Tucked away in a remote and rugged region of northern Arizona, Coyote Buttes South is a perfect alternative for anyone who missed out on a permit for the super popular Coyote Buttes North, home to the famous “Wave”. While there is nothing as iconic as “The Wave”, the landscapes in Coyote Buttes South are very similar to those found in its more popular neighbor, and it’s much easier to get permits. With colorful rocks swirling like waves across the open desert, Coyote Buttes South is home to some of the most unique geological formations in the American Southwest. In this article, we’ve put together a complete guide to visiting Coyote Buttes South!

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Coyote Buttes South

  • Location | Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
  • Mileage | 4 – 14 miles (depending on which entrance & section(s) you visit)
  • Elevation gain | 1500 feet
  • Epicness rating |8
  • Time | 3 – 9 hours
  • Cost | $9 permit fee + $5 per person use fee, $175-$200 per person with a tour
  • Difficulty | Moderate to hard

Looking for the ultimate, off-the-grid desert adventure? Then look no further than Coyote Buttes South! There are only 20 daily permits to this incredibly remote area, located deep in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, so you’re likely to find solitude in one of the few truly untouched areas in the Southwest.

Located just south of the Coyote Buttes North, which is home to the Instagram-popular “Wave”, Coyote Buttes South gets much less attention. But we truly don’t understand why! Coyote Buttes South is home to the same swirling rock formations and breath-taking color spectrum. And yet, permits are way easier to get!

And because there isn’t a single formation that everyone tries to see (aka the Wave), hikers are more dispersed and it’s unlikely you’ll see another soul while you’re visiting.

Coyote Buttes South just may be one of the Southwest’s last few hidden gems.

swirling rock formations in Coyote Buttes south

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Help us protect this beautiful place!

Before we get into it, we wanted to start with a word about preserving the incredible landscapes found in Coyote Buttes South. The seven principles of “Leave No Trace” are especially important in this remote area, as the ecosystem is particularly fragile and there are no defined trails.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Do not carve or vandalize any of the rock formations. Tread lightly as the sandstone formations are especially fragile.
  • While there is no defined trail in Coyote Buttes South, it’s important to avoid trampling the crypotbiotic soil (that layer of black or white crust over the sand and dirt). Walk through loose sand, previously disturbed land, or across slick rock where ever possible.
  • Pack out what you pack in. Do not leave behind trash. Do not take anything with you that you didn’t bring.
  • Use waste disposal bags to carry out any human waste.
  • Be prepared! Coyote Buttes South is a very remote area with no cell service and very few visitors. Make sure you are prepared to change a tire, carry extra water and food, and have a means of navigation without cell service. Carrying a GPS device, like a Garmin In-Reach Mini, is a good idea to be able to call for help in case of a serious emergency.
  • Carry extra food and water, and avoid hiking midday during the summer.

Where is Coyote Buttes South?

Coyote Buttes South is located about 40 miles west of Kanab, just south of the Utah border in Arizona. It is part of the larger, 280,000-acre Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, home to some of the most unique and magnificent sandstone formations in the world.

If you want to see the real desert, where everything hasn’t been trampled by hordes of tourists and you can still enjoy the remote solitude of a quiet desert sunset, then you need to check out Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Coyote Buttes South is a great place to start!

Coyote Buttes North vs. South

So you wanted to see the famous Wave in Coyotes Buttes North but you didn’t get permits and you’re wondering if Coyote Buttes South is worth it? We haven’t been lucky enough to snag a permit for the Wave yet, but here’s what we can tell you:

  • Coyote Buttes South is less popular, and you’re unlikely to see another soul for hours (if not all day).
  • While there is nothing as famous as the Wave in Coyote Buttes South, the landscape is very similar, with swirls of colorful petrified sandstone.
  • Coyote Buttes South is even more remote. It’s probably not a good idea to visit on a whim because you didn’t get permits for the Wave. Make sure you’re prepared, have the right vehicle, and know what you’re getting yourself into.

