Hiking The Wave

I’m just going to jump right in and tell you that hiking The Wave was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done . . . in my entire life! It was definitely the highlight of our Southwest road trip – it’s the most outstanding hike I’ve ever been on, and it’s by far one of the most breathtaking natural phenomenons I’ve ever seen. This is also probably the most dazzling blog post I’ve ever published, so read on!As mentioned previously, Kai and I only had a slight hope of hiking The Wave as we drove to Kanab, Arizona. To hike The Wave, which is located on Coyote Buttes North, you must apply for a permit, and only 20 people per-day are granted said permit as the land is fragile and protected. To obtain a permit, you can apply online four months in advance, however there is only a 2-3% chance you will win the lottery process, as thousands of people apply each day. If you don’t obtain a permit to hike The Wave in advance, you can go to the Kanab Visitor’s Center and apply for one in person. On any given day, ten permits are granted digitally in advance, and ten are given out at the visitor’s center for the following day. Your chance of getting a permit is slightly better at the visitor’s center as there are usually only 50-250 people per day who enter the lottery in Kanab, compared to the thousands who apply digitally. You can read all about the application process here.

Kai and I arrived at the visitor’s center at 8.30am when the lottery process began. We filled out a short form with the names of the people in our party (each group can only apply once and IDs are checked) and we paid a non-refundable $5 administrative fee. We were then given a number based on the order in which our application was handed in, and the waiting began. The lottery closed at 9am sharp, and we were then welcomed into a small room where the winning numbers would be drawn. The park ranger did a brief intro on the lottery process and the difficulty of the hike, and we were surprised to discover that some people were in Kanab applying for their third, fourth, or even fifth chance to hike The Wave, and were yet to be successful!

Kai and I had a fairly simple plan that would help avoid disappointment – if we won the chance to hike The Wave, we would absolutely go! But if not, we would either head to Bryce Canyon (our next destination) a day early, OR we would drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. So we had two very fantastic backup options, and would have a grand adventure either way. But once the little lottery balls started clicking in their cage, Kai and I got nervous. We were surrounded by people who were *dying* to hike The Wave, and compared to some of the other enthusiasts there, we weren’t as experienced or as knowledgeable about the hike.

We were number 14 – a low number compared to some of the others, as we had arrived pretty early to get our application in. I actually recall Kai filling out the application form quite slowly, and a few others rushed up to get their numbers right before us. A matter of seconds meant that we were number 14 instead of 12 or 13, and I remember thinking, “Ali, just let it happen in its own time – the number you get is the number you were meant to get!”

We held our breath as the first number was called – number 74. An excited squeal came from somewhere behind us, and a woman with 5 others in her party came forward to confirm their attendance on the hike. It was a rough way to start the lottery process, as the very first group was already 6 people, which meant that only 4 others would be selected to hike The Wave the following day. Kai and I held our breath as the next ball was pulled from the cage, and to our disbelief, the ranger yelled out “number 14!!” I immediately realized that our number had been called, and looked at Kai with a huge smile stretched across my face. I’d clearly registered the win before Kai, because I got the glorious gift of watching his expression evolve as his brain too computed that we had just won, and a grin very rapidly emerged across his lips as well!

We were beyond amazed that we had been chosen, and after confirming our attendance, we sat patiently as the last ball was pulled. It was for a group of three, which sucked for them, because they then had to determine who would be left behind, as only two more were permitted to hike The Wave the following day – The Wave, tearing families apart!!! At the end of the process, we were surprised to see that there were quite a few wet eyes in the room as the unlucky participants streamed out. Frankly, it was a bit heartbreaking to witness, especially considering some people had entered the lottery time and time again, but Kai and I tried to focus on the positive – holy shit – we would be hiking The Wave!!

