The Wave in Coyote Buttes South is a highly protected location. If you’ve seen pictures, then you would know why. Personally, I am happy that this area is well protected. I would hate to see The Wave crawling with people and destroying the area.
If your process is looking similar to mine, you know that it takes a lot of patience and waiting to win a permit to The Wave. It took me 3 years before finally winning The Wave lottery, but there are ways to better your luck.
I got so impatient that I started to google tricks and tips to better my chance of going to The Wave. This guide will tell you everything you need to know without wasting your time doing endless amounts of research.
The Wave, Arizona is a remote location out in the desert between the borders of Utah and Arizona. Its beauty comes from the vibrant warm colors matched up with a wave-like pattern on sandstone rock. Together, the combination makes the area very satisfying to look at.
Most people will argue that seeing The wave is best in the early summer. Doing so will reduce your chance of getting bad weather such as rain from the monsoon season or snow from the winter. However, that’s all perspective. If you don’t have off-road vehicles, then it’s best to stay away from the area during bad weather.
My favorite time that I’ve been at The Wave was in March of 2017. The temperature was perfect with clear skies.
There are only 20 permits offered for the area per day to protect the land. Permits are distributed through a lottery system. 10 permits are available online and 10 are available in person on any given day.
Read more details about The Wave’s complex lottery system
The Wave hike is moderate in difficulty. The trail is 3 miles one-way in wilderness land. It’s also a low trafficked trail so you won’t see a distinct path part of the way unless there is sand or dirt. A map of the trail is provided with each permit showing distinct objects and rock formations that helps guide the path. There are also 3 trail posts to help point the correct direction.
I started applying for The Wave permits in 2013. In the beginning, I would apply every other month. Soon after, I applied online every month as I quickly realized how slim the odds to win the permits are. In May 2015, my girlfriend and I planned a three-day trip to visit Page, Arizona. We spontaneously decided to try our luck at getting the permits at the office in Kanab for 2 of the 3 days. Each day, we drove two hours every morning to make it to the office by 9:00 am and played the in-person lottery. Sure enough, we didn’t win on either day, but the lucky couple that was visiting from Japan did. That’s some amazing luck!
Guides, volunteers, and the Rangers that roam the path will always ask to see your permit to The Wave. In my first visit, I was asked about my final on the dirt road before even getting to the trailhead. In both visits, I was stopped at least 4 times to check for the permits.
10 permits are issued through the walk-in lottery. The walk-in permits can be obtained by playing the lottery in person at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument visitor center in Kanab, Utah. Keep in mind that the permits are issued one day in advance. (i.e. To get a permit to enter South Coyote Buttes on a Saturday, the lottery must be played on the previous Friday).
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center
Address: 745 E. Highway 89
Phone Number: (435) 644-1300
10 permits are issued through the online lottery system. To play the online lottery, a $5 application fee must be made per attempt. Each application will allow a person to choose 3 days for the month of the lottery. Application for the online lottery is submitted 5 months in advance. The lottery will be played on the first day of the following application month.
To visit The Wave, apply for the Coyote Buttes North Lottery here.
The closest popular towns near The Wave is Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona – both are about one hour away from the trailhead to The Wave. The turn into The Wave is unmarked without signs so you need to keep an open eye for a fork on the highway that leads southbound.
After pulling out of the highway, you are immediately on a dirt road. This dirt road is accessible by any type of vehicles.
About House Rock Valley Road:
Before we did any hiking, we made sure that the permits were in our hands. There are two options to receive The Wave permit after winning the lottery. I chose to get my lottery mailed to me. The other option would have been to pick up the permits at least one day before our permit date. The staff at the office are very nice and accommodating. They can work out a plan if a person’s schedule is on a tight timeline like they did my second visit to The Wave. Part of the permit goes on the dash of your car. The other part will need to be on you at all times.
The Wave trail shares the same trailhead with multiple trails in the area. You will be looking for the Wire Pass trailhead.
Hiking to The Wave is not hard but experience with trail navigation will help. The main thing that may cause a problem on most days is the heat. The bright sandstone that makes part of the trail will reflect light off, putting you at more risk of sunburns and heat exhaustion.
About The Wave Hike:
Most people start the hike very early in the day. The prime time to see The Wave is said to be 1 pm. However, we started our hike at Wire Pass Trailhead around 2 pm on both visits to The Wave.
For the first half mile, the path is on Buckskin Wash. I would be very careful with nearby storms as the wash can flood very fast.
On the right of the wash is a marker that indicates a path to enter wilderness protected land. From that point on, the permit must be kept visible. We walked through dirt and sand for another half mile until we reach another wash which then began an incline up sandstone until we reached what is known as the saddle.
