The Wave Trail on the border between Utah and Arizona is one of the hardest and most competitive hiking permits to win in the United States. But it is more than worth the rollercoaster ride to win a lottery permit and be able to hike to the spectacular Wave landscape.
The Wave is one of the most unique, remarkable and photogenic sandstone rock formations in the American Southwest. In order to protect this extraordinary landscape, a lottery permit system is in place to limit the amount of people hiking to The Wave each day.
Only 16 ‘groups’ or a maximum of 64 hikers total (whichever comes first) are permitted to step foot on this breathtaking geologic wonder on a daily basis, 365 days a year.
This comprehensive guide explains everything you need to know about winning a highly sought after Wave lottery permit, including advanced permits and essential information about the brand new walk in permit process beginning March 2022.
Let’s win you a coveted Wave lottery permit!
What Is The Wave?
The Wave is a world famous Navajo sandstone rock formation located in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness straddling the border of Arizona and Utah.
Coyote Buttes North is just a small part of the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This entire region is home to some of the most stunning geological sandstone formations in the world.
But The Wave is undoubtably the most striking and otherworldly feature in the area. And since the internet exploded into our lives, The Wave is becoming more and more popular every year.
Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) and Coyote Buttes South (a different entity altogether) are located within backcountry limits and permits are needed to visit either region.
The Wave is one of the best hikes in the US and we will discuss the how you can enter the lottery for a chance to win a hiking permit for The Wave in this guide.
What Is The History of the Wave Lottery and Permit Process?
Let’s quickly unravel the history of hiker numbers and permit numbers for hiking The Wave in northern Arizona.
When Was The Wave Discovered?
Before the 1980’s, very few people other than locals knew about The Wave. But when the Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area was officially designated as wilderness by Congress in 1984, they began to issue free permits to 8 people daily (or groups of 4 or less).
This helped to bring the first recognition to The Wave.
Unfortunately, a European film crew illegally produced a video of The Wave and the surrounding area in 1990’s. But as you can image, this only increased foreign interest in The Wave.
As The Wave interest continued to increase, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) added a $5 permit fee in 1997. During this same time, a website was created allowing hikers to apply for The Wave permit up to a year in advance.
However, the 8 permits a day remained intact with 4 allowed permits awarded online and 4 permits awarded in person as first-come, first-serve at the Paria Contact Station.
Salt Lake City Winter Olympics
For several years leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City Utah, permit numbers for The Wave had remained fixed at just 8 walk in permits per day.
However, during the Olympics walk in permit numbers were increased to 10 due to higher demand. Despite originally intending to drop numbers back to 8 after the games, permit numbers remained at 10 per day.
But as more people began entering this wilderness area, more hikers were getting lost.
There were also several complaints of human-made markings on the trail to The Wave, so the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) responded by giving hikers step by step directions of the hike.
This same in person safety briefing remains a requirement to hike The Wave today.
Internet And Social Media
Both North and South Coyote Buttes were gaining traction, as well as the popular nearby area known as White Pocket on the Paria Plateau in Arizona.
However, what really put The Wave on the map was the release of Microsoft Windows in 2007.
Do you remember the default desktop background photo of The Wave?
One simple image selection decision made at Microsoft unleashed a cascade of interest and desire to see this famous rock formation in Arizona.
In that same year, the current advanced online lottery system was put in place allowing hikers to apply for a lottery to win a permit for The Wave. Somewhere along the line, daily permit numbers were increased from 10 to 20.
To accommodate growing crowds gathering in Kanab Utah, the in person walk in lottery was moved to the BLM visitor center in town.
The likes of Facebook and Instagram lit a fire under popularity for The Wave, and before long it was common to have hundreds of entries for both the online advanced and in person walk in lotteries.
As a result, winning a permit for The Wave through the online process became extremely difficult.
So the walk-in lottery permit option quickly became regarded as the best percentage chance for obtaining one of these difficult Wave permits.
Got your permit? Read our in depth guide to Hiking The Wave in Arizona next so you can see exactly what is store for your hike.
