Vermillion Cliffs: The Place You’ve Never Heard of Before


The name encompasses Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, which sits in northern Arizona, and the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, which stretches up and over Utah’s southern border.

If you have been to Holy Smokes, then you are in for a treat. Holy smokes is located right next door to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. These two areas of land are full of beauty and wonder that brings visitors from all over the world each year.

A lot of people don’t know about Holy Smokes and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument because they’re not very well-known places, but this blog post will help change that!

How to get to Vermilion Cliffs

Another reason you may not have heard of Vermillion Cliffs is that it takes a hop, skip, jump, and bumpy ride in a seriously sturdy car to get there. The national monument is pretty remote—there are no visitors centers, designated campsites, or paved roads inside the entire 293,689-acre area. 

The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is located in the Arizona Strip, about 120 miles southwest of Page, AZ. How to get there? From Flagstaff, it’s six hours and 230 miles via Interstate 40 westbound until you reach U.S. Highway 93 southbound for 105 miles to State Route 68 (again). You’ll be on a paved road for about 15 miles until you reach the unpaved dirt roads part.

Know before you go 

The Vermillion Cliffs region borders the Grand Canyon. Know before you go:

If driving, be sure to have a high-clearance vehicle and spare tire; there is no cell phone service or protection from wildlife encounters along the route – The area is designated as an International Dark Sky Park so always use your headlamp or flashlight, not a lantern. Know that there’s no cell phone service or protection from wildlife encounters along the route – it’s designated as an International Dark Sky Park so always use your headlamp or flashlight, not a lantern. There are no paved roads in Vermillion Cliffs; you’ll want to have a high-clearance vehicle.

It bears repeating that there are no paved roads in Vermillion Cliffs, and the land is rough: rocky in some places, deep and sandy in others. You’ll want a high-clearance vehicle for this excursion. If you can’t get your mitts on a solid rental (you wouldn’t be alone), consider joining a tour group like the Kanab Tour Company or Grand Staircase Discovery instead. Much better to risk having other people in the background of your pictures than getting stranded in the blazing-hot desert with a busted-up ride.

Vermillion Cliffs is a hiker’s paradise, so bring your sturdiest shoes since many of the most iconic sights—including The Wave—are only accessible on foot. And as usual, when it comes to traversing any desert plain, don’t head out without stocking up on way more food, water, gas, and sunscreen than you expect you’ll need.

Coyote Buttes North

Coyote Buttes North, a part of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Coyote Buttes North is located just west of Page in eastern Arizona and offers some spectacular views from its many hiking trails. Coyote Buttes South features panoramic views from the top of Butler Peak, a peak that reaches about 1000 feet in height above sea level. Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is divided into a few main regions, some of which overlap. Coyote Buttes North is right along the Arizona/Utah border, and the Bureau of Land Management limits the number of visitors in order to protect the fragile ecosystem. 

The Wave

The Vermillion Cliffs are the hidden gem of the Grand Canyon. It’s the place you’ve never heard about before, but if you go to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and don’t hike to the Wave, it’s a shame on your behalf. The Vermillion Cliffs are made up of red, soft sandstone that’s been eroded over the years by the strong winds blowing in from the west. These cliffs form dramatic color contrasts with their surroundings – including the blue waters of the lake below the dam. The Wave is an interesting geological formation with bright red cliffs that will make for the perfect photo opportunity. This sandstone spike juts out from the shoreline and into the water, creating a perfect wave when the wind blows in just the right direction.

The Second Wave

The Second Wave, located in The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, is one of the most visited places by travelers. The name describes itself as a second wave because it came after The Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. It was first called The Red Wall but was renamed later to its current name due to its distinctive red sandstone rocks. The Second Wave is one of the most picturesque places in The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and attracts travelers from all over The United States.

Melody Arch and the Grotto

Like the Wave and the Second Wave, this site is located within Coyote Buttes North. Melody Arch and the Grotto are two landmarks at this site, which was first named by an amateur archaeologist in 1956. Vermillion cliffs deserve their name not for color but because they were formed from clay millions of years ago that has been stained red through oxidation to produce a “vermilion” color.

The Alcove

The Alcove is the most famous and photographed site in Vermillion Cliffs. The red walls of The Alcove are a result of iron oxide that had leached from the sandstone over time, giving them their distinctive coloring. The alcove measures about 100 feet wide by 140 feet tall with an entrance to its right side. The floor of The Alcove is littered with the remains from a dinner party – broken dishes, bones, and old lanterns. The theory behind The Alcove’s name comes from the many times that coyotes would come into The Alcove to hunt for rodents during high winds in winter months.

The hikes here are spectacular with the nearly vertical walls of The Alcove and The Windows to your left, which is made up of a natural rock arch that measures about 56 feet in height by the 150-foot length. The two cliffs offer different hiking routes: The Alcove has an easy loop route and The Windows offers a more challenging hike.

Coyote Buttes South

Coyote Buttes South is one of two sections of Coyote Butte, which together make up Coyote Buttes. The other section includes Coyote Buttes North and it’s where most visitors go for hiking trails and scenic views from the Coyote Butte Overlook. Coyote Buttes South is different in that it’s a much more remote and less-visited area, but still has plenty of beauty to offer. You should, yes—if you’re at least reasonably confident in your fitness and ability to read a map, as this region facilitates exceptional hiking but contains no actual hiking trails. You’ll need a permit for this area as well, so don’t sleep on that application. The BLM allows 20 people to hike through each day; you can check out their guide to crossing the region here. You’ll need to bring your own water.

White Pocket

A lesser-known but equally stunning national monument is White Pocket, which resides within the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. White Pocket may be small in size compared to other canyons and cliff features of this national park, but it’s incredibly unique with its creamy white gypsum sandstone walls that have been eroded over time by wind and rain. It encompasses about 1 square mile, and stands apart because the rocks here are not Vermilion—they’re a shining whitish gray. You don’t need a permit to hike in, but there are no marked trails here, either.

Paria Canyon

The Paria Canyon is located in the Virgin River Valley and has walls of colorful red, orange, and yellow. The Paria Canyon was designated as a national conservation area because it’s an important natural resource to southwestern Utah’s local tourism economy. Accessible by foot or horseback-riding only this breathtaking site is best seen in the morning hours. You’ll need a permit for overnight trips. If you’re ready to double down on your Vermilion Cliffs adventure, you can extend your Paria Canyon hike right into.

Buckskin Gulch

In southern Utah, to the North of Coyote Buttes North, lies Buckskin Gulch. It is the deepest slot canyon in the American Southwest and, at around 15 miles, is conceivably the longest slot canyon anywhere in the world. Can it be hiked? It can, and you’ll need to apply for a permit to do so, and also probably bring some rope for a couple of the tricky spots. Buckskin Gulch should only be hiked by those who understand flash floods and take them seriously. If it’s gonna rain, don’t risk it. Look how much other stuff you wouldn’t get to see.

Toadstool Hoodoos

Toadstool Hoodoos are one of the most popular features in southern Utah. Located just north of Highway 93 on the Arizona border, this section of Vermilion Cliffs is a relatively easy day hike from Kanab with outstanding views and a very satisfying adventure for families or groups looking to get off-the-beaten path without feeling too isolated. Technically this spot is slightly over the border into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but it’s literally right there and too fun not to mention. You can tackle the hoodoos in an easy 1.5-mile hike.