and did not get out before we left. They did have people helping them (tour guides who knew the area) so we kept hiking and we were glad to know there was someone to help. These were the only people we saw all day so I wouldn’t rely on others to help you.

Being Prepared for Coyote Buttes South

This hike is one you need prepare for. Here are the things you need to be ready with before the hike. Make sure you check the BLM website and their FAQ as well.

    1. drive carefully, get a car with 4 wheel drive if you can
    2. bring lots of water
    3. bring sunscreen
    4. good hiking shoes are a must
    5. sand will get everywhere so make sure you wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty
    6. it will be hot, dress accordingly

Hiking

If you do not have 4-wheel drive, you will have to park at Pawhole and walk along the sand road until you get to the actual trailhead at Lone Tree. This is about 2.5 miles and took us about an hour to complete because we were in the sand the whole time.

The entire hike is 6.5 miles so if you decide to do the entire thing, it will be an all day adventure. We chose to do a portion of the hike, climb around on the rocks, and head back since it was one of the last days of our trip and we were pretty tired.

The hike itself is really cool because you’re able to easily explore. The land is all considered wilderness and while there is a path, it’s not always clear and you can also choose to climb around on your own. If you want to hike the actual trail, make sure you have your permit info with you and look over the trail beforehand. Luckily, the unique cliff formations give you a good guide for which way is which. However, it’s easy to get lost with little help for directions.

Our favorite part was that we were able to just explore and climb the rocks as we wanted. The amazing rock formations are so unique and incredibly beautiful. Climbing around was so much fun, and all the colors made it such a unique experience. There’s really nowhere else like it and that’s why it’s such a special place.

This hike makes Coyote Buttes South much different from the Wave. The Wave is a short hike while Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs is a day long adventure with tons to see. If you want a big adventure, hiking Coyote Buttes South is for you!

Experience the remote beauty of Coyote Buttes South, a must-visit destination for nature lovers and photographers.
Experience the remote beauty of Coyote Buttes South, a must-visit destination for nature lovers and photographers.

What do you think? Would you hike Coyote Buttes South? Send comments and questions below!

Meghan

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