The Wave is the name of an incredible rock formation where the rock actually appears to bend into incredible wavy patterns. It is like something from another planet! Here’s everything to know about getting a permit in the Wave lottery. Note: This article is updated for 2022 and reflects current information on the NEW Wave lottery.
The rise of The Wave in popular consciousness is a relatively recent development. During the 2002 Olympics in Utah, an image of The Wave was used in some advertisements (despite the fact that it is actually located just across the state line in Arizona). This ultimately led to a local TV station in Salt Lake City doing a story on the formation, which started the flow of visitors.
In 2009, Microsoft included an image of the formation in the Windows 7 release. With that act, Microsoft started a stampede of tourists to visit not only the Wave, but also the desert southwest. In fact, it is believed to be the most popular computer Wallpaper image ever.
Interest in The Wave has spurred interest in the entire desert southwest, including the numerous slot canyons throughout the region and also rock formations like White Pocket. And yet, seeing the Wave still remains one of the most popular things to do in Kanab.
Pro tip: The Wave makes an incredible addition to visiting Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks!
Here’s everything you need to know about The Wave:
Permit Lottery for the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area
Being able to see The Wave means you are one of the lucky few. There is a limit of just 64 people per day who will receive permits in The Wave Lottery for the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) handles the permit process for the Wave via a lottery system. The BLM allocates 48 people and/or 12 groups (whichever comes first) a day to an Internet lottery and 16 people and/or 4 groups (whichever comes first) to a next-day Wave permits via an in-person lottery in Kanab, Utah.
Please note: hiking The Wave without a permit can lead to federal trespassing charges and stiff fines. Rangers patrol the parking lot and also hike out to The Wave to do permit checks. Attempting to The Wave hike without a permit is unlikely to be successful and arrests/fines are not uncommon.
The Bureau of Land Management issues Coyote Buttes North permits via an on online lottery system (The Wave is located within the North Coyotte Buttes Wilderness Area). There are 48 people and/or 12 group permits allocated per day and would-be hikers can select three different days per month to try for permits. The Wave Permit online lottery opens four months in advance and you have a full month to submit applications. The drawing is held the the first day after the application month.
For example, if you want to hike The Wave in the month of May, you would apply online between January 1 and 31. The drawing would be held on February 1st and you would be notified immediately thereafter.
There is a $9 non-refundable application fee. If you don’t get a permit, you’re still out the $9. And if you win the lottery, you must still pay the $7 per person Coyote Buttes North permit fee.
What are the Wave permit odds? The BLM hasn’t published odds for the new lottery system which took effect on February 1, 2021. However, under the old system, the BLM said the Wave odds in the online lottery are around 4-5% (with odds around 25% for the month of January). However, this data is from 2013 – long before The Wave became really popular.
As we tried for Wave permits, we computed the online lottery odds from at around 0.3% up to about 2%. As more people discover The Wave, the odds will only become more difficult.
To apply online, visit the Coyote Buttes Permit Area website and follow the instructions. You’ll be required to watch a 17-minute video before you complete your application.
If you are unsuccessful in the online lottery, you can try for Wave permits in-person at the visitor center in Kanab. The odds of getting an in-person permit are a bit better than online, but it is still a slim chance.
Historically, the permits were issued at the BLM Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM) visitor center located at 745 E. Highway 89 in Kanab. HOWEVER, as popularity of the Wave has increased, the lottery is now held at Kanab Center in the Gymnasium, which is located at 180 E. 100 North, Kanab, Utah 84741.
From mid-March to mid-November, the permits are issued every day of the week for the next day. For example if you show up to the permit lottery on Tuesday and you win, your permit will actually be for Wednesday.
However, during the winter (mid-November to mid-March) permits are issued Monday-Friday. On Friday, the lottery is for Saturday, Sunday and Monday permits. So, you have a slightly better chance on Fridays. Of course, more people show up. The odds are still against you. Depending on how many show up on any given day, odds can be as low as 0.3% and as good as about 8%.
Plan to arrive at 8:30am Mountain Standard Time (that’s Utah time). In Utah, they observe Daylight Savings Time (they don’t in Arizona). Pay very careful attention to time zones (we got ourselves all confused and only figured it out the night before the lottery). The actual lottery is 9:00am Mountain Time. Don’t plan to roll in 5 minutes before because you will have missed all the instructions. If you are coming from Page, be sure to allow extra time.