Exponential Increase In Daily Permits 2021
Application numbers for the advanced lottery and daily walk in permits to hike The Wave exploded in the late 2010’s and the coronavirus pandemic resulted in more Americans exploring their own back yard.
Up until early 2021, there were still only 20 permits issued each day to hike The Wave.
However, the good news for you is that the quota for The Wave permits increased from 20 to a maximum of 64 in January 2021. That is a whopping 320% increase in daily hikers.
Your chances of getting a permit to hike The Wave significantly increased in one swift motion from the government.
How Many Daily Permits Are Issued For Hiking The Wave Today?
A daily maximum of 64 people or 16 groups are permitted to hike to The Wave each day. Group sizes are limited to 6 people per group. First, the advanced online lottery system awards 48 people or 12 groups. Next, the daily walk in lottery system allows 16 people or 4 groups.
The maximum amount of permits issued by The Wave lottery process are measured by both person and/or group, whichever comes first.
The advanced lottery permit system is immensely competitive and we will explain the process later in this guide. Winning a walk in permit is also incredibly difficult, but you do stand a better chance versus the advanced method.
What Are The Odds Of Winning The Wave Permit Lottery?
Before the increase to 64 daily permits in 2021, your chances of winning a permit for The Wave were around 3.6%. According to data from the BLM, over 200,000 people applied for Wave permits in 2018 and only 7,300 people won. Now with 64 daily permits issued, chances are significantly higher for hikers with up to 23,360 permits up for grabs.
However, not all permits will be filled every day, so the real number of yearly permits is somewhere between 4,380 and 23,360.
- 4,380 permits would be the sum of 12 groups of individuals winning the advanced lottery every day and 4 groups of individuals winning the walk in lottery every day.
- 23,360 would mean all 48 advanced permits are issued and all 16 walk in permits are issued every day of the year.
The odds of winning a permit to hike The Wave are dependent on many factors. So it is impossible to give you a reasonable % chance of winning.
It all comes down to luck but there are some things you can do to increase your chances.
Here are just a few of the major contributors:
- Which day of the year you are applying
- How many others apply on the same day
- Advanced vs walk in permit application
- Your total group size (see further below)
Best Times Of Year For Getting A Wave Lottery Permit
You are going to stand a better chance of winning a permit if you apply in different seasons of the year.
Here are some tips to consider when deciding on what time of year you want to apply:
- Avoid Spring and Fall. These two seasons are the peak hiking months for The Wave, which means competition is fierce. In person walk in permits can total in the hundreds during March, April, May, September and October.
- Pick a month that is the least in demand. For example, December, January and February are the three quietest months. We won our permit in December on the first go.
- Hiking during the summer months with potentially unsafe conditions can be dangerous and we do not recommend inexperienced hikers even consider hiking in June, July or August. However, far fewer people apply during this period and that opens up a window of opportunity for experienced hikers to win.
- Choose a day during the week instead of the weekend. More people will submit applications for the weekend. Holiday weekends will be even more competitive so try to avoid those if possible.
We will be rooting for you!
How Does Winning The Wave Daily Walk In Lottery Permit Work?
Before the process changed to the online daily lottery, here’s an example of how our daily in person walk in permit process happened:
- Up to 48 permits had already been designated as per the advanced online lottery
- Up to 16 people or 4 groups would win the remaining permits in person in Kanab Utah
- After the draw in Kanab, only 7 hikers received permits
- 4 groups won and the total combined people in those 4 groups equalled 7
- 2 hikers in 3 groups and 1 hiker in 1 group totaled 7 hikers
Why only 7 hikers?
Because 4 groups were called and that is the end of the walk in lottery permit process for hiking The Wave. Either 4 groups or 16 people, whichever comes first.
Possible Scenarios And Outcomes
A minimum of 4 hikers and a maximum of 16 hikers will win walk in permits for The Wave each day in Kanab.
Let’s take a quick look at 3 examples of how the walk in lottery permit system could go on the day you apply:
- 4 groups win with just 1 hiker in each group for a total of 4 walk in permits
- 4 groups win with 4 hikers in each group for a total of 16 permits
- 3 groups win with 6 people in 2 groups and 4 people in 1 group for a total of 16 permits but just 3 groups
It is important to remember that if 3 groups total the 16 permits, only 3 groups will ‘win’.
