Hiking | Lifestyle | Travel

Hike The Wave Arizona

Adventure girl jumping at The Wave, Arizona. Sandstone mountain formations in the desert

Chances are, you’ve seen photos floating around on social media of the beautiful sandstone mountains located on the border of Utah and Arizona, also known as “The Wave”.

Coyote Buttes North is an epic and beautiful hike. What you may not know is the truth behind what it actually takes to be able to experience it!

Lottery System

There is a very competitive lottery system that you must enter, and win, in order to legally hike The Wave. There are 2 lotteries: the online lottery and a walk-in lottery. 10 people are randomly selected from the online lottery, and 10 people are randomly selected for the walk-in lottery. 20 people total, per day, are allowed in.

Your chances of winning (if you’re lucky) are around 2%, or less, depending on the time of year and day of the week.

I had previously entered the online lottery two different times, with no luck. You can try your luck with the only lottery here.

walk-in lottery

Walk-in permits are issued one day in advance of your hiking date in Kanab, Utah at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM) visitor center. You’ll want to be there no later than 8:30 A.M., to be safe. The lottery drawing happens at 9 A.M.

With the odds of winning NOT being in our favor, we made this trip with the intention of staying 3 days in Kanab (2.5 hours from St. George, UT) and trying each day to get a permit. As luck would have it, we won the lottery on our FIRST TRY. We were the 2nd people to be drawn!

Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Coyote Buttes North Lottery Win Hike


After winning the lottery, you will then sit through a very in-depth orientation prior to being allowed to do this hike. The orientation is about 1.5 hours long. It is very thorough and will discuss how to get to the wave. You will be provided with a map. Also covered: what to bring on your hike, the amount of water to pack per person for the conditions, and whether or not you can use the world as your bathroom (true story). Spoiler alert: you can.

Preparing for your hike

This may be obvious, but you want to make sure you have PLENTY of water. There is no access to water (or shade) on this hike. You will also want to bring plenty of food (bars, snacks) to keep your energy up.

I highly recommend getting some peanut butter filled pretzels. Salt is super important when hiking because it allows you to retain water. You won’t get dehydrated as fast.

Screen Shot 2019 08 26 at 3.43.33 PM

Once you have your permit, you can start your hike any time after midnight. You will want to gauge the time you hike The Wave according to the current weather conditions and temperatures.

We made the mistake of doing The Wave in the dead heat of the summer (August). I would NOT recommend doing this. When they warn you about the heat, they aren’t lying.

getting there

The easiest way to get to The Wave is via the Wire Pass Trailhead. To get to the Wire Pass Trailhead, take Highway 89 to House Rock Road. The House Rock Road turnoff is between mileposts 25 and 26 on Highway 89 in Utah.

House Rock Road to Coyote Buttes
House Rock Road

House Rock Road is a pretty easy road that can be taken by passenger cars, however, do NOT take this road if it is wet. It is clay-based and impassable even to 4WD vehicles when wet. You can see the road conditions in real-time, here.

When dry, take House Rock Road for 8.4 miles to the WP parking area on the right.

wirepass trailhead, coyote buttes north, the wave, arizona

They have bathrooms at the trailhead as well. Begin your hike to the Wave by signing the trailhead register and crossing House Rock Road. Due to the upcoming heat of the day, we hiked out at 6:30 A.M., just as the sun was starting to come up.

The Wirepass Trailhead register. Fill out before hiking out to The Wave and Coyote Buttes
Wire Pass Trailhead Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness sign

 Follow the well-defined trail east for fifty yards until you enter the wash.

Wirepass trailhead, warning sign: flash floods can occur anytime of the year. canyon is narrow with sheer walls. know the latest weather forecast and canyon conditions. Emergency response is never rapid.

 Wire Pass wash feeds into Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in North America. Follow the map provided to look for specific landmarks that will keep you on track to The Wave. It’s about 3 miles from the trailhead to arrive at The Wave.

Girl hiking in the desert with sunset, girl holding the sun, creative pose

It was beautiful seeing the sunrise against the red rocks on the hike in.

The hike itself is fairly easy. The heat is what can get you!

There is no marked path or trail for most of the hike, so make sure you follow the map and the landmarks.

warning: if you decide to “sneak” into the wave without a permit

It is a $100,000 fine and 1 year in jail. They do NOT take this lightly. You will also NOT get away with sneaking in. There are volunteer rangers all over. We ran into 3 of them. They will ask for your permit, which you are required to attach to your backpack during the hike. Be respectful of the system, and don’t attempt it.

