Hiking The Notch Trail To The “Wave” In Arizona 2024

Hiking The Notch Trail To The “Wave” In Arizona 2024

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There are places in this big beautiful world of ours that look like they were created as a set for a movie about other worlds or of a time long forgotten. The Wave, a natural sandstone formation from the Jurassic age, falls into this category. Although it was shapes naturally and slowly over time by wind and water eroding at the sandstone, you can easily mistake it as something that was sculptured deliberately.

The Wave at Coyote Buttes

This place is well known and it isn’t. It just depends on who you ask. The reason it’s not posted ad nauseum over social media is because the US Bureau of Land Management used to only allow in 20 visitors a day. You read that correctly.

They’ve since changed it to now allow 64 visitors or up to 16 groups per day. 48 permits will be granted via online lottery 4 months in advance (read more below) and 16 permits will be awarded via in person lottery. That’s still not a lot of spots for influencers who don’t want to put in the planning to get one of the coveted spots.

The US Bureau of Land Management allow such a small number of visitors in order to protect the delicate sandstone formation. And rightfully so. Can you imagine a hoard of tourists stomping off a bus and running all over this place with their selfie sticks? This is why we can’t have nice things.

How To Get A Permit For The Wave and Coyote Buttes North

The Wave” is in an area called Coyote Buttes North and to get a permit to hike there is extremely difficult, but not impossible. If you think getting a permit for Havasu Falls or tickets to Burning Man is hard, let me introduce you to the “Wave” Lottery.

There are two ways to do it.

1. Online Permit Lottery Application For The Wave

The first is to enter the Online Permit Lottery 4 months in advance of your trip date.  That means if you want to go on June 27, you would need to apply for the for the February Lottery between February 1 – February 29. The drawing will then take place on March 1st. The fee to enter is $9.

When you apply, you can list up to 3 different dates on your lottery application, but you can only apply  ONCE PER MONTH to the lottery. There’s no gaming the system.

You can add 3 other names as Alternate Permit Holders, but that means those people are in the lottery and cannot apply in that month either.

The rule states that if you are stopped by a ranger during your hike, you or one of the alternate permit holders must be present with the group.

48 spots are given out for each day. If you win, the permit fee is $7 per person in your group.

Permits will be mailed out 4-6 weeks after the lottery.

The Wave Permit Schedule

2. Daily Geo-Fenced Lottery Application For The Wave

The second option is to enter the daily lottery that takes place 2 days before you want to hike. This lottery used to be in-person at the Kanab office, but they’ve since taken it virtual in 2022.

If you want to hike on Wednesday, you will need to apply on Monday between 6 am and 6 pm. The results are announced at 7:15 pm. You have until 8 am on Tuesday morning to accept your permit.

For the daily lottery, 16 spots are given out. Bear in mind, if a name is picked for a group of 4, then there are only 12 spots left. So your chances are better if you are hiking in a small group or alone. If 3 groups of 4 (total of 12 people) and and 3 single hikers have been issued permits, there’s only 1 spot left. None of the other groups will be eligible, unless they are willing to split up. If you are the lone single hiker left in the lottery, you have the best chance to get it.

To enter, you need to download the Recreations.gov mobile app. And here’s the really important part: this is a geo-fenced lottery. What does that mean?

The geo-fenced daily lottery for the Wave means that you need to be using the app within a nearby designated area in order to apply. You don’t need to be in the toe-fenced area when the results are announced.

Geo-Fenced Areas In Utah For Daily Wave Lottery

Kanab, Paris, Johnson Canyon, Mount Carmel, Big Water, Orderville, Glendale, and East Zion

Geo-Fenced Area In Arizona For Daily Wave Lottery

Page, Vermilion Cliffs, Fredonia, Greenhaven, Marble Canyon, Jacob Lake, White Sage, Moccasin, and the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation.

Permit Pick-Up and Mandatory Morning Briefing

This is new and important since they’ve moved the daily lottery to a virtual system. There’s a mandatory morning briefing at 8:30 am where you will receive your physical permit. Do not be late as they sometimes will withhold permits for egregiously late hikers. This is where you’ll pay the $7 fee per person for your permit.

You have two options to pick up your permit and dow the morning briefing:

The Kanab Center: 20 N 100 E, Kanab, UT 84741.

Page-Lake Powell HUB: 48 S Lake Powell Blvd, Page, AZ 86040.

NOTE: There is a time difference between Utah and Arizona (and the Navajo Nation) during Daylights Savings Time (DST) between March and November. Arizona does not observe DST, while the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and Utah does observe DST.

