Want to Hike the Most Exclusive Trail in America? You’ve Got a 3.7% Chance

PHOTO: Allegra Zagami

What’s your lucky number?

Summer vacation excitement is quickly replaced with nail-biting anticipation as the lottery balls tumble in their cage. A hand reaches in slowly to pull out the first number. The dry desert air escapes the small classroom, and for a moment, everything stands still.

Nearly 100 travelers from across the world sit anxiously clutching their lottery numbers. These tickets are the only barrier standing between themselves and the Martian landscape that awaits. Just 10 will win a permit for one of the most highly contested hikes in America. The park ranger calls the first number.

Feeling Lucky?

The Wave, at Coyote Buttes North, is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness between the Utah/Arizona border and is one of the most iconic and exclusive hikes in America. The incredible Navajo sandstone rock formation, painted with bands of red, orange, pink and yellow, is both a photographer’s and hiker’s dreamscape. While the epic beauty of the Wave is what draws travelers from across the world deep into the Paria Canyon, the journey to reach it is just as unforgettable.

The excursion begins in four-wheel drive on a long dusty road, just off Highway 89, to reach the start of the trail. Traversing an unmarked backcountry wilderness, you are guided by photos of geographic landmarks on a map provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The hike begins as you make your way towards the first milestone: the small saddle.

The dramatic terrain changes underneath you with each step, alternating between miles of flat and rocky sandstone ridges, followed by soft sand dunes.

INSIDER TIPFor the perfect shot, aim to arrive at the Wave between 10 a.m.-12 p.m. local time when the wave is fully lit by the sun.

Take a moment for yourself to experience the 360-panoramic view of the environment that surrounds you. The magnificence of the landscape is intensified by the solitude of the trail. How often are we given a moment to escape our thoughts and feel still?

Across the final sandy plane, the first sight of the glimmering pink and orange sandstone bands become visible between the mountains. In this moment, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with an immense sense of achievement and awe.

Allegra Zagami

The Lottery

Feeling alone in nature, finding your way through an unmarked trail to arrive at this truly unbelievable natural wonder, is why over 200,000 people entered the lottery last year. It comes as no surprise that the BLM instituted a lottery system to preserve the fragile sandstone rock by limiting it to only 20 visitors per day.

However, you may not be able to experience the Wave in solitude for much longer. There’s currently a petition to increase the daily visitors to close to 100, undoubtedly changing the humbling seclusion of the experience. My advice to you, enter the lottery before it’s too late.

How to Win the Lottery

Maybe the explorer in you is calling, or maybe you’re in it for the exclusivity and bragging rights. Whatever the reason, you’re here to win a permit.

You have two options: enter the advanced lottery online, or walk into the BLM office in Kanab, Utah and try your luck in-person for a next-day permit.

Of the 20 visitors permitted to hike the Wave each day, 10 are selected from the online lottery, and 10 are selected in-person. In 2018, 84% of applicants entered online, while only 16% tried in person.

Option 1: Enter the Online Lottery

The online lottery opens at 12 p.m. MT, the first day of every month, for a permit to hike four months later.

During the application process, you are able to choose three preferred dates. Be sure to scroll down the page and look at the application table to select a date with fewer applicants to increase your odds.

There is a $5 non-refundable application fee to enter, and your application can include up to six people. Remember, you can only enter one application a month or risk disqualification from the lottery forever. If selected, the permit fee is $7.

Option 2: Enter the In-Person Lottery for a Next-Day Hike

Perhaps you’ve already hiked through the cool waters of the Narrows at Zion National Park, photographed the light beams at Antelope Canyon, and gazed deep into the beauty of the Grand Canyon. At this point, you might be looking for something a bit more exclusive.

Only 10 permits are reserved for the daily walk-in lottery at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah for a next-day hike. Arrive between 8:30-9 a.m. local time to add your name to the list–the draw begins promptly at 9 a.m. It’s important to plan your trip and accommodations accordingly; if you win, your permit will be valid only for the following day. Unlike the online process, entering the lottery in-person is free of charge, so if it’s your lucky day, the price for the permit is just $7 per person.

Allegra Zagami

Congrats Lottery Winners!

So, you’ve secured your spot and now you’re ready to plan and prepare. The good news is, no prior hiking experience or strenuous conditioning is needed. The hike to the Wave is roughly 6 miles round-trip, through a pretty flat terrain with just a 400-foot elevation gain.

Although the hike to the Wave is not extremely physically challenging, it’s important to consider the time of year and weather when you’re hiking. During July and August, temperatures can quickly reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit, making the conditions more strenuous. Should your lottery luck provide you a permit to hike in the warm summer months, aim to start your hike early in the early morning to beat the heat and avoid hiking during mid-day.