For examples, 80 groups containing a total of 200 people apply for a maximum of 4 group spots. Only 3 groups are drawn due to winning group sizes containing 6, 6 and 4.
Your chances are instantly reduced by 25%.
Smaller Group Sizes
Here’s a another tip to consider when applying:
Run the same scenario in which a group of 6 win the first and second spots. That leaves a total of just 4 permits or two groups.
Any groups of 5 or 6 left in the draw are instantly out of the running because either would take the total permit number over 16.
If you are applying for a 1 person or 2 person permit, you have better odds of winning because you are still in with a chance no matter the group sizes called out first, second or third.
The bottom line is you have a better chance of winning a walk in permit to hike The Wave if you are in a smaller group.
Walk In Wave Lottery Permit Changes In 2022
The walk in lottery permit for hiking The Wave was moved from the BLM Visitor Center to the gymnasium in the Kanab Center as a result of the COVID pandemic.
This move to a bigger space was to help with social distancing and we were able to win our permits for The Wave at the gymnasium in Kanab Center.
It wasn’t uncommon for individuals to show up in Kanab for the walk in lottery day after day just waiting to score a permit. In fact, this was our plan but we were extremely lucky winners on our very first attempt!
We are sad to say the legendary walk in lottery has been discontinued as of March 15, 2022. It was one of the most stressful yet heart pounding and exhilarating experiences as we stood waiting to have our number called for The Wave.
But this is now being replaced by a much simpler online process and you will be able to apply for The Wave lottery from a mobile device within a defined geofenced region in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
This means you don’t necessarily have to be on site in Kanab to apply. We will explain more about geofencing below.
Let’s have a look at the two methods you have for applying to The Wave.
How To Apply For A Permit To Hike The Wave From 2022 Onward
Applying for a permit to hike the wave can be achieved two different ways. You can apply online from home via recreation.gov to win an advanced online lottery permit or you can win a next day walk in permit through the daily lottery but you have to be in the Southern Utah or Northern Arizona area in person.
Summary For The Wave Advanced Online Lottery
- You can apply 4 months in advance from anywhere on any device
- 48 people or 12 groups will receive Wave permits
- Permits are mailed to the winners about 4 to 6 weeks after being notified
Summary For The Wave Daily Lottery
- You must apply two days before your hike at the appropriate time frame (6:00am-6:00pm)
- You must be within the specific geofenced area of Northern Arizona or Southern Utah with your mobile device (check the geofenced region here)
- 16 people or 4 groups will receive Wave permits
How To Apply For The Advanced Wave Lottery Permit Online
If you apply for a Wave permit through the advanced online lottery, keep in mind you will be competing with everyone else in the world. You can apply for a permit four months months in advance (see our infographic below) and you have the entire calendar month to apply.
There will be an enormous amount of people who do not receive a permit.
When you apply for the advanced online lottery, there is a non-refundable $9 application fee and you can choose up to three different trip dates per application.
However, each individual may only submit one application per monthly lottery.
There is no age limit for the lottery, but an adult (18 years old and above) must accompany any minor on the hike.
The online wave lottery is held on the first day of the month after you apply, at 9am MDT. So if you apply on January 20th for a permit on May 12th, your result will be drawn February 1st.
Winners of The Wave permits will be notified by email.
The permits and car parking passes are then mailed out 4 to 6 weeks after the initial notice by Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. You will need to bring both with you when you hike to The Wave.
Your chances of scoring a permit for The Wave are much higher at the daily lottery because you are not competing against as many people compared to the advanced online lottery.
How To Apply For The Daily Wave Lottery Permit
Starting March 15th 2022, The Wave walk in lottery has now transitioned to a daily lottery for those who are in a designated geofenced area surrounding Kanab and Page. This new daily lottery system is completely mobile based and will allow hikers to enter the lottery on a mobile device.
