Everything you Need to Know about Hiking The Wave in Arizona

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Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Everything you Need to Know about Hiking The Wave in Arizona

Most people have seen photos of hiking the Wave in Arizona- a gorgeous red sandstone formation along the Utah/Arizona border in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I really wanted to hike the Wave last April at the tail end of my Paria Canyon trip, but I was confused by the competitive permit process and the weather also wasn’t cooperating.

I recently met up with Josh Allen, a fellow Utah adventurer, and the founder of RAWTrails – a project intended to help improve people’s lives through the outdoors. He recently returned from hiking the Wave in Arizona and offered to write up a post sharing everything you need to know about hiking the Wave, including the crazy permit process that you have to endure if you want to see the Wave in person.

So check out his detailed writeup below, mark the permit application deadline on your calendar, and cross your fingers!

 

by Josh Allen

Back on July 22, 2009 the world suddenly became aware of some miraculous place that perhaps was previously hidden to the masses.  The above date was the initial release for Microsoft’s operating system, Windows 7.  The mention of Microsoft or anything in the technology sector is important only to this article because it introduced all of us to the beautiful desktop wallpaper of The Wave in Arizona, and since that time an increasing number of people have sought to make their way to this breathtaking location.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

Making the trek isn’t as easy as one might imagine. The Wave is situated on the Utah-Arizona border, halfway between Page, Arizona and Kanab, UT in the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, and these days it’s even harder to find yourself as one of the lucky ones to draw a permit for the site.  Due to the overwhelming popularity of the site, the Bureau of Land Management limited foot traffic to 20 people/day.  That’s right – only 20 people are allowed to the site at a time, thus preserving the integrity and beauty of the Wave.  In 2014 alone, there were approximately 50,000 applicants, which means 7300 people were allowed access with a 14.6% success rate, and it’s only going to get harder to get in.

Hiking The Wave: Trail Basics

Most people access the Wave from the Wire Pass Trailhead located in North Coyote Buttes permit area of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The trail consists primarily of sand and red rock, and aside from the harsh desert heat and dry conditions, the 5.2-mile round trip hike is considered a moderate trail. Part of the trail is cross-country, so you should have a map and a basic understanding of navigation skills.

  • Trail Type: Out-and-back
  • Length: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation Change: +/- 400 feet
  • Dogs allowed: Yes! (They must be under your control at all times, and you are required to pack out your waste)
  • Best Season: Spring and Fall  (more on that below)
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Permit required: YES
  • Water availability: None

Here is a Google Map someone created of the Wave hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to get a Permit for the Wave

There are two ways to obtain a permit for hiking the Wave in Arizona. If you have the ability to plan in advance, you should definitely try your luck in the advanced online lottery. However, if your trip is last minute or you are unsuccessful in the online Wave lottery, you can also enter the in-person lottery at the Visitors Center in Kanab, Utah. Only 20 people are issued permits for the Wave each day – half in the advanced lottery and half in-person – and either way you obtain a permit, the cost is $7 per person per day. The online lottery costs an additional $5 and is non-refundable even if you are unsuccessful.

  • Advanced online lottery for the Wave

To apply for a Wave permit, start at the Coyote Buttes North lottery page on the BLM website. Applications for the online lottery open at 12pm Mountain time on the 1st of the month, four months prior to your desired hiking month. The table below indicates when you must apply depending on when you want to hike.

The Wave permit lottery schedule

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you want to hike the Wave sometime in May. You must submit your online application sometime between January 1st and January 31st. When applying you are allowed to enter three different hiking dates for the month of May. The lottery then takes place the morning of February 1st, after which you will be notified by email whether or not you were successful. If you were successful, you then have 14 days to confirm and pay for your permit online. If you don’t confirm during this time, your permit is released back into the system.

When entering your dates, make sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll find a table that shows how many applications have been submitted for each date. By choosing dates that have fewer applications for fewer people, you increase your odds of success. April through November are the most competitive months for permits with success rates ranging from 4-8%. December-March have slightly better odds at 25%.

Permit application statistics for hiking the wave in Arizona

Finally, it’s important to note that each individual is only allowed to submit one application per month. If you end up submitting more than one, you will be disqualified.

  • Walk-in lottery

If you are unsuccessful in the online lottery or want to make a spontaneous visit to the Wave, your other option is to enter the walk-up lottery at the Visitor Center in Kanab UT  for the following day.

From mid-March to mid-November, the walk-in lottery occurs 7 days a week and permits are drawn for the following day. From mid-November to mid-March, permits are issued Monday through Friday, with the lottery for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday permits occurring the Friday before the weekend.

You should arrive at 8:30am to submit your application, and the lottery for the next day’s permits takes place at 9:00am. Only 10 permits are issued, and only one person from each group is allowed to submit an application.

