The Wave - Arizona
Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
Otherworldly! The Wave - Coyote Buttes North. One of the most fascinating hikes on our planet! However, there is one catch: You have to win a permit! How to increase your chances and answers to every other possible questions you might have are covered here. You'll learn things no one else tells you about 'The Wave'! Read our powerful planning guide below (check our huge infographic!). This guide was updated 2019.
5 Proven Quick-Tips | Winning a Permit
Our famous 5 proven must-know tips for the lottery (how to win a permit) at a glance:
- Months: Highest chance for a permit in January / early February
- Walk-In Lottery: Enter the lottery for at least 2 consecutive days
- Walk-In Lottery: Between November and March. Plus: Enter on a Friday as well
- Online-Lottery: Wait until the end of the month before entering the lottery (it's NOT first-come, first-served!)
- Online-Lottery: Select 3 dates with the fewest applicants
Read on for more detailed tips and everything you should know before you go.
There is no more real off-season in terms of lottery applicants. Don't trust older reviews and articles. Winning becomes less likely every year. However, the chances to win a permit are still a little better in the winter months. Especially in January and early February. Find more insider tips on how to win a permit in the text and big infographic further below.
Crowds and Weather
Since only 20 persons per day are allowed, crowds are not an issue. However, Kanab (Visitor Center) and Page are less crowded if you avoid peak tourist months (late June, July, August). In terms of weather, we recommend spring (March, April, May) or fall (September, October, November): The temperatures are moderate and the cloud cover is reasonable, particularly in April/May. In summer (June/July/August) it gets very hot (100°F, 40°C). You should start very early to beat the heat. In the winter the ground might be snow covered and muddy. This may result in an impassable road sometimes. The cloud cover is higher in winter as well. However, you should keep in mind that the weather doesn't matter that much: Try to win a permit for this unique hike, regardless of the weather.
Photography (Time of Day)
A sixty foot buttes causes massive shadows and the best time to take photos there is often not sunrise/sunset. However, almost any time for a photo is great when you're at this otherworldly place. Extra tip: Look for puddles to capture great reflections.
Our unique Ultimate Guide to 'The Wave'. Covering everything from winning the lottery, weather to insider tips:
Everything from the above infographic can also be found in the text below, as well as additional tips at the bottom. This is a complete guide which received a major update in 2018. That means all information is up-to-date for the year 2019 and even 2020. In addition, it will be extended on a regular basis for major changes.
- Permit: You are not allowed to hike 'The Wave' without a permit. Rangers patrol the area. They carry a list of names with permit numbers. If you're caught without a permit, you'll have to pay a fine up to 1200 USD.
- Protection: In order to protect this outstanding scenery, only 20 persons are allowed to hike 'The Wave' every day. The permits are available from the Bureau of Land Management.
- Where: A permit can be obtained online or by walk-in: 10 persons are awarded permits via an online lottery, the other 10 via a walk-in lottery at the Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. The permit fee is $7. More info on the lottery below and here: BLM Lottery The Wave. Didn't win online? Try the walk-in lottery!
6 Things to Know
- The Hike: This is one of the most fascinating hikes on our planet. A truly surreal experience like no other. It's a 6 miles (10 km) round trip. The difficulty is medium and it's not marked.
- Geology: It's a 190 million year sandstone rock formation from the Jurassic Period. It took wind and water millions of years to turn sand dunes to rock.
- Location: Coyote Buttes North in Arizona. Hidden in the Vermilion Cliffs wilderness area. Close to the northern border with Utah.
- Coyote Buttes South: The 'competing' area. Not as unique as Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) but also stunning and much larger. You need a permit as well, but it's much easier to obtain, either online (same website) or via walk-in (same Visitor Center, also each day).
- Time: With the permit, you gain a full 24-hour access to the Coyote Buttes North area ('The Wave'). Overnight camping is not allowed.
- Groups: Permits are obtained for 1-6 persons. Example: Two 6 persons walk-in groups apply for one day. When both win, the 2nd group only gets the 4 remaining permits and 2 of them can't go.
Online Lottery: 10 Permits each day. Chance: Very low!
Timing: 4 months in advance you have 1 entire month to enter the online lottery. Example: If you want to go on a day in May, you must enter the lottery between Jan 1 and Jan 31 (it's not first come, first served) You can pick 3 dates within the desired month. One of your 3 dates might get picked. You are only allowed to submit one application per month.
Lottery Fee: $5, non-refundable
Notification: You'll be notified on the first of the next month whether you won or not. Example: If you entered the lottery in January then you'll get an email on February 1. If you didn't win, you can check a calendar option for spots which became available. However, this is extremely unlikely.