Coyote Buttes North The Wave Sign Hiking, permit required beyond this point

I also happened to step in a cactus, so there’s that. The whole “look up, not down” saying doesn’t really apply to hiking, apparently.

arriving at the wave

Girl riding The Wave in Arizona. Red and white sandstone formations in the desert against the sky

The Wave is a beautiful place. Would I say it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on? No. I’m not here to crush your dreams, by any means. This opinion comes from me having my beautiful and spoiled backyard in Southern Utah. We have comparable hikes and views where I live. It’s still really cool to see in person, don’t let me scare you off. And, Also…

the wave is much smaller in person than you will expect from seeing photos

It’s small! All the photos you see of The Wave make it seem ridiculously big. Mine do, too!

Surprise! It’s not big at all. But it is beautiful!

water at the entrance of The Wave, Arizona
The Wave, Arizona, landscape sandstone formations in the desert against the sky

The wave sure makes for some amazing and breathtaking photo opportunities!

Girl standing in The Wave, Arizona. Water in the desert. Sandstone formations against the sky

The sandstone formations of The Wave have ridges that are just big enough to walk along.

Seeing the below photos make The Wave look so big! But remember, it’s much smaller in person. It is beautiful and fun to explore. There are ridges in the sandstone that are big enough to walk on!

Girl hiking The Wave, Arizona. Sandstone formations swirled in the mountain

After you explore the wave, there is much more to experience up and around it. Lots of beautiful sandstone formations of all colors.

hiking out

We got all the way back to our car around 11:30 A.M. Even then, our hike back was pretty horrible, I won’t lie. The heat was HORRENDOUS. It was 140 degrees.

No, that is not an exaggeration.

Those temperatures come from the radiant heat, which is the heat coming off of the rocks. There is VERY little shade on this hike, and when there is, it provides no relief from the heat whatsoever.

There were a few times on the way back that I felt light-headed and sick. The hike itself is nothing, it’s easy. It’s the heat that’s a killer. If you can avoid doing this hike in the summer months, you’ll be grateful.

Mountain sandstone formations in the desert at The Wave, Arizona

Not only is The Wave beautiful, but I also have a large amount of respect for the lottery system. Being one of the few chosen to see it makes it that much more amazing and special. The lottery also allows for the beauty of the land to be preserved for generations to come.

Tried for the permit, but didn’t get in? Don’t despair, there are plenty of other interesting things in the area. You could check out Paria Canyon, spend a day at Lake Powell, see the amazing slot canyons at Buckskin Gultch, spend the day exploring Coral Sand Dunes State Park, or see the beautiful Toadstool Hoodoos, to name a few. Yes, The Wave is awesome, but remember there are plenty of other amazing things to see in the area.

Have you seen pictures of The Wave on social media? Have you tried your luck at the lottery?


11 Responses

  1. Your photos are gorgeous! I love your detailed information for planning this hike. Sounds amazing but I don’t think I would survive in 140 degrees 😉

  2. This is intense and beautiful all at the same time. I had never heard of the Waves until I saw your post. You did a great job detailing all that would be required to have a successful hike. I think that being prepared for something like this is important as being in the desert is much different than hiking a trail in a forest where it can have more opportunities for shaded area. Plus with the heat and not having access to water being properly packed and traveling at earlier times is great advice to have.

    1. You’re exactly right Julie! The desert heat is no joke! Thank you so much for reading and your feedback!

    1. Yes you do! Thank you! That’s my goal is to share places people didn’t know existed! Thanks for reading Gina!

  3. Wow, the views are so incredible. I can see why so many people want to make the trip out there, but I have to admit that I would be disappointed if I took a trip that way and couldn’t get my hands on a pass lol

    1. Agreed! But the plus side: there’s soooo much to do in the Kanab area when it comes to hiking and scenery! Some of the world’s most famous slot canyons are there, for example! So even if you don’t get into The Wave, you can still experience some amazing places on your trip!

  4. WOW! I’m in awe, I live in England and we just don’t have landscapes like this here. The pics inside the wave especially are incredible! I would love to do this. And I really appreciate the local authority making such a concerted effort to protect and care for the landscape by minimising human disturbance with such a strict hike policy. Fab.

    1. Thanks so much for reading Jo! It is a beautiful place! And I agree – the lottery is there for a reason: to protect the land so that many generations can enjoy the beautiful scenery!