The Lottery Process for Hiking The Wave
As with anyone headed to Southern Utah / Northern Arizona, we wanted to see The Wave.
Microsoft made The Wave a destination to see in 2009 with the release of Windows 7, which used a photo of the beautiful sandstone as its default desktop wallpaper. Since then access to The Wave, located at the Utah-Arizona border, has been severely restricted to just a few small handful of people per day. If you’re lucky to get access, there’s a lot to be prepared for.
We spent weeks researching The Wave ahead of our trip to Utah to make sure we were prepared however in the end, we did not get a permit. Although we didn’t get a permit, we’d like to share what we’ve learned about The Wave and the lottery process:
Restricted Access to The Wave
Due to it’s popularity, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) limits foot traffic to just 20 people per day. Half of the permits are issued in advanced through an online lottery and the other half of the permits are issued in-person the day before the permit is active.
What are the odds of getting a permit? Well there are typically about 50,000 applicants for permits each year for the 7,300 allotted permits. This means the success rate is less than 15%.
However, based on everyone who has been bless with a permit… it’s totally worth throwing your hat in ring.
Hiking The Wave
The trail to the wave primarily consists of sand and red rock amidst the harsh desert heat and dry conditions of the Utah-Arizona buttes, classifying this as a moderate hike. Round trip the hike is 5.2 miles but could easily climb to a higher number based on how much exploring you do once you’re within The Wave. There is no facilities, no water, nothing. Just you and the red sand and rock around you. Come prepared.
Permits costs $7 per person per day. The online lottery costs an additional $5 and is non-refundable even if you are not selected.
It is HIGHLY recommended that unless you are an experienced hiker in this climate that you take along a guide who is familiar with the area. Thankfully, approved guides do not need a permit as long as they are accompanying permitted hikers. The hike is tough considering the heat and lack of shelter. People are rescued from the area weekly. Based on all our research, we were definitely going to take a guide!
The Wave Lottery Process
So based on everything you read, you still want to hike The Wave? Here’s what you need to know about applying both online and in-person for The Wave permits:
Online Lottery for The Wave
If you’re preparing well enough in advance, you can apply online for a permit for The Wave. To apply for a Wave permit, visit the Coyote Buttes North lottery page on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website. Applications for the online lottery open at 12pm MT on the first of the month, four months prior to your desired trip. When applying, you are allowed to enter three different hiking dates for one month.
For example our trip was in May, which meant we would have had to submit our online application to BLM between January 1 and January 31. The lottery then took place the morning of February 1, after which all appications are notified by email whether or not they were successful. If you were chosen for a permit, you have 14 days to confirm and pay for your permit online.
In-Person Lottery for The Wave
If you are not awarded a permit through the online lottery, you can apply again in-person at the walk-in lottery in Kanab, Utah at the Visitor Center. We were staying in the area for a few days so our plan was to go to the in-person lottery every morning. In theory, if you are awarded a permit during the lottery it takes affect the following day. Meaning if you win the lottery on Monday, you must use your permit on Tuesday.
We used the guide developed by Bearfoot Theory to understand how the in-person lottery for The Wave worked.
Timing: Arrive at 8:00 am, complete your application, 9:00 am is the lottery, and you’re out of there by 9:30. If you are selected for a permit, you will need to stay for an additional informational session from the staff.
When we arrived there were about 77 applicants and only 10 would be getting a permit. We didn’t have high hopes but we crossed our fingers anyway.
Before the lottery, the BLM staff gives an overview on how the process would work as well as a strong lecture on what to expect in hiking The Wave. It further reinforced our decision to hire a guide if we won (there’s literally a sign that says “Don’t Die Out There.”
After going our first day in Kanab and seeing just how many people show up (and doing the math) we decided not to keep going the rest of the week. Not that it’s not worth it but we were still on Michigan time, ready and raring to go in the mornings and doing the lottery really ate into our time. Next time we’ll plan in advance and do the online application. Because it’s most definitely worth seeing!