Numbers: Slower Month Example (February): An example snapshot from October for the next February: The day with the fewest applicants already had 240 persons (80 requests). The busiest day already had 600 persons (170 requests). Busier Month Example (June): Another example now from February for a permit next June: Here, the day with the fewest applicants already had 1,211 persons (403 requests). The busiest day already had 2,270 persons (679 requests).
TIP: Wait until the end of the month, before entering the online lottery! They show the current applicants for each day. Select 3 dates with the fewest applicants so far. This will give you an advantage and increase your chances. Many still think it's first come first served. That's not true!
Walk-In Lottery: 10 Permits each day. Chance: Very low!
Timing: The drawing is held each day at Kanab Visitor Center for permits valid on the following day. The lottery starts at 9 a.m. sharp (Daylight Savings Time in summer). Arrive at 8:30 a.m., as there will be an introduction. No need to be there much earlier, since it's not first come, first served. You must pay with cash or check.
Lottery Fee: none
Exception: Permits are issued 7 days a week from mid-March until mid-November. However, from mid-November through mid-March, they are issued Monday-Friday only. That's why during this period each Friday 30 permits for 3 days are issued instead of 10 for one day.
Numbers: Example from a 'slower' month: In early March 204 people showed up on a Friday for 30 spots. In late February 164 were competing for 30 spots. A lot more show up between spring and fall.
TIP: If unsuccessful, you can enter the lottery again as often as you like, to increase your chances. Plan 2-3 days. In winter include a Friday as well: 30 spots, but usually not 3 times as much applicants. If you don't win on a certain day, plan other activities like Antelope Canyon or call a tour operator.
Tips Before You Go
- Food & Clothes: Bring snacks and at least a gallon of water for each person. Bring a backpack and dress in layers, especially in spring and fall. Sturdy shoes are also recommended.
- Heat: Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are a must in late spring, summer and early fall. Also start your hike as early as possible, regardless of the season. It can get very hot!
- Safety: Get familiar with the provided map. Bring a GPS or compass. There is no cell phone reception and the trail is not marked. Also, tell a loved one that you go. People do get lost on the trail!
- Winter Driving: Depending on the road conditions you may need a 4WD in winter. Towing out is at least $1000 and you will lose your chance to go. Option: Book with a tour operator.
Ultimate Planning Guide
1 - Try the Online Lottery: Try the online lottery first. Your chances are better if you visit in the winter. The best month is January. Enter the lottery at the end of the '4th month', i.e. 3 months and 1 day before your destination month. Then select 3 target dates with fewer applicants so far. This will give you an advantage and increases your chances of winning. Online Lottery Website
2 - Book Coyote Buttes South: If you didn't win, apply for a permit for Coyote Buttes South (same website) within your destination month. It's not as unique as 'The Wave' but still stunning. The permits are much easier to get, it's not a lottery. Choose a date within your desired month. Now, you have the Coyote Buttes South permit. Book a tour on your permit date at www.dreamlandtours.net or with others. A tour is not necessary, but highly recommended. The south area is much larger and there is so much to explore.
3 - Try the Walk-In Lottery: When you are there, stay in Kanab or Page. Enjoy your Coyote Buttes South tour, which you booked in advance. The day after the tour: Enter the walk-in lottery in Kanab for 2-3 consecutive days, now for 'The Wave'. If you didn't win on a day: Plan other activities. Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend or even Bryce Canyon N.P. The lottery is always at 9 a.m. and won't take long. You'll have plenty of time left afterwards.
BOTTOM LINE: If you won the lottery online (1), perfect! If not follow the next steps. Even if you didn't win online or one of the walk-in lotteries in Kanab (3) for The Wave, you had a great time: You did Coyote Buttes South and visited many other places like Antelope Canyon (one hour drive). You should plan 3-5 days in total for the whole area, depending on what you'd like to see.
