Your Guide to Hiking The Wave

by | Hiking

All You Need to Know about Hiking The Wave, Arizona

The Wave has been on my bucket list for years and years now (5 to be exact), and Adam and I finally were lucky enough to win permits to go! What is this beautiful place you might ask?

The Wave is a unique rock formation in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. The hike begins in Utah and ends in Arizona. The Wave is an extremely sought-after and popular hiking destination that attracts thousands of visitors every year. It is a unique sandstone rock formation that is more than 190 years old. The vibrant and colorful patterns in the rock are created by the natural erosion of the sandstone by water and wind.

Coyote Buttes permit areas are within a backcountry, undeveloped wilderness area and do not contain any developed trails or facilities. To preserve wilderness character and limit damage to the fragile area, the Bureau of Land Management limits visitation to Coyote Buttes through a permit system. 

Adam and I first tried to get a permit in person in 2017, but were unsuccessful. At that time, you were required to go to the Kanab visitor center the day before you would hike to enter a lottery for the permit. They would use an old school bingo number selector to select the winners at random. We didn’t get it that time, and since then, I have applied a dozen times in their online lottery. I was finally successful by applying in the daily lottery in February 2023!

You must attach your permit to your backpack so it is easily visible while you hike

The Permit

So let’s talk about how to get a permit. First and foremost, YOU MUST HAVE A PERMIT TO DO THIS HIKE. I repeat, YOU MUST HAVE A PERMIT! If you do not, you risk a fine of up to $10,000 or 1 year jail time. Don’t do it. 

You may have up to 6 people in your permit group and can also bring dogs (not sure max amount)! Only 64 people per day are allowed to hike (12 permits granted three months in advance and 4 permits granted one day in advance).

There are two ways to obtain a permit for The Wave:

  1. Advanced Lottery: you may apply for a permit 4 months in advance. You choose up to 3 dates to enter and can enter up until the last day of the month (ex: apply between February1- 28th for a permit to hike between June 1-30th). Permit winners are announced on the the 1st of the following month.

  1. Daily Lottery: if you are within a certain mile radius of Kanab or Page, you can apply for a permit 2 days before you would hike (ex: apply Friday and hike on Sunday). Permits are only available to those persons using their location on their mobile device within intentionally set geographic boundaries. Apply between 6 am and 6 pm and find out if you scored a permit by 7:15 pm that evening. You will be required to pick up your permit the next morning at 8:30 am from either Page Visitor Center or Kanab Visitor Center. Permit holders are required to stay for an orientation after they receive their permit. 
    • Geofence locations included in Arizona: Page, Greenhaven, Marble Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, Jacob Lake, White Sage, Fredonia, Moccasin, and the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation. Utah: Big Water, Paria, Johnson Canyon, Kanab, Mt. Carmel, Orderville, Glendale, and East Zion. 

After you receive the best news ever (that you got a permit!), here are some other things you should know and be prepared for.

The Hike

Distance: 6.4 miles roundtrip

Type: Out-and-back

Elevation gain: 1, 233 ft

Best season to hike: Late Fall, Winter, Spring (*not recommended in the summer months due to heat, especially if you are bringing your dog*)

First thing to note is that in order to reach Wire Pass Trailhead (where you will begin the hike), you must drive 8.3 miles on a dirt road that may become impassable when there is rain or snow. AWD or 4WD vehicles with decent clearance are highly recommended. My Subaru Outback made it just fine as luckily most of the mud had begun to harden since it rained the week before.

Once you reach the trailhead, there is a log you will sign into with your permit number, what trail you are hiking (The Wave), as well as the name of an emergency contact and that person’s phone number. You will sign out of this same log when you are finished with the hike.

The trail starts on the opposite side of the road to this sign (pictured above). When we started our hike it was a chilly 17 degrees out!

You will hike along the river wash for about 1/4 mile until you see a sign and turnoff on the righthand side (first picture above). My biggest advice when hiking to The Wave is to follow the map you are given at the orientation, pay attention to the natural landmarks and to stay to the right near the mountains as you hike there.

One thing I didn’t realize about the hike to reach The Wave is just how amazing the whole journey is. I felt like we were on a different planet and was in awe of all the different landscapes we saw as we went along. It was made even more magical by the snow on the red rocks, so if you are able to go in the winter-time, I highly recommend it!

Hiking The Wave

It took us about 2 hours to finally arrive at The Wave, but we could have made it in much less time if we didn’t stop to take so many photos 😉 We were super lucky because just as we were arriving, 2 groups were departing, leaving us to enjoy The Wave for 30 minutes by ourselves!

I recommend hiking all around the area because there were so many amazing views and spots to enjoy. One place I particularly loved was the slot canyon that’s located right before the actual wave!

Here are a few photos from some of the other spots we visited a bit past The Wave.

After you’ve soaked in the immense beauty of this place, it will be time to make the trek back to the trailhead. Follow your map on the way back! Unfortunately, Adam and I got lost (which is very easy to do) and turned left a bit too soon on the trail. We ended up hiking up waaaay too high, making the hike tougher than it needed to be, but while we were lost, we did end up finding a beautiful frozen lake and had some amazing views to enjoy!

Adam stayed calm and helped us find our way back onto the trail, and after about 2 hours we made it back to our car. Just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, a yellow butterfly flew up from my hood and fluttered around for a bit before landing back on my hood and hanging out for a minute. I knew right away that it was my dad stopping in to say hi. He would have LOVED this hike, and if you know me, you know I wish he could have been there.

Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about getting a permit and hiking to one of the most beautiful spots in the Southwest United States. Feel free to reach out with any questions, and even better, let me know if you get the chance to experience The Wave for yourself!

Happy Tails!

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