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′

✓ Goal #94) Climb Mount Saint Helens

I set up camp at Climber’s Bivouac, a small base camp at the foot of the mountain, and began cooking spaghetti on the campfire when a stranger wandered into my campsite looking for conversation. He spent the better part of the next hour telling old war stories of his time in the mountains and assured me I’d see him the next morning on the summit. Then he wandered off into the darkness.

With the campfire slowly fading, I decided to get some rest before my early start in the morning. It wouldn’t be a comfortable night. I should’ve expected it to be cold since the tent was staked into a pile of snow. I spent most of the night shivering, trying to stay warm. Sleep was a luxury. When the sun finally cast its warm rays across the tent it was time to get up, eat breakfast and get on my way.

The climb started with an easy hike through the woods, and it didn’t take long before I reached the tree line where I was welcomed by a huge mountain … one which I’d soon be climbing. I trudged across the snow field and began my ascent.

I hiked across snow and ice, rocks and boulders and dusty ash trails for about six hours before  finally making it to the summit of Mount Saint Helens. All of the work was definitely worth the reward of sitting at the top of the crater rim looking out at Mount Rainier in the distance. I stayed at the summit for about half an hour before beginning my descent. I could’ve stayed there for days.

I scrambled down the boulder fields and as I neared the bottom of the mountain, there was a snow chute from previous hikers. I slid the rest of the way down the mountain on my butt. It was a much more efficient way to travel … not to mention a lot of fun!

It was a challenge to reach the summit.

My legs were practically screaming “I hate you!” with each step. But no matter how much it hurt, I had to keep going. I’d already come this far and I knew how glad I’d be once I reached the top. I think it’s like anything you hope to accomplish in life … the closer you are, the harder you push to make it happen.

Whatever your mountain may be, no matter the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead, keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll arrive at your destination.

One step at a time.