How to get Coyote Buttes South permits

One of the best parts of Coyote Buttes South is that there are only 20 daily permits, meaning you’ll likely see few, if any, other hikers during your adventure. However, that does mean you’ll need to get permits in advance. Luckily, the area is still under the radar of most people, so securing a permit isn’t too difficult.

There are two ways to get a permit for Coyote Buttes South:

  • 10 permits per day are available to be reserved online on recreation.gov. Permits are released in monthly batches 3 months in advance at 12:00 noon MT. For example, if you want to visit anytime in April, permits will be released on January 1. If there is a specific day you are interested in, it’s a good idea to purchase permits as soon as they are released. Otherwise, you can typically get permits are few weeks out from your trip.
  • The remaining 10 permits are available via a walk-in lottery the day before your trip. The lottery is held at the Kanab Center between 9:30 and 10:30 AM MT.

You can find more information about permits for Coyote Buttes South on the BLM website.

When to visit Coyote Buttes South

The best time to visit Coyote Buttes South is the spring (March – May) and the fall (September – November). Temperatures will generally be milder during these times. The summer months (June-August) will be brutally hot with temperatures consistently over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the winter (December – February), snow is possible and temperatures can be below freezing. If there is snow, the area will be inaccessible due to the road conditions.

unique rock formations in Coyote Buttes South

Where to stay near Coyote Buttes South

The closest town to Coyote Buttes South is Kanab, Utah. Kanab is small but there is a decent selection of lodging options. Visiting Coyotes Buttes South is certainly one of the best things to do in Kanab!

There are two campgrounds located close to Coyote Buttes South:

  • Stateline Campground | Located about 6 miles north of BLM 1079 along House Rock Valley Road, right on the border of Arizona and Utah, Stateline Campground is the closest camping option to Coyote Buttes South. The campground has 7 first-come, first-served sites with fire rings, picnic tables, shade structures, and pit toilets. There is no fee to camp here.
  • White House Campground | Located 2 miles down White House Road off Highway 89, White House Campground is about 45-60 minutes from BLM 1079. This is a more popular campsite than Stateline, as many people camp here before entering Grand Staircase Escalante or the Paria River/Paria Canyon areas. Sites are first-come, first-served and cost $12 per night.

Can you camp in Coyote Buttes South?

No, camping is not permitted inside the permit area for Coyote Buttes South. However, there are a few dispersed camping sites along BLM 1079 leading towards Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove.

If you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle that can handle the road conditions, this would be an awesome area to spend the night before your adventure.

Stateline campground near Coyote Buttes South

Packing list for Coyote Buttes South

Below are a few essential items to make sure you pack for exploring Coyote Buttes South:

  • Plenty of water| Be sure to pack plenty of water for hiking in the hot desert sun – at least 3 liters per person for hiking and keep extra water in the car in case of emergency. We use Platypus 2-liter bottles for storing extra water.
  • Sunglasses (Goodr) | At only $25, Goodr sunglasses are cheap, durable and non-slip (perfect if you’re the type of person that tends to loose sunglasses, like me!)
  • Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | A pair of quality hiking boots with good traction are helpful for walking in sand and climbing around the rock formations!
  • GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | Cell service is nonexistent in Coyote Buttes South. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
  • Map downloaded on AllTrails Pro | There are some trail maps to the area available on AllTrails Pro. The maps don’t correspond to marked trails but it’s helpful for keeping tabs on where you are and where you’re headed.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick | So important to keep your skin and lips protected during a long day in the desert sun!

P.S. For a complete list of gear to pack for a day hike, we’ve compiled all our favorite essentials here:

How to get to Coyote Buttes South

Getting to Coyote Buttes South is a challenge, and unless you have a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle and the confidence to drive through deep sand, you’ll need to hike an extra 2.5 miles to reach the area.

