7:30 AM on a Wednesday, we drove an hour from our boondocking site in Paria, UT to Kanab, UT to enter in the lottery to get a permit to hike Coyote Buttes North (where the famous Wave is located). Knowing that the Wave is extremely popular and the chances of us getting a permit were slim, we decided ahead of time that we would only try once to get the permit. We know that a lot of people got their permits on their third or even fourth try. But the drive from our boondocking site to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab was too long for multiple attempts. Our backup plan was to apply for a Coyote Buttes South permit, which happens at 10 AM, right after the 9 AM Coyote Buttes North drawing.
Note: Paria is now a ghost town in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Area in Kane County, Utah. It will show up on Google maps, but there's nothing there. The closest town with amenities is Big Water (post office, convenient store, and gas station). The two largest towns in the area are Kanab, UT and Page, AZ. When I say Paria area in this post and Part 2, I'm referring to this general area where Paria, Paria Contact Station, and the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area are located.
I’m not going to give you all the logistical details of what the permit process is because it’s well detailed on this BLM page. But know that only one person in a group, no matter what size group it is, gets to apply for a permit. So one person who is applying doesn’t get shafted on chances compared to a group of four. The permit is for the next day - not the same day of the drawing. Make sure you bring cash to pay for the permit if you get it (if you happen to forget cash, there is a gas station across the street with an ATM and checks are accepted). Also, large groups suck. Let’s say a group of 4 people get the permit, that instantly means there are only 6 spots left. And most people who show up are in pairs, which means there’s only 3 more chances for you to get a permit.
On the day we were there, there were around 90 people who applied for one of the 10 walk-in permits (10 online permits are given out in advance). We thought our chances were fairly good because we had heard about days with way over 100 people. Nonetheless, despite me thinking we’d have beginner’s luck, we didn’t get a permit.
Yes I was disappointed. But it turns out the Wave isn’t the “be all, end all” place. It’s just the most well known place (and it's easier to get to and doesn't require 4-wheel drive like Coyote Buttes South does). The Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area is jam packed with mind-blowing scenery. It has some of the strangest natural features I’ve seen so far. The Wave is just this little area of it. The rangers at the visitor center in Kanab conveyed their disappointment that most people who get the permit for the Wave only check out the Wave and don’t explore the rest of Coyote Buttes North.
So if you try and don’t get a permit for the Wave, or you have no interest in visiting the Wave, here are some other very worthwhile places to visit while you’re in the Paria area. You will need 4-wheel drive to reach some of these places.
Lone Rock Beach / Lake Powell
There's beach camping (fee-based) at Lone Rock Beach but we went with free camping nearby. We did spend a day at Lake Powell paddling around with the dogs, though.
Word on the street is that the lake/beach gets jam packed during the summer, but when we were there in April it wasn't crowded at all.
- A dump station and fresh water are available at Lone Rock Beach.
Coyote Buttes South
I tried to plan when we would apply for the Coyote Buttes permits based on the weather. Unfortunately weather reports are as reliable as Tybee's poop schedule. It turned out to be a seriously overcast day when we hiked Coyote Buttes South. I was really heartbroken. We were also on a really limited time schedule. On top of that, we didn't realize how far the trailhead is from Hwy 89 (it took almost an hour of driving on dirt and sandy roads).
Here's some information on why we did what we did to help you make better decisions:
We chose to drive to Paw Hole trailhead instead of Cottonwood Cove because it would be a lot shorter of a drive. Looking at the map we figured we could hike from Paw Hole to Cottonwood Cove and back in the 4 hours we had. But as I mentioned above, the drive to Paw Hole from Hwy 89 took so much longer than we expected and it ate away at the limited amount of time we had. The hike also took a lot longer than we expected because: 1) You're hiking in loose sand and that slows you down; 2) There aren't any trails or trail markers so it wasn't a straightforward hike to get from Paw Hole to Cottonwood Cove; 3) We could/should have asked more questions at the ranger station and done more research to have a better idea of the best hiking route to take, and 4) Hiking with someone who takes hundred of photos is never fast going.
But the upside to the things we did wrong is that I believe this is what exploring truly feels like - not following a map, trail markers, or tips from a website, but using a compass and walking. We also came across crazy rock features that I think we most likely would have missed if we took the most straightforward route to get to Cottonwood Cove.
So I'm embracing what we did see, experience, and the mediocre photos I got. Besides, this whole area blew my mind so hard that I know we'll be back again.
- A permit is required to hike Coyote Buttes South just like it's needed for Coyote Buttes North.
- The road leading to Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove trailhead is really sandy so it's highly recommended that you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There's also not any cell signal to call for help if you get stuck.
- If you don't have 4-wheel drive, you can park it at Lone Tree Reservoir and hike 2.3 sandy miles to Paw Hole trailhead.
- This link has information about Coyote Buttes South.
From our boondocking site in Big Water, we moved to another spot that we found thanks to Marianne Edward's book, The Frugal Shunpiker's Guide: RV Boondocking in Southern Utah. We moved to this new location because it was a lot closer to all the places we wanted to hike in Paria. The site was perfect - it was tucked away right above the Paria River, close enough so Tybee could walk down to play in the river. And there were a few cottonwood trees!
Usually I am more than happy to share our boondocking locations, I'm not going to in this case because it wouldn't be fair to Marianne who took a lot of time to write her RV Boondocking e-books that she sells online. These books are a wealth of information for boondockers and she always includes really good information about hiking in the area.
The Toadstools trailhead is right off Hwy 89. It's a less than a mile hike in to this wide space with a variety of hoodoos.
- While we were at the Toadstools, I saw a guy jump on top of one of the hoodoos. Please don't do that. They are very fragile. Practice Leave No Trace principals.
This isn't a well-known feature, but it's really unique. It's called the Nautilus because of it's curving and curling shape. We found out from a volunteer at the Paria Contact Station that it actually collapsed in on itself some time in the recent years.
- The Nautilus is about 1.5 miles from the Paria Contact Station off White House Rd. There's a small pullout right after the second wash. Park there and walk up the wash (away from the river). It'll be on your right side about a mile up the wash. Stop by the Paria Contact Station for more information.
The next post will have more hikes in Paria.