The Wave permits are $7 per person and you must have cash. Credit cards are not accepted.
At 9:00am, would-be hikers are herded into the gymnasium for the lottery. Each party fills out a single application. The ranger warns everyone against filling out multiple applications to increase your chances. He also explained that they keep the applications for 24 hours, so you don’t need to fill it out again if come back the next day.
The ranger will then give a briefing about the dangers of The Wave hike, telling visitors what they need to do, and generally warning the timid about the risks. He made the statement several times, “People have died hiking The Wave.” The goal is to scare away anyone who isn’t absolutely serious about the hike.
He will then draw the lottery balls. Only 16 permits are available. This creates a tense mood in the room. Everyone is in the same boat together, but is also in competition with each other.
With each ball drawn, you can feel the mood in the room get a little more tense. Many visitors come and try for several days in a row. This way, they have more chances.
How to Get There
For those lucky enough to get permits, driving to The Wave is not exceptionally difficult. Much of the drive is on a paved road and only the last 8.15 miles is on a gravel road. The road is generally in good condition and is usually passable to 2-wheel drive passenger vehicles.
The visitor center in Kanab usually posts The Wave road conditions, so you’ll know what to expect. If you are coming in a car, take it slow and expect some wash-boarding, but you will not encounter deep sand or other treacherous conditions.
The GPS Coordinates for The Wave parking area and trailhead are: 37.019210, -112.025143
Here are the turn-by-turn directions to The Wave to follow:
From Kanab, Utah, take U.S. Highway 89 to the east for 38 miles. When you encounter a long straightaway heading due south, look for a turnoff on the right side of the road. The turnoff will come immediately before a very severe curve where the turn will head back to the east. Take the turnoff, which will immediately go down a steep embankment. There is a small sign for road, which is called House Rock Valley Road.
From Page, Arizona, the U.S. Highway 89 west for 35.5 miles. Just after you come around a bend to the right, the road will head due north. The turnoff is immediately past the guardrail on the left. It will come up quickly, so be watching for it.
Regardless from which direction you come, when you get off Highway 89 onto House Rock Valley Road, pull over and immediately reset your odometer. Drive south on House Valley Rock Road for 8.15 miles. The Wave parking lot will be on your right and the washout leading to The Wave Trailhead on your left.
Hiking to The Wave
The Wave hike is strenuous. It is a 6.4 mile round-trip hike with almost no shade. There are sections of the high with deep sand which makes the hike more difficult. But there is no marked trail to get there. However, over years, there is a worn path to follow.
The trail leaves from the Wire Pass Trailhead. It follows a dry creek washout for about 0.4 miles before veering off and heading south.
You should consider this an all-day hike. In terms of hiking itself, you should allow about 5 hours total (for the 6.4 miles) – so 2 1/2 hours to the Wave and another 2 1/2 hours back out. It probably won’t take you that long, however you should be prepared for a long day. If you are planning on photography, you should also allow ample time for photography. For most people, this is largely a full-day hike.
Things to Take with You
The Wave is located in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area. This means it is remote and the landscape is unforgiving. You should be prepared for a hostile environment and able to survive for a period of time if you get lost or encounter unforeseen situations.
We strongly encourage everyone traveling to the Wave to have the following:
- Camera. Be sure to bring your camera! These rock formations are incredibly beautiful and you’ll want to capture the moment.
- A high quality map of the area and a compass. You should absolutely get this map of the Paria Canyon area and you should know how to use it! The trail to the Wave is primitive and often confusing.
- Water. In the desert, you should be drinking about a gallon of water per person. There is almost no shade either at the Wave or along the hike to get there. Expect it to be brutally hot in the summer. Take lots of water.
- Food. We’re not just talking about your lunch. You should have an extra stash of food with you to survive for at least a day if you should get lost.
- Full tank of gas. The Wave is close enough to Kanab that you won’t need extra gas cans. However, you should make sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving town in the morning.
- Blankets or sleeping bags. It can get cold in the desert, even in the summer. Make sure you have blanks or sleeping bags in your vehicle in case you get stuck.
- Sunscreen. The sun in northern Arizona can be brutally unforgiving. Make sure you bring lots of sunscreen and reapply frequently.