That means if you staying in Arizona and going to the Kanab office in Utah, be sure to note the 1 hour time difference.

Curved sandstone shaped by wind and wave at the Wave

When Is The Best Time To Get A Permit For The Wave?

Personally, the daily lottery, despite the lower number of permits issued, is the better option. While only 16 permits are issued, compared to 48 in the advance lottery, the number of people who enter are lower, especially during certain months of the year.

According to BLM offices, December – February is the best month to apply for daily lottery permit, if you are in the area already, when you have roughly a 10-15% chance of getting a permit. March – May and September –  October are the hardest months.

Basically, it’s still going to be hard. Everyone wants a permit and sometimes there’s like a 100 people there for the 16 spots.

How Long Does It Take To Hike The Wave

The official Wave hike starts at the Wire Pass Trailhead. It’s about 6.7 miles to the Wave and back and takes about 90 minutes each way to hike if you follow the visual markers correctly. There’s very little shade coverage, so prepare accordingly with water and sun protection.

Not that time really matters, but you’ll be crossing over the border from Utah to Arizona during the hike. Just a random fact.

Why We Chose The Alternative Notch Route To The Wave

My friend and I tackled this hike on our road trip through the Southwest. We got a permit via the walk-in lottery with only about 20 people participating. This was also back in 2007, so times have changed.

There’s no paved trail to the Wave, so everyone starts at the entrance of Coyote Buttes and follows a paper map with some landmarks as guiding markers. For a bit of adventure, my friend suggested we try to access the Wave via an alternative path that starts from the south end of Coyotes Buttes. No idea why I listened to him, but I did.

The idea was that we’d not run into anyone until we arrived at the Wave itself. The only thing was we’d have to figure out how to actually get to the start of this hike and the Wave on our own.

Alltrails didn’t exist back then and information was only found through local hiking forums. Our limited beta only gave us a starting point: find a shiny tanker off House Rock Road.

GPS: Google Maps has made it easier to find the starting point. You can map in this point and head east towards the Notch Trail. The rest of the way is up to you, which is half the fun.

From there, we’d need to climb up the side of the enclosing mountains and get into the area in via the Notch – whatever that was. It did sound like an adventure. We just didn’t know it would require us to duck beneath some barbed wires and walk through a field of thorny bushes just to get started.

Navajo Sandstone The Wave Arizona

Hiking The Hidden Notch Trail To The Wave

We arrived pretty late in the afternoon, so we camped out near the starting point for the Notch trail. We wanted to have an early start to avoid the extreme mid-day heat.

On the morning of our hike, we looked up towards the peaks and aimed for what we thought looked like a notched opening. This took a few minutes while we debated over what a notch looks like, but eventually we spotted what looked like a V-shaped opening and started for that.

First, we had to duck under an area of barbed wire that looked like he had been purposely opened up for hikers. Our hesitation was compounded when we had to continue through a field of thorny bushes. It definitely didn’t feel like a trail.

Finding The Trail

Luckily from here, a “trail” did appear with some prints in the sane. We followed this for a while with path occasionally forking off in different directions. Sometimes, we would have to split up and scout ahead for a minute and then turn back to decide on which way to proceed. Other times, we found cairns (stacked rock markers) on the path that indicated we were headed the right way.

These stacked rocks are often left behind by experience hikers, almost like a crumb trail, to indicate direction. So we hoped. Our destination was the Wave, but the journey up the side of the jagged cliffs and through the sandstone canyons was just as beautiful.

The Wave: Sandstone Cairns On Notch Trail

Found The “Notch”

Eventually, we did find the “notch.” From this high vantage point, we tried to align the landscape with a rudimentary map. The whole scene looked prehistoric at this point and I could just imagine giant lizards lumbering out behind some of the bigger rocks.

The path in was a steep descent down a sandy dune.

Rocks From Jurassic Period At The Wave In Arionza

Our strategy was to cross the rocky terrain, and find a path back up to higher grounds. From there, we’d stay along the ridges and head north towards the Wave. Our hope was to eventually stumble onto the Wave or run into other hikers. It paid off and we found the spot with trouble.

And what a stunning sight to behold.

Wavy Sandstone Pattern At The Wave Arizona

I was glad that they only allowed a limited number of people in each day – one of the times I approve of gatekeeping. People who want to come here need to commit well in advance with the lottery.

Ideally, those same people would understand the importance of treading light to preserve the delicate formations.

