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The Ultimate Guide to Winning The Wave Lottery and Hiking The Wave, AZ

The Wave, located in Northern Arizona, is one of the most amazing spots in the US, made famous from the Windows 7 desktop background and more recently, from Instagram. The orange and white wave-like swirls along the sandstone are truly an amazing sight to see! However, The Wave is also one of the most difficult places to visit in the US, as only 64 people are allowed to go per day. Keep reading for tips on winning The Wave lottery and hiking to this beautiful and unique spot!

the wave arizona

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The Wave: Trip Overview

  • PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 1
  • Nights: 2-3
  • Cost: $
  • Permit Required: Yes!
  • Hike Distance: 8 miles RT
hiking the wave arizona

The Wave Lottery Overview:

the wave lottery

The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North region. You MUST have a permit to enter this area to hike to The Wave. 64 people per day receive permits through The Wave lottery: 48 from the online lottery, and 16 from the walk-in lottery. The maximum group size is 6 people.

If you’re thinking about trying to hike The Wave without a permit – don’t. We were told at the visitor center in Kanab that anyone caught hiking in that area without a permit receives a $10,000- $100,000 fine along with 6 months in jail! You receive both a permit to leave on the dashboard of your car at the trailhead, as well as one to carry with you in your backpack. There are rangers checking each day.

The Online Wave Lottery:

Thousands of people enter the online Wave lottery per month. It is an extremely small chance that you will be selected. You can apply for the online wave lottery 4 months in advance, and have the whole month to apply. There is a non-refundable application fee of $5 (which adds up when you keep applying month over month) and if you win, the permit costs $7. You are able to select 3 date options on your permit application, and they show you how many applicants have already applied for each date of the month. The best strategy here is to wait until the last day of the month, and then look at the chart to apply for the dates that have the least amount of applicants. They notify you on the 1st day of the next month with your outcome. There is also an option to click to “check the calendar” for any cancellations to snag a permit, however it is SUPER rare that that happens.

My friend and I each applied for the online wave lottery every month for about 2 years, and never got it. This is common, and can be very frustrating. Thankfully, there is another, more promising option:

The Walk-In Wave Permit Lottery

Although inconvenient for most people, the walk-in lottery is where you have your best chance of winning the highly-sought-after Wave permit, especially if you go in the Winter months.

The walk-in Wave lottery is held at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT. From mid-March to mid-November, the lottery is held every day at 9:00am MT (but get there at 8:30 to fill out your application) to draw for permits for the next day.

From mid-November to mid-March, the visitor center is closed on the weekends. Because of this, The Wave lottery occurs Monday-Friday, with permits for Saturday-Monday being drawn for on Friday morning.

In the Spring/Summer, I’ve heard that the walk-in Wave lottery can be super crowded, with a few hundred applicants (still way better odds than the online lottery) however the number of applicants decrease in the winter months.

the wave lottery

My friend and I booked a flight from LAX to LAS, rented a car, and drove 3 hours to Kanab, UT in early December to enter the Wave lottery on Friday morning for the weekend days.

We got super lucky, and there were only 29 applicants total for all 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). There was snow in the forecast for that weekend, so after the lottery organizer gave his speech about the weather conditions and needing 4WD, a few people even dropped out of the lottery right then and there! We ended up winning for Sunday, and it was one of the most exciting mornings of my life.

What to Expect at the Walk-In Wave Lottery

  • Get there at 8:30am MT to fill out your application
  • You are only allowed to fill out one application for your group. If they find out that multiple people in your group filled out your application, you will be disqualified
  • The person leading the Wave lottery that day will give everyone a speech about weather conditions, what to expect on the hike, and other details. He will then give you a chance to drop out of the lottery drawing if you do not feel prepared for the hike.
  • Once you fill out your application, he will assign each one a number, and then place the balls associated with those numbers in the ball-picking machine (for lack of a better word here)
  • He spins the machine and picks a ball out. If he reads your number, JUMP UP AND DOWN BECAUSE YOU ARE SO LUCKY!!!
  • If you win, you then need to pay $7 cash (make sure you have exact change) to get your permit, and then sit through a presentation about what to expect on the hike.

My Wave Lottery Recommendation

I highly recommend making a weekend out of it and flying to the area to apply for the walk-in wave lottery. Most big cities have cheap flights to Vegas, and then it’s only a 3-hour drive from there to Kanab, UT. The chances are much higher for the walk-in lottery, and even if you don’t win, there is SO MUCH else to do in the area that is worthwhile. Check out my post on White Pocket – the alternative Wave hike – as well as other things to do in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, such as visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

What to Expect on The Wave Hike

The Drive to Wirepass Trailhead

4WD is DEFINITELY recommended to get to the trailhead, especially if it has rained or snowed recently. The drive to Wirepass Trailhead for the Wave hike takes a little over an hour from Kanab, UT. It’s about 30 minutes on a normal road, and then you turn off and go the rest of the way on a super bumpy dirt road for about 45 minutes. It had snowed the night before we hiked, and driving along that road made me realize how much you need 4WD, especially in those conditions. There’s no cell service out there, so if your car gets stuck, you are really in a bad situation.

