To say that the West Coast is a land of wonders may seem cliché. Nature parks such as Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon have now become common knowledge for travelers from all over the world, and are often featured in nature documentaries. But we truly believe that the West Coast is full of secrets, and for this reason, we do not get tired of exploring it in search of new destinations in nature that are not as famous and, as a result, are excluded from classic itineraries, but are still absolutely worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.
Today we want to draw your attention to Coal Mine Canyon, an incredible hidden gem in Arizona we’ve been wanting to tell you about for a long time that will blow your mind. The colorful Coal Mine Canyon is not far from the Grand Canyon, but most travelers have never even heard of it. Although it’s quite easy to get to it, it seems that only 200 visitors come each year! It’s one of those destinations that you would secretly recommend to a friend of yours who goes there, and that’s why it’s worth talking about it here. We will give you all the info you need to visit this beautiful canyon.
What Is It?
Coal Mine Canyon is one of the most remote canyons in Arizona and its main characteristic is the rainbow of colors painted on the badlands, the pinnacles, the hoodoos, the ravines and the peculiar balanced rocks that emerge from the base of the gorges. The palette includes colors and shades that range from black to blue to gray to white to red to orange to pink. The tall walls, towers and rock formations caused by erosion are impressive and may remind one of the parks in Utah or of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in Arizona.
Coal Mine Canyon is located halfway between the Navajo Nation (north) and the Hopi Reservation (south) and you don’t need a permit to visit the canyon. We have personally verified this by calling the Navajo Nation Tourism Department. There are no visitor centers or rest areas in Coal Mine Canton and you need to protect yourself from the heat.
How to get to Coal Mine Canyon? Map and Directions
The entrances to the Coal Mine Canyon are on State Route 264. The landmark on the route is Tuba City, a town on the road between Page, Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, which makes it a strategically perfect place for an intermediate stop.
- Coming from Page (north) takes 1 hour and 15 minutes (via US-89 N)
- Coming from Kayenta (east) it takes 1 hour and 25 minutes (via US-160 W)
- Coming from Grand Canyon Village (west) takes 1 hour and 45 minutes (via SR-64 E and Desert View Drive)
- Coming from Flagstaff (south) it takes 1 hour and 30 minutes (via US-89 N).
Since there are no paved roads in the accessible part of Coal Mine Canyon, you may be wondering if you can drive on the canyon roads in your car (or rental car), or if it would be better to use a 4×4. Clearly, an off-road vehicle is ideal, but the road does not present any particular problems for those with cars that are lower to the ground. Obviously, if it has rained in the last few days, then it’s not possible to drive on these roads. If that is the case, you will have to give up visiting Coal Mine Canyon.
Coal Mine Canyon View Point (North)
From Tuba City, drive southeast for 16 miles until you reach a fork on the left after mile marker 337 on SR-264. The road is unpaved and leads to a windmill, which you must use as a point of reference, since there are no other signs. Pass in front of the windmill or – if you find cattle standing in the road like we did – go around the windmill on the road immediately on the right. A few yards later you will find a clearing with a picnic table. Park there and reach the observation points on foot.
Blue Point (South)
It is also possible to access the southern section of the canyon, where you can reach observation points that are even more remote and more beautiful. The area is known as Blue Point. To get there, get back on the SR-264 and continue south for another 3 miles, turning left at a green sign that displays the distances to Hotevilla and Keams Canyon. Here too you will find a dirt road that passes between two ridges.
You can travel on this road for as long as you wish or until you get tired of the scenery. However, there are no signs, and you won’t even find obvious landmarks or picnic areas either. When you see an observation point that strikes you as interesting, leave your car along the road and walk to the edge of the canyon. On the map above you can also see the end of the route. When you reach it, I suggest that you turn around, because there is not much else to see.
Can You Hike On Trails? Do you Need a Permit?
Coal Mine Canyon, as I was saying, is not particularly difficult to explore. You can enjoy its beautiful panorama by taking short walks along the canyon ridge. In the case of the Coal Mine Canyon View Point (north), after parking your car you can look directly at the edge. There are no guardrails and no information panels. Everything is wonderfully pristine. You must not try the descent to the bottom of the canyon, because a permit is required to do that. If you are careful, you can decide to venture along the ravines (fingers) that protrude on the edge of the canyon, allowing you to reach the ridge to enjoy even more exciting views.
As for Blue Point, it’s a different story. As I have already mentioned, you’ll have to follow a dirt road that crosses through the middle of a mesa, passing through of two sections of the canyon. Once you stop the car at the point that I recommended, you can get closer to the ridge to take some pictures or admire the wonderful view. Also in this case, you will not be able to go down into the canyon for the same reason mentioned above.
The Best Time to Go and Where to Stay
The best time to see Coal Mine Canyon is at dawn, but to get there on time, you’ll need to stay overnight in Tuba City. Here’s a list of hotels in the area.
The town has no tourist attractions, but it’s the closest place to your destination, and it’s also a suitable solution if you’re wondering where to stay between Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Alternatively, you can consider other towns that are a bit further away and some are more pleasant than Tuba City: