Located in Northern Arizona, near the Utah border, is one of the most difficult-to-visit areas of public land in the United States. Known as “The Wave”, this small area inside of the Coyote Buttes North region is famous as it is where orange and white swirls of sandstone come together to form a perfect wave.
Hundreds of thousands of people attempt to visit The Wave every year but very few actually have the opportunity. The land is operated by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and only 20 visitor permits are issued per day. Of those, 10 are issued via an online lottery and the other 10 via in-person lottery drawing.
If The Wave is on your bucket list, as it should be, getting a permit will take some patience, persistence, and a bit of luck. Check out our ultimate guide to help you with any and every question ranging from how to get one of those elusive Wave permits, what to bring, what to expect at the Wave, and how to get to Coyote Buttes.
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- The Wave, Arizona: How to Obtain a Permit, Lottery Tips, and Hiking Guide
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The Wave, Arizona: How to Obtain a Permit, Lottery Tips, and Hiking Guide
The Wave Permit Process
How do I get a Permit for The Wave?
Twenty permits are issued daily to visit the Coyote Buttes North area and there are two ways to obtain a permit: online and in-person. Ten of the permits are issued via online lottery and ten are issued via in-person lottery.
If you prefer your luck at the online lottery, you must apply for dates four months into the future. So if you are apply for a permit now (July 2019), you’ll need to pick a date during the month of November 2019. You can see how many people are trying for each day and attempt to increase your odds.
On today, July 23rd, there are anywhere from 600-1400 people applying on any given day in November. So, of course, if you put your name in the hat for the date with the fewest other people, your odds are higher. You’ll register for the total number of people in your party and pick your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice dates. You’ll also pay a non-refundable application fee of $5.00. You can apply online here.
The second option for obtaining a permit for The Wave is via in-person lottery. You’ll need to visit the BLM office in Kanab, Utah (Address: 745 E. Highway 89, Phone Number: (435) 644-1300) and a drawing is done daily at 9:00am. If you win a permit it will be good for the following day.
After 6 in-person attempts, we finally won the lottery and we detailed our experience here so you’ll know what to expect.
How Many People can I Have in my Group to Visit The Wave?
Your group cannot exceed 6 people.
How will I Know if I Won a Permit?
If you applied through the The Wave online lottery you will be notified as to whether or not you were successful via email on the first day of the next month. So if you apply during the month of July, you will be notified on August 1st.
If you apply through The Wave in-person lottery, the BLM ranger will call your number and you’ll jump up and down screaming while the rest of the room looks at you with disdain. Everyone will know you’ve won.
How Long Will it Take to get my Permit for the Wave?
If you win the online lottery your permit will arrive via mail 4-6 weeks after you pay the permit fee. If you win the in-person lottery you will receive your permit immediately after the drawing.
Can I Take my Kids to The Wave?
Of course! However children that are old enough to walk will need to have a permit and will be counted in your group size for the lottery. If you have an infant that cannot walk and will be carried the entire time, they do not need a permit and do not count toward your group size.
Are Dogs Allowed at The Wave?
Yes! But you’ll need to pay a $7 fee for your pup to join you. They must be kept under control at all times and you must pack out their waste.
What are the Odds of Winning a Permit via The Wave lottery?
The most recent odds data provided by the BLM.gov website are from 2013. At that time the odds of obtaining an online permit from April-June and September-November were about 4-5%. And in the other months (off-season), the odds varied from 8% in August to 25% in January.
However, if you run the math on the numbers outlined above for November of 2019, odds are closer to 1%.
We tried for the in-person lottery in March of 2017 and estimated that our odds were about 10% although the number of people trying was slowly increasing every day.
Can I Change Dates or Group Size Once I Have a Permit?
You can technically, but it’s pretty much impossible. You would need to pay a $30 change fee and can only change to an available hiking slot on the current hiking availability calendar. If you need to increase your group size you’ll need to apply for a new permit for the additional people. Considering that there are never available dates on the calendar and thousands of people compete for the lottery every day, both of these are pretty unlikely.
I won a Permit for The Wave but I Can’t go. Can I Transfer it to a Friend?
No, permits are non-transferable. You must present a valid government issued ID if you pick up your permit and you may be asked for ID by a BLM ranger during your hike.
Visiting The Wave Without a Permit
Can I Visit The Wave Without a Permit?
The entire Coyote Buttes area is incredibly fragile and has been designated as protected land. Only 20 people are allowed to visit The Wave every day to continue to preserve the rock formations for generations to come.
But, What if I Hike to The Wave Without a Permit Anyway?
You can try but it’s highly likely you’ll get caught.
Those who win the lottery are given brightly colored permits to attach to their backpacks and one to put in the dash of their vehicle. At least one BLM ranger hikes out to The Wave daily to check for trespassers. When we visited in March of 2017 we were checked by a ranger at The Wave at 10:00am and then ran into her again at the parking lot at 3:00pm.
What is the Fine for Visiting The Wave without a Permit?
The fee for trespassing ranges anywhere from $1,000 – $10,000 per person. When you are caught, the BLM ranger will take down your information and give it to the local police station to determine your punishment.
The severity will depend on how far you got before being caught. If you are near the trailhead you may never hear from the police. But if in the vicinity of The Wave you’ll likely receive the maximum fine.
