South Coyote Buttes, Arizona: The Ultimate Consolation Prize


Split colour rock in South Coyote Buttes—c.Helbig

I got all excited about a hike called The Wave after reading about it on Another Walk in the Park. It turns out that getting a permit for the famous, much-photographed Wave in Coyote Buttes North is about as likely as getting struck by lightning (even mid-week in November). Luckily there is a so-called consolation prize—South Coyote Buttes. Permits are much easier to obtain but there is nothing “consolation” about this amazing hike. Located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, in remote northern Arizona, there was no way our Dodge Dart rental would’ve got us there. We hired Dreamland Safari Tours, out of Kanab Utah. Our day of exploring the stunning Navajo sandstone formations at South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket (next post) was the best of the best of our two weeks in Utah and Arizona.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues 20 permits per day for South Coyote Buttes—10 online using an availability calendar that covers 4 months out, and 10 walk-ins the day prior at the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To maximize your chances, I’d definitely recommend the online option. We were lucky and managed to get walk-in permits. Permitting is a rather a complex affair, so best to get all the details about permits for The Wave and South Coyote Buttes on the BLM website.

Unless you have a 4wd vehicle with high clearance, lots of experience driving in deep sand, and skills in backcountry navigation, don’t even think about getting yourself to South Coyote Buttes. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Kanab (similar from Page) with at least half of the time on rough, deeply rutted, and sandy roads with minimal signage.

Hiring a guide (there are many based in Kanab) is pricey, but wow, was it worth it. We had an awesome time with Marjorie from Dreamland Safari Tours. She’s a super competent driver and guide, and her love for this area came through in spades. A convenient service offered by Dreamland Safari is that they can attempt to secure a walk-in permit on a client’s behalf. I highly recommend Dreamland and Marjorie.

Enough talk about logistics. Check this place out!

There are two main access point to South Coyote Buttes: Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove. We visited the latter. From the parking lot, it’s a short, easy walk along a sandy trail to the teepee-shaped formations. Once at the sandstone, there’s no designated trail, just endless hours of fun exploration. The terrain is uneven and there’s a bit of scrambling, but nothing difficult. Tread carefully, some of the formations are extremely fragile.  I wasn’t keeping track but I suspect we didn’t do more than 4 miles of hiking. This place is all about the journey with no particular route or destination. You could visit a hundred times and still discover new things.


Colour-coordinated couple at the start of South Coyote Buttes hike—C.Helbig


Mike admiring the amazing colour patterns at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful split colour rock and pink lines on the “elephant-skin” hills. Scientifically speaking, the Jurassic Age Navajo sandstone has been painted over time by iron oxide.


One more photo of my favourite rock at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

Nature’s colour palette at South Coyote Buttes makes me very happy. The desert hues against that deep blue sky…I’m feeling the calm just looking at the photos.


“Dali” Rock, South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

The fantastically twisted formation above, known as the Dali (Salvador) rock, is an incredible show of wind sculpted erosion. I couldn’t help but notice how fragile these structures are. Some of the rock layers are almost paper thin.


Incredible rock layering at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig


Fragile layers and stunning striation—C.Helbig


Cinnamon Bun Basin at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

Cinnamon Bun Basin—isn’t that a great name? I think our guide made it up. This part of the hike really shows off the wonderfully gnarled landscape, many parts curved and others sharp and pointy. I love the different swirling tones of red, yellow and orange.


Small pockets of water at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig


View to the teepees at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

The rock formations are out of this world, but South Coyote Buttes also has gorgeous sweeping views of the area. In the mid-distance, the distinctive teepee shapes rise from the earth like a small village. Beyond, the hills and cliffs are brilliantly coloured—that would be vermilion.


Views to vermilion-coloured cliffs at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

We may not have been successful getting permits for The Wave but I feel we won the lottery with our visit to South Coyote Buttes.

