the wave arizona hike

All About “The Wave” Hike

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All About "The Wave" Hike near Page, Arizona

In the Spring of 2022, we were lucky and fortunate enough to be able to do The Wave hike near Page, Arizona. It’s an absolute bucket-list worthy hike, famous in the hiking and travel communities, but obtaining a permit to hike it is the hardest part. 

This blog post contains everything you need to know about The Wave, including how to get a permit, preparing and planning for The Wave once you get a permit, and what to expect on the hike. 

What is “The Wave”?

The Wave is a 14 kilometer hike off of Highway 89, between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. It goes through the Coyote Buttes North desert/wilderness area near the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. Our AllTrails says we got almost 400m of elevation, and we were moving for almost 4 hours. It’s a relatively flat hike, minus some steep areas of sandy ground that made it a little challenging. 

The reason why The Wave is famous is because of the natural curvature and formations of the rock, carved naturally by thousands of years of rain, sand and wind. Here are a few photos that tell the story better than words ever could:

Why a permit?

Though it can be frustrating that you have to get a permit to legally hike The Wave, after hiking it, we fully understand why. It’s an incredible experience with views that are truly once in a lifetime. The naturally created landscapes and unique architecture of the rock formations are extremely delicate, and would get destroyed quickly if thousands of folks were to hike around each day. Permitting the hike and slowing down deterioration is really the least that humanity can do for nature. 

The other reason why hikes like this are permitted are for safety. Luckily for us, we hiked The Wave on an overcast day (it even sprinkled a little bit and was very gusty). It was still a warm day in April, but not deathly hot. And especially during the spring/summer, it does get deathly hot. As in people have died from heat exhaustion. We were warned several times about the danger of the heat and the remote-ness of this hike and we arrived probably overprepared. However, some folks don’t get the same information we did, and do not arrive prepared for the desert wilderness, heat, and limited resources once you get out there. Having fewer people doing this hike every day means that park rangers have a better chance of helping anyone who needs it, and they’re able to keep better track of people who go in and out. 

Obtaining a permit (how we did it)

There are 2 ways that you can get a permit to legally hike The Wave.

The first way is through an online lottery that happens a few months in advance of your trip. If you’re a planner and you know that you’ll be in the area at a certain time of the year, this is a great way to try your luck at a permit. You can register online and apply to the lottery in advance. Here is more information. 

We didn’t know our exact travel dates (since we like to keep things flexible with the bus), and so we opted for the daily lottery. Here is more information, but below is the general structure of how it works. 

A few things to note about the daily lottery: 

  1. Your permit application has to be submitted 2 days before you plan to hike, between 6am-6pm local time. 
  2. Only 16 people are awarded a permit each day in the daily lottery. 
  3. At the time of our application (April 2022), each application cost $9 whether you win a permit or not. 
  4. You have to be in a specific geographical location to apply. This is actually good, because it means that people from all over the US can’t just apply every day. It actually increases your chances because it means that anyone applying, has to be within a geographical distance from the hike.
  5. You have to use your phone to apply. This is so that the geographical location tracking can work on the application website. You have to turn on your location services as well. 

Due to these rules, we decided that it would be best to stay in Page, Arizona for about 5 days. We’d try our luck at the lottery every day that we were in the geographical area. If we won a permit, we’d hike The Wave, and if we weren’t lucky, we’d continue with a plan B and experience all the other incredible activities that Page has to offer. 

We applied only twice, and won a permit. It didn’t seem real when I opened the email and saw the subject line! 

Here is the lottery schedule from the Recreation.gov website: 

Day 1 – Application: Apply between 6 AM and 6 PM two days ahead of the desired entry date. Lottery results are sent out at 7:15 PM this evening. Window opens to accept winning lottery.

Once you get the notification that you’ve won a permit via email, you’ll be prompted to either accept or decline the permit. You have to accept your permit within 24 hours, otherwise the system will assume that you are no longer interested. 

Day 2 – Safety Briefing: Successful applicants must accept the permit and pay fees by 8 AM Utah time and be onsite at a permit pickup location at 8:30 AM local time for a safety briefing. Local time may be different between pick-up locations. During Daylight Savings, 9:30 in Utah is 8:30 in Arizona (except the Navajo Nation). 

