As the saying goes, “it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when.’” In this case, the “when” was the summer of 2009, when the powers-that-be at Microsoft thought it would be a fabulous idea to include a photo of The Wave in Paria Canyon, Arizona on the desktop wallpaper of Windows 7. From that moment on, what had until then been a relatively well-kept secret among hikers and backpackers was catapulted to “Arizona Bucket List” status, and suddenly everybody and his brother wanted to go there. Does that include you? Be ready to jump through some hoops, but be ready to experience a place like no other on Earth, and an adventure you’ll never forget!
The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North Special Management Area of the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area in Northern Arizona. Areas with this designation are considered ecologically sensitive and vulnerable to irreparable damage if access to them is not strictly controlled. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, only 20 lucky people per day are allowed to visit Coyote Buttes North and The Wave in Arizona. In order to be included on that list, you must obtain a permit. This can be done one of two ways:
- Apply in advance for the online Paria Canyon permit lottery through the BLM’s official website. Ten (10) spots per day are given out in this manner. You can – and should – apply up to four (4) months in advance for your desired date. Applications are taken for the entire calendar month for the month four (4) months ahead. If, for example, you wish to hike to The Wave in October (the 10th month on the calendar), you would need to apply online anytime during the month of June (the 6th month on the calendar). The winners of the lottery would then be drawn on the 1st day of July.
The breakdown for the entire year would look like this:
|Application Period||Month You Wish To Hike||Lottery Drawn at Noon MST or 1:00 PM MDT On|
|January 1 – 31||May||February 1|
|February 1 – 28||June||March 1|
|March 1 – 31||July||April 1|
|April 1- 30||August||May 1|
|May 1 – 31||September||June 1|
|June 1 – 30||October||July 1|
|July 1 – 31||November||August 1|
|August 1 – 31||December||September 1|
|September 1 – 30||January||October 1|
|October 1 – 31||February||November 1|
|November 1 – 30||March||December 1|
|December 1 – 31||April||January 1|
There is a $5.00 non-refundable fee to apply for the online lottery. You may choose three (3) different dates to hike The Wave and apply for up to six (6) people. Applicants are notified of their results in the lottery by e-mail on the first day of the month following the application period. If, for some reason, you are not notified by the second day of the month, please contact the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument Permit Desk. Be sure to check your spam/junk mail folder first, though. Only one application may be submitted per month. Please do not try to “game the system” by submitting more than one application per month. You will be found out and both applications will be forfeited.
- Obtain a walk-in permit. Read a first-hand account from someone who hiked The Wave on a walk-in permit.
20 people a day are allowed to hike to Coyote Buttes North and The Wave. 10 will have secured their permits ahead of time by online lottery; the remaining 10 hiking slots can be acquired by walk-in permit at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center located at 745 US-89 in Kanab, UT.
Walk-in permits are dispensed for the following day, so you’ll need to arrange for hotel accommodations accordingly.
To try your hand at getting one, you must show up in person (no phone-ins or proxies) at the Visitor Center between 8:30 – 9:00 AM local time the day before you wish to hike. Note that Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, but Utah does, so if you’re staying in Page, AZ, you’ll have to leave one hour “early” during DST. During non-DST months, Arizona and Utah are on the same time. It has been suggested that first-time participants in this process arrive right at 8:30 AM , though it will not affect your chances one way or the other. The BLM ranger on duty will assign numbers to all parties applying. He or she will then draw numbers until all slots are filled.
If your party is chosen, you will then pay your $7.00 per person (and per dog) fee, and get a quick safety briefing by the BLM ranger. You will receive maps, trail guides, and specially-designed bags for packing out both human and animal waste. Spend the rest of your day exploring nearby attractions to your hotel, or just resting up for your trip. Then, get ready to roll to the Wire Pass Trailhead the next morning!
If you strike out at getting a walk-in permit for The Wave, you are welcome to try again the following day. Just hang onto the number you received the previous day and get to the GSENM Visitors Center by 9 AM.
- The hike from Wire Pass Trailhead to The Wave is approximately 5 miles round-trip. It is considered “moderate” in terms of degree of difficulty. Individuals should be in reasonably good health and have some desert hiking experience before attempting this trip. Those who wish to go further may opt to visit Top Rock Arch, Second Wave, Melody Arch and Dinosaur Tracks, which will extend your hike to 8 miles round-trip.
- Remember this is a desert environment; water and shade are scarce to non-existent. You are responsible for providing your own food and water. 3 liters of water per person and high-energy snacks with moderate salt content are recommended. If you encounter a pool of water in this area, please avoid wading through it unless absolutely necessary. Do not drink from these pools or allow dogs to do so.
- There is no “established” trail to The Wave. Many report getting lost on the way in and/or on the way out of the main scenic area. Markers such as cairns are not provided (please don’t make your own) and signs are kept to a bare minimum. Keep the maps you receive from the BLM handy throughout your hike and bring a portable GPS device if desired.
- There is no cell phone service in the area. Please inform friends and family of your plans, and be sure to sign in at the register box at Wire Pass Trailhead.
- The House Rock Valley Road, the only means of accessing the Wire Pass Trailhead, may be rendered impassable in wet weather. Even in favorable conditions, it can be bumpy and sandy. A vehicle with sufficiently high clearance to navigate these obstacles is recommended. If you are uncomfortable driving in these conditions, you may wish to hire a guide service. Using a guide does not exclude you from the permit requirement, nor does it increase your chances of getting one.
- You must pack out all trash, including your own waste. Burying or burning toilet paper is not allowed.
- Dogs are allowed, but they must be kept leashed at all times. They are subject to a $7.00 per animal entrance fee (which doesn’t count against the ‘human’ quota), and you are required to pack out their waste as well.
- No overnight camping or fires are allowed in the Coyote Buttes area.
- Again, The Wave is in high-demand year-round. Statistically speaking, your chances are slim that you will get a permit. You should have a “plan B” in mind if you are not selected for an online or walk-in permit. Areas you might consider exploring include but are not limited to: Coyote Buttes South (a permit is required, but these tend to be easier to get), White Pocket Fold, Steamboat Rock, Cobra Arch, Buckskin Gulch or The “New” Wave near Page, AZ.