Applications for the Wave daily lottery can be submitted by downloading the recreation.gov app via mobile device:
- You will be prompted to create an account if you do not already have one
- You can not apply on a desktop computer
- The GPS feature must be turned on
- You must be within the geofenced area of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah in order to apply for the daily lottery
You can apply for a daily lottery Wave permit two days prior to your desired hiking date anytime between 6:00am and 6:00pm.
- The new daily lottery system is based on Utah time
- You will pay a non-refundable $9 to submit an application
- Winners are chosen by 7:15pm on the same day of application
- You must then log in by 8am Utah time the following day to claim your Wave permit
Example Of Three Day Process From Winning A Permit To Hiking The Wave
Day 1 – You apply between 6am and 6pm two days ahead of your desired hiking date on recreation gov site (link below).
So let’s say you apply at 1pm on March 20th to hike March 22nd. Results are issued by 7.15pm on March 20th and you win a walk in daily lottery permit.
Day 2 – You must accept your permit before 8am Utah time March 21st.
Afterward you have to attend a safety briefing on site either in Kanab Center if you are in Kanab, Southern Utah or Page Lake Powell Hub if you are in Page, Northern Arizona on the morning of March 21st.
Day 3 – Hike to The Wave any time of day on March 22nd.
What Happens After You Win A Daily Lottery Permit?
If you win a daily lottery permit to hike The Wave, you must attend an on-site safety briefing beginning at 8:30am the next day. This is where you will also pick up your Wave permit.
They will go over important safety tips for your hike as well as provide you with step by step directions on how you get to The Wave. This includes a very detailed route description, photo guide and GPS coordinates.
Ask any questions you may have during this time. The BLM staff are very helpful and want you to be safe. They will discuss current weather conditions and make you aware of anything important on the trail.
One of the major talking points is route navigation.
Speaking from experience, you can not rely on electronic devices when you are hiking in the Coyote Buttes Wilderness.
- There is minimal to no cell service.
- The rocks messed with our offline GPS maps and we could not accurately rely on it for directions.
- Make sure you have a map and understand where you are at all times.
The Old Walk In Wave Lottery Permit Process In Kanab Utah
Are you interested in learning about the walk in permit process up until March 2022?
We won our Wave permit on December 2nd, 2021. This was one of the last months this old process was in place.
The atmosphere in Kanab was intense when we arrived. Every traveler we met in town was there for one purpose only:
To win a permit to hike The Wave.
Countless signs were dotted around Kanab pertaining to the Wave lottery. Directional signs leading to the gymnasium were clearly marked and we knew exactly where to go.
This was not a first-come, first-served kind of deal because the lottery opened at 8:30am and closed at 9:00am.
The drawing followed shortly after so everyone in line had time to submit an application.
However, there was a long line outside Kanab Center and we were maybe the 5th group in line. You could seriously cut the tension with a knife.
There was some forced small talk but mostly everyone was shuffling around nervously and hoping no more people would turn up.
When the doors to the gymnasium opened, we all filed in and quickly filled out an application for the walk in lottery. Once we submitted the completed application, we were given a number which went into a bingo cage.
For the next half an hour, many people and groups submitted their applications.
We started to hear stories about groups trying for the 5th day in a row. In truth, we began to formulate a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out well for us!
Would We Have The Winning Number?
We must mention the BLM staff handled this obviously stressful situation very well.
They provided information packets for alternative options for those who were unsuccessful. We ended up meeting some great people and learned about other amazing adventures in the Kanab area.
When the time came for the bingo numbers to be called, you could hear a pin drop in the gymnasium. We were all on the edge of our seats.
Sometimes in life you just get a feeling and Kristen had a feeling we were going to win with the first number.
The first number was called … and it was number 6, our number!
Hell yes, we were hiking The Wave tomorrow!
Words can’t even describe the pure joy we immediately felt. This was almost as good as winning the megaball!
Three other numbers were called and we cheered for those groups, but in a flash the Wave walk in lottery was finished and just 7 permits had been won.
We were still in shock we had won on the first try. Shortly after, we paid for our permit and then attended the safety briefing.
We honestly could not have been more grateful.