We were lucky enough to be selected on our 2nd attempt out of 75 applicants (the first time we tried there were 180+ applying).  We’ve heard of others who have tried to do the walk-in lottery 10x with zero luck.  Needless to say, riding the Wave requires patience and planning or just straight luck.  We were stoked that lady luck called our number.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

For a full FAQ and additional details on the permit process, visit the Vermilion Cliffs page on the BLM’s website.

Recommended Gear for Hiking the Wave

This is a hot, dusty desert environment with no drinking water. You should be prepared with 3 liters of water, at an absolute minimum. The pack I recommend above has a built-in hydration reservoir for easy drinking. You’ll also want sun protection, good hiking shoes, and a map. The trail is not well-marked and there is no cell phone service. You should be prepared with a good map (you can get one at the Ranger’s station), and if you have no experience with backcountry navigation, you may also want to bring a GPS and communication device. I recommend the Garmin InReach linked to above.

Hiking The Wave: Trip Report

Following the lottery, the ranger gives a spiel on safety, navigating the region, etc for those who were successful. Make sure to also grab a map since the path to the Wave isn’t as well-defined as a typical hiking trail.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

Since our permit was for the following day, we took the opportunity to explore other amazing locations in Southern Utah.  Since we had already come from Zion National Park the previous day (camping along the river at Mount Carmel Junction), we made our way back north to check out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and then up to Bryce Canyon National Park for the day.  The proximity of all of these places to Kanab is 1-2 hours drive time, so when you plan to test your luck with the Wave lottery, be sure to allocate time for other side adventures around it.  On the Arizona side of the border you can also make a quick trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon or over to Page and Lake Powell, where you can camp for free at Lone Rock Beach.

After camping up at Bryce Canyon and witnessing an incredible sunrise over the majestic hoodoos, we packed up shop and headed back to Kanab to begin our journey to the Wave.  The drive from Kanab to the Wire Pass Trailhead is roughly an hour, with the last 8 miles along House Rock Valley Rd (a dirt road that can be impassable at times due to the flash floods that hit the region).  We were lucky enough to make the drive without any problems, even though it had rained the night before.  Once we reached the parking lot, we strapped on our shoes, checked our packs for water/snacks, applied needed sunscreen, and hit the trail.  To find the main trail you need to cross the road and enter into the river wash, heading back north for a half-mile or so until it winds to the east (where eventually you will see this sign).

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona
After passing the sign to the Coyote Buttes North Area, you will stay to the right (the left goes down to Buckskin Gulch) and you soon find yourself hiking along this sandy/desert terrain.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

This is the point in the journey when the map provided by the ranger came in handy.  Here, in particular, we headed toward the first big mound off in the distance, just to the right of center in the image.

Once we crossed over the ridge, the landscape changed to hard sandstone (which made it much easier to hike along).  There were some signposts along the path leading up to the Wave to help steer us in the right direction. To head in the right direction, look for these type of buttes in the distance, and head towards the two in the middle, passing them just on the right side.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

After that pass, the terrain open ups and you’ll see a large rock face in the distance with a fissure/crack vertically down the face…that’s your destination.  Other landmarks to look for along the way are white streaks along the sandstone you’re walking on, following that in between two small sand dunes in the distance.  Having these small reference points along the way made it so that it was nearly impossible to lose your way (although historically hikers have gotten lost and deaths have occurred due to heat-stress and other related causes….so make sure to bring plenty of water!)

After passing between the small dunes, it’s a final push to reach the site of the Wave.  The anticipation and excitement build as you drop down in to another river wash and then begin the final climb in the sand to your destination.  With the sun blazing down on us and the sweat building up, we couldn’t wait for the moment to arrive and rest, but as soon as we arrived the last thing we wanted to do was sit down.  It was time to play and explore.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

Thanks to the storm that passed through the night before our adventure, we were lucky to be able to experience this beautiful place in such a setting, with an amazing reflection bouncing off a pool of water right at the entrance (and many other pools throughout the site).  This larger wide-lens view of the Wave perfectly depicts the incredible striations of the windblown sandstone.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

After passing by the pool of water at the main entrance to the Wave, we looked back on this series of pools that collected water from the storm. The contrast of the red rock and the blue sky was absolutely perfect.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona
We continued to meander around and through the site for 30 minutes or so before ever stopping for a rest.  We soon found ourselves perched up above the Wave and figured that it was the perfect spot to relax and get replenished with food and water.

