The Wave – Arizona
When Is the Best Time
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 question you might have been covered here. You’ll learn things no one else tells you about ‘The Wave’! Read our powerful planning guide below (check our huge infographic!).
UPDATE 2020: The walk-in lottery resumed mid-2020. However, there are some small changes to the walk-in lottery. For example, only the group leader can enter the building, you have to wear a face-mask, and keep your distance. Otherwise, our tips still apply. Check the official updates here: BLM Walk-in Lottery – The Wave
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 (UPDATE 2020: You can’t see the number of applicants per day anymore)
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.
Weekly Hotel Deals in Kanab
Hotel Tips | Kanab (Recommended!) and Page
In Kanab, close to the Visitor Center – Google Maps:
- Best Hotels in Kanab: If you want to stay close to the Visitor Center. You may even walk to the lottery in the morning! (Recommended)
- La Quinta Inn & Suites: One of the best hotels there. It’s quite new, clean, neat and well maintained. The staff is also very friendly, from reception to kitchen.
- Hampton Inn & Suites: Excellent hotel! Slightly higher rates than the La Quinta but brand new and with a room layout like a small apartment. Comfortable bed and very clean. Great free breakfast choices!
- Hotel List – Page: More choices. Use the comfortable search: Enter your preferred dates and then check the list of hotels. Make sure to change the search criteria to your liking at the top bar. We usually select ‘Review Score & Price’
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. 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 that 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! UPDATE 2020: You can’t see the number of applicants for each day any more. However, it’s still not first-come, first-served. Enter three dates and cross your fingers.
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:
Click or touch the image to read moreWith 5 Must-Know Tips! ✅ The Wave: THE HIKE! Full Guide + HOW TO WIN A PERMIT – Learn everything with our guide. Updated for 2019/20. Including a huge infographic!
The wave lottery tips
The Wave, located in Northern Arizona, is one of the most amazing spots in the US, made famous from the Windows 7 desktop background and more recently, from Instagram. The orange and white wave-like swirls along the sandstone are truly an amazing sight to see! However, The Wave is also one of the most difficult places to visit in the US, as only 20 people are allowed to go per day. Keep reading for tips on winning The Wave lottery and hiking to this beautiful and unique spot!
This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you book through my links, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for the support!
The Wave: Trip Overview
- PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 1
- Nights: 2-3
- Cost: $
- Permit Required: Yes!
- Hike Distance: 8 miles RT
The Wave Lottery Overview:
The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North region. You MUST have a permit to enter this area to hike to The Wave. 20 people per day receive permits through The Wave lottery: 10 from the online lottery, and 10 from the walk-in lottery.
If you’re thinking about trying to hike The Wave without a permit – don’t. We were told at the visitor center in Kanab that anyone caught hiking in that area without a permit receives a $10,000- $100,000 fine along with 6 months in jail! You receive both a permit to leave on the dashboard of your car at the trailhead, as well as one to carry with you in your backpack. There are rangers checking each day.
The Online Wave Lottery:
Thousands of people enter the online Wave lottery per month. You have about a 3-4% chance of being one of the lucky 10 people who get selected. You can apply for the online wave lottery 4 months in advance, and have the whole month to apply. There is a non-refundable application fee of $5 (which adds up when you keep applying month over month) and if you win, the permit costs $7. You are able to select 3 date options on your permit application, and they show you how many applicants have already applied for each date of the month. The best strategy here is to wait until the last day of the month, and then look at the chart to apply for the dates that have the least amount of applicants. They notify you on the 1st day of the next month with your outcome. There is also an option to click to “check the calendar” for any cancellations to snag a permit, however it is SUPER rare that that happens.
My friend and I each applied for the online wave lottery every month for about 2 years, and never got it. This is common, and can be very frustrating. Thankfully, there is another, more promising option:
The Walk-In Wave Permit Lottery
Although inconvenient for most people, the walk-in lottery is where you have your best chance of winning the highly-sought-after Wave permit, especially if you go in the Winter months.
The walk-in Wave lottery is held at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT. From mid-March to mid-November, the lottery is held every day at 9:00am MT (but get there at 8:30 to fill out your application) to draw for permits for the next day.
From mid-November to mid-March, the visitor center is closed on the weekends. Because of this, The Wave lottery occurs Monday-Friday, with permits for Saturday-Monday being drawn for on Friday morning.
In the Spring/Summer, I’ve heard that the walk-in Wave lottery can be super crowded, with a few hundred applicants (still way better odds than the online lottery) however the number of applicants decrease in the winter months.
My friend and I booked a flight from LAX to LAS, rented a car, and drove 3 hours to Kanab, UT in early December to enter the Wave lottery on Friday morning for the weekend days.
We got super lucky, and there were only 29 applicants total for all 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). There was snow in the forecast for that weekend, so after the lottery organizer gave his speech about the weather conditions and needing 4WD, a few people even dropped out of the lottery right then and there! We ended up winning for Sunday, and it was one of the most exciting mornings of my life.
What to Expect at the Walk-In Wave Lottery
- Get there at 8:30am MT to fill out your application
- You are only allowed to fill out one application for your group. If they find out that multiple people in your group filled out your application, you will be disqualified
- The person leading the Wave lottery that day will give everyone a speech about weather conditions, what to expect on the hike, and other details. He will then give you a chance to drop out of the lottery drawing if you do not feel prepared for the hike.
