Exploring Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is only a few hours north of the state’s most famous attraction, the Grand Canyon, but most people have never heard of the stunning wilderness area, much less visited its swirling, colorful sandstone.

There’s a reason for that—getting to know the monument isn’t easy. While the stunning 2,000- to 3,000-foot namesake cliffs run for 30 miles and can be viewed from U.S. Highway 89A, getting to the monument’s other treasures takes a little effort.

There’s no visitor center, no paved paths, and only a few hardscrabble trails. But once you make it into this truly wild backcountry, most of which is protected as a wilderness area, it’s a chance to experience sherbet-colored slot canyons, sandstone arches, and endangered California condors.

Before you head into one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets, make sure you have plenty of water, a pair of broken-in hiking boots, and your sense of awe.

At the northern end of the monument is Paria Canyon, the best nontechnical canyoneering trip in the U.S. Typically, hikers take three to seven days to traverse the 38-mile sandstone canyon. The opposite of the wide-open spaces surrounding it, Paria is a world of walls, with 500- to 1,000-foot sandstone edifices occasionally opening into meadows of willow and rabbitbrush before squeezing back together.

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