The Wave Arizona Lottery: Winning a Permit in 2023
2023 UPDATE: In March 2022, the walk-in daily lottery to win a permit to The Wave was discontinued. There is still a daily lottery in addition to the advanced Wave Arizona lottery, but it has been transitioned to fully online.
I remember every detail of my lunch date on January 1st, 2020. That was the day I found out about winning The Wave Arizona lottery — the first time.
As we waited for our food, my lunch date said, “I just got my email about The Wave Coyote Buttes permit!” I assumed it was a rejection letter, identical to the one I received. But he started reading and it wasn’t a rejection at all.
It started out, “Congratulations! We wanted to let you know the lottery drawing recently took place and you’ve been awarded a permit reservation at Coyote Buttes North (The Wave)…”
I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I know I shrieked them loudly enough that everyone in the restaurant turned around. I had happy tears running down my face and I remember thinking that people probably thought I just got engaged.
You see, winning The Wave Arizona lottery was on my bucket list for nearly a decade, along with visiting Big Sky, Montana, hiking in Hawaii, and road-tripping through The Great 8 in South Dakota (check, check, and check!). I tried to get a Coyote Buttes North hiking permit at least a few dozen times. The Wave Arizona permit is one of the most difficult to get in the entire US.
At that time in 2020, just 20 people per day were allowed into the wilderness area. In 2021, the number of permits issued per day increased to 64. More on that later.
Want to know how to get a permit for The Wave in 2023? You’re in the right place. As I mentioned, we beat The Wave lottery odds twice in 2020. I don’t have any magic tricks up my sleeve, but I’m definitely familiar with the process and have a few tips to share. I’m breaking it all down, to (hopefully!) help you win a permit yourself.
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What Exactly is The Wave?
On the off-chance that you’re unfamiliar with The Wave — or The Wave Arizona lottery — it’s a truly spectacular natural sandstone formation in the remote wilderness near the Arizona-Utah border. It’s so close to the border, in fact, that you hike through both states along the way!
The trailhead to hike The Wave, known as Wire Pass (which, fun fact, is the same trailhead for Buckskin Gulch slot canyon), is exactly halfway between Page, Arizona, and Kanab, Utah. Both towns are one hour away.
The Wave itself is situated in an area known as Coyote Buttes North, a section of the rugged Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Like much of the American Southwest, erosion formed it — first water and later, wind.
Up until the mid-1990s, virtually no one knew about The Wave. Then in 1996, the wordless German documentary Fascinating Nature featured the unforgettable landscape. It quickly became a bucket list destination for Europeans, although it remained a mostly unknown treasure to the rest of the world.
Fast-forward to 2009: Microsoft launched Windows 7 and The Wave was one of the featured wallpaper image options. Unsurprisingly, its popularity skyrocketed and now it’s widely considered one of the best hikes in the US (and some would say, the entire world).
Want to extend your trip to the Southwest after winning The Wave Arizona lottery? Check out these other fantastic natural attractions nearby!
The Wave Arizona Lottery System
Backcountry access to the entire Coyote Buttes North area is strictly by permit only. And the only way to get a permit is to enter The Wave Arizona lottery.
Both times we hiked The Wave, the maximum number of hikers allowed was just 20 per day. In January 2021, the US government increased that number to 64. It’s important to note that’s 64 people total — OR 12 groups per day, whichever comes first. That means The Wave lottery odds are, well, not great — but certainly not impossible and significantly higher than they were before the increase.
If you think The Wave Arizona permit and lottery system seems restrictive, that’s because it is. But it exists solely to protect the delicate landscape. On both our trips, even with no more than 16 other permit holders out there, we saw a handful of other hikers. I truly can’t imagine what it would be like if access to The Wave was unregulated.
On another note, don’t even consider hiking The Wave without a permit. For one thing, Bureau of Land Management employees go out there every day to check license plates against official records. Yes, you must register a specific vehicle when you win a permit for The Wave. Visiting without one results in a hefty fine. Plus, that’s just a super un-cool thing to do.
There are so few truly wild, untouched places left in the world. Let’s leave this one as close to that as possible.
How to Get a Permit for The Wave in 2023
There are two ways to enter The Wave Arizona lottery in 2023 (both now online): four months in advance, aptly called the “advanced lottery,” or two days before your hike, referred to as the “daily lottery.”
If you’re familiar with the Half Dome lottery system in Yosemite National Park, this process is almost identical.