But don’t let this deter you because the amazing desert landscape is well worth the extra effort. Part of the allure of the area is remote location and if you’re willing to make the journey, you’ll be rewarded with a truly wild desert experience!

exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South
exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South

Coyote Buttes South Access Points

There are three possible access points to Coyote Buttes South:

  • Lone Tree | 2WD accessible (high clearance recommended, though not absolutely necessary)
  • Paw Hole | 4WD (not AWD!) high clearance vehicle required, 2.5 miles past Lone Tree
  • Cottonwood Cove | 4WD (not AWD!) high clearance vehicle required, 7 miles (by road) past Paw Hole

Map of Coyote Buttes South

The map below displays the location of the three access points, as well as the road and “trail” between the main sections.

map of Coyote Buttes South

House Rock Valley Road

All three entrances are located off House Rock Valley Road, which begins about 40 miles west of Kanab, UT off Highway 89.

House Rock Valley Road is unpaved and fairly rock/bumpy. You should be okay with 2WD and low clearance, but you’ll definitely feel more comfortable with at least high clearance.

House Rock Valley Road gets very muddy when wet and becomes impassible, even with high clearance/4WD, when it’s raining or has recently rained. Do not attempt to drive on the road if it has recently rained or rain is in the forecast.

Washboard conditions on House Rock Valley Road (plus a lovely sunset!)

Getting to the Lone Tree Access Point

Once you’re on House Rock Valley Road, you’ll drive for about 16 miles, until you reach BLM Road 1079. At this point, you’ll see a road to the left (BLM Road 1079) and some big signs that warn visitors not to go any farther if they don’t have high clearance and 4WD.

The small parking lot to the left of the signs is Lone Tree Access point. If you don’t have high clearance or 4WD, this is where you’ll park.

Warning sign at the start of BLM 1079, past Lone Tree parking area

Getting to Paw Hole & Cottonwood Canyon

If you continue along BLM Road 1079, you’ll reach the Paw Hole entrance point in about 2.5 miles. To reach Cottonwood Cove, you’ll continue along the sandy road for another 7 miles

If you park at Lone Tree, you’ll need to hike 2.5 miles along the road to Paw Hole on the way in and on the way out. This is what we did, and frankly, it was pretty annoying to hike along a boring dirt road for so long, but it’s definitely worth it!

road conditions in Coyote Buttes South
Road conditions on BLM 1079 (and it gets worse than this)

Road conditions & safety

The Coyote Buttes South area is very remote and there is no cell phone service. If you get your vehicle stuck, you may not see anyone else for hours or days. This is not a place you want to get stranded, as you’ll be completely on your own.

It’s better to play it safe and hike the additional 5 miles (roundtrip) from Lone Tree if you’re not sure you can make it.

No matter what type of vehicle you drive, the roads will be impassable when wet. Do not attempt to reach Coyote Buttes South (or even drive on House Rock Valley Road), when it has recently rained or rain is in the forecast. We have tried to drive on House Rock Valley Road a few days after a snow storm and had to turn around due to deep mud.

How bad is the road to Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove?

The short answer, it’s really bad. The road to Paw Hole and Cottonwood poses an extra challenge because it combines deep sand, uneven conditions, and exposed, sharp rock. You can’t drive fast like you normally do through sand because of the rock, and you can’t drive slowly over the rock, because you’ll get stuck in the sand.

Before we left, we called the BLM office to get a better sense of the road conditions and ask if it would be possible to reach Paw Hole in our AWD Subaru Forester.

The folks we talked to were very nice but basically laughed at us when we asked if a Subaru would be able to make it. They told us that they are always helping people with Subarus and similar vehicles who get stuck trying to make it to Paw Hole.

With that advice, we decided not to test it, and parked at Lone Tree before hiking in the last 2.5 miles, and we don’t regret it! After seeing the roads, there was no way we would have made it even the 2.5 miles to Paw Hole without getting stuck.

All of that is to say, seriously, only drive to Paw Hole or Cottonwood if you have a high-clearance SUV or truck with real 4WD. Oftentimes we read warnings like this, and the roads end up being fine with our Subaru. This is NOT one of those cases!