Although you'll receive a map after winning the permit, it's helpful to get familiar with the area in advance. Here is a hiking map of Coyote Buttes North including directions for several hikes in the area: The Wave - Google Maps Hiking
The main problem a few people on the trail have is finding 'The Wave'. It's an unmarked trail in the middle of the desert. The way to the Wave is easier, the way back is a little more difficult. Some say about up to 30% in some months get lost. Get familiar with the provided map well in advance and use a GPS if you have one. However, even the hike itself to The Wave is just stunning and beautiful. Trail details are:
- Distance: 5.5 miles round-trip
- Duration: 2-4 hours
- Elevation at the trailhead: 4800 feet
- Elevation at The Wave: 5220 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate (boiling heat in the summer)
- Trail: Unmarked
- Amount of water: Minimum of 2-3 liters
- What to Bring: Permit, water, sunscreen, hat, camera, GPS (not necessary, but useful)
- Restrooms: At Wire Pass Trailhead
The Hike (Trail Report)
Getting to the trailhead: Most visitors start their hike at the Wire Pass Trailhead. This is also the most popular one. The drive from Kanab to the trailhead takes about an hour. Coming from Kanab you stay on Highway 89 for 38 miles and then turn left on House Rock Valley Rd. The drive on this road takes another 20-30 minutes. This is a dirt road and it can be impassable at one point after heavier rain. The critical spot is Bearskin Gulch, close to Buckskin Trailhead. When it rained heavier the night before or even for a few days, you probably need a 4WD SUV or similar car to pass at this point. However, even if it rained before visitors report that they didn’t encounter any problems. It always depends on how much it rained and how fast it dries afterwards.
Starting the hike: Besides Wire Pass Trailhead there are other possible starting points. However, Wire Pass is the most popular and we recommend beginning your hike from there. After reaching the parking lot, you display the parking permit in the windshield. Then check your backpack for water and camera. Make sure to use the bathroom here if you need to. It’s not in the best condition but since there are no toilets on the hike we recommend to use it. Now you can hit the trail. Not only ‘The Wave’ itself but also the hike is one of most beautiful trails you’ll ever experience.
The hike: The hike itself begins with about 800m (half a mile) of walking along a dry riverbed – perhaps not the most exciting start to a hike, but of course it is worth it. Soon, you will come across a sign notifying you that you are entering 'Coyote Buttes Pass' and that an advance permit is required.
After you see this sign, be sure to remain to the right – do not veer to the left towards Buckskin Gulch. As you walk past the sign and towards the Wave, you should notice the terrain become more sandy, and then eventually hard sandstone. If you are ever in doubt, check the map that you should have received from the ranger. It has pictures and descriptions to help you orientate yourself.
‘The most beautiful sites are yet to come’
Continuing along the sandstone terrain, there are a few signs that should reassure you that you are on the right track. You will also see some 'buttes' - isolated hills with steep sides but flat tops – ahead of you. These make for some great photos of themselves, however the most beautiful sights are yet to come. They are also helpful as a point of reference – keep heading towards the middle two.
You should notice that the orange rock begins to have a distinct white pattern in it. Once you approach the buttes, you should clearly see that the distant rock face has a gaping vertical split. This is the entrance to the Wave, so keep heading towards it. Do watch your footing, as it can be slippery when there has been rain.
As you continue the hike, expect to venture between a pair of buttes known as the 'Twin Buttes', which are located about halfway along the hike. After about another 800m, the terrain once again becomes a dry river bed (also known as a river wash), and there is a comfortable downhill section. Be sure to look around and soak in the beautiful view, including the multicoloured domes.
After you cross this, the trail begins to ascend. Any pain you feel in your muscles is sure to be well and truly drowned out by the excitement of being so close to the beautiful Wave! Once you see the dead juniper tree, you will know you are close.
‘It is sure to take your breath away’
Continue upwards, and you will arrive at the breathtaking area known as the Wave. This prehistoric area changes slightly with the seasons, and you may see rockpools if there has been recent rainfall. Whatever the weather, it is sure to take your breath away to see the amazing chasms and rock formations. The Wave has been described as 'nature's Sistine Chapel', and you will soon know why. While it is the Wave itself that is the most famous and perhaps most photogenic feature, there are also hidden treasures that lie beyond the Wave. Some of the popular sights include the Top Arch, Alcove and Grotto. Some of these places require some more advanced hiking skills, including scrambling over the rock face, however they are very beautiful and even quieter than the Wave itself. Note that these lie beyond the Wave (to the right), and adding them onto your hike makes the trail about 12.9km (9 mile) return.
After you have had plenty of time to soak in the beauty of the Wave, it is time to return back the way you came. Be sure to keep hydrated and pay attention to your surroundings, so as to make sure that you return safely to tell your friends and family about this amazing hike.
Nearby Places/Activities (while you're in Kanab for the walk-in lottery)
- Coyotes Buttes South (very close)
- The Toadstools (very close)
- Antelope Canyon (close)
- Horseshoe Bend (close)
- and so much more
Beautiful book with the most stunning photographs of the area. However, not only great photos, it's also a valuable resource for planning your trip and exploring more possibilities in the area:
Some photos provided by Christian Engel