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Winning the Lottery: The Wave

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.

Edward Abbey
“The Wave”

One hundred and two applicants–all vying for only thirty spots. It was the largest group of the year applying in person to be able to hike into the Coyote Buttes North wilderness—better known as “The Wave.” Even though it was a frigid winter day in Kanab, Utah, the turnout was huge. Like us, these other hopefuls wanted to experience this once-in-a-lifetime hike into one of the premier sites for photography in the American Southwest. Even though most people have probably never heard of The Wave, they’ve probably seen pictures of this landmark. It’s been used as a screensaver photo by Microsoft, on magazine covers, and in commercial advertising.

The Wave is so fragile and popular, that permits for only twenty people per day are issued—ten online and ten through an in-person lottery. The odds of winning this drawing for wilderness nirvana are abysmal. 

On this Friday, only thirty slots would be allotted: ten each for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Laurie and I had less than a thirty percent chance of having our number drawn. 

But it was.

Two mornings later our party of six was at the trailhead. Because the access road was in such poor shape the National Parks Service had strongly recommended a 4WD vehicle. We hired a tour company that provided a guide and vehicle. Jake and Grace, who had also won the lottery, joined our adventure and split the costs. They were in the process of moving from Boston to San Diego with their dog, Teak, the sixth in our party. Teak rode for free.

Normally we are do-it-yourself travelers, but were glad we used a guide. Lottery winners get a detailed description of how to reach the wave—which requires paying close attention. But we were able to enjoy the trek while our guide, Steve from Manchester, led us to The Wave on a more roundabout and interesting route. He’s also a gifted amateur geologist and was able to explain the history of the region and explain the color and formation of specific rock formations. When he realized we were all (including Teak) fit hikers, he took us on a more challenging and picturesque return trail.

Sometimes you find yourselves on one of these adventures and it turns out to be a lot of hype. Although there is a lot of hype around the Wave, it did not disappoint us as you can see from the small selection of photos in this post. 

Our route covered close to eight miles and took us five-and-a-half hours, including breaks to enjoy the scenery and take extensive photographs. We were blessed with great weather—not a given during that time of year—and great company.  

This was likely a once in-a-lifetime adventure for us. Hopefully you’ll have the chance to experience it as well. 


  • Thanks to our friend Dick who told us about his Wave adventure. He failed many times using the on-line method but won a pass at the in-person lottery. He also recommended the Canyons Boutique Hotelin Kanab, Utah—the town where the in-person lottery is held. 
  • Travis, the owner at the Canyons Hotel connected us to Dreamland Safari Tours and Steve after we won the lottery. Travis also recommended and Grand Circle Tours (
  • Interested in your own Wave adventure? See the Bureau of Land Management website here for information on how to apply, and expect to need a lot of persistence. DO NOT hike it without a permit. Fines can be up to $10,000 and could include jail time. 
  • If you’re blessed enough to win a permit, you can download GPS tracks at this site. I would give you our GPS record—but Steve took us on a secret route which I won’t give away. 
  • In Kanab, Utah, we enjoyed Sego Restaurant (in the Canyons Hotel), Peekaboo Canyon Woodfired Kitchen, and Vermillion 45. 
Laurie and Steve discussing local geology

4 thoughts on “Winning the Lottery: The Wave”

  1. Really enjoyed these pictures. Will enjoy seeing more. I think it is great that you two do the walking and I get to see it without any effort,other than holding onto my tablet. Thank you.

  2. Those pictures are sure beautiful! I had seen the main one as a brief screen saver awhile ago. Do enjoy, as you do!
    Feb. 4 – 2 inches of snow
    Feb. 8 – 8 inches of snow
    Feb. 11 – 8 more inches of snow
    Feb 11 night and into today the 12th – some thawing temps a bit (good!)
    Most snow in decades here!

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