The Thrilling Bucket List Hike In The West That Has Become Nearly Impossible To Do

If you've ever seen a photo of a rippling, layered red rock that seems to flow like a crashing wave and longed to gaze upon it in person, you're not alone — but if you want to see it for yourself, you literally have to win a lottery. It's not that this trip is expensive; it's just almost impossible to get authorization to visit The Wave. Only 64 people can enter each day.


You can find The Wave near the border between Utah and Arizona in a region known as Coyote Buttes North in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This area has some of the world's most beautiful landscapes, so it's not surprising that so many people desperately want to explore it. Like many of the U.S.' most sought-after bucket list hikes, you'll need a permit.

To protect this fascinating place, the Bureau of Land Management only lets a few people visit at a time. There's so much competition that you can enter the lottery for a permit and not get chosen for months or even years, but according to the lucky winners, it's worth waiting for. One reviewer on declared enthusiastically, "We loved it and am so excited I was able to hike this after 5 years of trying to win the lottery. Don't give up!"


How to get a shot at hiking The Wave

If you want to experience The Wave in person, you need to understand how runs the lotteries. An advance lottery allows you to apply for permits four months from the day you enter (an ideal option if you have a trip to plan.) You can also go for a daily permit issued just two days before you'd head into Coyote Buttes North, so you'll have to either live nearby or be willing to drop everything and hop on a flight. You don't have to hike with strangers, though. You can absolutely go alone if you want to (just review the safety tips for solo hikes), but when you apply for your permit, you can put the names of up to six people on it.


The lottery system is completely random and starts fresh every time a name is drawn, so there's no real way to improve your chances. Your odds of winning any one lottery are slim, and unfortunately, there is a fee to enter that you can't get back if you lose. It only costs $9 for your entire group to enter and an additional $7 per person if you win — but if you have to enter every few days for years before you win, those $9 fees could add up.

Try visiting Coyote Buttes South while you wait

While The Wave is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will probably have to wait awhile to gain access to it. Fortunately, Utah and Arizona have plenty of stunning lesser-known gems that you can visit in the meantime. One option is Coyote Buttes South, which also requires a permit, but there's a lot less competition for it. While it might not have The Wave, it does have rolling layered red cliffs, including one known as Little Wave, that might scratch that same itch.


Just like if you want to visit its neighbor, Coyote Buttes North, you'll need to pay $9 to enter the lottery two days in advance and an extra $5 per person on your permit if you win. Dogs are welcome, but you must add them to your permit. Just be aware that there are no trails in this wilderness, so be prepared for a tough hike through the sand, and have a plan for navigation before you go in.