When Is the Best Time
Otherworldly! The Wave – Coyote Buttes North. One of the most fascinating hikes on our planet!
However, there is one catch: You have to win a permit! We give you tips on how to increase your chances to win and answer every possible question you might have.
You’ll learn things no one else tells you about ‘The Wave’! Read our powerful planning guide below (check our huge infographic!).
UPDATE 2022: No more walk-in lottery (replaced by the daily lottery, read more below). Since 2021 the number of permits increased to 48 (online, now called advanced lottery) and 16 (daily lottery, former walk-in).
3 Proven Quick-Tips | Winning a Permit
Our must-know tips for the lottery (how to win a permit) at a glance:
- Months (Online/Advanced-Lottery): The highest chance for a permit is in January / early February.
- Daily Lottery (former: Walk-In Lottery): Enter between November and March for the highest chance.
Read on for more detailed tips and everything you should know before you go. The lottery is not first-come, first-served!
Don’t trust older reviews and articles. Winning becomes less likely every year. However, we still recommend certain times (see below).
The best time to win a permit for The Wave is in the winter months, as the chances are slightly better, especially in January and early February. However, there is no more real off-season in terms of the number of lottery applicants.
Find more insider tips on how to win a permit in the text and big infographic further below.
Best Time | Crowds and Weather
Since only 64 persons per day are allowed to hike The Wave each day, crowds are not an issue on the trail.
The best time to hike The Wave for pleasant weather is in the spring (March, April, and May) or fall (September, October, and November). The temperatures are moderate, and the cloud cover is reasonable, particularly in April and May. Additionally, Kanab (Visitor Center) and Page are less crowded if you avoid peak tourist months (June, July, and August).
In summer (June/July/August) it gets very hot (100°F, 40°C). You should start very early to beat the heat. In the winter the ground might be snow-covered and muddy. This may result in an impassable road sometimes. The cloud cover is higher in winter as well.
However, you should keep in mind that the weather doesn’t matter that much: Try to win a permit for this unique hike, regardless of the weather.
Photography (Time of Day)
A sixty-foot butte causes massive shadows and the best time to take photos there is often not sunrise/sunset. However, almost any time for a photo is great when you’re at this otherworldly place. Extra tip: Look for puddles to capture great reflections.
Weekly Hotel Deals in Kanab
Hotel Tips | Kanab (Recommended!) and Page
In Kanab, close to the Visitor Center – Google Maps:
- Best Hotels in Kanab: If you want to stay close to the Visitor Center.
In Page, 1 hour drive – Google Maps:
- La Quinta Inn & Suites: One of the best hotels there. It’s quite new, clean, neat and well maintained. The staff is also very friendly, from reception to kitchen.
- Hampton Inn & Suites: Excellent hotel! Slightly higher rates than the La Quinta but brand new and with a room layout like a small apartment. Comfortable bed and very clean. Great free breakfast choices!
- Hotel List – Page: More choices. Use the comfortable search: Enter your preferred dates and then check the list of hotels. Make sure to change the search criteria to your liking at the top bar. We usually select ‘Review Score & Price’
Our unique Ultimate Guide to ‘The Wave’. Covering everything from winning the lottery, weather to insider tips:
Everything from the above infographic can also be found in the text below, as well as additional tips at the bottom.
Access Info | Hiking Without Permit?
- Permit: You are not allowed to hike ‘The Wave’ in Arizona without a permit. Rangers patrol the area. They carry a list of names with permit numbers. If you’re caught without a permit, you’ll have to pay a fine between 1,000 and 10,000 USD.
- Protection: In order to protect this outstanding scenery, only 64 persons are allowed to hike ‘The Wave’ every day. The permits are available from the Bureau of Land Management.
- Where: A permit can be obtained online (called advanced lottery) or via daily (via app): 48 persons are awarded permits via an online lottery, the other 16 via a daily lottery using the app within the geofence area. The permit fee is $7. More info on the lottery can be found below and here: BLM Lottery The Wave. Didn’t win online? Try the daily lottery!
6 Things to Know
- The Hike: This is one of the most fascinating hikes on our planet. A truly surreal experience like no other. It’s a 6 miles (10 km) round trip. The difficulty is medium and it’s not marked.
- Geology: It’s a 190 million-year sandstone rock formation from the Jurassic Period. It took wind and water millions of years to turn sand dunes into rock.
