Hidden deep in the North Coyote Buttes permit area on the Utah/Arizona border sits one of the greatest wonders of the American Southwest—the Wave. Undiscovered by the vast majority until just decades ago, this dreamland of red sandstone feels like another planet.
The Wave is the main attraction for many who visit the North Coyote Buttes for good reason. Scientists believe the sandstone formation can be traced back to the Jurassic area between 160-180 million years ago. Years of erosion from natural forces created deep wave like ridges in the delicate Navajo sandstone.
Dinosaurs roamed this area and just a short walk from the Wave yields their small footprints. Experts believe the footprints most likely come from the Grallator and Anomoepus.
Photographers from all around the world jump at the chance to capture the deep red hues in the otherworldly rock formations. Just about every type of formation exists in the Paria Canoyon—giant rock columns, pillars, and cones abound.
Unlike many National Parks, the Wave is quite remote. No facilities exist near the Wave itself. Tourists must hike in to the area in order to actually visit the Wave. Here are a few things you should know before you go.
Finding the trail
The trail to the Wave is largely unmarked. Most hikers begin the trek at Wire Pass Trailhead.
A well-kept road when dry, Wire Pass can be found off of House Rock Valley Road. Located halfway between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona, House Rock Valley Road sits directly off of US 89 between mile marker 25 and 26.
After turning on to House Rock visitors will travel approximately 4 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead. The start of the Wave hike is in the parking lot.
Getting a permit
Because of the delicate structure and the huge surge in popularity, the BLM has created a lottery system for permits to the Wave.
Only 20 people are allowed to hike the Wave each day. Hikers interested in making the trek have two options to get their permit: online lottery or walk-in lottery. 10 permits are issued online and 10 as walk-in.
Hundreds of people a day apply for this permit, which can take up a large chunk of vacation time. One strategy if you apply for a walk-in permit is to visit the surrounding permit free attractions.
1) Online Lottery
To apply online hikers must visit the BLM website for the Coyote Buttes North lottery page. All permits obtained online are for trips at least 4 months in advance.
For example, if you wanted to visit North Coyote Buttes sometime in December, you would need to apply for a permit August.
Visitors can apply any day in a specific month for permits 4 months in advance. The BLM allows you to choose 3 different dates within your desired permit month. The cost is $5 per application. Applicants will be notified the first of the month whether or not their application was successful.
If you are successful you will be notified on the first of the month following your application month.
2) Walk in lottery
The second option visitors have is to visit the Kanab Visitor Center to obtain a permit (745 E. Highway 89).
The drawing goes on from 8:30-9:00 a.m. MST. If less than 10 people show up during this time, you will be given a permit immediately at the location for the next day. If less than 10 permits are given out in a day, visitors may receive a same day permit. This rarely happens, but experience shows that those who visit in the winter months have a higher chance of getting a permit.
If more than 10 people show up a drawing takes place for the next day’s 10 open permits.
Group sizes may not exceed 6 people. Only one person per group may apply. If you are lucky enough to get a walk-in permit, you must wait at least 2 weeks in order to apply for another permit.
What to bring
The best gear will depend upon the season you choose to hike, your individual characteristics, and your previous experience.
In all seasons it is recommended to bring a gallon of water per person. In hot summer weather, wide brimmed hats and plenty of sunscreen will help make the hike bearable.
In the winter multiple layers may be needed as snow falls on the red sandstone rocks. The winter is a great time to capture unique pictures of snow on the red sandstone.
Comfortable hiking shoes, snacks, and a decent camera will also go a long way in any type of weather.
When to go
There is no perfect time to visit the Wave, as every season has advantages and disadvantages.
The obvious advantage of spring and summer is nice weather. Dry road conditions on clear days make the trip much more manageable. Many people have more time to travel in the summer as well.
Some of the disadvantages include bigger crowds. With more people entering the lottery your chance of winning a permit drops. Also with the desert climate the heat combined with lack of shade pose serious obstacles for a pleasant hike.
The biggest advantage of the winter season in particular is the odds of winning the permit lottery are much higher.
The fall is nice due to more moderate temperature and less crowds. Snow adds a beautiful dimension to the ordinary red sandstone photos.
The drawbacks are colder, wetter weather. When water hits the sand the driving conditions make the trail almost inaccessible with any vehicle.