Best time to visit: Year-around
Ideal For: Hiking and backpacking
Where to stay: Page, AZ
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is located north of the Grand Canyon on the border of Arizona and Utah. It is a remote wilderness landscape with no services, and it’s mostly accessible via dirt roads and long hiking routes. The most famous attractions here are the Wave, Paria Canyon, and Buckskin Gulch - all are spectacular. Plan for at least 3 full days to see everything discussed below.
All permit related information and lotteries can be found here.
There are a few huge slot canyons that you can explore in the Vermilion Cliffs. They are potentially dangerous during rainstorms. Keep a close eye on the weather across the entire region.
GPS devices do not work in Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch due to the high rock walls.
Most of the dirt roads in the region are accessible to passenger cars, but they may become un-passable when wet. This is especially true for the road which runs to the Wave Trailhead.
the Wave - The permit you need to apply for is called "Coyote Buttes North" - click here for the permit application website. 10 permits are given out online four months in advance, and another 10 permits are given out in person each day as walk-ins the morning of. Walk-in weekend permits are issued on Friday morning. A total of 20 people are allowed to see the Wave each day of the year. Refer to this link here for more detailed information. I recently attempted to get one of the walk-in lottery permits and there was over 100 applications of varying group sizes competing for the ten spots. Solo hikers are slightly more likely to win a permit than groups. If you are lucky to get a permit, you will receive a placard for your vehicle and a map with photos that show you how to find the Wave.
Paria Canyon - This huge slot canyon is almost as impressive as Zion's Narrows with a fraction of the crowds. You can obtain a permit to spend the night in Paria Canyon here. Overnight permits are limited to 20 visitors per night, but day permits have no limit. A popular endpoint for seing Paria Canyon is its confluence with Buckskin Gulch, which joins up with Paria about 7 miles from the "Whitehouse Trailhead". There are also longer trips that you can take deeper into Paria which eventually runs into the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, AZ. The entire hike is in the Paria River, so wear shoes that can get wet and bring hiking poles for added stability.
Buckskin Gulch - The granddaddy of all slot canyons. Day-hikers can see it from either the "Wirepass Trailhead" which is the upper mouth of the slot, or from the "Whitehouse Trailhead" which runs through Paria Canyon and is essentially the lower mouth of the slot. Wirepass is a much shorter hike and doesn’t require getting wet unless there has been recent rain. However, the mud in this area will usually prevent you from seeing much of Buckskin. Whitehouse is a 15 mile roundtrip hike to get to Buckskin, so staying overnight is great option if you can get a permit. This side of the hike is entirely in the Paria River. A popular backpacking trip is to start at either Wirepass or Whitehouse and hike through Buckskin and Paria as a through hike. Read more about it here.
Horseshoe Bend - My personal favorite viewpoint in the world… Horseshoe Bend is not a part of the national monument, but it’s nearby and it's a must-see if you are in the area. There is an easy hike to get to the Horseshoe viewpoint. This spot has become extremely popular and you can expect a big crowd, all day, every day.
Antelope Canyon - Arguably the prettiest slot canyon in the world. There is an Upper and a Lower Antelope Canyon, both are located just outside the city of Page, AZ. This is a Navajo Tribal Park - you must be on an official Navajo Guided tour to see it. There are numerous tour companies that run tours which can all be found on google. If you are a photographer, book one of the photography tours as the regular tours don't allow tripods. The mid-day tours are the best for seeing the iconic beams of sunlight that shine down into the slot. Upper Antelope Canyon produces more of these beams than Lower Antelope Canyon.
Lake Powell - If you are a watersports fan, Lake Powell is a world-class boating destination. The Glen Canyon Dam flooded a massive canyon system, resulting in a lake that doesn't have shoreline but rather vertical sandstone walls rising out of the water. You can explore these canyons at will if you have or rent a boat. You can also book one of the tour cruises which run daily to various points of interest, including the arch "Rainbow Bridge".
Where to Stay:
Page, AZ is close enough to Vermilion Cliffs that you can get to the Paria, Buckskin, and Wave trailheads with about an hours drive. There are no other developed areas in the region.
The "Wahweap Campground" is on the shores of Lake Powell, right next to Page, AZ. There are showers and some wifi at this campground. Their website is here. Several other private RV parks can also be found in the city of Page.