Everything You Need to Know About Hiking to The Wave

The Wave is a spectacular sandstone rock formation famous for its colorful, undulating forms and the rugged, trackless hike to reach it.

It’s also Goal #176 on The List.

I was hoping to knock out this goal next month while on our way to climb Mount Whitney, but it looks like it’s not going to happen … getting a permit to enter the area is a pain in the ass requires making plans months in advance. Only twenty people are allowed into the area each day. Of those twenty people, only ten permits can be obtained in advance. The remaining ten permits are made available in-person the day before your hike. I wasn’t able to reserve ours through the lottery system, and we don’t have the time to risk showing up and not getting any. Next time.

To help others who might be considering this hike, I’ve compiled all the information you’ll need to navigate through the permit application process and some basic information on how to find The Wave, but you’re on your own to actually get there … since there’s no marked trail (to maintain the natural integrity of the region) it’s notoriously challenging to find.

Most hikers use GPS or follow a prominent landmark known as “The Black Crack” to find The Wave, which lies directly below The Black Crack. With no marked trail, hikers choose their own route across the open desert, which requires traversing exposed sandstone, sand dunes, and sandy wash bottoms. It’s not uncommon for hikers to get lost and never find The Wave. You’ve been warned …

Hiking Permits

A permit to hike to The Wave is absolutely required. The area is regularly and thoroughly patrolled, and the rules are strictly enforced. If you’re thinking about doing this hike without the proper permits, you may want to think twice. The maximum penalty for entering the area without a permit is a $100,000 fine, a year in jail, or both. These are the maximums, and the actual penalty you receive depends on which side of the state line you’re on, and who’s issuing your citation. Besides, the rules are there to preserve and maintain the area so that it can be enjoyed by all of us and by future generations. Get a permit.

How to get a Permit

There are three ways you can get a permit; through a lottery, in the event of a cancellation, and in-person.

To apply for a hiking date through the lottery application, you’ll need to submit your application four months in advance. There’s a non-refundable $5 fee for lottery applications. Be sure you get your application in on time! If you want to hike in May, you’ll need to submit your lottery application by January 31st. Here’s a chart to help you plan when you’ll need to submit your application:

Apply between
For a permit during
Date of Lottery Run
January 1 – 31
February 1
February 1 – 28
March 1
March 1 – 31
April 1
April 1 – 30
May 1
May 1 – 31
June 1
June 1 – 30
July 1
July 1 – 31
August 1
August 1 – 31
September 1
September 1 – 30
October 1
October 1 – 31
November 1
November 1 – 30
December 1
December 1 – 31
January 1

On the rare occasion there are cancellations or open dates, the Coyote Buttes North calendar option is available for viewing four calendar months in advance. If you’re lucky enough to find an open date that works with your schedule, there’s a $7 fee for using this option.

There are also ten permits available the day before the permits are valid. For Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the permits are made available on Friday. These permits are only available in-person. If you’re in the area (the day before you’d like to hike) visit the Kanab, Utah Field Office of the BLM which opens at 9:00 AM. It’s generally a good idea to be there before the office opens (probably even before the sun comes up.) Permits are issued one day before they’re valid, no sooner, no later, and on a first-come, first-served basis.

How do you get there?

To get to the trailhead, about halfway between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona on Highway 89, turn south onto a dirt road called Houe Rock Valley Road. Follow this road for about 8.3 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead. From the trailhead, the hike is over two and a half miles into the desert. Most of the hike is easy to moderate, with sandy and slick-rock sandstone terrain. The elevation difference from the trailhead to The Wave is about 350 feet, but the trail gains and loses quite a bit, so you’re actually climbing more like 500 to 700 feet vertically over the course of the round-trip hike. The biggest climb is the last quarter-mile, where you’ll ascend nearly 200 feet.

Click here for a Trail Map!

GPS Coordinates for The Wave

N 36° 59.764′, W 112° 00.365′

GPS Coordinates for the Trailhead

N 37° 01.162′, W 112°01.465′

A Quick Guide to Basic Backpacking Gear

My first “backpacking” experience was a few years ago in Yosemite National Park.

My friend and I packed our camping gear into my car, and drove to one of the most remote places in the park. Neither of us had any of the right gear. I had a daypack that would barely hold my hydration bladder, and he had an old book bag from college. The only tent we had was too big and too heavy to drag into the wilderness so we opted to sleep on a sheet of plastic instead. We strapped our sleeping bags to our packs using bungee cords, and we disappeared into the Yosemite backcountry.