- Location: Coyote Buttes North in Arizona. Hidden in the Vermilion Cliffs wilderness area. Close to the northern border with Utah.
- Coyote Buttes South: The ‘competing’ area. Not as unique as Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) but also stunning and much larger. You need a permit as well.
- Time: With the permit, you gain full 24-hour access to the Coyote Buttes North area (‘The Wave’). Overnight camping is not allowed.
- Groups: Permits are obtained for 1-6 persons. Example: Two 6 persons (daily) groups apply for one day. When both win, the 2nd group only gets the 4 remaining permits and 2 of them can’t go.
Advanced/Online Lottery: 48 Permits each day. Chance: low
Timing: 4 months in advance you have 1 entire month to enter the online lottery. Example: If you want to go on a day in May, you must enter the lottery between Jan 1 and Jan 31 (it’s not first-come, first-served) You can pick 3 dates within the desired month. One of your 3 dates might get picked. You are only allowed to submit one application per month.
- Application January 1 – 31 > Permits for May
- Application February 1 – 28 > Permits for June
- Application March 1 – 31 > Permits for July
- Application April 1 – 30 > Permits for August
- Application May 1 – 31 > Permits for September
- Application June 1 – 30 > Permits for October
- Application July 1 – 31 > Permits for November
- Application August 1 – 31 > Permits for December
- Application September 1 – 30 > Permits for January
- Application October 1 – 31 > Permits for February
- Application November 1 – 30 > Permits for March
- Application December 1 – 31 > Permits for April
Lottery Fee: $9, non-refundable
Permit Fee: $7
Notification: You’ll be notified on the first of the next month whether you won or not. Example: If you entered the lottery in January then you’ll get an email on February 1. If you didn’t win, you can check a calendar option for spots that became available. However, this is extremely unlikely.
UPDATE 2020/21: You can’t see the number of applicants for each day anymore. However, it’s still not first-come, first-served. Enter three dates at any time during the month and cross your fingers.
Daily (former walk-in) Lottery: 16 Permits each day. Chance: low
Timing (old walk-in lottery, obsolete): The drawing is held each day at Kanab Visitor Center for permits valid on the following day. The lottery starts at 9 a.m. sharp (Daylight Savings Time in summer). Arrive at 8:30 a.m., as there will be an introduction. No need to be there much earlier, since it’s not first-come, first-served! You must pay with cash or check. > This information is outdated and there is no walk-in lottery anymore. Please read below:
Update (2022): There is no classic walk-in lottery anymore. You can apply daily now from 6 am to 6 pm while staying within the Lottery Geofence Perimeter, using the official recreation.gov mobile app. You cannot apply via a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer. The mobile app is a requirement.
Timing: The application via the app must be two days before the hike between 6 am and 6 pm.
Increasing your chances: It seems as if it’s possible to apply for a permit again via the mobile app on the next day. That means you can try to apply the next day or the day after that in case you didn’t win. Tip: Book 1-2 nights in Kanab and plan other activities (Things to Do in Kanab), while applying 2-3 days in a row.
Tip: It’s not first-come, first-served
Lottery Fee: $9, non-refundable
Permit Fee: $7
Tips Before You Go
- Food & Clothes: Bring snacks and at least a gallon of water for each person. Bring a backpack and dress in layers, especially in spring and fall. Sturdy shoes are also recommended.
- Heat: Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat are a must in late spring, summer and early fall. Also start your hike as early as possible, regardless of the season. It can get very hot!
- Safety: Get familiar with the provided map. Bring a GPS or compass. There is no cell phone reception and the trail is not marked. Also, tell a loved one that you go. People do get lost on the trail!
- Winter Driving: Depending on the road conditions you may need a 4WD in winter. Towing out is at least $1000 and you will lose your chance to go. Option: Book with a tour operator.
Ultimate Planning Guide
1 – Try the Online Lottery: Try the online lottery first. Your chances are better if you visit in the winter. The best month is January. Enter the lottery at the end of the ‘4th month’, i.e. 3 months and 1 day before your destination month. Then select 3 target dates with fewer applicants so far. This will give you an advantage and increases your chances of winning. Update 2021: You can’t see the number of applicants anymore.
2 – Book Coyote Buttes South: If you didn’t win, apply for a permit for Coyote Buttes South (same website) within your destination month. It’s not as unique as ‘The Wave’ but still stunning. The permits are much easier to get, it’s not a lottery. Choose a date within your desired month. Now, you have the Coyote Buttes South permit. Book a tour on your permit date at www.dreamlandtours.net or with others. A tour is not necessary but highly recommended. The south area is much larger and there is so much to explore.
