How to Hike the Wave | Arizona

The wave is one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world, and climbing inside of it is a surreal feeling. You may be familiar with the wave because of its popularity for desktop backgrounds especially on Apple products. I never thought I would actually be standing there, but when the opportunity presented itself, of course I accepted. #impulsive

Permits | The Hike | Hiking Without a Permit | Gallery


A landscape view of the wave, a geological formation on the southern border between Utah and Arizona, USA.

Permits

The wave is located on the border of Arizona and Utah, around the Coyote Buttes North region. It is a highly regulated point of interest by the US Bureau of Land Management, and only 20 permits are available each day. The process can be quite lengthy and some people end up waiting years to get their chance for a permit. Ten permits are assigned on a walk-in basis, but sometimes has over 150 people in line for the raffle. The other ten permits are applied for online, only four months in advance. Each online application allows you to enter for a range of three dates, and you will receive an email of the results after applications close. 

Online Permits

You can only apply through the online system once a month, and requires the names of all permit holders. Permits are non-transferable, except for up to three members of your party that can be listed as alternates to be modified before the event date. Alternate permit holders are only allowed to be listed on one lottery application and will be prevented from applying multiple times a month. The online fees include the $9 lottery fee effective June 1, 2020, and if you are selected an additional $7 fee per individual. 

Application PeriodFor Permit Dates During
January 1 – 31May
February 1 – 28June
March 1 – 31July
April 1- 30August
May 1 – 31September
June 1 – 30October
July 1 – 31November
August 1 – 31December
September 1 – 30January
October 1 – 31February
November 1 – 30March
December 1 – 31April
Application ranges for the online wave permit lottery.

Walk-in Permits

Walk-in permits are issued on the day of hiking at the National Monument visitor center, located at 180 E 100 N, Kanab, Utah. The North Coyote Buttes application begins at 8:30 am and ends at 9:00 am MST. During winter between November and March application times begin 30 minutes later. The permits are issued based on one lottery ticket per group, but are assigned per individual. So this means if there are two winning groups of four there are only two tickets left. I recommend going to the walk-in lottery with a small group or as an individual to increase your chance of receiving a permit. I also recommend travelling during the off season from December to February, or during another pandemic when people are less likely to travel. 

The Hike

The Impulsive Traveler creator doing a backflip inside of the wave in Utah, USA.

Getting to the wave is about a 6 mile hike, and it only took us about an hour and a half. When we got there another group told us it took them almost 5 hours to get there! The desert is hot and this place is remote, so go at your own pace. You begin the hike at the Wirepass Trailhead along Highway 89 toward House Rock Road. There is a entry log box at the trailhead important for search and rescue if people get lost in the park. This trail will lead you to the start of the permitted hike, but you it also accesses a cool slot canyon and gulch trail that does not require a permit. 

The trail to the wave is not well marked initially, and you will rely heavily on the directions provided by the permitting office. A steep sandy trail leaves the main path and goes up a ridge on the right, about 0.55 miles from the parking lot. This trail takes you to the top of a ridge which has sporadic pine trees and small shrubs. There are one or two game cameras installed amongst the trees you can use as landmarks. I am not sure if they are used by park rangers or if they are in use at all. After walking down the sandy ridge you cross a small wash into a shady corner beneath a tree.

Walking inside of the wave.

After crossing the wash you may be able to follow footprints of earlier groups, but be forewarned they may not lead you to the trail and you may end up following the wrong path, so be weary. You want to walk straight across the wash until it meets the rock face, then ascend the ridge slightly to the left wherever it seems passable. It is not a difficult assent so if you are rock climbing or doing something crazy you messed up and retrace your steps back to the wash. 

At the top of the ridge you are officially in the permitted region and if you are hiking without a permit you are at risk of encountering a park ranger and facing hefty fines. Turn right at the top of the ridge where there should be a sign indicating the direction for the rest of the trail. From this point it is a relatively straight shot to the wave, the next landmark is the two buttes which you can walk between or around to the right. After the buttes walk across a large rock slab, down to a sandy wash, and up the mountain on the other side towards the crack in the wall. Depending on the time of day the crack in the wall may actually just be a shadow like in the image below so do not get confused if you cannot immediately see it. This is almost a 3 mile section that is completely exposed, and you or anyone else hiking will be able to see each other the whole time. Park rangers knock down desert cairns in the area to discourage non permitted people from finding the wave, so do not follow any that you see. 

Hiking Without a Permit

Since the lottery system is extremely competitive and there are few permits each day, many wonder if they can hike the wave without a permit. I am gonna tell you straight up, that you SHOULD NOT try to do this illegally. Rangers are often parked in the parking lot, stationed at the wave, hiking along the exposed sections, and are allegedly stationed there 24 hours a day. Each group must display the neon yellow or pink permit on the outside of their person for the duration of the hike, and must supply proof of documentation if stopped by a ranger. 

Failure to Obtain a permit may result in:

  • Penalty fines of $1,000 to $10,000.
  • Up to a month in jail.
  • Permanent ban on future permit applications.
  • Potential federal prosecution for trespassing.
Standing in the wave.
Standing in the wave.
Jumping inside the wave.

Not only are you likely to face fines, but the directions provided by the permitting office are necessary as there are relatively few markers along the lightly trafficked trail and getting lost is a frequent occurrence. When you get a permit you will receive a detailed package, with images and step-by-step directions of how to get there.

I do not think it is worth the risks for hiking without a permit so just keep trying the lotteries. Apply every month, go slightly off season, during a pandemic, but just get a permit first! The pictures and your entire experience will be much less stressful, and you will actually get to enjoy your time spent there. 


IMAGE GALLERY

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