Thanks to its iconic beauty, people have been flocking to The Wave, officially called Coyote Buttes, at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona.
Or at least they’ve been attempting to flock to The Wave. In order to keep it pristine, the Bureau of Land Management only issues 20 individual permits per day.
How to Get a Permit to Hike The Wave
There are two ways to get a permit. You can 1) pay to play the online lottery months in advance or 2) apply for a walk-in permit at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah.
Ten permits are given each day through the online system and ten through the walk-in permit. Whichever you choose, the odds aren’t in your favor, but you do have a slightly better chance if you’re willing to risk wasting a day (or days) trying to get the permit in person. Permits cost $7 per person.
With a vague map given to you by the Bureau of Land Management and a little intuition, you have to navigate your way through the Arizona desert to The Wave. Oh — and there isn’t a marked trail for you to follow.
What you take with you is essential to a pleasant and successful experience at The Wave. Should you be one of the few lucky ones to score that colorful ticket, this is what you should bring:
A 30L pack should do the trick. If you’re planning to bring camera gear where you’re setting up a tripod, switching lenses, and getting steady video shots, you may want to think about bringing a 45L or 50L pack.
Food For Coyote Buttes Hike
You’re going to spend six miles hiking to and from the wave. Depending on your routing skills, hiking speed, and how much time you actually spend exploring The Wave (there’s more out there than just this formation) you’ll be gone from six to eight hours. Bring trail food like some Nutella and banana sandwiches/burritos, dried mangoes, and (my favorite) Munkpack oatmeal squeeze packs. It’s hard to beat a Snickers in a pinch.
There isn’t any water on the trail, so be sure to pack in enough for a long day outside. Plan on packing in 1 liter of water for every hour you’ll be hiking. Increase this if you’ll be hiking during the scorching summer months.
Wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots, good hiking socks, breathable pants and a shirt that wicks sweat well. Wear a hat or buff to protect yourself from the sun and wind. You’re in the desert, be sure to pack some lip balm and sunscreen in your backpack too.
Camera To Capture ‘The Wave’
A camera phone or GoPro will do just fine. But if you know your way around a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, you’re going to want to bring it. Pack as light as possible with a wide angle and a mid-range lens. Should you bring a tripod for a time lapse, make sure to put the rubber stoppers on so you don’t scar nature’s work of art.
Only use the map the Bureau of Land Management gives you. Supposedly GPS readings get a little whacky with the metal in the rock, cairns aren’t reliable, the signs the Bureau of Land Management placed get turned around by jerks, and footsteps can lead you off a cliff.
The map you’re given is your treasure map with pictures and descriptions to lead you to the unburied treasure. Willy Wonka gave out golden tickets in his candy bars. The Bureau of Land Management gives out neon colored tickets to allow you to legally hike to The Wave.
Trail cameras are set up to monitor suspicious activity, volunteer patrolmen will rat you out to the local authorities, and the sheriff patrols the parking lot checking to see if you left a lime green ticket on your dashboard. If you’ve never been to The Wave, experience it like never before in this video.
Hiking The Wave with a Dog
Dogs are allowed to hike the wave. Remember they must be under control at all times and you need to pick up after your pooch. If you are granted a permit, you’ll need to get a special $7 permit for your dog to hike, too (these dog permits are separate and don’t count towards the 20 permits given each). Be sure to bring plenty of water and treats for your dog.
Best Time of Year to Hike The Wave
Avoid the summer months if you can. Daytime temperatures regularly reach 100-degrees and tourist season (and competition for walk-in permits) is at its peak. For the best odds of winning a permit, consider going in January or February. Though be forewarned the weather near Kanab, UT can be unpredictable in the winter.
Other Hikes Near The Wave
Tried for the permit, but didn’t get in? Don’t despair, there are plenty of other interesting things in the area. You could check out Paria Canyon, spend a day at Lake Powell, enjoy an easy 1.5 mile hike at the Cottonwood Wash Narrows, or spend the day exploring Coral Sand Dunes State Park. Yes, The Wave is awesome, but remember there are plenty of other amazing things to see in the area.