3 – Try the Daily Lottery: When you are there, stay in Kanab or Page. Enjoy your Coyote Buttes South tour, which you booked in advance, or check other Things to Do in Kanab. Enter the daily lottery for 2-3 consecutive days for ‘The Wave’. If you didn’t win on a day: Plan other activities. Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, or even Bryce Canyon N.P.
BOTTOM LINE: If you won the lottery online (1), perfect! If not follow the next steps. Even if you didn’t win online or the daily lottery (3) for The Wave, you had a great time: You did Coyote Buttes South and visited many other places like Antelope Canyon (one hour drive). You should plan 3-5 days in total for the whole area, depending on what you’d like to see.
Although you’ll receive a map after winning the permit, it’s helpful to get familiar with the area in advance. Here is a hiking map of Coyote Buttes North including directions for several hikes in the area: The Wave – Google Maps Hiking
The main problem a few people on the trail have is finding ‘The Wave’. It’s an unmarked trail in the middle of the desert. The way to the Wave is easier, the way back is a little more difficult. Some say about up to 30% in some months get lost. Get familiar with the provided map well in advance and use a GPS if you have one. However, even the hike itself to The Wave is just stunning and beautiful. Trail details are:
- Distance: 5.5 miles round-trip
- Duration: 2-4 hours
- Elevation at the trailhead: 4800 feet
- Elevation at The Wave: 5220 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate (boiling heat in the summer)
- Trail: Unmarked
- Amount of water: Minimum of 2-3 liters
- What to Bring: Permit, water, sunscreen, hat, camera, GPS (not necessary, but useful)
- Restrooms: At Wire Pass Trailhead
The Hike (Trail Report)
Hiking the Wave by Mark Byzewski, CC BY, cropped
Getting to the trailhead: Most visitors start their hike at the Wire Pass Trailhead. This is also the most popular one. The drive from Kanab to the trailhead takes about an hour. Coming from Kanab you stay on Highway 89 for 38 miles and then turn left on House Rock Valley Rd. The drive on this road takes another 20-30 minutes. This is a dirt road and it can be impassable at one point after heavier rain.
The critical spot is Bearskin Gulch, close to Buckskin Trailhead. When it rained heavier the night before or even for a few days, you probably need a 4WD SUV or similar car to pass at this point. However, even if it rained before visitors report that they didn’t encounter any problems. It always depends on how much it rained and how fast it dries afterwards.
Starting the hike: Besides Wire Pass Trailhead there are other possible starting points. However, Wire Pass is the most popular and we recommend beginning your hike from there. After reaching the parking lot, you display the parking permit in the windshield. Then check your backpack for water and a camera.
Make sure to use the bathroom here if you need to. It’s not in the best condition but since there are no toilets on the hike we recommend to use it. Now you can hit the trail. Not only ‘The Wave’ itself but also the hike is one of the most beautiful trails you’ll ever experience.
The hike: The hike itself begins with about 800m (half a mile) of walking along a dry riverbed – perhaps not the most exciting start to a hike, but of course it is worth it. Soon, you will come across a sign notifying you that you are entering ‘Coyote Buttes Pass’ and that an advance permit is required.
After you see this sign, be sure to remain to the right – do not veer to the left towards Buckskin Gulch. As you walk past the sign and towards the Wave, you should notice the terrain become more sandy, and then eventually hard sandstone. If you are ever in doubt, check the map that you should have received from the ranger. It has pictures and descriptions to help you orientate yourself.
‘The most beautiful sites are yet to come’
Continuing along the sandstone terrain, there are a few signs that should reassure you that you are on the right track. You will also see some ‘buttes’ – isolated hills with steep sides but flat tops – ahead of you. These make for some great photos of themselves, however the most beautiful sights are yet to come. They are also helpful as a point of reference – keep heading towards the middle two.
You should notice that the orange rock begins to have a distinct white pattern in it. Once you approach the buttes, you should clearly see that the distant rock face has a gaping vertical split. This is the entrance to the Wave, so keep heading towards it. Do watch your footing, as it can be slippery when there has been rain.
