Everyone in Page knows that the best time to hike in northern Arizona is during the shoulder seasons. With the exception of a very few days, northern Arizona has been experiencing “shoulder season” weather for about four months straight now.
The last few weeks have been perfect hiking conditions with our daytime temperatures in the fifties and sixties, making it the perfect time to hike to some of those farther out there destinations, which can become miserable if one attempts to hike them in weather that’s too hot.
My favorite hike in northern Arizona is from the Buckskin Gulch trailhead to the Teepees, located pretty deep inside Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I used to guide for an overland tour company based out of Page and any time I got to take hiking clients to the Teepees always made me very happy.
There are two reasons why the Teepees is my favorite hike in a 70 mile radius. One, the place itself is a geological oddity.
The Teepees are two large outcrops of sandstone rocks, where every rock has been eroded into a conical shape similar in appearance to the teepees of Plains Indians. Except these “teepees” are made of petrified sand and they stand 200 feet tall.
The rock is comprised of iron-rich sandstone, yet each layer of sandstone contains varying levels of iron. In addition to iron, they may also contain hematite or other minerals which color the rock different colors as they oxidize. The result being the sandstone varies in color from dark purple, to red, orange, brown, and yellow.
With the colors all swirled together it gives them a tie-dyed appearance. No geological formations like them exist anywhere else on the planet. Indeed, the whole thing looks like something straight out of Dr. Seuss’ imagination.
The second reason I enjoy walking to the Teepees is the hike itself. You can approach the Teepees from the north or the south.
I prefer the north approach as it’s much easier to drive to the trailhead and the walk is more scenic.
The distance from the trailhead to South Teepees is about a four-mile hike, and 90 percent of it is over energy-depleting sand, or ridges of upthrust sandstone, and because of that it’s not something you want to attempt in the high heat of summer but it’s a great hike for fall and spring, or the mild winter of 2018.
An additional upside: Because of the challenge involved to reach the Teepees, you’ll very likely have the place to yourself once you get there.
To hike to the Teepees from the north approach begin your journey at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead. From the trailhead go east into Wire Pass and after you’ve gone a ways veer to the south taking the same route you’d use to go to The Wave.
During your walk from the trailhead to the Teepees you’ll travel through a desert that alternates between low sand dunes and upthrust sandstone formations vegetated with purple and silver sagebrush, pinyon trees, narrow-leaf yucca, wild mint and Brigham tea, with long, unbroken views of the desert.
The low humidity level allows you to see forever.
After reaching the strange village of striped hoodoos we spent about an hour among the conical formations, first hiking around the perimeter of the group of rocks, and then diving into the center of them.
Once we’d climbed into the interior of the rock group there were several spots where we had unbelievably beautiful views of the surrounding desert.
We chose a spot with a great vista to the north which overlooked hundreds of acres of red sand desert, and there we sat down and ate our lunch.
After having crossed over a few dozen sand dunes to reach the Teepees I untied my hiking boots and poured out about an hourglass worth of sand.
While the adults in the group enjoyed their lunch, then relaxed in the shade, the kids and teenagers in our group entertained themselves by climbing up and down the gritty, grippy walls of the teepees and exploring the secret hallways between them.
An impromptu game of hide and seek immediately formed.
All too soon it was time to take the last photo, shout the last echo and return to our Jeep at the trailhead.
Dr. Seuss would love this place, and you will too.
If you go:
No matter what time of year to hike to the Teepees be sure to bring plenty of water. There is no water along the way. Bring enough to last you all day.
A hike to the Teepees and back will take you about six or seven hours round trip, depending on how much time you stop to take photos.
A person who is in reasonably good shape can hike from the Wire Pass trailhead to the South Teepees in 90 to 120 minutes.
Once you’re at the North Teepees, the South Teepees is only 15 minute walk to the south.
No permit is needed to hike to the Teepees, but a $6 fee is required which can be paid at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed on this trail, but there is a $6 fee per dog.
We started our hike about 9 a.m., leaving from the Buckskin Gulch/ Wire Pass Trailhead.
It’s easy to get disoriented and lost as you try to find the Teepees.
If you’ve never gone before I suggest you go there with someone who’s been there before.