Immediately after passing the saddle, the landscape changes into a whole new setting that felt very foreign to us. Already, we were amazed at the formation of the sandstone around us, and we were even more excited to continue onwards for two more miles.
There are a few rock formations that signaled the trail to The Wave from the map given to us with the permit. It was fairly easy to navigate the trail during the day. I do suggest turning around and every now and then to capture what views to look for on the way back.
The last part of the hike to The Wave required a bit of incline. What made this last part rewarding is that it began with an incline on just sand. Hot and tired from the incline, I was ready to see The Wave. As the walls of rocks started to narrow in, I looked up and saw a pattern of striations marked on bright orange and red sandstone. Following the striated patterns to the right, I slowly walked into the opening of what is known as The Wave.
The first sight of The Wave is magical. Such a brilliant color scheme with perfectly separated striated lines on a rock, reaching from one corner to the next. Our eyes were lit wide open trying to capture the moment.
After years of anticipating this moment, we were finally able to witness it with our own eyes without a mass of people taking away from its beauty. The best part about being in this area in the afternoon is that we had it all to ourselves.
Winning a permit to The Wave requires sheer luck. I knew that when I would win these permits, I would try to spend as long as I can in the area. I knew I wanted to experience The Wave in daylight and at night.
When night came, the trail changed completely. Expert trail navigating is required because light and visibility became limited.
Note: I was hiking back to the trailhead at night, and I have never hiked to The Wave at night.
My first visit was during a half moon with a group of 4 people. With our headlamps, my 1000 lumen flashlight and, a decent size group, and the light from the moon, the hike at night was not daunting. We did get lost a few times, but there was never moment where I didn’t feel like I had control of the moment. Of course, our first mistake was that we thought if we stayed closer to the hills to our East, we would follow the hills northward until we hit the saddle. Although a very safe plan, it delayed our hike back to the trailhead.
We also didn’t reach the saddle, and we exited the sandstone hills before even passing the saddle. I would caution to watch your steps and to try to stay on the path completely. There are parts of the hills that have a gruesome drop if anyone were to slip. Death’s have been recorded due to falling off of cliffs. The second mistake was that some of us did get frustrated and ended up splitting up. I had no doubt that each one of us was capable of finding out own path and surviving. But if anything were to happen, it would have delayed our time even more! We all ended up down one of the wash and headed up towards the trailhead.
My second visit to The Wave in the Coyote Buttes North area started with 6 people. However, 4 of them left earlier in the day, leaving my girlfriend and I to hike back ourselves. With previous experience, I was confident to navigate back. However, the day happened to fall on a new moon – complete darkness all around us with only the stars to calm our nerves.
As the sun started to set around 6:30 pm, darkness shrouded our vision quickly and the temperature dropped pretty fast. Chilling coyote howls could be heard from the distance which made the hike back even more exciting. We had our individual headlamps and our amazing 1000 lumen flashlight which I always make sure to pack.
In the back of my mind, I kept telling myself to avoid getting close to the hills too early. There are times that we needed to get close to the hills later on in the hike, but it’s tempting to go straight to the hills when we first started our way back. The last thing I wanted to do was spend more time than needed out there. Soon enough we spotted our first marker, then Twin Buttes, then the second marker, the Saddle, and we were back on Buckskin Wash.
I can’t say I was completely worried free the entire hike back. We were back at Buckskin wash in 70 minutes. I was completely alert, making sure I didn’t step on any snakes and trying to avoid any 4 legged animals – my adrenaline was fully activated.
Walking on the wash we were completely calm. We knew we were a few minutes away from the car. But suddenly a noise on the higher grounds of the wash. We saw 2 pairs of beady red eyes staring at us. Briana grabbed my arm, and I frantically shined my 1000 lumen flashlight at it revealing just 2 deer. But it was the scariest group of deer that we had ever encountered!
The area is home to more than just The Wave. There are many different features within the North Coyote Buttes perimeters. Right as we first stepped on the sandstone surface, we noticed vortex’ and domes throughout the entire area – there is a lot to see.
Other features include the Second Wave, a natural bridge, and more. Plan to add in a few more miles of walking if you want to visit these. Pack more water and snacks as well.
When I went for the walk-in permits, I knew that my odds were slim. So I planned other hikes as an option if we did not get a permit. Coyote Buttes South is another wilderness area where people go to visit the White Pockets. Permits are much easier to obtain than the ones for Coyote Buttes North.
Other Alternative places to visit in the area is Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Glen Canyon, and Zion (a little further out).