How Do I Win the Wave Lottery?
It is called “The Hardest Permit to Get in the USA” by Outside and Backpacker Magazines. Your chances stand at roughly 3% on any given day. People enter month after month for, in some cases, years before winning (if they ever do). No doubt that The Wave of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona is one of the most sought-after destinations in the southwest, and the BLM’s daily quota of just 20 visitors makes it a tough proposition. Is there a strategy that can be employed to increase your chances? We sent The Goat out to do a hard target investigation. This is what he found:
In order to lend ourselves the best chances, we started by pegging dates that were during the week. We decided on having an average group size (4), and picking presumably less-popular times of the year. We divided our applications between the online lottery and the in-person lottery. The in-person lottery is held daily at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. We had all four people in our “group” apply online, and sent one of our group to the in-person lottery. Our goal was to employ a “blanket” strategy to best monopolize our potential chances. We could also properly calculate what, if any, our success rate might be. Over the course of two months, we employed this strategy following these criteria, and logged our failures and successes.
The Online Lottery
The Wave’s online lottery is where this permit gets it ornery reputation. With the in-person lottery being highly inconvenient for the vast majority of applicants, this lottery is not far from playing the Powerball Jackpot and hoping to win even a modest prize. The BLM splits permits 10/10 for the online and in-person for 20 people each day, so you can imagine what your odds might be. It’s like elbowing through throngs of crazed teenage girls at an NSYNC concert circa 1997. To play this game of chance visit the BLM’s Wave Permit Page.
The In-Person Lottery
The Wave’s in-person lottery, though inconvenient for most, can give the applicant a slightly better chance. For our purposes, we camped near the BLM office and tried to be the first to the door at opening time (8:30am, 7 days a week). In-person permits are typically offered for the next day, although if permits were not filled they may issue you one for the same day.
Kanab Visitor Center in Kanab, UT 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 84741
Playing the Odds
Our success rate at the conclusion of our experiment was quite low, as expected, for the online lottery. Given the cost of the permit ($7/person if you win, with a non-refundable $5 application fee for each application), and the low chances of winning, this strategy is not so much a strategy as a commitment. We spent nearly $500 and obtained two permits for middle-of-the-week in late November, and one in early February. Our final odds of winning, given our failure vs. success rate was a paltry 10%. (20 application, 2 permits).
Though this is higher than the national average, this was our own success rate and not measured against all other applicants. We imagine that the advertised 4% success rate is perhaps even slightly higher than actual. That being said, the thrill of victory is tangible in the face of numerous defeats. Our testers literally cheered and danced when permits were issued. Worth the sacrifice!
On the flip side, the In-Person lottery yielded excellent success. Our employed strategy of having a camper near the BLM office paid off nearly 100% of the time. In fact, the only time it was not successful was when our camper slept through his alarm and ended up being buried in line. The trick to the in-person permit is this: one person may apply for one permit, regardless of group size (up to 10). For example, only three people may apply, but they may each have parties of 4 or more, meaning that only two groups would be successful, and only two people from the remaining group would be issued a permit. For fairness purposes, we gave our permits to those who were behind us. Pay it forward!
The Goat’s Conclusion
Hiking The Wave is a must for anyone interested in wild scenery, challenge, photography, and of course geology. Though winning The Wave lottery can be an adventure in and of itself, it is highly advisable to take the plunge. Persistence, perseverance, realistic expectations, and a disciplined system with a set budget will pay off eventually. If at all possible, the in-person lottery is absolutely the way to go. But, if this is not a possibility for you at all, you must bear the challenge of the online lottery, which even when employed with a strategy can be difficult to win.
How You Can Apply for Permits to The Wave
Permits to Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) and South are issued by lottery, both online and in-person as discussed. For Coyote Buttes North, the cost is $7/person on the permit, and for Coyote Buttes South the cost is $5/person. For other parts of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, as well as the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness just to the north, permits are free and supplied at the trailheads of Wire Pass, White House, and for other areas such as White Pocket. Any overnight stay requires a backcountry permit, obtained either at the trailhead or the Kanab Visitor Center. Be advised there is no overnight camping allowed in the Coyote Buttes permit area.
