Bucket List Hike: Conquer the Wave in Arizona with Confidence

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How to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona.
The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. Photo credit: Jakub Jasinski

This is an updated version of the article written by Yvonne Jasinski

Want to hike the Wave in Arizona? You are not alone. This famous rock formation is on many people’s bucket list, not only from the United States but from all over the world. Sorry, but your odds of hiking it are not looking good. You need to win a permit lottery to visit it. Why? Because the number of people allowed to enter it is limited to a few dozen per day.

This stunning natural attraction is a dream destination for hikers, photographers, and movie makers. Imagine a place where earth looks so different, you might think you are on another planet. A place of incredible beauty, guarded by harsh weather conditions and strict visiting regulations.

Still interested? Then read on to learn how to get a permit and how to hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. And check out this list of our favorite Arizona resorts for a relaxing stay before and/or after your hike!

Coyote Buttes, Arizona. Photo credit: Pixabay

You Need a Permit to Hike The Wave in Arizona

The Wave was first widely publicized in Germany by the movie “Faszination Natur” in 1996. Soon after, its images spread around the world, and The Wave became an instant mecca for photographers and hikers alike.

I discovered The Wave on the internet while planning a spring break trip to Arizona. I knew it would be the perfect destination for our group – two couples, each with a teenage son. There was only one problem: to visit The Wave, we needed to win an entry lottery!

How Can I Get a Permit to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes North?

The first step is to visit this website.

To protect the environment, the Bureau of Land Management restricts access to The Wave. The limit is 48 people or 12 groups (whichever comes first) per day via the advance permits.

You can apply for one of the permits at any time during the month. The lottery opens on the first day of the following month and the permits are awarded for visits four or five months in the future. So, the lottery that starts on Feb. 1, 2024, will issue permits for visits in May or June 2024.

Groups are limited to six people. Babies count in the total, but dogs do not. Dogs, however, must be noted on the application and will incur an additional fee.

The Application Process

You’ll pay a small application fee when you create your account and apply. The lottery runs at 9 am MT on the first day of the following month. Everyone who applies gets an email that day telling them whether they won a permit or not.

If you are one of the lucky winners, you must log back in by the 15th of the month to confirm the winning permit, complete any remaining information and submit payment. If you don’t, you forfeit the permit.

Walk-In Permits

Another 16 people or 4 groups are admitted via a lottery that offers permits for visits the following day.

The walk-in lottery for permits into Vermillion Cliffs National Monument at North Coyote Buttes (The Wave) is conducted at 8:30 a.m. during days of operation. Go to Kanab Visitor Center also known as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center, 745 East Highway 89 Kanab, UT 84741.

Where is The Wave Located?

The Wave, or Coyote Buttes North, is located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, near the Utah border. It is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The closest town is Kanab, Utah where you can find a variety of hotels, campgrounds, dining and adventure tours.

The area covered by the Coyote Buttes North Permit is undeveloped wilderness. There are no developed trails or facilities. If you get a permit, you’ll also get a route map, photo guide and GPS coordinates along the suggested route to the Wave.

The road that accesses the permit area is unpaved and minimally maintained. Most of the time, it is possible to reach the trailhead in a two-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle. However, four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles may be required when the road is wet. During the rainy season and the winter, the road may become impassable for all vehicles, even those with four-wheel drive.

The hiking trail is not marked. You must navigate your own way across the open desert.

Is Hiking The Wave in Coyote Buttes Right for You?

Before investing your time and money in getting a permit, ask yourself if hiking The Wave is right for you. The Bureau of Land Management says the 6.4-mile hike to the Wave is physically demanding and suggests that hikers be in good physical condition and comfortable navigating in undeveloped areas.

I found the hike to not be physically demanding in ideal conditions. But you must be aware of potential hazards such as extreme heat, deep sand and flash floods. There were deaths reported on this hike, mostly associated with the heat during summer months.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Don’t expect to have cellular phone service in the area. If this sounds too risky for you, consider hiring a guide.

How to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. Amazing palate of colors.
Getting close to the Wave. Look at those colors! Photo credit: Yvonne Jasinski

How We Won the Permit for Our Group

For a group of six, chances of getting the permit did not look great, but all six of us entered the online permit lottery. Each of us could request three different dates within our one-week vacation. Luckily one of us won, and luckily again, one winning ticket allowed entry for up to six people.