Now that we fueled up we were ready for some more exploring.  We headed to the top of the sandstone cliffs to the south, catching the vast landscape of the desert in all directions.  All in all, we probably spend a good 3 hours at the site to gather as many vantage points as possible of this once in a lifetime visit.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona
Nearing the end of our journey, we caught an amazing view of the Wave from the south end looking north. This just so happened to be the perfect location for us to drop in and snap some pictures of us surfing this desert wave.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona
The trip to the Wave was absolutely epic!  To date, we haven’t been to any place in the world as remarkable, serene, and uniquely beautiful as this site.  The privacy and exclusivity of this site make it all the better.  While it’s tough to get a permit, the lack of crowds makes it that much more enjoyable. In silence you can admire the awe and wonder of the creative processes of Mother Nature.

Learn about the trail, permits, and gear in this detailed guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona

Now, month’s later, as we look back on this trip it’s almost as if we wished we had done more with our time there.  If you decide to venture further past the Wave, there are a bunch of other cool features including a couple of Arches that would be worth taking some additional time to explore.

Who knows if we’ll ever get lucky enough to go back again.  As there are proposals to change the in-person lottery to an online system (two days before the visit date), one would only think that more and more people will be applying if those changes are put into effect.  But now as a firm believer in luck, we can only hope that luck strikes again.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HIKE TO THE WAVE? OR HAVE YOU BEEN? LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, TWEET ME, OR WRITE ME A POST ON FACEBOOK

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There are 44 comments on this post.

About the author

Josh Allen is a real adventurer at heart who loves exploring all that the world has to offer. With his passion for the outdoors, living life and helping people, he began RAWtrails to bring similar joy and happiness to others. His organization exists to inspire people to create a lifestyle of activity and adventure in the great outdoors, holding to the belief that nature and its miraculous wonder contain the power and ability to transform us into happier and healthier people. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

44 Comments on “Everything you Need to Know about Hiking The Wave in Arizona

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  1. Thanks so much for writing up this article, the permit process for the wave can be slightly confusing at times and this help clear it up immensely! I do have one question, when applying online, can each individual in your group apply separately for permits? I read somewhere that you can, but it being that the individual commenting on it was from France I am not sure of the reliability of their comment. Could you shed some light on the situation? I know that the walk-in permits are one person per group only.

      Tiare – That’s correct. For the online lottery you can each apply. But if you both end up getting it you should definitely cancel one of the permits to give other people a chance. And in person, it is only one person per group that is allowed to enter the lottery.

    If I do the online lottery for the wave for me and one other person and win. And then the person I am going with backs out, can I take someone else? In other words can I change the name of the person I am going with?

      The permit holder (whoever’s name the permit is in) must be present but I think you should be able to change the person you bring with you. If the permit is in the other person’s name, then you should call the ranger and see what they say.

    Thank you! I’ve spent a good hour reading and watching videos about the process and telling me that I have to show up on Friday for a Monday pass is SUCH a good tip – I totally wouldn’t have thought of that! Anyway, I’m pumped – wish me luck! 🙂

      Was it worth showing up on Friday to get Monday’s pass?

    Congrats on getting in! We got in during our second day in Kanab too.. and both times there were around 200 people in the room.

    We are showing up at the BLM on Friday, December 30, in hopes of winning a ticket on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. If we win a slot, my biggest concern is the hike and getting lost. I was considering hiring a tour company to take us out there. I almost hired a guy to take us for a sunset and nighttime photo shoot of Delicate Arch last year but didn’t and it was not a hard hike.

      Hey Evan – Good luck with the lottery! If you have some experience hiking, my guess is you can do this without a guide. Just make sure to bring a map and get all of your questions about directions answered by the ranger before heading out. Make sure to come back and tell me how it goes!

    Do you have any recommendations on where to stay and/or camp near the trailheads?

      There is a ton of BLM land nearby. I’m about to publish a post on how to find free camping, so please keep an eye out

      Stay at the Stateline Campground, a free site a mile or two further along the House Rock Road. It’s the closest place to stay and wasn’t full when we were there at the end of April.

        Thanks for the campsite recommendation Pedro! We’ll have to check that place out next time!

    When I applied for a permit I recorded 4 in my group. Now my trip is coming in mid January and my group is only 2. Is there anything that I can do to give those two spots back? I don’t want to take up two of the daily spots if they are not going to be used.

      Sorry for the late reply! I’d call and let them know and Im sure they can make those additional spots available.

    drove up at the last minute to the BLM office got my number, about third number called was mine and we got our permit, super lucky. A few people were pissed because we just popped in and got a permit. I guess it was meant to be.

