The Wave, AZ: Winning the Lottery

Most of us have seen pictures of “the Wave” in the Vermilion Cliff Wilderness Area, but few have seen it in person. Due to its surge in popularity the Bureau of Land Management only offers 20 permits per day for the site; that’s 7300 people a year that are allowed to legally visit the well-known landmark. To put that number in perspective The Great Basin National Park was the 50th most visited National Park in 2015 and there were 107,526 total visitors throughout the year. In other words, your chances of seeing The Wave are very slim. Although chances are low, I will give you a breakdown on how to secure your permit and get the opportunity to see this one of a kind landmark in person.


If you have your trip planned well in advance or your schedule is flexible in the months ahead you can always opt for the online option. The permit office awards 20 permits per day, but 10 of those are through the online permit system and 10 are for the walk in permits. For the online option you can apply up to four months in advance and you are able to apply for up to 3 dates for every application you submit. If you are one of the lucky ones you will have 14 days to send your payment in for the permit. According to the Bureau of Land Management, your chances of securing an online permit range from about 4-5% during peak season; April-June and September-November. As I was writing this article June 2016 already has 2,285 applicants for the 300 total online permits. The great thing about the online option is you can always apply for the next month if you were unsuccessful the first time around.


If you are going to be in the area I highly recommend opting for the walk-in permit option. The odds are much higher with this option, especially during non-peak months. They draw every weekday and they will draw 10 permits for the following day. If you show up on a Friday morning they will draw 30 total permits; 10 permits for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I spent a week in the area in December and there were about 70 people in the permit office Friday morning hoping to be one of the 30 individuals who secured a permit. All you have to do is arrive at the permit office at 8:30AM on a weekday, they are very strict about the time so make sure you aren’t late. Ironically when I was there a guy walked in three minutes late and the permit office staff member asked the group if we wanted him to be able to add his name to the lottery, the majority said he could and he was one of the lucky few to secure a permit.

The Wave, AZ: Winning the Lottery The Wave, AZ: Winning the Lottery

Once you secure your permit you just have to hope the weather cooperates. The road to the Wire Pass Trailhead is very rough, and that is putting it lightly. We had a rental and I wouldn’t have trusted the car on that road even with a minimal amount of rain or snow. If conditions are dry you will have no problem getting to the trailhead. Make sure you grab a map from the permit office to help you navigate to The Wave, the office does a great job of explaining how to get there and the map makes it very easy to use easily recognizable landmarks to help you get to The Wave and back. The trail is about 3.5 miles one way and it’s quite easy to get turned around if you aren’t paying attention. If you focus on the directions from the map you should be fine. Additionally, make sure you bring plenty of water. We were there in December and each of us easily used 2-3L of water hiking there and back.

I would recommend setting out early so you aren’t in a rush to soak in the experience. Since there are only 20 permits allowed per day the site shouldn’t be too crowded, we were lucky enough to have the site all to ourselves for a solid hour when we were there. Additionally, there are more landmarks within walking distance of The Wave, so get there early so you have time to see these sites. I highly recommend this trip to anyone, you also have numerous other locations to visit while you are out there; Zion and Bryce National Parks, the Grand Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend are all within driving distance. Additionally, the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliff Wilderness Area offers unbelievable slot canyons to navigate through. Spend some time talking to the staff members in the permit office and they can offer great advice on other sites to see.

Finally, if you are unable to earn a permit for The Wave stick around for the drawing for Coyote Buttes South. This site doesn’t have The Wave but the rock formations are still one of a kind and well worth the time and effort to see.

The Wave, AZ: Winning the Lottery The Wave, AZ: Winning the Lottery

Spontaneous trips are always exciting, and luckily I was able to secure a permit while I was out there. I knew the trip would have been well worth the time even if my friend and I lucked out on the permit. Maybe the Wave isn’t at the top of your list, but take steps to go see or go do whatever is. Time is a gift, and the last thing I want is to sit back and wonder about the things I wish I would have done. Remember, time wait’s for no one.


About The Author   About The Author

Kevin Abernethy is a native of Oklahoma and enjoys spending his free time doing anything that allows him to be outdoors. Kevin’s motto is “time is free, but it’s priceless” so he tries to spend his time doing the things he loves with the people he loves. To see some of Kevin’s adventures you can visit his Instagram.

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