Wirepass Trailhead

wirepass trailhead

There are bathrooms at the trailhead – the last ones you will encounter! Also, make sure you don’t forget to put half of your permit on the dashboard of your car, and the other half attached to your backpack. There is no water available here, so make sure you pack your own, and bring more than you think you need, just in case. If you want to go with a guide, I recommend Dreamland Safaris. This is who we went with, and it was awesome! They even pack you a delicious lunch and extra waters and snacks for the trail. Also, then you won’t have to worry about renting an equipped vehicle, since they drive you there in their own 4WD car.

The Hike to The Wave

hiking to the wave

Something I didn’t read or hear about before I went – The Wave is super hard to find!! I consider myself an intermediate hiker, and the lack of signage to get to this area was shocking to me. They will give you a map with photograph landmarks to help you find your way, but it can still be super difficult if it is your first time in that area. I recommend hiring a guide, ESPECIALLY if you are hiking in inclement weather, so that you can complete this hike safely and efficiently. Not only that, but having a guide will make your hike more interesting, as they will tell you fun facts about the area as you hike there!

We used Dreamland Safari Tours as our guide for this hike, and it was such an awesome experience. Our guide, Steve, picked us up from our hotel in Kanab at 8:00am on Sunday and drove us through the snow along the bumpy dirt road to the trailhead. Having him there to lead the way was essential – I seriously don’t think we would have made it there on our own, especially without a GPS system! There is no cell service out there at all. If it is snowing when you are hiking The Wave, I recommend bringing some microspikes for your shoes to make it easier to hike along the icy/snowy rocks on the way there (however, note that you are NOT allowed to wear microspikes once you get to The Wave).

The hike starts out on a sandy trail, but quickly starts making its way up and over jagged rocks. After that, there is no real “trail” but rather an angled, flat rock face of sorts that you hike over and around until you get to a small stream that you need to cross. From there, you keep hiking up and around rocks until you reach it! The hike is about 8 miles round trip.

the wave arizona

Once you reach The Wave, you’ll see that it definitely looks as amazing as it does in pictures. Your guide will give you lunch so you can eat with a view, and then you have some time to walk around and explore the area, and take pictures!

the wave arizona
“Surfin” The Wave
the wave arizona

There are many different viewpoints once you get in – and you can even climb up around The Wave on the “brain rocks” for a panoramic view of the area.

On the hike back, you have the option of adding on an extra mile or so to your hike to go through the Wire Pass Slot Canyon. Our guide was planning on taking us here, but because of the snow conditions we ended up not being able to. It sounds like a worthwhile detour, though!

If you are one of the lucky people who have a permit, you can book a guided tour of The Wave with Dreamland Safaris for $185/person.

dreamland safari tours
Us and our guide, Steve

Overall, Is it Worth Hiking The Wave in Winter in the Snow?

YES! Although the hike there was a bit sketchy with snow covering the rocks, I feel extremely lucky to be one of the very few people to see The Wave with snow on it. It was such a unique experience!

hiking the wave

Thank you to Dreamland Safari Tours for hosting me on The Wave tour. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Where to Stay in Kanab, UT

Kanab, UT and Page, AZ are two of the closest towns to The Wave hike, however since the walk-in lottery is held in Kanab, I recommend staying there. I’ve been to Kanab twice, and have stayed at both the Quality Inn Kanab (right next to the visitor center so you can walk to the lottery in the morning) and The Travelodge Kanab (about a 2 minute drive to the visitor center for the lottery). Both hotels were simple and cheap, but great, and had comfy beds!

Packing List for The Wave Hike

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Good luck, and enjoy!!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Sherry

    Hi, Lauren –
    As always, love reading your adventures. Wish I had known about this in my hiking days (before the crowds)! My husband and I did Witney and numerous other major peaks and general southwest explorations, including an extended Escalante backpack, so would have definitely been up for it!
    So ……….wanted to forward this on to my adventurous daughter, but since I don’t subscribe to any of those offerings (and Google+ no longer exists), how about just a simple email option? Thanks.

    1. Lauren Wilson

      Hi Sherry!

      Thanks for reaching out. I’m so glad you like reading about my adventures! That’s awesome you did Mt Whitney – I still have yet to do that, but I hope to someday! To email this to your daughter, you can either copy/paste the URL into an email, or you can click the green “email” icon on the left side of this page (I just added this recently after I read your comment!)

  2. Paula Martinelli

    This is absolutely incredible Lauren – I am just back from my trip to Arizona and the Wave was one of the tops of the list, but unfortunately, it was closed due to Covid-19. I still need to go back, and looking at your pictures it looks so fascinating.

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