The next thing we very stupidly hadn’t counted on, was what winning the draw meant! We were both quite hungry from our early start, but instead of going to get a coffee and breakfast, we had a de-brief with the park ranger and the other winners that took about an hour. Our stomachs grumbled in the background! First, we were given a print-out with photos of landmarks along the hike so we could follow the correct route, as the trail to The Wave is more than 6 miles round trip and is completely unmarked. The hike would involve following a river bed, climbing over hills, red rocks, and many sand stones. The park ranger warned that our GPS equipment probably wouldn’t work on the hike, as there’s no reception on the trail. We laughed nervously, as we don’t even own a proper day pack, never mind a GPS. We were briefed on what to carry, what to do in case of an emergency, and other rules to follow while out on the trail. Most of them were for our own safety. We were then warned that getting to The Wave would most likely be the biggest sticking point, as rain was in the forecast and the roads to Coyote Buttes can be impassible when wet.

There are two access roads to Coyote Buttes North – the Wirepass Trailhead, which is located south of The Wave, and The Notch, which is to the north. The trail from The Notch is harder to follow, however to drive is much shorter. On the flip side, the Wirepass Trailhead road is 10 long miles of bumpy rocks and dirt, but once you’re in the parking lot for the Wirepass Trailhead, it’s easy to get on your way to The Wave. Either way, it was going to rain over night, and we were told to call the rangers at the visitor’s center in the morning to confirm the best route to take to get to The Wave.We left the visitor’s center just before 10am, starving, but above all, SO EXCITED to hike The Wave the next day. We spent the rest of that day at Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, had some amazing BBQ for dinner, and then slept at a campground by Lake Powell. We got into bed embarrassingly early, intent on waking up before the sun to pack up and have the full day ahead of us for the hike – as rain was in the forecast, we wanted to try and time our hike with some sun, if at all possible!As planned, we woke up bright and early and called the visitor’s center regarding the best route to get to The Wave. They told us that The Notch was completely washed out, and that if we wanted to get to The Wave, the only way in was via the Wirepass Trailhead. However, they warned us that even the Wirepass Trailhead road could be tricky – when the clay road is wet it can be impassable, even to vehicles with 4-wheel drive. In places there are steep drop-offs, and as there’s no reception, it’s not at all safe to chance.With this in mind, we set off optimistically, the sky clearing up as we finally reached the Wirepass Trailhead road.The drive started off OK, but about two miles in (which took about 20 minutes to drive!) we came to a huge puddle. We managed to get around it, but not long after we came to another even bigger body of water that spanned the length of the entire road and then some! It looked like a small pond. Could we go through it?? I got out of the car, found a long stick, and dug it into the outer edge of the puddle. When I pulled the stick out, I was shocked to see that more than a foot of the stick was wet, meaning that even the perimeter of the puddle was too deep for our low-sitting convertible to navigate. Kai and I decided it was best not to chance totaling our expensive rental car. However, there was no way we were passing up an opportunity to hike The Wave, and problem-solver-Ali-brain kicked in, quickly ticking through a list of solutions:

We could chance driving up to the northern access point, but that would take about two hours, and if the road was indeed washed out like the ranger’s had told us, it would be too late to attempt anything else.

We could hire someone to drive us in, but it would be pretty hard to find a guide available in the next few hours, and even less likely that we could find one with a four wheel drive vehicle.

OR, we could find a car with 4-wheel drive, and attempt the road ourselves.