Coyote Buttes South with a tour

  • Cost | $175 to $200 per person

If you are eager to visit Coyote Buttes South but don’t want to worry about driving on rocky, sandy roads and don’t want to hike an extra 5 miles to reach the area, you can book a guided tour that will provide all the needed transportation.

Guided tours are very popular in Coyote Buttes South, and while we’re generally hesitant to pay for tours, we definitely see the benefit here.

There are a number of companies offering tours of the Coyote Buttes South area with prices around $175-$200 per person. Some popular tour companies are:

Coyote Buttes South Trail Guide

We visited Coyote Buttes South in early June 2022. We were able to book permits for a Saturday about 2 months in advance. As noted above, we don’t have a high-clearance/4WD car so we parked at Lone Tree and hiked along the road to Paw Hole before continuing to Cottonwood Cove.

We ended up hiking about 13.5 miles total, with 1,700 feet of elevation gain, over the course of 8 hours.

Exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South

Hiking trails (or lack thereof)

The first thing to know about exploring the Coyote Buttes South area is that there are no designated hiking trails. From the Paw Hole access point, there is a bit of path for a short while but it isn’t maintained and becomes impossible to follow after maybe a mile or so.

On one hand, we found the lack of trails super exciting because that meant we were able to explore wherever we wanted. There are no fences, paths, or signs pointing you in a certain direction so you have complete freedom to explore as you like.

On the other hand, not having trails makes navigation and travel a lot harder. You’ll be bushwhacking through low shrubs, constantly assessing your surroundings, and making sure you’re headed in the right direction.

It is absolutely vital that you have a means of offline navigation, such as an offline map downloaded on AllTrails, a GPS, or a map and compass.

You are responsible for your own safety, and this includes knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how to get back to safety.

Exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South

Paw Hole vs. Cottonwood Cove

There are two distinct areas in Coyote Buttes South: Paw Hole and Cottonwood. Paw Hole covers the southern area, while Cottonwood stretches into the northern part of Coyote Buttes South. The two areas each feature, similar but definitely unique types of crazy rock formations.

If you only have time for one area, we’d recommend Cottonwood. It’s significantly larger with more impressive features and much more to see.

Paw Hole

The Paw Hole area of Coyote Buttes South is easier to access, but it’s not as visually stunning as Cottonwood. Nonetheless, Paw Hole is still amazing and if it’s all you have time to do, it’s definitely still worth it.

Paw Hole is known for large orange “teepees” of rock that rise out of the ground in swirling patterns. I think the formations kind of looking like soft-served ice cream cones, if they were made out of orange sandstone!

Exploring Sunset Butte in Coyote Buttes South
Exploring Sunset Butte, just past the Paw Hole area

Cottonwood Cove

Cottonwood Cove is located just north of Paw Hole and features more of the swirling, twisting, wave-like formations you’d expect to see in Coyote Buttes North. We’ve explored almost every corner of the desert across northern Arizona and southern Utah, and Cottonwood Cove might be the most unique area we’ve seen!

It truly doesn’t seem possible that a place like this should exist! The rocks, striped in hues of yellow, orange, red, and purple, rise out of the sand in unimaginable patterns.

From towering spires to wave-like formations to striped walls that seem to span the entire color spectrum, Cottonwood Cove is absolutely breathtaking.

Exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South
Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South
Exploring Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South
Otherworldly views in Cottonwood Cove

Is it possible to hike between Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove?

Yes! But it isn’t easy. If you look at the map of Coyote Buttes South again, you’ll see that Paw Hole is actually quite narrow and Cottonwood Cove opens up a bit as it extends to the east. To hike between them, you’ll traverse across an open expanse of sagebrush and deep sand, with nothing much to see.

Again, there are no trails so you’ll be walking through deep sand and low brush. It’s slightly uphill hiking from Paw Hole to Cottonwood Cove, but nothing too steep.