The map below shows the location of our hike (Cottonwood trailhead), very close to the Utah /Arizona border. My next post will be about White Pocket, only about 5 miles from Cottonwood Cove, but on an extremely sandy, slow-going road. The Wave is not labeled but is accessed from the Wire Pass trailhead.

Categories: Activities, Hiking, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “South Coyote Buttes, Arizona: The Ultimate Consolation Prize

  1. Pingback: Best of Hiking, Ambling, and Driving in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona | Writes of Passage

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  5. javealife

    Breathtaking scenery, stunning

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Best of Hiking, Ambling, and Driving in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona | Writes of Passage

  7. Pingback: Sci-Fi and Yoga at White Pocket, Arizona | Writes of Passage

  8. What a stunning landscape. It must have been so much fun scrambling all over that place. It reminded me of the hiking Don and I did in some of central Australia’s rock formations. Beautiful photographs Caroline. I’d love to go there. Maybe one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fun is a good way to describe it Alison. It’s a nice change not following a designated trail and just poking around in different directions. Sounds like I’m going to have to get to central Australia. I love those rocky desert landscapes. I am blown away by the number of outstanding parks and natural attractions there are in the relatively small area we covered in southern Utah/northern Arizona. I’m sure you’d love it. Cheers, Caroline.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my gosh, such amazing photos. What an awesome place to just explore for a couple hours. If we decide to spend the money some day I’ll definitely go with your tour suggestions! (Also, Dali Rock is incredible!)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brian Foster

    Wow. Just incredible. Nature sure is a magnificent artist.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Haha, it does look scrumptious! It’s a wonderful area, I can’t recommend it enough. Sorry, I may have given the wrong impression about the terrain and I think I’ll remove the word scrambling. It’s really just uneven footing and nothing more difficult than scampering up a few little slickrock mounds (piece of cake for a 15 year old). This is a very easy hike.
    The tour we did with Dreamland was really great. Even if we had been able to drive ourselves (not a chance) our guide showed us some spots I’m sure we would not have discovered on our own. We did a combo South Coyote Buttes/White Pocket trip. Part of me would have liked to spend more time in just one place, but I’m also glad that we saw both because they are equally stunning and quite different. If we’re ever lucky enough to return, I’d love to camp at White Pocket (you don’t need a permit there) and see it in more detail. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get a permit for The Wave (online lottery). That’s a tad easier to get to on your own but the road is not great, and there’s probably merit in taking a guide along to get the most out of this one as well.
    If you have more questions don’t hesitate to send via my contact page….I love talking about this stuff! When I first started researching, the permitting and different options all sounded really confusing. Don’t let it put you off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your insight and thoughtful reply, Caroline! I’m in the middle of planning campsites and permits for the summer, and I can’t tell you how helpful this info is to me. The only problem is that you’ve given me too many incredible options to choose from, lol! I love the idea of camping at White Pocket and will explore that option further. I haven’t been to Vermilion Cliffs, but I agree with you regarding the value of having a guide, especially when dealing with unmarked trails and treacherous driving. I’m relieved (and excited) to hear the scrambling is doable–your wording was great and there’s no need to change it at all; I’m just a Virgo worrywart. 😊 I think that might also explain my tendency toward compulsive planning, so I can very much relate to your enjoyment of the research process…I love talking about this stuff, too! Thank you again for all of your help… I’m sure I’ll be contacting you again soon! Happy travels–Chris

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Won the lottery, indeed–absolutely stunning photos. Love Cinnamon Bun basin’s beautifully baked crust.😊 (Say that five times fast!) Very useful info about Dreamland Safari and the permit process… thank you for sharing. I don’t know that I can cram any more into our summer itinerary, but after seeing your incredible photos, I’m certainly going to try. I know you mentioned some scrambling–do you think it would be safe/doable for a 15-year-old? Thank you again, and I apologize for the barrage of endless questions! Very much appreciate your help and insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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