- Once you fill out your application, he will assign each one a number, and then place the balls associated with those numbers in the ball-picking machine (for lack of a better word here)
- He spins the machine and picks a ball out. If he reads your number, JUMP UP AND DOWN BECAUSE YOU ARE SO LUCKY.
- If you win, you then need to pay $7 cash (make sure you have exact change) to get your permit, and then sit through a presentation about what to expect on the hike.
My Wave Lottery Recommendation
I highly recommend making a weekend out of it and flying to the area to apply for the walk-in wave lottery. Most big cities have cheap flights to Vegas, and then it’s only a 3-hour drive from there to Kanab, UT. The chances are much higher for the walk-in lottery, and even if you don’t win, there is SO MUCH else to do in the area that is worthwhile. Check out my post on White Pocket – the alternative Wave hike – as well as other things to do in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, such as visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
What to Expect on The Wave Hike
The Drive to Wirepass Trailhead
4WD is DEFINITELY recommended to get to the trailhead, especially if it has rained or snowed recently. The drive to Wirepass Trailhead for the Wave hike takes a little over an hour from Kanab, UT. It’s about 30 minutes on a normal road, and then you turn off and go the rest of the way on a super bumpy dirt road for about 45 minutes. It had snowed the night before we hiked, and driving along that road made me realize how much you need 4WD, especially in those conditions. There’s no cell service out there, so if your car gets stuck, you are really in a bad situation.
There are bathrooms at the trailhead – the last ones you will encounter! Also, make sure you don’t forget to put half of your permit on the dashboard of your car, and the other half attached to your backpack. There is no water available here, so make sure you pack your own, and bring more than you think you need, just in case. If you want to go with a guide, I recommend Dreamland Safaris. This is who we went with, and it was awesome! They even pack you a delicious lunch and extra waters and snacks for the trail. Also, then you won’t have to worry about renting an equipped vehicle, since they drive you there in their own 4WD car.
The Hike to The Wave
Something I didn’t read or hear about before I went – The Wave is super hard to find!! I consider myself an intermediate hiker, and the lack of signage to get to this area was shocking to me. They will give you a map with photograph landmarks to help you find your way, but it can still be super difficult if it is your first time in that area. I recommend hiring a guide, ESPECIALLY if you are hiking in inclement weather, so that you can complete this hike safely and efficiently. Not only that, but having a guide will make your hike more interesting, as they will tell you fun facts about the area as you hike there!
We used Dreamland Safari Tours as our guide for this hike, and it was such an awesome experience. Our guide, Steve, picked us up from our hotel in Kanab at 8:00am on Sunday and drove us through the snow along the bumpy dirt road to the trailhead. Having him there to lead the way was essential – I seriously don’t think we would have made it there on our own, especially without a GPS system! There is no cell service out there at all. If it is snowing when you are hiking The Wave, I recommend bringing some microspikes for your shoes to make it easier to hike along the icy/snowy rocks on the way there (however, note that you are NOT allowed to wear microspikes once you get to The Wave).
The hike starts out on a sandy trail, but quickly starts making its way up and over jagged rocks. After that, there is no real “trail” but rather an angled, flat rock face of sorts that you hike over and around until you get to a small stream that you need to cross. From there, you keep hiking up and around rocks until you reach it! The hike is about 8 miles round trip.
Once you reach The Wave, you’ll see that it definitely looks as amazing as it does in pictures. Your guide will give you lunch so you can eat with a view, and then you have some time to walk around and explore the area, and take pictures!
“Surfin” The Wave
There are many different viewpoints once you get in – and you can even climb up around The Wave on the “brain rocks” for a panoramic view of the area.
On the hike back, you have the option of adding on an extra mile or so to your hike to go through the Wire Pass Slot Canyon. Our guide was planning on taking us here, but because of the snow conditions we ended up not being able to. It sounds like a worthwhile detour, though!
If you are one of the lucky people who have a permit, you can book a guided tour of The Wave with Dreamland Safaris for $185/person.
Us and our guide, Steve
Overall, Is it Worth Hiking The Wave in Winter in the Snow?
YES! Although the hike there was a bit sketchy with snow covering the rocks, I feel extremely lucky to be one of the very few people to see The Wave with snow on it. It was such a unique experience!
Thank you to Dreamland Safari Tours for hosting me on The Wave tour. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Where to Stay in Kanab, UT
Kanab, UT and Page, AZ are two of the closest towns to The Wave hike, however since the walk-in lottery is held in Kanab, I recommend staying there. I’ve been to Kanab twice, and have stayed at both the Quality Inn Kanab (right next to the visitor center so you can walk to the lottery in the morning) and The Travelodge Kanab (about a 2 minute drive to the visitor center for the lottery). Both hotels were simple and cheap, but great, and had comfy beds!
Packing List for The Wave Hike
- Waterproof Hiking Boots (these are my fave!)
- Microspikes (If it’s snowing when you go)
- Smartwool Hiking Socks (love these!)
- Gloves (if you’re going in the winter)
- Garmin Hiking GPS (this is ESSENTIAL if you decide to not go with a guide)
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for your support!The wave lottery tips The Wave, located in Northern Arizona, is one of the most amazing spots in the US, made famous from the Windows 7 desktop background and more recently, from Instagram. The ]]>