We had our safety briefing in Page, Arizona, but you can also choose to do a safety briefing in Kanab, Utah, depending on what’s closer for you. Our safety briefing was very informative, and walked us through the entire hike from start to finish, and how we should prepare. We also picked up our permit at the same location. 

Day 3 – Permit date: Permit-holders have the day to explore Coyote Buttes North. Now that you have received your permit and safety briefing the day before, you’re good to go! We decided to book a guided hike to The Wave, but based on your research and requirements, this is optional. I’ll talk about why we made the decision to use a guide later on. 

Note that if you hike The Wave illegally, the fines can be massive. We were stopped by park rangers a few times (in the parking lot and about halfway through the hike) who checked our permits and validated the information. It would have been impossible to sneak through.

Preparing to hike The Wave with a daily lottery permit

It can be tricky to make plans to do The Wave hike when you win the daily lottery, because you really only have one full day to solidify your plans. Here are a few tips that helped us make the hike a successful one:

1. Be fully prepared to cancel your plans and reschedule what you had planned.

If you do end up winning a permit to hike The Wave, you’ll only get one full day to plan your hike. This means if you had plans for 2 days out, you’ll have to stay flexible and cancel/postpone them.

2. Getting to your information session.

Once you win your permit to The Wave Hike, you’ll have to go to an in person information session to learn about the hike and to pick up your permit. Make sure you have travel organized to get there!

3. Booking a guide - recommended!

We decided to book a guide to take us on our hike to The Wave. The main reason we did this was to get an educational experience (we learned a lot about the local wildlife, desert animals and even saw dinosaur prints on the hike). There are also a lot more sights to see, other than The Wave itself on this hike. We also opted for a guide because we came to the conclusion that we’d rather enjoy the hike with someone who knows exactly where to go, than worry about which direction was right or wrong. This hike is not a marked trail. The third and final reason why we went with a guide was so that we’d get a ride in their 4 wheel drive Jeep! The journey to the trailhead is about a 10 minute off road drive.

4. Not booking a guide.

If you decide not to book a guided hike, you’ll need a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get to the trailhead. We’d also recommend downloading the trail map via AllTrails since you won’t have solid service once you get out there.

5. Note the time difference between Utah and Arizona.

Since we were staying in Page, Arizona, we totally forgot that there was an hour time difference to Utah. We booked our hike from a company based in Utah, and so on the day of (once we remembered the time diff), we started panicking that we’d be an hour late. Luckily, they knew we were staying in Arizona and had already accounted for this.

6. Download the trail map.

Even if you book a guide, it’s always fun to track your hikes. Download the hike on AllTrails because once you get out there, your service will be hit and miss.

What to bring on your hike

In our information session, we were warned about the dangers of hiking in the desert wilderness. We didn’t take this information for granted, and we arrived to our hike over-prepared. Here’s a quick list of what we brought and wore:

  1. Hiking boots 
  2. Comfortable pants – We went for comfort, not fashion with this hike. The wind got quite gusty during this hike and without pants, our legs would have gotten absolutely sandblasted (which is painful). 
  3. Layers – We started the hike in the morning when it was a little colder, but ended up shedding layers as we got moving. 
  4. Camelbacks – It’s a must to drink water and it’s even more convenient to have it right on your back with a water spout. 
  5. Extra water bottles – In the desert, they say you need to be drinking 1 litre of water per hour. Once you start to feel dizzy/dehydrated, it’s too late. We packed extra water bottles in our camelbacks, and also left some in the Jeep at the trailhead. 
  6. Electrolytes 
  7. Hats
  8. Sunglasses – I love my Costas for hiking since they have a great/clear lens. 
  9. Rain jacket – The forecast was calling for rain, so I grabbed my rain jacket and ended up wearing it. 
  10. Snacks – We packed lots of snacks (like these protein chips!) as well as our lunch for a mid-hike picnic.

Looking for more on hiking? Check out our favorite 6 hikes on the East Coast of Canada here

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I’m Sydney. Obsessed with travel, food, dogs and adventure, I spend my days finding new ways to appreciate life.

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