    You need a permit to hike here. Such a horrible law. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beauty of nature. Everyone. I bought plane tickets for myself and my family to visit The Wave, only to find out you have to go through a process, apply, and go through a lottery JUST TO HIKE. The same applies to Zion National Park. How sad. “Oh, b-but the permits are for a few people per day so it helps preserve nature!” Wrong. These formations were created when dinosaurs walked on Earth. 300+ tourists per day isn’t going to do anything. And by the way, people who travel out of their way to hike places like this are people who respect nature and enjoy the beauty of it. No one travels to these places with malicious intentions. Has that ever happened? I felt cheated when I learned you need permits to hike in open nature. I’m in my 20’s and already sounds like an old, bitter man because of all this.

      I’m sorry to hear you booked tickets and then discovered you needed permits. You do not need a permit to visit Zion National Park however. Let us know if we can be any support in helping plan our your itinerary! -Kim

      No permits and you’d get way more than 300 people tramping all over the site. Have a look at the Antelope Canyons to see how bad it would get and you have to pay bucks to visit there.

    What are the weather conditions there during the Dec-Feb timeframe? I’m fairly familiar with the weather in St George (nearby southern Utah) and it seems they only get one or two small snowstorms during this time.

      The weather in the winter is cold. Snow is possible but less likely. You could also get a nice sunny day in the middle of winter…so it’s hard to predict.

    It does not help when people who deface BLM or National Park land are given only a slap on the wrist-200 hrs comm service. There was a lady, I’m sorry woman-Casey Nocket, from San Diego, CA who defaced a lot of government property in BLM/Natl Park. She was only caught because of her numerous postings on social media. When they caught her, they gave her a slap on the wrist. I have seen people get punished far worse for a speeding ticket. The damage she did amounted to many thousands of dollars. Yet, the govt. chose to do almost nothing. How stupid! Andre Saraiva, a Frenchman, received only $275 fine for defacing Joshua Tree-people pay more when they go in the carpool lane-amazing.

    when you apply to the wali-in lotery, how many persons could be on your permit?

    Thank you for the information, great post! Going to give the walk in a shot

    I’m a bit confused on the wave subject; I understand the permit part to enter the area, but is there an area where I can see the wave even if I don’t go in? A higher point that look down on it and doesn’t require permit?

    Thank you!

      Hi Elizabet, the only way to view the wave is by physically hiking in. There isn’t an elevated viewpoint.

    Thank you for sharing photos of a place I will never get to go. It is a place filled with rare beauty!

    We hike the wave on 8/28/17 few things I would like to say so hopefully everyone makes it their safe and back safe. 1. Go early hot as hell out their no shade at all ! Leave early go see the wave and come back before 3 pm hottest time of day ! If you have any trouble with hiking do not go it is not a easy hike high hills and deep sand, it is a hard hike. 2. BLM office gave us a picture map told us to follow that this had pictures that must have been taken years ago nothing looked like what the pictures showed us. BLM office also told us not to use a GPS and use their picture map instead we did both and had we not had GPS on the way back we would have gotten lost and never made it back sure glad we had GPS, I would suggest using map and GPS ! Everything looks the same out their. 3. Bring lots of water ! 4. Lastly the road going in is rough and can be hard if it rains. 5. Have fun its well worth it so glad we got to go. I would do it again. The reason I am writing this is after getting back we read about some deaths on the hike in 2013 and can why these people had trouble. I do not feel this hike is for everyone It is hard and no shade at all.

      Great to hear you had an awesome trip, Tim, thanks for sharing your lessons learned!

      what type of vehicle did u have on the drive in?

      Tim, did you see or are there any park rangers on the hike to help if you get lost? Either at the wave/on the trail/at the trailhead? Also curious if they track people to make sure everyone comes out that goes in…

    That’s really breath taking. I wish I could be there for an adventure real soon.

    I have submitted several times for a permit and not struck it yet but I will persist since this is a bucket list hike. Thanks so much for your post, it is motivating!!

    Is there a place to just look at the wave? My husband has MS, and a hike my not be the best option, but we would love to see this beautiful site.

      Hi Susie, great question! Unfortunately, no there isn’t a viewing platform or way to view the Wave without hiking to it. There are some really awesome Youtube videos of the Wave that are shot by drone. Sorry about that!

    Are drones allowed?

      Hey Ernie, not sure about that. I assume they are as it isn’t a National Park but you could reach out to the BLM office for the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness to check.

    Great article thank you also for great pics.i lived in az for 10 yrs and its still on my bucket list to hike the wave.

      Awesome to hear, Cynthia! Hope you enjoy the adventure.

    Awesome read. I’m looking forward to visiting and exploring this magnificent creation of God. However, not so happy about the lottery and all the planning, but being a military wife prepares one for everything.

    I went in today but didn’t get a permit. I’m going to stick around Kanab Utah and Page Arizona until I do though!

    Great info, thank you, helps alot. =)

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