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The Wave: Ultimate Guide to All Permit Information

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Hiking the Wave

When we say the name The Wave, what comes to mind?

Is it the famous painting by Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa?

Is it catching the perfect tunnel in the surf off the coast of Hawaii, Costa Rica, Australia, or Bali?

Or is it something a little more terrestrial? For us, it’s The Wave in Arizona. It’s not surfing; it’s rock! The Wave is located right on the border between Arizona and Utah, and it’s one of the most unique geographic features in the world. See for yourself!

What Is The Wave?

The Wave is an incredibly unique formation of sandstone in the deserts of Arizona and southern Utah. The Wave itself is just one small part of a larger area called Coyote Buttes (technically, it’s actually called Coyote Buttes North, not The Wave), and it’s part of the overall Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. The region is a National Monument and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The whole park is 112,500 acres, but the trail to The Wave is 6.4 miles of moderately challenging and strenuous hiking. There are some difficult sections of the trail, and it’s not clearly marked; they expect you to have adequate wayfinding abilities and physical fitness to make the trip if you’re applying to visit.

The Wave

Wait. Applying?

That’s right. The Wave is a sandstone formation, and sandstone, as you may know, is notoriously fragile. In order to get there, you have to follow a desert trail that is very exposed, very sandy, and certainly not easy. Since The Wave is very popular, there has been enough traffic – and there are well-marked GPS maps that can lead you there if you get off the trail – but it’s very much not somewhere you want to try to visit without at least some experience and equipment. It’s a long hike, there’s no water along the way, and you’re pretty much alone out there.

The Wave is dangerous. People have died attempting to make the hike, usually in the peak of summer heat when they don’t bring enough water, don’t know how to rest, and don’t take appropriate precautions. We’ll go into those more a little later.

All of this means that the Bureau of Land Management wants to limit the number of people who can access The Wave at any given time. They restrict the number of people who can visit, do what they can to provide maps and resources, and give you plenty of guidance, to try to make sure you won’t be another victim of the sun along the way. To do this, they require entry permits, and those permits are both very restricted and hard to acquire.

Twin Lotteries for Wave Permits

In order to get a permit to hike to and experience The Wave in Arizona, you need to win the lottery.

Well, it’s not the lottery; it’s just a lottery. There are even two different lotteries! There’s the daily lottery and the advanced lottery.

How The Wave’s Daily Lottery Works

The daily lottery is interesting. It’s the new version of what used to be a walk-in lottery. The way it used to work is you had to show up at the trailhead to enter the lottery, they would pull the names, and if you won, you’d be able to go on the hike a couple days later.

Well, having crowds of people show up at a trailhead when they aren’t even able to hike that day no matter what is obviously inconvenient. So, using the power of the internet and a novel technology called geofencing, the Bureau of Land Management set up their new daily lottery system.

Geofencing is a way of restricting access to a system – in this case, the lottery system – to only people within a specific geographic area, as outlined by maps using GPS. You can see it in action if you visit the daily lottery page here.

The Wave Daily Lottery Page

If you’re on a non-mobile device, you’ll see the button to enter the lottery faded out with the text “Only available on mobile devices.” If you try on a phone, you’ll be able to access the application, but there’s a very good chance you can’t submit it. Why? You have to be within this area to apply.

It’s a way to force people to be physically present, so they don’t waste time fielding applications from people who then have to hurriedly fly in or otherwise make last-second arrangements, which can lead to ill-prepared hikers and a hassle for the rangers who have to manage the whole system.

The daily lottery is for the permit for two days later. You have to pick up your permit nice and early the day after you win it, otherwise you won’t be able to hike. There are a lot of little rules that, if you break any of them, you won’t be allowed on the hike.

Important note: The area of Arizona where all of this happens does not follow Daylight Savings Time. Certain times of year, time may be different from what you expect. Pay attention and plan ahead, so you don’t miss your slot!

Every application for the daily lottery costs you $9. One permit can cover up to 6 people – including children, though as this is a tricky hike, you should probably not bring small children – and you can bring a dog, but they have to be leashed, and there’s an additional fee.

Only up to 16 people or 4 groups can win the daily lottery each day. It’s pretty strict!

We’ll wager that 99% of the people reading this post are not within the geofence and aren’t planning to play the daily lottery, so let’s talk about the advanced lottery.

How The Wave’s Advanced Lottery Works

The advanced lottery is for planning trips in advance. That makes sense, right?

