Located in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Northern Arizona is one of the coolest hikes that exists in the Southwest. White pocket is a rocky area that is open to roam about as you please. The rock formations are famous for their incredible spirals, fun colors, and the way the pockets of rock hold water. However, this hike is incredibly difficult to get to, and there is very little cohesive information on how to navigate the deep sand off-roading required to get here. This guide to White Pocket in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument includes directions, tips for getting there, and things to do!
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What is White Pocket
White Pocket is a section of the Paria Plateau in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. While this national monument is famous for “The Wave” hike, White Pocket is the true hidden gem. This incredible group of rock formations includes crazy swirls of color, pockets in the rock created over time by water and animal tracks, and unique rock features created by erosion. What makes this area so popular is the fact that it looks like an alien planet. The Navajo sandstone has eroded over time to create incredible rock formations and layers of color that make it a photographer’s paradise.
Getting To White Pocket
While not impossible, it is extremely difficult to get to White Pocket if you are not skilled at off-roading or do not have a 4×4 vehicle. According to Google Maps, getting to White Pocket from Page, Arizona takes about 2.5 hours. It’s important to note that this timing is not correct. It will likely take you 3 hours to get there due to the nature of the roads.
The road to White Pocket is called “House Rock Valley” and is also the road to Buckskin Gulch and Wirepass which are famous slot canyons in the area. It is also the route to the very famous “Wave” rock formation that requires winning a lottery to hike. House Rock Valley Road is considered impassable when wet, so don’t go on a day when it has rained or rain is in the forecast.
Eric and I have driven this road when it was wet and frozen over in the winter months and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The road was slippery and basically just ice and mud. We slid everywhere and it was incredibly unsafe. While our car didn’t get stuck, we were really lucky to be able to drive out with no scratches or dents on our car. When we drove that route in those conditions, we hadn’t done our due diligence and really researched where we are going. We simply Googled the area and found out that Buckskin Gulch was a cool hike.
What’s crazy is that the drive to Buckskin on a dry day isn’t difficult at all. It’s a maintained dirt road. That’s why it’s so important to check conditions before you go. Getting to White Pocket involves 10 miles of deep sand, driving over rocks, and deep ruts from previous cars. It’s not possible with a sedan.
It is essential that you know how to drive off-road and have a car capable of doing so in order to get to White Pocket. Below I will break down all the tips to help you not get stuck (calling a tow will cost you $1000-$1500 due to the remoteness of the area).
- Once you turn onto House Rock Valley Road, you will go 20 miles to Pine Tree Road (Google maps will TRY to make you turn before this road, but that is a rougher path and you are much more likely to get stuck there) – GPS Coordinates of the exact turn: 36.862024, -112.062708
- Below is the zoomed-in map of the Pine Tree Rd. turn. The red line is the ideal turn and path to follow to avoid getting stuck right away.
- From this point, the Google Maps directions are the ones that you will want to follow.
- You will essentially drive around 16 miles on this road (including slight turns here and there) and the road conditions will change significantly as you progress.
- The first 5 miles are cake. It is a decently maintained dirt road. During this time you will likely see multiple signs that warn you about “Knowing the difference between 2WD, AWD, and 4×4.” This is because people get stuck every day trying to get to White Pocket.
- After the first 5 miles around the “10 miles left to get there” point, you will start to see more sand on the road.
- At around 9.5 miles left, you will make a slight turn. This is where the deep sand begins. From this point on it is a mix of driving over rocks and deep sand. It is doable in a 4×4 as long as it is not wet and you have off-roading knowledge.
What Kind of Cars Can Make It To White Pocket?
You will have absolutely zero chance of making it to White Pocket in a car with 2WD or low clearance. It just won’t happen. The sand is deep and you will get stuck. As to the debate over whether an AWD vehicle can make it, that depends on a lot of factors. If you do research on this trail like reading the AllTrails reviews of it, you will see varying opinions.
Initially, Eric and I decided not to try to make it there. We have a Subaru Ascent with AWD and 8.7inches of ground clearance. We also have a lot of off-roading experience, but at the time, we hadn’t tried much deep sand driving. We drove out to Buckskin Gulch and decided that since the weather was so nice and it had rained the day before (making the sand not wet but PACKED), we would go for it.
We made it to White Pocket just fine without even being close to getting stuck. Our car bottomed out in the sand once or twice on the way there, but we never scraped against rocks. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that my car would have made it every time. We went in the most ideal conditions possible. On our way back, the ruts in the sand were noticeably deeper from the cars going back and forth that day and we bottomed out more on our way back.
Honestly, the higher the clearance of the vehicle, the better for making it here. An AWD vehicle can make it, but if you don’t know how to dig a car out of the sand, I wouldn’t risk it. There is always the option to join a guided tour out to White Pocket as well so all is not lost if you don’t have the proper vehicle for it.
Tips for Getting To White Pocket
- Download the offline Google Maps of the area as you might not have service
- Bring the stuff to dig yourself out in case you get stuck (you definitely DON’T want to have to call for a tow) Make sure you have the proper equipment with you: shovel, recovery tracks or at least extra floor mats, and an air compressor for your tires.
- Check the weather forecast in advance. The best time to go is when it has rained the day before but is no longer wet in the area.
- If you go earlier in the day, you may be able to avoid some of the deep ruts that are caused by cars going back and forth throughout the day.
- If you do not have a 4×4, high clearance vehicle, do NOT move off the road for anyone. Stay in the middle of the road and let the higher clearance, more capable vehicle go around you. Going off the side of the road is how most people get stuck.
Tips for digging yourself out if you get stuck:
- Free your tires: use your shovels to dig your tires out. Make sure that you dig until you can see the bottom of your tires. Then shovel out a path for your tires to move when they go forward (or backward).
- Give your tires traction help: Put down your recovery tracks or extra floor mats right under the front of your tire so that your tires have something to drive onto and gain traction. You can also deflate your tires to help them gain traction but only do this if you can reinflate them when you get unstuck.
- Hit the gas: You will need to hit the gas to get out of there, you don’t want to floor it as you may just dig yourself into a deeper rut. However, you will absolutely need to accelerate with pace to get unstuck. Once you are unstuck you can slow down.
While trail guides will tell you that there is a 1.5-mile trail, it doesn’t really exist. White Pocket is an open area where you can climb and hike and simply explore the incredible rock formations around you. The hike is not challenging in any way and is suitable for people who may struggle on other hikes and children. It is also dog-friendly! We were so happy to find a dog-friendly trail that is this amazing as many National Parks and Monuments do not allow dogs on trails.
Just make sure to bring snacks and water. We thought that because the trail was short, we wouldn’t spend much time here. However, it was so incredible that we ended up spending hours here and it still didn’t feel like enough time. I would suggest to over-prepare and leave extra food and water in your car so that you can stay as long as you would like.
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