We got both of our permits online in the advanced lottery, which I highly recommend for a number of reasons. Primarily so you can plan ahead, but also because they issue more advanced permits (48 people or 12 groups, whichever comes first, as opposed to 16 people or 4 groups for the daily Wave Arizona lottery).
The Wave Arizona Lottery | Advanced Permits
Recreation.gov issues advanced permits four months out, and you may apply any time during the calendar month. The drawing is on the first day of the subsequent month. For example, apply any day in January for May permits. Permit winners are then notified on February 1st.
To enter The Wave Arizona lottery for advanced permits, head to recreation.gov and choose “Register for Open Lottery.” Fill out your basic information, then select three dates and pay the $9 application fee. Even though you can select one or two, pick three — The Wave lottery odds are substantially better with three potential days.
Here are some other pro tips for improving your group’s chances of winning The Wave Arizona lottery.
- Have all of your travel/hiking partners enter the same dates as you.
- Although there is an option to enter the names of “alternate permit holders,” don’t. Doing this will disqualify those people from applying for permits themselves. Don’t worry — you don’t have to name the other people under your permit; the BLM just offers the alternates as an option.
- The Wave lottery odds are substantially better on weekdays versus weekends. Along the same lines, avoid holiday weekends or major school breaks.
- Set a reminder or alarm on your phone so you don’t forget to apply for The Wave Arizona permit each month.
Applying for The Wave Coyote Buttes North Daily Permits
If you don’t have success getting an advanced permit with The Wave Arizona lottery online and you have the flexibility, there’s another option for how to get a permit for The Wave.
NOTE: As of March 2022, the in-person lottery to get permits for The Wave Arizona has been discontinued.
The entire permit process, for both advanced and daily permits, is now held electronically on recreation.gov. This dramatically streamlines the old process, preventing hopeful hikers from needing to travel to remote Kanab, Utah, to apply for the in-person lottery.
Here’s everything you need to know about the NEW process for getting daily permits in The Wave Arizona lottery.
- You can apply for a permit any time between 6:00am and 6:00pm two days before your desired hike date via recreation.gov
- The application fee is $9; this is separate from the permit fee winners will be required to pay
- You MUST be located in an area designated by a “geofence perimeter map” area in southern Utah and/or northern Arizona in order to apply
- You can only apply on a mobile device (no desktop computers) and your GPS must be turned on. You do NOT have to remain inside the geofenced area to win a permit to The Wave Arizona or receive notifications, but winners are required to pick up their permits in person and go through a quick safety briefing the following morning at 8:30am in either Kanab, UT or Page, AZ.
- Winners are notified by 7:15pm the same day they entered The Wave lottery, and they have until 8:00am the following morning to accept their permit and pay their fees
- Make special note of time changes when you pick up your permit, especially if you travel from Arizona. The Grand Canyon State doesn’t observe daylight savings time, so times may be different depending on the time of year. We met someone who completely missed the in-person lottery because they didn’t realize Utah was in a different timezone!
What are The Wave Lottery Odds?
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to The Wave lottery odds. According to BLM data, your chances of winning a permit online are between 4-8% on average. A couple thousand people typically apply on any given day throughout the year.
However, the good news is that data only exists for the old system — when just 20 people won permits each day. That means that The Wave lottery odds are substantially higher now, since 64 permits are issued daily. And don’t forget, we won permits twice when only 20 were given out!
Prior to the BLM hosting The Wave Arizona lottery on recreation.gov, you could see the number of applicants for any given day. That was extremely helpful because if you waited until the last day of the month, you could apply only for dates with fewer applications.
That’s unfortunately no longer the case, so you have to choose dates blindly. Just remember that you have much better odds if you apply for weekdays and avoid most holidays.
It’s much more difficult to predict the odds of The Wave Arizona lottery in-person. I’ve heard that sometimes only a dozen people show up, while other days might see over 100 applicants. If you decide to apply for a permit in-person, go into it with high hopes, but no expectations.
A Few Things to Note About The Wave Arizona
Before entering The Wave Arizona lottery, there are some things you should know. First and foremost, The Wave Coyote Buttes permits are non-refundable and non-transferrable. Be absolutely sure you can go on the dates you choose!
The Wave is in an extremely remote desert area and the hike is fairly strenuous. There is no shade at any point, much of it goes through sand, and there’s no discernible trail in most sections. This combination of factors quickly tires out even the most experienced hikers.
We had fantastic weather on both trips, with high temperatures in the 60s and 40s. Yet, we peeled layers off and felt hot! The sun really does burn hotter in the Southwest. I strongly advise against hiking The Wave in the summer.