While the walk in lottery for the Wave was an adrenaline pumping experience, it was also very time consuming and used up a significant amount of our morning.
The the new daily geofenced system means you don’t have to be on site so you won’t lose any time with either a successful or unsuccessful permit attempt.
Instead, you can explore the beauty of Kanab and surrounding areas, which we think are among the most fun places to visit in Utah.
Can You Hike The Wave Without A Permit?
You cannot hike to The Wave without a permit. You will risk a fine of up to $10,000 per person as well as 1 year of jail time if the BLM decides to prosecute.
Keep in mind it is not possible to see The Wave in Arizona without hiking. The Wave is located at the end of a strenuous out and back trail. You will turn around once you reach The Wave.
On the day of our hike, rangers were checking permits. They will catch you if you try to hike without a permit. The daily quotas are created for a reason and are meant to minimize human destruction to this precious area.
Please respect nature, the rangers and those who did win a permit.
The Wave Information
Where In Arizona Is The Wave?
While the actual Wave is located in northern Arizona, the trailhead begins at Wire Pass trailhead which is in Kane County found in southern Utah. You will cross the state line during your hike, therefore The Wave can be classed as one of the best hikes in Utah but also one of the best hikes in Arizona.
Wire Pass is the most commonly used trailhead for The Wave and it is also the same trailhead for hiking into Buckskin Gulch slot canyon on House Rock Valley Road. The trailhead is about halfway between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona.
This area is co-managed between Grand Staircase-Escalante and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.
If you are coming from Kabab, Utah, follow US-89 NE for about 40 miles. Turn right at the double blinking light at House Rock Valley Junction onto House Rock Valley Road.
If you are coming from Page, Arizona, follow US-89 NW for about 40 miles. Turn left at the double blinking light at House Rock Valley Junction onto House Rock Valley Road. Keep in mind you will cross into a different time zone.
After you turn onto House Rock Valley Road, drive about 9 miles until you reach Wire Pass trailhead. This road is not paved and it may be impassable even with a 4×4 vehicle.
From Wire Pass trailhead, the hike to the elusive wave is about 6.0 miles round trip.
How Did The Wave In Arizona Form?
The Wave was naturally created about 190 million years ago during the Jurassic Age. During this period in time, Arizona was closer to the equator and it looked just like a desert.
If you can picture it, the landscape was full of large wind-swept sand dunes and over time, The Wave formed as these sand dunes were gently blown across the entire landscape as the groundwater eventually soaked through the sandstone.
The minerals in this groundwater eventually compacted the grains of sand together. Over time, the sand calcified both horizontally and vertically to give us the undulating shape we now see today.
The vibrant colors in the sandstone such as the reds and whites are created from different minerals such as as iron oxide, hematite and manganese.
So to simply put it, The Wave was formed by million year old Navajo sandstone dunes that have now turned to rock.
What Can You Do If You Don’t Get A Permit For The Wave?
Don’t worry if you don’t win a hiking permit for The Wave, you can still explore the best of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
Start by reading our comprehensive roundup of the 25 best things to do in Kanab Utah. Our list includes the most popular attractions in the area.
This entire region of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona is overflowing with fantastic adventure activities, hiking trails, 4×4 off-roading, slot canyons and national parks.
Here is what we would recommend:
- Spend One Day In Zion National Park
- Hike The Best Trails In Zion
- Hike Wire Pass Into Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes Sandboarding
- Photograph Moqui Caverns Sand Caves
- Hike The Toadstool Hoodoos Trail
- Peekaboo Slot Canyon (Tour or 4×4 required)
- Visit Belly of the Dragon In Kanab Utah
- Hike The Dinosaur Tracks Trail
- Visit Grand Canyon South Rim
- Photograph Antelope Canyon in Page
- Check out Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise or Sunset
- 10 Utah National Park Road Trip Itineraries
- Zion to Bryce Canyon 3 Day Road Trip
We hope this guide to The Wave lottery helps you successfully obtain one of the coveted hiking permits!
Please let us know if you have any questions about The Wave lottery permit process or anything else relating to The Wave in the comments below.
Best of luck,
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.