The Wave, located in Northern Arizona, is one of the most “holy fuck is that real?" natural phenomenons in this country. While occupying only a small section of Coyote Buttes, the natural red, orange, and yellow wave-shaped sandstone formations are at the top of many a travelers bucket list.
It is definitely a beauty to see, but it’s also fucking hard to get a goddamn permit. This past November, Pate and I traveled to Arizona and Utah, with our hearts set on getting a permit to The Wave (AND WE FUCKING DID Y’ALL!!) I’ll explain the two ways you can go about getting a permit, and some tips for maximizing your chances.
Once a month, you can pay $5 and enter a lottery online here, along with ten thousand other people, in the hopes of securing a permit. The drawing takes place four months in advance and only ten people per day win the online lottery. I tried this route for a year and a half to no avail. Worth a shot, but you’d have better chances at the Hamilton lottery tbh (and who the fuck has ever won THAT?!)
In Person Lottery
If you got fucked in the online lottery, as I did, you’ll want to try in person. Now, this lottery takes place the day before your permit is valid. The lottery is also located at the Welcome Center which is in Satan’s asshole: Kanab, Utah, just over the Arizona border. You’ll have to get there by 8:30am to listen to a ranger scare you shitless and tell you how your GPS won’t be accurate on the hike to The Wave because of the Iron Oxide in the rocks and that if you get lost you will fucking die of either heat stroke or freezing to death. There are ten permits available each day for the in person lottery (and if you can do math, you’ll notice that this means no more than twenty people can visit The Wave daily).
After the ranger gives his spiel, he will open the doors to another room which looks not completely different from a jury duty holding room. Each group will fill out ONE application (so if you’re traveling solo, you fill out one application for yourself. If you’re traveling with a partner and two kids, you still fill out one application. If you try to fucks with this and cheat the system, you’re disqualified) and when you turn it in, the ranger will write a number at the top (and tell you), and that is the number you want to hear at 9am.
At 9am, the drawing starts. It’s basically powerball; they put some ping pong balls with numbers in a little metal shaker thingy, and pull ‘em out one by one. Again, only ten people get permits per day, so if a group of 6 people get their number called first, well, fuck those greedy bastards.
Pate and I only intended to do the lottery for two days, but he saw how down in the dumps I was after we didn’t win on the second day, and suggested we alter our plans to try again for a third day. Thank Goddess he suggested this, because HOT DIGGITY DAMN WE WON! AND IT WAS FUCKING AMAZING.
Some Tips To Maximize Your Chances
Plan your trip around The Wave. If this is the most important adventure for you to have, try to do the lottery every fucking day for a week. Make an outline of Plan B options for the days you don’t get your number drawn so you aren’t stuck twiddling your thumbs. Some options: (An hour and a half away, in Page, AZ: Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon. An hour and a half the other way: Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park. There are also some other options that the rangers at the Welcome Center can give you).
Stay in Kanab. Look, Kanab fucking sucks. There is nothing to do there. The food is awful (basically just fast food), and the beers legally can’t be more than 4% alcohol which is what the deadbeats I went to high school drink. BUT. We made the mistake of staying in Page for three nights and driving every. fucking. day. on the same stretch of long ass road, an hour and a half each day, to get to the Welcome Center. It got FUCKING tedious. I mean, My Dad Wrote A Porno got us through it, but still. It was tough. We loved our experience in Page, because we got to stay here, sleeping in a Hogan (a traditional Navajo hut) on a reservation and showering under the stars. I’d recommend staying here, but maybe only for a night so you don’t have to do such a long, boring haul every day.
Time your travel. Don’t go over Thanksgiving. Every fuck visiting their snowbird parents in Arizona for the holidays is trying to get a permit at that time (I was told there were 300 people that showed up for the in-person lottery over the Thanksgiving holiday). Sames for Christmas, bank holiday weekends, and frankly, summer vacation time in general. You want to try for a permit on a weekday, ideally when it’s not too hot (because if you get lost you will die) and also when there is no snow. We met a guy at the lottery who had been when there was snow on the ground and he said it wasn’t particularly impressive.
Some Tips Once You Get Your Permit
Pack more food and water than you need. It seems basic, but you really should prepare enough food and water to keep you strong and clear-headed for an extra 24 hours, just in case you get lost and have to be rescued..
Don’t trust your fucking GPS. The ranger tells everyone this but for some reason (and it’s always a white hetero male), some people choose to ignore him and put their faith in Google Maps. That’s when they get lost. Pate and I met a husband and wife couple and their two dogs at The Wave. They came super late, around 2pm, and told us that instead of using the paper map we were all handed before the hike, they used Google Maps and got lost for HOURS. They left The Wave maybe a half hour later (I don’t think they were much in the mood for it) only to return an hour after that, asking me and Pate to walk back with them because they had gotten lost AGAIN. Seriously, fuck your GPS. Follow the map the ranger gives you. Take your time, because it’s easy to fuck it up. But follow. The damn. Map.
Hike EARLY. Here’s the thing: The Wave gets a pretty unphotogenic shadow around 10am (in November at least). Try to start your hike right after sunrise to make sure you get the full experience.
Do not hike at night. If you saw my post on Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, you know that I normally have no problem hiking in the dark. That said, the hike to The Wave is different because there are no signs or trail markers. Most of it is on rock, so there isn’t a trail of footsteps to follow. You are relying entirely on the shapes of fucking rocks in the distance. So you need some light to do this. Also, a guy tried to hike back from The Wave in the dark and fell off a cliff and died so if you get lost after dark just stay the fuck where you are and wait until morning.
Keep your phone off, but still have it on you. You won’t have service for most of the hike. Better not to drain your battery. Still have your phone on you because if you get lost, you can turn it on and maybe get some signal to call 911. The ranger told us the 911 signals are hella strong so even if your phone says no service, you should still plug in the numbers.
Don’t be in a rush. We encountered a few different people who only spent a half hour at The Wave. Sure, it’s not a very big section, but it’s really beautiful and quite a special treat to just get the opportunity. Make it special. A little ways off there is the Second Wave, and if you like to climb, head over the ridge to The Hamburger. We spent about 5-6 hours in this area before heading back.
One last tip: If you can, try to use a 4WD. The road to the trailhead is unpassable during or immediately after a rainfall if you don’t have a four wheel drive. If you were to get a permit, and overnight it rained and you weren’t able to pass through the road, you’d probably be devastated. Also, a lot of non-touristy slot canyons and other hikes require 4WD vehicles to access, so if you like to get off the beaten path a bit more, this could really help you.
Good luck! You got this!