By now you have probably seen the famous picture of multi-colored cascade cut into a sandstone mountain, swirled bands of red, orange, pink, yellow, cream and white blended together to form million shapes and patters, each uniquely shaped by the wind and water. That is the Wave, a true natural wonder and the hidden treasure of the world.
This amazing sandstone formation is hidden somewhere on the Arizona-Utah border in the famous Coyote Buttes North section of the 112,5000 acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wildernes area. The entire Coyote Buttes is an exposure of cross-bedded Aeolian Jurassic Navajo Sandstone. And if Jurassic part of the Navajo Sandstone brings you back to dinosaur era, you are so right. The dinosaur trackways can be found in the area, so watch your step. The Wave is an absolute mecca of natural beauty, but getting there is not an easy task. However, with a little persistence and the right approach, you too can enjoy this experience. So here are the top 10 secrets to exploring the hidden treasure of the world and getting the experience of a lifetime:
1. Don’t give up before you even begin.
Thanks to the preservation effort of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) created by President H.S. Truman in 1946, the Wave is not widely open to the public and visiting requires a hiking permit. And not just any hiking permit. There are only 20 permits issued per day with thousands of visitors from around the world applying, and the only way to get it is to enter a lottery. If you read anything online, you quickly realize that the chances of winning the lottery and getting selected are slim, with some applying for years without any success. But don’t despair. It is not impossible and if you apply the right strategy and add a bit of luck, you may be the one. No luck in life? No worries. We went as a family of five that never won anything in our lives and yet we got lucky at the Wave Lottery. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, so go for it.
2. Enter the Wave Online Lottery.
The Wave lottery is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 10 out of 20 daily slots are issued online. The other 10 are issued as walk-in permits. The BML administers the lottery for Coyote Buttes North and South trails. To apply for the Wave, you must enter the lottery for Coyote Buttes North. In order to qualify for a permit, you must enter the lottery at least 4 months in advance. You have an entire month to apply and you can apply for up to three entry dates per application to be awarded one of those spots if you are the winner. If your entry does not win, you can apply again the following month and keep going until you get it. This is the best way to apply as you will have a number of chances to enter and plenty of time to prepare for your trip if you win. For more information about the Wave Online Lottery visit the the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) site online.
3. Try your luck at the Wave Walk-in Lottery.
If you are already in the Arizona-Utah area and your luck did not come true in the online lottery, you can always try the walk-in lottery. The walk-in permits are awarded a day prior to visit at 9 am at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center located at 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 8474, USA. Make sure to arrive at the Visitor Center with sufficient time cushion, as the lottery truly begins at 9 am and you don’t want to miss it. In order to arrive on time, you can reserve lodging in one of the hotels located in Kanab, Utah or choose a scenic area of Page, Arizona located only 1,5 hrs away from Kanab. We did exactly that and got supper lucky in the walk-in lottery. For full information how to enter the walk-in lottery, visit BLM Coyote Buttes Permit site online.
4. Increase your chances by going off-season.
According to BLM, the high season with the best weather spans from April-June and Sep-November. Not surprising, the odds of getting a permit during that time are about 4-5%. For the remaining off-season months, however, the odds may increase and vary from 8% (August) – 25% (January). So play the game right. We entered at the end of August, right before the season started in September and locked in the premium spots.
5. Get a 4×4.
Once you finally get your permit, you will be ready for the adventure. The instructions for getting to WAVE are top secret, so I will not be able to disclose specific details here. However, the entire trip begins with a 1-2 hour drive on a dirt road of varying conditions, including potential flooding. Thus, it is strongly recommend to use a four-wheel drive to get there. The 4×4 is not always required. We drove a regular two-wheel drive SUV and had no problems getting there in August, but we heard about people who got stock in the muddy puddles at the half-way point. So don’t risk it. You don’t want that to happen to you on that one, long-awaited day, so get prepared.
6. Equip yourself with a compass or GPS.
In addition to the drive on the dirt road, getting to the Wave will also require a 2-3 hour moderate hike through a desert like terrain. The good news is, you will be given a small map to get you there. The bad news is, there are absolutely no signs as you are hiking through the desert-like rock formations and the small map includes only pictures of specific rocks or bushes you should follow and the overall geographic direction to navigate to Wave. Thus, equipping yourself with a compass or GPS and taking plenty of pictures both in front of you and behind you as a point of reference will be critical to not getting lost.
7. Bring plenty of water and food.
Regardless of the time of year, but especially in warm months, the few hour hike through the desert will definitely put a strain on your body so bring plenty of water and hydrate often. Once you get to the Wave, you will probably want to spend most of the day there, so bring food and snacks for your private 5 star dining experience.
8. Prep with comfy shoes, comfy clothes and sunscreen.
Hiking to the Wave will be an exotic and unforgettable experience but it does take few hours and it may be quite hot or quite cold, depending on the month of your adventure. So be prepared with super comfy shoes, cloths, and sunscreen to conquer this rocky-desert terrain and fully enjoy the experience.
9. Bring a camera.
Exploring the Wave is such an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you will definitely want to seal your memories. Yes, there are quite a bit of pictures of Wave online but there is nothing like your own. Play with the angles, play with light and insert yourself in this untouched landscape. There will be no crowds of tourists to battle for a perfect photo shot so take your time and let your creativity on. You will cherish it forever. I promise!
10. Bring your family or a friend!
Yes, without doubt, your chances of getting a permit to Wave could be a tad higher if you apply alone but aren’t the best experiences truly unforgettable when shared with others? We took this trip as a family of 5 and had the most extraordinary time playing explorers in the desert and discovering the beauty of Wave together! So enjoy, play, have fun and make your memories together.
Have you visited Wave already? Do you have any tips for those who are planning the trip? Or are you planning your trip now?