The best alternative to The Wave: White Pocket & Vermillion Cliffs with Dreamland Safari
Of all Arizona’s incredible natural marvels and vibrant geological wonders, The Wave is truly one of the most spectacular, an otherworldly swirl of ancient sand dunes located out in the remote North Coyote Buttes near Page. This is undoubtedly one of the most coveted views in the entire southwest, having been hugely popularised by Instagram over recent years— but with only 20 permits awarded per day and thousands of eager travellers entering the lottery in hopes of catching a glimpse of The Wave, this is also one of the most challenging spots to actually visit on an Arizona trip.
Somewhat discouraged by the lottery prospects, I set about researching alternatives to The Wave in the hopes of finding something equally fantastic nearby, and was delighted to learn that Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the same protected area that houses North Coyote Buttes and The Wave, is home to a whole host of stellar landscapes!
What I eventually settled on was White Pocket, an approximately 1-square-mile area of swirled white and red rock that forms dramatic mountains and basins in the middle of the sandy desert. This area doesn’t require any permits, involves no disappointing lotteries, and presently sees an alarmingly low number of visitors thanks to the lengthy 4WD-access road. Last week, I teamed up with Dreamland Safari to explore this hidden gem, and even though I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the entirety of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, I’m now utterly convinced that White Pocket is the absolute best alternative to The Wave!
All the details: White Pocket day tour
Cost | Dreamland Safari offers a full-day tour out to White Pocket for $189USD, which includes transportation from your accommodation in Kanab, a knowledgeable guide to help you explore White Pocket, snacks and lunch for the day, and a branded Nalgene water bottle for you to keep.
Getting there | Your tour guide will pick you up in the morning from your hotel in Kanab and then make the 2.5hr drive down to White Pocket in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Those staying in Page, Arizona can opt to meet the guide along the highway about 40min after the group departure from Kanab.
Where to stay | In terms of reasonably comfortable budget accommodation, Roadway Inn is a great option, offering extremely basic (but warm and clean) rooms in central Kanab for $40USD per night (double room with 2 beds).
Top tips | Bring a small daypack to carry your snacks, water, camera, a light jacket, and anything else you may want to have out at White Pocket. You don’t necessarily need hiking boots, but I definitely recommend sturdy footwear— I love my Blundstones for exploring the desert SW!
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A big thank you to Dreamland Safari for having me as a guest on their awesome White Pocket tour in exchange for an honest review of the experience. As always, all opinions in this post are entirely my own!
Exploring with my mum for the next couple days, we are picked up from our motel in Kanab just after 9am by a Dreamland Safari guide, Alex, and joined by just one other passenger, Wayne from Wisconsin. All are in high spirits on this sunny November day, extremely keen to explore a lesser-seen part of Arizona— and even after 3 weeks of hiking around the southwest, I know I’m in for a real treat.
We settle into idle chatter over the next 2.5hrs as we make the drive south across the Utah-Arizona border towards Vermillion Cliffs, stopping for a cookie at Jacob Lake Inn and again at a condor viewing site to marvel at the enormous 3m birds soaring high above us. Even before we’ve reached White Pocket, the scenery is spectacular and anticipation is hanging heavy in the air.
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument forms part of what geologists have termed the “Grand Staircase”, essentially a series of rock layers descending from central Utah to northern Arizona that perfectly illustrate the region’s geology over the last several million years. Beginning with the Pink Cliffs, the highest and youngest rock layer that has eroded to form the spectacular hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and stepping down into the White and Grey Cliffs near Zion National Park, the Vermillion Cliffs around Kanab and Page form the penultimate layer of rock, the staircase concluding with the Chocolate Cliffs of the Grand Canyon.
The deep red Vermillion Cliffs were formed millions of years ago by the intense compacting of desert sand dunes, buried under rock and then eroded to reveal deep striations, which account for the wind-whipped and swirled appearance of the colourful sandstone visible at White Pocket today. Even with an explanation, though, the landscape seems to defy reason, looking more like something out of an illustrated children’s book than a real place.
After a bumpy section of 4WD-ing, we finally reach a small, informal parking area for White Pocket and pile excitedly out of the car, cameras in hand. As we walk across the sand, orange and white swirled cliffs coming slowly into focus, Alex explains that “pocket” is a word used to refer to a desert water source, and therefore that this area is named for the white rock basins that collect water most months of the year and offer both farmers and wildlife a lifeline in the otherwise dry and barren desert landscape.
Our first glimpses of White Pocket are absolutely jaw-dropping, a wild blend of the white Navajo sandstone that gives the region its name and vibrant orange and red rock, mixing like Cold Stone ice cream in great flourishes and the occasional thick scoop.
In a region of the country entirely known for its otherworldly landscapes and curious rock formations, White Pocket is still a stand-out, a true geological curiosity that seems at once beautiful enough to have been engineered and too weird to have been dreamed up.
We spend more than 4 hours exploring this spectacular pocket of rock, climbing great swirls of sand and descending on wrinkled “brain rock”, bleach-white Navajo sandstone that has cracked into perfect pentagons that (and I can confirm this as a medical scientist) bear striking resemblance to gyri of the human brain. Each step in White Pocket is more fantastical than the last.
Every bend in the rock reveals new colours and patterns, and the day flies by as we run around the rippled landscape, hike over hills, and lounge on sunny rocks. For just one-square-mile, there is more to see in White Pocket than I ever could have imagined, and yet it remains amazingly devoid of tourists.
Alex speculates that White Pocket is just about to break out of anonymity, though, with an increasing number of visitors sharing photos of its incredible landscapes and more and more tourists searching for an alternative to The Wave. Thankfully, the area is likely to default onto the same permit system as North and South Coyote Buttes, ensuring that it’s never overrun by tourists or destroyed by heavy traffic— but it certainly won’t be as easy to visit as it is now. For those looking to discover the best of Utah’s scenery in magical White Pocket, the clock is truly ticking!
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