We had no idea what the hell we were doing.

That experience taught me an important lesson: Mother Nature is indifferent to your joy, comfort, distress, and pain. You’re on your own. But having the proper gear will ensure you have a safe, enjoyable trip. You’ll be able to reflect on your journey with a sense of pride and accomplishment, rather than remembering the time you almost died.

In July I’ll be climbing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.

And this time I’m better prepared. I’ve been acquiring the gear I need to spend a few days on the mountain, and to make a successful bid for the summit. I’m hoping to keep the base weight of my gear under twenty pounds, but I’ll probably end up being a touch over. I’m only taking what I need to be safe and comfortable. I’m not interested in hauling sixty pounds of shit up the side of a mountain. That’s not my idea of a good time.

Here’s a quick overview of the basic backpacking gear you’ll need to get started:

The Ten Essentials – These are the things you should never leave home without: map, compass, sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen), extra food, extra water, extra clothes, headlight, first aid kit, fire starter, and a knife.

Backpack – Choosing a backpack requires a lot of research. You have to decide how much storage you’ll need, what features you’re looking for, and the price you’re willing to pay. A lot of research can be done online, but don’t buy a backpack without first trying it on. Your comfort in the backcountry depends on how well your pack fits, so be sure to have a professional help you chose one that fits properly.

Shelter – What you carry for shelter will depend on your desired level of comfort. The more fancy the tent, the heavier it will be. The tent I chose is the REI Half Dome 2 Plus. I decided to go with this tent because I’m traveling with another person, and I’m a tall guy. I wouldn’t carry this tent if I were going solo. It’s too heavy. If I were heading into the backcountry by myself, I’d want a tent that doesn’t weigh more than two and a half pounds, something like the NEMO Obi Tent.

Sleeping Bag – You want a bag that’s lightweight, but will keep you warm. Use the EN temperature rating as a guide to help you select the right bag. I have the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina +0 Sleeping Bag, which is more than I need for Mount Whitney, but I bought it anyways because I’ll be doing some more “extreme” hikes in the future.

Sleeping Pad – A sleeping pad isn’t only to make the night more enjoyable, it also insulates you from the ground. When you lay on your sleeping bag, you crush the insulation. Crushed insulation doesn’t insulate. And the ground is cold. You can pick up a closed-cell foam pad for cheap, or you can go with an inflatable pad. I chose the Exped DownMat UL 7 for its added R-Value. A major drawback to this pad is that it requires an external pumping system to inflate (one more thing to carry.) Exped designed a Pillow Pump that doubles as a pillow, and an air pump. Clever!

Water Purification System – And boiling river water over a campfire in tin ravioli cans doesn’t count! Yes, I’ve done it. No, I don’t suggest you do it. Buy a filter. Even though you’re in the middle of pristine wilderness and the water is crystal clear, you never know if a marmot (or another hiker) took a shit in the river just out of your view. Mmm, tasty! I use the Katadyn Base Camp Water Filter because it has a large volume and because gravity does all the work.

Camp Stove – You can pick up a burner that screws into a fuel canister for around $30 or you can spend almost $200 for a Jetboil Sumo Titanium Cooking System. I decided to meet in the middle with the Jetboil Flash. You’re able to cook in, and eat out of, a single container. And when you’re done, everything packs neatly inside.

Headlight – For early morning summit bids, or in case of an emergency. A headlight is a must in the backcountry. You want a light that is durable, reliable, and bright. I went with the Black Diamond Icon. At 200 lumens, it can throw a beam of light up to 100 meters. That’s bright!

First Aid Kit – Shit happens. Be ready. It’s one piece of gear you never hope you’ll need, but is absolutely essential to have. You might not be able to do a heart transplant with it, but it can really help you out with less severe maladies like cuts, scrapes, and blisters. I picked up the REI Backpacker Plus Multiday First-Aid Kit.

Since I’m trying to keep my pack weight to a minimum, I’m not dragging along much more than what’s listed above. I’ll have the odd toiletry items, and things like insect repellent, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and my camera. But not much more than that. Backpacking is supposed to be fun and enjoyable…not punishing. And I can’t think of anything worse than hauling a heavy backpack up a mountain…

Read Also: Preparing for a Successful Adventure