The last option seemed the most likely, so we drove back to the highway where we had reception and searched for rental car locations online. We found Xpress Rent-A-Car Of Kanab (which was about an hour away) and called to see if they had any bigger vehicles with 4-wheel drive. They said they had one Jeep left, so we told them to hold it for us and that we’d be there in an hour. We raced back up the highway to Kanab, and then sat in an old school rental car company where we completed a bunch of paperwork by hand. Soon (slowly, but soon!) we were the proud renters of a sturdy Jeep with 4WD. The only catch was that the car rental company wouldn’t loan a car to Kai as he had an international license . . . so I had to rent and drive the car myself – yikes!! Keys in hand, we swapped our things quickly from the convertible to the Jeep, said farewell to our low-riding car, and hit the highway once again! At this point, it was a race against the clock, as we needed enough sun to complete the 6 mile round trip hike, and it was already quite late in the afternoon.We hauled ass (excuse my language!) back to the Wirepass Trailhead road. We had already spent about five hours driving to and from the access road, but that last leg was the most excruciating.  I’ve never driven a Jeep before, nor have I done any off-roading. So we banged and bumped down a dirt road for about 10 miles, splashing through massive puddles and along slippery edges of the road.The last part of the drive was the most tricky, where the road turned into a river, which was flooded. We drove upstream, all the while praying we didn’t get stuck – or get a flat!But finally, FINALLY, after racing around all day, throwing extra cash at a new rental car, and off-roading for more than an hour, we reached the trailhead for The Wave!! We raced to change into our hiking clothes, threw some snacks and water into our hiking pack, locked up the jeep, and started navigating to The Wave!The first part of the hike was easy, as we essentially continued hiking up the riverbed we had been driving along to get to the parking lot!However, our first tricky task of the hike was making sure we turned off the river at the right point. There were lots of small paths leading away from the riverbed, and we did our best to follow the directions as outlined by the park rangers.Soon, we were hiking upwards, away from the clay and towards firmer, rocky ground.And by hiking, I mean joggling slowly, because our worst fear was getting trapped at The Wave in darkness, and it was already late afternoon!In our haste to switch from the convertible to the Jeep, I completely forgot to throw a spots bra in the bag with my hiking clothes. So I free-boobed along the trail, bouncing everywhere as we paced quickly along!
Soon, the landscape became piled with gigantic, rocky ant hills. I was already completely amazed with the scenery, having never hiked in a hot, cracked desert before.As we continued, the valleys between the rocky hills got steeper and steeper.And we knew we were almost there . . . As we rounded the next turn, we were greeted by a large swoosh of fiery colors – we had reaches The Wave!Woooooo!

As it had rained the day before, the basin of The Wave was filled with water.Which made for some seriously breath taking photos, as the swoops and curves of the red rock were reflected in the water.What a sight to behold!

We then had the pleasure of exploring the area – turning in and out of different ravines and rocky valleys, only to be even more amazed by our surroundings each time.

We could never quite define the colors that surrounded us – were they red? Yellow? Orange? We were constantly surrounded by swirling-fire rocks, that changed in hue as the clouds passed the sun.The park ranger had told us that once a man took off his shirt and attempted to slide down the side of The Wave into the water, as if it were a slip and slide. He was then air-lifted to the hospital. The wave may look curvy and fun, akin to a water park attraction, but in reality it’s rough and cracked, like an oversized sheet of sand paper.


After roaming around for about an hour, the sun fell behind the crimson mountain beside us. We knew the sun’s departure meant that we had to make our way out, so we didn’t get caught on the trail in the dark. So we stopped for a quick snack before hiking 3 miles back to the Jeep. Our self timer photo attempt! I was so petrified that my camera would slip and glide down the side of the mountain! Is this Mars, or Arizona?! Soon, rounded up our things and headed back to the Jeep. Which was a bit tricky to navigate in reverse!

Have you ever seen such a brilliant blue puddle?!Back through the human-sized ant hills we climbed.

The lighting getting prettier and prettier with each step we took. Can you believe those chalky peach hues?!If I were a hang photos on the wall kinda gal, this one would be blown up BIG. Finally, we were back in the river bed, where we started our trek. At this point, we took a deep breath – we MADE IT! We didn’t get lost, we didn’t get stranded in the dark, we didn’t slide off the road (yet!) and we were almost back at the car!Couple celebration photos were called for!!

Never have I been so relieved to arrive in a parking lot!! WE DID IT! We hiked The Wave!! From here, we drove back to Kanab and returned the Jeep. It took almost three hours, because going was slow down the 10-mile dirt road in the dark! We also had to stop and give the Jeep at bath, as it was quite apparent we had done some off-roading ;) Exhausted, we strolled into a nice restaurant for dinner in Kanab, and enjoyed a proper cooked meal before driving to Bryce!! Which is where I will pick up in my next post.

Until then xo


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