Getting to the Trailhead for The Wave
What is the Closest Town to The Wave?
The closest town to The Wave is Kanab, Utah which is 47 miles away. The BLM office is located that issues permits for The Wave is located there as well. If you try for the in-person lottery your best bet is to stay in Kanab as you’ll need to be at their office at 8:30am every morning.
How Long is the Drive to The Wire Pass Trailhead?
From the closest town of Kanab, Utah, the Wire Pass trailhead is about 47 miles away and will take you about an hour to drive there. You’ll drive about 39 miles along US 89 before taking a right onto House Rock Valley Road.
The remaining 8.3 miles are very bumpy and can be slick and muddy if it’s recently rained. A 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance is ideal. Check with the BLM office in Kanab regarding road conditions prior to heading out.
Where do I Park to Hike to The Wave?
The Wire Pass trailhead is the most common place to park to hike out to The Wave. It is also where you’ll need to sign the trail register.
Are There Toilets at The Wave Trailhead?
There are two drop toilets located at the Wire Pass trailhead which is where you will park your car to begin your hike. You’ll want to use the bathroom here before setting off on your hike as they are the last ones you’ll see all day.
Can I get Water at the Wire Pass Trailhead?
No, there are no water sources at the trailhead, The Wave, or anywhere along the hike. You’ll need to stock up in the closest town of Kanab, Utah prior to setting out.
The Hike to The Wave
How Far is the Hike to The Wave?
The hike from the trailhead to The Wave is approximately 3 miles (so you’ll be hiking a minimum of 6 miles round-trip). However there is no specified “trail”. Rather you’ll just be scrambling up and down the orange sandstone that is found all over this area of the country. You’ll be given a photographic map by the BLM office and if you follow that or your GPS perfectly you can do the trek in 3 miles.
However if you begin your hike before the sun rises or have any trouble following the map, you’ll likely add at least another mile to your trek. It is very easy to get lost.
What are the GPS Coordinates of The Wave?
Are There Toilets at The Wave?
There are no toilets at The Wave itself or anywhere along the 3-mile hike out there. Plan accordingly.
Are There Trash Cans at The Wave?
No, you’ll need to pack out all of your trash. That includes any toilet paper.
What Should I Pack to Hike to The Wave?
We developed a comprehensive packing list to help you prepare for your hiking adventure.
Can I Visit The Wave at Night?
Your permit to hike to The Wave is valid for the entire 24-hour period. So from 12:01am to 11:59pm on the date of your permit. You are allowed to be in the protected area at night although the rangers at the BLM office do not recommend it because it increases your likelihood of getting lost (and needing to be rescued).
If you do choose to begin your hike before sunrise or leave The Wave after sunset, be sure you have the GPS coordinates, a downloaded map, and plenty of light to guide your way. The photographic map provided by the BLM office will not help you in the dark.
Camping and Lodging near The Wave
Can I Camp at The Wave?
No, there is no camping allowed anywhere within the Coyote Buttes North protected area which includes The Wave. It is considered to be day-use only. There is also no camping allowed at the Wire Pass trailhead.
What is the Closest Campground to The Wave?
About 2 miles past the Wire Pass trailhead along House Rock Valley Road is the Stateline Campground. There are only 4 sites that are on a first come, first served basis and they fill up fast. They do not have water.
If you cannot get a spot at the campground, you can continue down the remote House Rock Valley Road where you’ll fine a few pull-offs on the right-hand side. If you want to get an early start on your hike you can set up camp along the side of the road, however there are no amenities so it’s not exactly ideal.
White House Campground is located about 15 miles (35 minutes) from the trailhead if legal camping is more your style. They have 5 tent sites, toilets, but no water.
There are also commercial campgrounds in Kanab if you are interested in amenities such as electricity and running water. The Hitch-n-Post RV Park is particularly convenient if you’re attempting the in-person lottery as it’s walking distance to the Kanab BLM Ranger Station.
What are the Closest Hotels to The Wave?
The closest hotels to The Wave are in Kanab, UT. The Flagstone Boutique Inn & Suites and the Canyons Boutique Hotel are both newer boutique hotels in Kanab that are lovely place to spend a night (or even 2). If you’re travelling on a tight budget the Rodeway Inn is probably the best value in town.
And for the most interesting stay in Kanab check out the Parry Lodge. During the 1940s and 1950s when Western films were being shot in the surrounding desert and canyons, the Perry Lodge hosted numerous Hollywood stars including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Ronald Reagan.
What if I Can’t get a Permit for The Wave?
This part of the USA if spectacularly beautiful – you’ll find plenty of amazing hikes and adventures to keep you busy! Check out Zion National Park, Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park, Buckskin Gulch, Coyote Buttes South, Buckskin Gulch, The Wahweap Hoodoos The Paria Rimrock Toadstools, and White Pocket.
The best hiking guide book for the area is Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. If you’re heading to Kanab you should definitely pick up a copy. And check out our list of 8 Epic Outdoor Adventures in Northern Arizona!
Is Visiting The Wave Worth all the Hassle?
A million times YES!
Do you still have questions about visiting The Wave? Drop them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Check out our favorite travel guides for Northern Arizona!