Possible Itineraries

With no designated trails, it’s difficult to provide specific itineraries for you. Below we’ve summarized the different options you have based on where you’re able to park your car.

Option 1 | Lone Tree Access Point

  • Hiking distance | 7 miles (Paw Hole) or 12 – 14 miles (Paw Hole & Cottonwood Canyon)

If you’re parking at the Lone Tree Access Point, be ready for a long day of hiking! From the parking area, you’ll hike the remaining 2.5 miles along BLM 1079 until you reach Paw Hole. There is a big sign at Paw Hole that you can’t miss.

Once you’re at Paw Hole, enter the protected area and start exploring! If you only visit Paw Hole, expect to hike about 7 or so miles total (2.5 miles to Paw Hole + 2 miles exploring the area + 2.5 miles back to Lone Tree).

If you’re feeling very ambitious, you can then continue on to Cottonwood Cove. To reiterate, hiking from Lone Tree all the way to Cottonwood Cove and back to Lone Tree is a long hike (12-14 miles) through deep sand with no trail. It is very, very hard, especially when it’s hot out.

If you choose to do this, you must be prepared with plenty of water and offline navigation. It is absolutely vital you start your day as early as possible.

Nonetheless, if you don’t have 4WD/high clearance and don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a tour, but still want to see Cottonwood Cove, this is what you’ll need to do.

Option 2 | Paw Hole Access Point

  • Hiking distance | 2 – 3 miles (exploring Paw Hole) to 7 – 9 miles (Paw Hole & Cottonwood Cove)

If you’re able to drive to the Paw Hole access point, your visit to Coyote Buttes South will be much easier. The parking lot is right next to the entrance to the protected area and the first “teepees” are probably less than a hundred yards from where you’ll park your car.

If you’re able to make it to Paw Hole with your car, we’d definitely suggest at least hiking up to Cottonwood Cove. Again, it’s a tough hike with no trail, but you’re looking at maybe 7-9 miles total, including mileage spent exploring both areas.

Paw Hole in Coyote Buttes South

Option 3 | Cottonwood Cove Access Point

  • Hiking distance | 1 – 3 miles (exploring Cottonwood Cove)

If you can drive all the way to Cottonwood Cove, first, we’re super jealous. And second, you’re set up for the perfect way to explore Coyote Buttes South.

We’d recommend going straight to Cottonwood Cove and exploring as much of the area as possible. On the drive out, you’ll pass by Paw Hole. If you still have time and energy, spend as much time as you like exploring this area before calling it a day.

Cottonwood Cove in Coyote Buttes South

Tips for visiting Coyote Buttes South

In summary, here are a few key tips to keep in mind before visiting Coyote Buttes South.

  • Carry a printed copy of your permit with you. You will need to be able to show your permit if stopped by a ranger. Technically, you’re supposed to have it printed but a screenshot on your phone will also do (we called the ranger station to confirm). Remember you won’t have service to pull it up.
  • Be prepared for visiting a remote and rugged desert environment. Coyote Buttes South is extremely remote and you are responsible for your own safety. Do not attempt to drive on roads you or your car are not equipped to handle. There is no cell service and help could be hours or days away. Make sure to carry plenty of water, be prepared with offline navigation, and always tell someone where you are going.
  • There are no trails. Another thing that’s worth reiterating. There are no trails in Coyote Buttes South so you are responsible for your own navigation.
  • Carry plenty of water, food, and sun protection. This is the desert. The sun will be intense and temperatures can be scorching. There is very little shade. Make sure you bring plenty of food, water, and sun protection.
  • Do not attempt to access the area if rain is in the forecast. Both House Rock Valley Road and BLM Road 1079 become impassable when wet.
  • There is no cell service. Make sure to download your offline maps before you leave and tell someone your plans. You won’t have any contact with the outside world once you leave the Kanab area.

Other things to do nearby

Looking for more to do in the area? Below are a few other awesome things to do in the northern Arizona/southern Utah area:

Questions about visiting Coyotes Buttes South? Let us know in the comments below!

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