As you continue the hike, expect to venture between a pair of buttes known as the ‘Twin Buttes’, which are located about halfway along the hike. After about another 800m, the terrain once again becomes a dry river bed (also known as a river wash), and there is a comfortable downhill section. Be sure to look around and soak in the beautiful view, including the multicolored domes.
After you cross this, the trail begins to ascend. Any pain you feel in your muscles is sure to be well and truly drowned out by the excitement of being so close to the beautiful Wave! Once you see the dead juniper tree, you will know you are close.
‘It is sure to take your breath away’
Continue upwards, and you will arrive at the breathtaking area known as the Wave. This prehistoric area changes slightly with the seasons, and you may see rockpools if there has been recent rainfall. Whatever the weather, it is sure to take your breath away to see the amazing chasms and rock formations. The Wave has been described as ‘nature’s Sistine Chapel’, and you will soon know why. While it is the Wave itself that is the most famous and perhaps most photogenic feature, there are also hidden treasures that lie beyond the Wave.
Some of the popular sights include the Top Arch, Alcove and Grotto. Some of these places require some more advanced hiking skills, including scrambling over the rock face, however they are very beautiful and even quieter than the Wave itself. Note that these lie beyond the Wave (to the right), and adding them onto your hike makes the trail about 12.9km (9 mile) return.
After you have had plenty of time to soak in the beauty of the Wave, it is time to return back the way you came. Be sure to keep hydrated and pay attention to your surroundings, so as to make sure that you return safely to tell your friends and family about this amazing hike.
Tip: Find must-know hiking tips in our article with the best seasons and best times of day to hike. This guide was written by an experienced hiker who knows almost every single hiking trail in the U.S.
- Coyotes Buttes South (very close)
- The Toadstools (very close)
- Antelope Canyon (close)
- Horseshoe Bend (close)
- and so much more
To find out the best time of year to visit Arizona, check out our complete guide with many must-know tips. We provide you with tips on when to visit which region and attraction.
Beautiful book with the most stunning photographs of the area. However, not only great photos, it’s also a valuable resource for planning your trip and exploring more possibilities in the area:
Click or touch the image to read more
1 thought on “The Wave – Arizona”
Just returned from my 3-day trip where I visited “the Wave.” Amazing place to say the least. If you’ve never been there, let me break down to you how the process works. First, you’ll need to get a permit to enter the trail and there are 2 different ways to get that permit: 1) enter an online lottery that’s held once per month (for a date that’s 4-months out) OR 2) physically show up at their Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah, for a chance to win a permit via a lottery for the next-day entry. Either way, it’s a huge crapshoot whether you win it or not, good luck!!
Once you get your permit, you’ll drive out to the parking lot via a dirt road (about an 1 hr 10 min from Kanab), leave your permit on the dashboard, and hike an UNMARKED trail from the parking lot about 4-5 miles to “the Wave.” You are provided with a map how to get there but it’s fairly easy to get lost right at the very end of the trail so pay close attention to landmarks around you (especially on the way back so you can return safely!). One thing that most people didn’t mention on Yelp yet, is the hike ITSELF to the Wave is absolutely STUNNING. In a way, the journey to the Wave is better than the Wave itself. I mean, it is THAT good of a scenic hike. I am a frequent hiker and I was blown away by the trail’s beauty. The Wave itself is stunning too, albeit it’s rather small comparing to what I imagined it would be.
Some tips to consider:
Go EARLY to beat the heat!! Leave by 7am so you can get to the parking lot by 8am and get to the Wave around 10-11am. Remember, you still have to come back too and it gets unbearably hot there. Also, bring multiple layers of clothing (we got caught in a nasty rainstorm on the way back so rain jacket is a must), drive a 4×4 car because the trail to the parking lot in a rainstorm gets completely muddy and you won’t be able to leave (we got stuck in a mud a few times!!), bring TONS of water with you, plus some snacks for energy boost), bring a backpack to carry all of your stuff AND good hiking shoes (not tennis shoes) because you’ll be hiking a total of 8-10 miles, depending how fast or slow you get there. Overall, hiking to the Wave and back was the best hike of my life. Not even kidding. You WILL love it. It is THAT good.
P.S. Finally, I do NOT recommend this, but… I never saw anybody checking my permit while parking my car OR hiking so…. I’m sure SOME people hike to the Wave REGARDLESS whether they get this ridiculously “hard-to-get” permit or not. Granted, you need to know how to find “the Wave” because it’s a maze out there and very easy to get lost, especially if it’s your first time there. Just an FYI.
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