Thanksgiving Desert Road Trip….South Coyote Buttes

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Kanab, Utah.

We awoke to a chilly, but sunny November morning at our Kanab hotel. We quickly packed our bags, wolfed down the free hotel breakfast (while watching some unattended child almost burn the place down with the waffle maker), and headed east towards our next destination…South Coyote Buttes. The buttes are part of a BLM protected area that includes some of the most unique rock formations found anywhere in the southwest, the most famous of which is The Wave, located in the Northern Coyote Buttes. Access to The Wave is heavily restricted and you must get a permit to get into the area; it’s so hard to get a permit that the BLM has to use a lottery system. We were fortunate enough to visit this area a few years ago, but due to time limitations, we weren’t able to visit the South Coyote Buttes during that trip. The southern buttes area also has tight restrictions, but since most people want to see The Wave in the northern half of the restricted area, it’s relatively easy to get a permit for the southern part.

Rock Tee Pee's

Rock Tee Pee's

The trailhead for the South Coyote Buttes is located about 17 miles down a good dirt road to a dried up stock pond. From here, it’s another two miles up a 4WD road to the entrance of the Buttes. I had read a few horror stories about vehicles getting stuck on this stretch of road due to deep sand, so we elected to park the car at the stock pond and walk the distance. The sand on the road was fairly soft, but I think I could have gotten our vehicle up this road. Oh well, it was a nice day surrounded by spectacular desert scenery, so I didn’t mind the extra walking.

After about 45 minutes, we came to the Paw Hole Trailhead, which is the entrance to the Southern Coyote Buttes. From here, there are no trails; you simply wander around exploring the assortment of rock formations that dot the area. While deep sand wasn’t a problem for walking on the road, it became quite a challenge walking off-road. Hiking up short, steep hills required two steps up and one step back. We relished any chance we could get to walk on solid slickrock.

We followed a route that took us along the eastern edge of the Coyote Buttes, passing numerous rock “tee pees” along the way.

Taking Photos in Bowl

Taking Photos in Bowl

We stopped for lunch in a large bowl that was somewhat reminiscent of The Wave with its swirling rock band patterns. After lunch, we continued north to the top of a sandy ridge that separates two major sections of the southern buttes. We followed the top of the ridge towards the northern formation to a wooded area where we could get a nice view.


It was here that Valerie found a complete arrowhead. Very exciting!

The northern part of the Southern Coyote Buttes is a maze of bowls, canyons, and weird-shaped formations all concentrated in a fairly small area.  After about an hour of frenetic picture-taking, we decided to start heading back to the trailhead. For the return, we walked along the western flank of the buttes across a relatively flat sagebrush field for a couple of miles back to the Paw Hole Trailhead. From the trailhead, we followed the 4WD road back to the car. As we drove down the main road, we stopped at an area where I had heard there was a well-preserved set of ancient petroglyphs. After searching around the spot where we thought they would be, we gave up and continued back down the road. This is the second time I tried to find this rock art panel without success. Maybe next time I’ll hire a local guide who knows where it is.

Distinctive Cross-Bedding in Rock

We continued our road journey to Page, Arizona where we stayed at the oddly shaped Quality Inn. We had stayed at this hotel a few years ago, but left after only one night as there was no hot water. This time around, we got a very cheap rate, so we thought we’d try it again and see if our luck was any better. Not only did we have lots of hot water, but our room had a balcony with a spectacular view to the west looking towards the desert county around Lake Powell. Watching a beautiful sunset from our balcony was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Looks like another great Thanksgiving desert trip. Now it’s on to Cortez for Turkey Day celebrations with the family.

Also, please watch our video about hiking in South Coyote Buttes.


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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One Response to Thanksgiving Desert Road Trip….South Coyote Buttes

  1. The trail begins at Wire Pass Trailhead , about 8.3 miles (13.4 km) south of US 89 along House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road about 35.4 miles (57.0 km) west of Page, Arizona or 38.6 miles (62.1 km) east of Kanab, Utah , that is accessible to most vehicles in good weather. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Wire Pass Trailhead includes a wide parking lot with restrooms, but no water. It is also accessible from the Arizona side by taking U.S. Highway 89A from Jacob Lake on the Kaibab Plateau towards Navajo Bridge on turning north onto the House Rock Valley Road soon after descending from the Kaibab. This is a much longer access route over dirt road than from the Utah side.


    Thank you for the response. However, I need to clarify that the hike into the South Coyote Buttes does NOT begin from the Wire Pass Trailhead. Wire Pass is where the route to The Wave and North Coyote Buttes begins. The trailhead for South coyote buttes is about 8 miles further south on the House Rock Road.

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