Alone At The Wave

Standing in the narrow troughs of the Wave, it feels like you are in a frozen ocean of fiery waves. We started pretty early that morning and didn’t run into anyone during our hike to the Wave. This could probably also be because we hiked an alternative route from the opposite direction.

At the spot, we encountered fellow early risers, who had arrived before us and were taking off.

For the next 20 minutes or so, we had the entire place to ourselves. I just sat in silence trying to create a mental time lapse of how these patterns were formed over millions of years.

The Wave At Midday Without Shadows

When the sun started to pass ahead and casted a shadow over the sandstone, the orange colors really came to life and sections of the Wave took on a whole different appearance.

Curved sandstone shaped by wind and wave at the Wave

The Wave II

Beyond just the Wave, we explored another area called the Wave II, that was almost as impressive as the first section. Further away, we  found a set bulbous protrusions with sandstone rocks that looked like brains. There was so much to see and we felt incredibly grateful to have most of the place to ourselves as the few other hikers started making their way back via the Wire Pass Trailhead.

The Brain At The Wave

Returning The Wave We Came

By the time we started heading back, the temperature has risen considerably. There was absolutely no refuge from the relentless sun bearing down on us. I was very thankful I brought my safari cap to cover the back of my neck.

In total, we spent about 1.5 hours walking each way and I recommend at least 3L of water per person. Whenever I hike, and especially in extreme heat, I always carry two water sources, just in case. For the Wave, I used a 2L water bladder and my 1L collapsible water pouch that I carry everywhere.

We tried to back track using a few landmarks as mental markers. There was really only one sandy area in, so it was easy to find. Unfortunately, getting up was another story. The sand would slide out from under our feet as fast as ascended. We really could only move up 3 – 4 feet at a time and used the patches of grass to maintain our position without sliding down further.

This is definitely something to think about if you’re planning to hike the Notch. For the adventurous, this is definitely a better option than the normal route.

How To Find The Wave With GPS

To preserve the natural features of the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, there are no real trails to get to the Wave itself. This makes finding this hidden area even more challenging and many people have been lost trying to find it. You can punch in these coordinates and follow an offline map: 36°59′45.84″N 112°00′21.9″W.

Along with a permit, hikers are provided with a guide sheet showing 6 visual checkpoints starting at the Wire Pass Trailhead and leading to a landmark known as the “Black Crack” that opens to the Wave formations. This route is about 6.7 miles roundtrip and will take about 4-6 hours.

I think the beauty here is being able to explore the way people did before smartphones and offline maps made things so much easier. Choose your adventure.

Important Tip: Don’t take the navigation lightly. During the summer months, the high temperatures can be dangerous and fatal for unprepared and lost hikers. There is no real shade coverage from the exposure or any available water source.

Finding The Way To The Wave

Alternatively, hikers can also access the Wave from the Notch trailhead, like we did, southwest from the Wave. Drive another 2 miles south past the Wire Pass Trailhead and look for a metal tanker to the side of  the road. This is a much more difficult one that requires solid backcountry navigation skills across a variety of uneven terrain and a steep climb up to the cliffs that surround the area.

Once you’ve access the notch opening at the top of the mountain, you can visually identify the general area of the Wave from higher grounds. Descend the sandy drop and reestablish high ground on the east side of the cliffs before heading north towards the Wave. This route clocks in a bit shorter at 5 miles roundtrip and will take about 4 hours. However, there’s climbing and descending which takes more effort.

Important Tip: Bring extra water and snacks. Stay hydrated, especially when the temperatures are high. You may end up taking longer to get to the Wave and you’ll want to spend a bit of time exploring.

Where To Stay For The Wave

If you are looking to do the daily lottery, you’ll need to be in the area. Kanab will be the closest town. However, Page is a better option if you want to visit other places like Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell.

Best Time Of Year To Visit The Wave

While half of this decision should be based on WHEN you think you can actually get a permit, the other half is how you’d like to see the Wave.

The Wave is open year-round, but the road heading to the Trailhead may be impassable when there’s heavy rain or snow between December to February. However, if the roads are open and you have a 4 x 4 vehicle, you might get to see a partially snow covered Wave, which looks amazing. Too much snow might cover the wave features that you came to see, so keep that in mind.

March – May and September – November are the ideal times with slightly cooler temperatures and lower chances of rain.

The summer months of June and July have extremely high temperatures, so it might be best to avoid these months.

Looking for more travel inspirations? Scroll through some of the 450+ experiences on my bucket list. Maybe you’ll find your next adventure on there.

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Updated on June 15, 2024



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