Technically, the hike to The Wave Arizona is 6.4 miles round-trip. The first time we did it, we hiked 14 miles — there is a ton to see beyond The Wave itself.
This is not a situation where you drive up to the trailhead, hike, then head home in the afternoon. Aside from the difficulty of the hike, The Wave trail is over an hour from the closest services and over four hours from both the Las Vegas and Phoenix airports.
Plus, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and the Grand Canyon are all so close (two hours away or less!). It would be a shame to win The Wave Arizona lottery and not make a bigger trip out of it.
Finally, do not lose your permit. The BLM sends The Wave Arizona lottery winners a physical one, and you must attach it to your bag or person so it’s visible. The same goes for the parking pass that comes with your hiking permit — don’t lose (or forget) it!
I hope this guide on how to get a permit for The Wave is helpful! If you do win, you can figure out where to stay near The Wave later. For now, Pin this post for later and bask in the glory that you beat The Wave lottery odds!
Wow- incredibly insightful article. I can’t believe the odds are that sparse for getting the permit!
Thanks so much, Brittany! Isn’t it crazy?!
Dang I’d never heard of this before but it sounds super interesting! It must be wonderful to win a permit – those photographs are DREAMY!
Thank you so much Amy! Dreamy is a perfect way to describe The Wave!
Wow cant believe it’s so hard to get access to see this. It is absolutely stunning though, the landscape and gorgeous mix of colours! Congrats on winning the lottery!
Wow, I’ve never heard of a place you can only experience by winning a lottery! That just makes it so more exclusive and magical! The wave looks incredible, what an awesome prize to win!
This is incredible!! So pleased you were able to experience such a beautiful bucket list item ?
Wow, I didn’t realize that The Wave was on a lottery system! It looks like it’s totally worth it though. It’s so beautiful! I would love to visit one day.
This was super informative! I have all these US destinations on my mental bucket list but only recently realized all the permits and lotteries! Will definitely be returning to this guide again later.
This place has been on my list for a long time too! I live in So Cal so I’m not too far, but the lottery chances are just so slim. Congrats for winning and seeing this beautiful spot!
Oh Taylor, you’re not far at all! You should definitely try for the lottery, especially now that the odds are improved!
I actually always wondered how the lottery system worked for here. Crazy that so many people apply each day!
The power of social media, I suppose! I’m about to apply for the Yosemite Half Dome Cables Route, and it’s similar to The Wave – although you get to choose many more dates with your one application.
I’d tried since 2016 to get a permit, with no luck! I’ll probably end up in this area later this spring and will try the in-person option. Your photos are beautiful!
Thanks so much, Melissa! I highly, highly recommend it (obviously!). Of course, I have no personal experience with the in-person lottery, but it seems that the odds are much higher. Good luck!
So excited about the increase in permits! Heading to the in person drawing Saturday and Sunday…fingers crossed and no expectations as you’ve said. My boyfriend has done it once (winning in person lottery) and the wave is his phone’s background. If I can’t get on that wallpaper, this thing better be pretty amazing! Lol! Wish us (me) luck!
Oh my goodness, I’m dying to know if you guys won permits!! Did you do it??
Awesome info…do you think a 12 and 14 year old could hike it? They’re fairly physically fit.
Hi Sarah! If they’re hikers, I think they can definitely manage it. One of the two times I did it, we had a 14-year-old with us who did just fine (better than the adults, actually!). It’s interesting because the hike itself isn’t at all technical or difficult; it’s more that the environment is harsh and that’s where things can be difficult. I’d definitely avoid the summer months, especially with kiddos in tow, but otherwise go for it!
I’m just curious, if I were lucky enough to win a permit, how soon after notification are they mailed out. I will be applying in Oct and Nov for Feb and March respectively. I am currently in Colorado but will be at my winter home in Prescott around mid Jan. Wondering which mailing address to use to avoid forwarding and or “lost” in forwarding.
Hi Scott, great question. Permit winners are notified by email the 1st of the month. So for example, if you apply in October as planned and you win, you’ll be notified November 1st. At that point, there are still a couple of steps you have to take in order to confirm your permit; more or less acknowledging that you got the email and you do in fact still want it. Unless something has since changed, they mail the physical permit pretty quickly from the time you confirm it. I can’t remember the exact timeframe, but we definitely had ours within a month, because I distinctly remember being panicked we’d lose it in three months! I’d say use your Colorado address for October and November applications. I hope that helps, and good luck!