We planned the rest of our vacation around the winning date. We were very happy that we did not have to seek a walk-in permit. More than 160,000 people per year apply to hike the Wave, and that number grows consistently. Many try for years to get their chance.

Can I Obtain a Self-Pay Permit at the Trailhead?

No. Self-pay permits are only valid for day use within Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon, and Wire Pass. These permits do not give you access to the Wave, Coyote Buttes North or Coyote Buttes South. Permits for Coyote Buttes North and South must be purchased in advance, either on-line or as a walk-in.

When is the Best Time to Hike The Wave?  

We visited in late March. I cannot imagine better weather for the hike. It was sunny with temperatures in the low 70s. Spring and autumn are the most popular due to milder weather.

The shortage of permits means that many hike The Wave in summer months. I would not advise doing that. It could get extremely hot and with no shade in sight, it is a very dangerous trek. People die from the heat there.

What Should Take to Hike The Wave? 

These are your basic essentials for the hike:

Always think about the worst possible scenario and be ready for it. If something goes wrong, would you be able to survive at least another day?

Where Do I Start a Hike to The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona?

You will start your hike from Wire Pass Trailhead located in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona, about halfway between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. It’s about 8.3 miles south of US 89 along House Rock Valley Road on the Utah side of the Utah-Arizona border in Utah.

The road is normally accessible in a passenger vehicle, though the dirt road turns slick and muddy with rain.

The parking lot at Wire Pass
Elevation: 4875

SheBuysTravel Tip: There is no overnight camping at Coyote Buttes, but there are several campgrounds nearby, which makes it an easy stop on an RV vacation

How Do You Get to The Wave?

A formal guide to The Wave is now provided to every permitted hiker by the BLM. The guide is designed for use with a compass, GPS, and visual navigation. There is no official trail after passing through a fence a short distance down Coyote Wash.

The BLM provided us a guide sheet with a number of photos and directions to the Wave.

SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a natural wonder. Be a good steward of the world and pack out your trash, including toilet paper.

Our Hike to The Wave in Arizona

Our friend, who won the permit for us, did not get to see The Wave. His rental car broke and he needed to fix it before our next day departure back home. Among the five of us remaining, I was definitely the weakest link. I would normally be, but it was also because I walked with a walking stick, or a cane, due to a leg injury during a recent skiing accident.

How to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. Red rocks reaching the sky.
The Wave, how beautiful! Photo credit: Jakub Jasinski.

It was a sunny crisp day with a blue sky accentuating the red rocks all around us. We had no problem navigating the area. We were exposed to the sun during the entire hike. I can only imagine how hot it must be in the heat of summer.

The scenery around us looked like surreal paintings. When we arrived at The Wave it only got better. It is truly one of a kind place, simply beyond imagination. For a long time, we had the area to ourselves to take it all in. We saw a few other hikers later on.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Look back once in a while to remember the trail for your return hike or take photos of the trail. Remember, on the way back your surroundings will look differently! 

How Do I Get the Best Photographs of The Wave? 

Start your hike early in the day. This is a hike of a lifetime, so take full advantage of it. Also, remember to allow yourself plenty of time for your return hike. You do not want to hike in the dark!

For photography reasons, the best time is just a few hours around midday when there are no shadows in the center, although early morning and late afternoon shadows can also make for dramatic photos.

How to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. How small we are against these rocks.
The Wave, my son Daniel deep in thoughts. Photo credit: Jakub Jasinski.

Where is the Best Place to Stay to Hike The Wave in Coyote Buttes?

Kanab, Utah

The little town of Kanab, Utah sits right in the southernmost reaches of the state — a stone’s throw from the region’s prime destinations, including multiple national parks, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon. It is a perfect base for your hike to The Wave.

There are around 30 hotels available in the area ranging from popular chains to rustic cabins as well as several RV parks and campgrounds.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Planning your perfect Arizona vacation? Don’t miss these 16 Best Arizona Resorts for Families!

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Utah  – the Best State for Nature Lovers 

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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