The Wave hike – How to win The Lottery

Some of you’ve seen it on Instagram, others remember it from Windows 7 desktop wallpaper. This wonderful structure on the photo above is called The Wave and it has become one of the most desired hiking goals in the past decade. That’s right, most desired, not most hiked. Because you don’t just hike The Wave – you need to win the lottery first. In this post you’ll find out everything you need to know about The Wave hike, including the detailed guide to the walk-in lottery system. Unfortunately, you won’t learn how to win The Wave Lottery, because you can’t cheat the system. That was just a teaser to get you here, sorry. 😛

The Wave hike in numbers
  • Difficulty: Moderate*
  • Trail: Unmarked
  • Length: 6.4 miles (around 10 km) round-trip
  • Hiking time: 2 – 4 hours (photo stops not included)
  • Elevation gain: a bit less than 400 feet (120 meters)

*In my book this was an easy hike, but on the other hand it can get pretty hot out there, and the chances of getting lost aren’t so small.

What is “The Wave” and why is it so famous?

The Wave is a beautiful red sandstone formation in the shape of a giant wave.* However, like with most great destinations, it’s not just about the goal itself. It’s about the entire journey and the challenge of getting there. First, because the whole area is breathtaking and it’s difficult to decide how much time to spend there. Second, The Wave hike is kind of a navigational challenge. And third, it takes a miracle (well, a permit, to be exact) to get there.

Where is The Wave located ?

The Wave is located in the US Southwest, in the North Coyote Buttes area, on the Utah and Arizona border*. To reach the parking lot, type the Wire Pass trailhead in Google maps. The drive from Kanab, where you’ll probably be staying, to the trailhead is roughly an hour. The last part is around 12 km (8 miles) dirt road, which can be challenging during heavy rain or snow.

*Technically, the trail starts in Utah (hence, the lottery in Kanab), but The Wave itself is located in Arizona.

Why do you need a permit for the hike?

In the past decade The Wave (named also North Coyote Buttes) hike has become too popular and heavy crowds have made a lot of damage to the delicate surface in the Coyote Buttes area. Hence, the authorities decided to limit the number of visitors to only 64 people per day. (It used to be only 20 per day, so this is a huge progress). Data shows there is around 4-6% success rate to get the permit.

How to get The Wave hike permit?

There are 2 ways to get a permit for The Wave hike. If you can plan ahead, you can use the on-line lottery system, which is for up to 48 people (or 12 groups), for 4 months in advance. Find the “Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) Permit Lottery” here and sign up. There is a fee of 9 $ per person, which is not refundable. If your trip is last minute or if you just happen to be in the area, you can also enter the walk-in lottery in Kanab, Utah. They call it “the only legal lottery in Utah”. 😀

Step-by-step guide for entering The Wave lottery

The Wave lottery takes place in Kanab each morning at 9 AM (Federal holidays excluded) and the permit is always issued for the following day. Plan to get to Kanab by 8.30 AM and be ready to spend the day there if you win the permit. In our case, the lottery took place at the Kanab Center Gymnasium, right across the BLM visitor center (double-check the lottery location on this link, just in case).

At 8.30 a ranger explains the rules, then one person from your goup steps in line to sign in. (Yes, only 1 person from the group is allowed to file in an application. And yes, a child counts as a person.) We got the number 17, sat down and waited for the draw to begin at 9 AM. We were chosen as the last couple and due to the crazy group system* only 7 people on that day got the permit. Lucky bastards, I know. The permit costs 7 $ per person, however this one is refundable if you don’t get lucky.

*The rule is “16 people or 4 groups”, whichever comes first. In theory, only 4 people can get lucky, if the lottery picks up 4 “singles” in a row.

The winners get a map with detailed GPS information and pictures to help you get oriented on the way. You also get 2 parking permits with dates for the following day – you leave one in the car and carry the other with you in case a ranger checks up on you and you need to prove you are “legit”.

NOTE: Hiking “The Wave” without a permit can get you up to 10.000 USD fine, as well as a month in jail.

The Wave trail

I won’t tell you exactly how to get to The Wave out of respect for the BLM efforts to preserve the area. I will however tell you how and where to start. Park your car, cross the road and follow the river wash. The first part of the trail is actually the same as the one for Buckskin Gulch we did the day before. After around a mile you’ll see a very discrete sign to the Coyote Buttes North area on your right.

From here on, follow the signs and the map the ranger gave you. Your best bet is to look at the buttes in the distance and follow them, as described in the map. In worst case scenario, wait for someone to show you the way and eventually you’ll get there. In the last mile you’ll pass small dunes, walk down the river wash and take the final short climb in the sand to your destination. On the top you’ll run into a beautiful natural reflection pool and this is the entrance to The Wave.

My only advice here is take your time and enjoy the beauty. After all, you’ve won the lottery. Make sure you look into all directions to find the best photo angles. Best time for photographing The Wave is somewhere around 9 AM – 1 PM when the sun shines covers the whole area.

After you’ve finished with riding The Wave, head up towards the reflection pools and continue to explore the area. There’s a whole bunch of cool rock formations to see, including the Second Wave, Mini Wave, The Boneyard, Sand Cove, Melody Arch, etc. Some of them are either tricky to access or difficult to find. The best way to see them is to study the map before you decide the route you’re going to take.

Best time to visit The Wave

This one is a no-brainer. Best time to hike The Wave is the day after you get the permit. 😀 Jokes aside, the chances of getting The Wave permit vary seasonally. To increase your options for the walk-in lottery, plan your visit during less popular months (winter) and avoid holidays or weekends. Also, smaller groups have more chances due to the already mentioned group system. NO, it doesn’t help to get to the draw before 8.30. And NO, you can’t bribe BLM staff to get the permit.

Other useful information

  • Dress in layers: It was 0°C when we parked and 30°C when we came back.
  • Take water: Plenty of it. People have died due to dehydration. Salty snacks welcome.
  • Dogs Allowed: 7 $ fee per dog.
  • No drones: I salute this one!
  • Other rules: Check out the BLM web page.
  • Restrooms: Only in the parking area, so do your thing there.
  • Start early: We arrived at 8 AM and it was perfect for the lights we needed.
  • Best time for photography: The Wave from mid-morning to around noon to minimize the shadows, and other areas mid-late afternoon.
  • Time zone: Arizona and Utah have different time zones (1 hour difference) in case you need to do some wake-up call math.
  • Sunscreen: Take plenty and reapply. Take a hat and sunglasses as well.
  • Where to stay: Anywhere between Kanab and Page is fine if you don’t want to drive too far.
Things to do in The Wave neighborhood

Trust me, if you don’t win The Wave lottery, you still have plenty of awesome things to see in the neighborhood. And you can also see them with the permit in your pocket, while waiting for your turn to The Wave hike. In our case, we hiked the Buckskin Gulch on the “day before” and went to see the Horseshoe bend on the same day after we finished The Wave. Besides these, you can also see the Secret Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park, White pocket national monument, to name just a few quick and handy options.

There, I hope I covered all the information about The Wave hike. You can catch my stories in my Instagram profile (if you liked this post, a follow is appreciated), or check out my Facebook album for more photos from Arizona. If I missed something, let me know in the comment below! 😉


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