Unlike the daily lottery, the advanced lottery is not geofenced, so you can apply from the comfort of your own home – or while you’re out on another adventure. The pool of winners is higher – up to 48 people or 16 groups per day – but so is the pool of applicants. Many people report trying for years to win this permit!

Coyote Buttes North The Wave

The advanced lottery is open for one month, and you’re applying for a space four months in advance. You can pick up to three days you’d like to be considered for during that month, and if you win, you’ll be assigned one of those days. So, for example, if you apply in June, you’ll be applying for a space in October.

It doesn’t matter when during the month you apply. Slots for applications don’t run out, and the lottery doesn’t happen until the first of the month. Just like the daily lottery, applications cost $9 each.

For most people, this is obviously the way to go. Unless you plan to spend a week in the area and apply every day, with backup plans in mind for other hikes if you don’t win, in which case, have at it, friends.

Rules of The Wave

Now, let’s talk about some of the rules you have to follow.

First of all, you need your permit. Obviously, in a huge open wilderness, they can’t exactly patrol the whole area. It’s tempting to try to bypass the process and hike in illegally. And hey, you’re certainly free to try it. If you’re caught, though, you can face fines up to a whopping $100,000 and half a year in jail. Not worth it.

Getting a permit is a pain, but you can do a few things to boost your chances. You can aim for the colder winter months, where people are less likely to be planning the hike. If you’re very confident and very experienced with hot desert hiking, you can also aim for the hottest times, but that’s often just unpleasant, so it might not be worth it.

Some people try to get groups together and have everyone in the group apply individually, with the ability to register the whole group if they win. We’ve heard that this can get your permit disqualified if they find out you did it, but we haven’t verified that information. Be careful!

It’s important to note that you also can’t transfer or sell your permit. They’re completely non-transferrable, and every possible loophole you might think of has already been closed, which makes your permit invalid instead. They really, really don’t want people scalping these permits, and anyone claiming they can sell you a permit is lying.

A Hiker in The Wave

Should you hire a guide? That’s up to you. There are a number of tour guides and experienced hikers in the surrounding area who can lead you, either via the standard trail or along alternate paths, to reach The Wave in a more unique experience. One benefit is that a licensed guide doesn’t count towards your group total. On the other hand, they don’t come with passes, so if you don’t already have a permit, you can’t enter with or without a guide.

You also have to follow all of the general rules.

  • No campfires.
  • No overnight camping. There are nearby campgrounds, but you can’t backcountry camp in this area.
  • No drones. Sorry, no drone photography is allowed here.
  • Practice Leave No Trace.

You may also want to make sure you have a backup satellite phone or dedicated GPS. Cell service is available but spotty, and it depends on your carrier. You may or may not get reception, and you don’t want to lose connection when you’re facing an emergency.

And, of course, make sure you’re well-equipped with gear, good photography equipment, and plenty of water. We can help with some advice for that:

You can also always drop us a line and ask questions if you have any!

Other Things to Do Near The Wave

Maybe you planned a trip but something went wrong and your permit was invalidated. Maybe you’re in the area and want to try your luck with the daily lottery, but you want plenty of ideas even if you don’t win. Fortunately, while The Wave is the coolest attraction in the area, there’s also a lot of other things you can do around there as well.

Zion National Park

Our favorite place nearby – within the daily lottery geofence – is Kanab, Utah. It’s an excellent and central home base for exploring the rest of the wilderness and the surrounding area. Here’s a whole guide to things you can do there!

Is The Wave a Worthwhile Destination to Visit?

Everyone is going to have a different opinion here. If you’re the kind of person who prefers tropical beaches, deep rainforests, and waterfalls, the stark and dry desert might not be the kind of environment you enjoy. If you like nature’s stunning beauty in all of its many forms, then it’s a great place to see. The Wave itself is truly unique, even amongst all of the wild and vibrant canyons in the region. There’s a reason it’s so sought-after, right?

Visiting The Wave in Arizona

The two biggest mistakes we see people make are, unfortunately, very easy to make. The first is that they hype it up in their minds so much that nothing in reality could possibly live up to it. It’s hard to keep your expectations realistic for something this unique, and when you reach it after a long hike, you might feel too worn to properly enjoy it.

The second mistake is not spending plenty of time exploring and enjoying the area. Other than the general law of the land to not damage anything and leave the place as you find it, you’re pretty much free to explore. A lot of people hike out, take a few pictures in the iconic spots, and hike back out, and they miss a lot of what makes the area special.

Take your time and truly soak it in. It’s worth it.

If you have any questions about The Wave, please feel free to let us know! We’ll gladly help you out however we can!

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