Permits to The Wave can be applied for four months in advance of your requested date. You have an entire month to apply, and you can apply for up to three entry dates per application. If you are successful you will be authorized for one of the days. There is a non-refundable $5 fee to apply, and you will be notified of the first of the month via e-mail whether or not your application was successful.
Let’s say you wanted to visit Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) in April. Here is the procedure you would follow.
1. Go to the Permit Page between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31.
2. Follow the directions, choosing up to three possible entry dates. If successful, you will only be authorized one date.
3. You will be notified via e-mail the first day in January whether your lottery application was successful or not.
4. After being notified, you will have 14 calendar days to pay for your permit. You can pay online with your credit card. Your e-mail notification will contain a link to a secure web page, where you can go to pay and submit the remainder of your trip information.
5. Your permit will be mailed to you four to six weeks after you have paid your fees, unless you chose the option to pick it up in Kanab, St. George, or the Paria Contact Station when you filled out your permit application.
The way the lottery works essentially nullifies any attempt to be an “early bird gets the worm” type of situation, and you have as good of a chance of winning the lottery regardless of your application date or time. Applications received in the month of April, for example, have equal chances of being selected for permits issued in August regardless of what day in April the application was received by the BLM.
Rules and Regulations
From time to time, people will ask us “can I go to The Wave without a permit?” The answer here is simply, NO. Your permit must be displayed visibly on your pack/person at all times, must account for all people in your group, be paid in full, and for the dates displayed on the permit. Violation of any of these will result in immediate ejection from Coyote Buttes, and a $1200/person fine. Multiple violations can result in lifetime bans, and even federal criminal trespassing charges. But what are the chances you’ll be caught in such a remote place? The Wave, while remote in terms of general ideal, is very popular and highly regulated.
The BLM devotes quite a bit of time and resources to The Wave for safety, environmental study, and conservation purposes. Though they are not “out to get you”, they will enforce regulations. The chances of having your hiking party interact with a BLM Ranger in the Coyote Buttes area is almost 100%. Please, please go through the permitting process. The more people that violate the regulations may result in stricter rules, less permits, and even a shutdown of the area altogether.
Safety and Transportation
Located adjacent to highway 89A near the Arizona/Utah border, The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is one of the most spectacular, wild, and unspoiled places in the American Southwest. Consequently, it is a rugged place that can be difficult to navigate. Do not even consider visiting The Wave, or any other part of Vermillion Cliffs without 4WD (AWD is NOT 4WD), several detailed maps, a compass, GPS (not in-dash), and plenty of water. If heading to White Pocket or Coyote Buttes, be prepared to drive in sand, which can be very challenging if you have not done it before. Many a truck have been lampooned in the sands of Vermillion Cliffs.
So you’ve won the lottery, great job! Now you need to get there and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to its fullest extent. A guide can be an invaluable resource in a place like this, and there a no better than the geologist/guides of Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism. We will help you plan your visit from start to finish and ensure that you see all the highlights of Vermillion Cliffs (more than just The Wave). After your epic adventure we get you back safe and sound, and guarantee an intensely special and memorable experience.
The Final Word
Everybody wants to go to The Wave and The Wave is absolutely worth the visit. It’s a right of passage for many world travelers and backcountry adventurers. However, the lottery and regulations can make it tough to see, particularly if the online lottery is your only possibility. Coyote Buttes South permits are somewhat easier permits to obtain, and still works on the calendar system, giving you the possibility of specifically choosing a date. Your chances are much higher (like 25% higher), and Coyote Buttes South has some astounding and gorgeous scenery.
White Pocket also is among the most fabulous places in the Southwest, and regarded by some as even more spectacular than The Wave and Coyote Buttes North. It only requires a day permit and has no lottery, making it highly accessible. Other areas of the Vermillion Cliffs such as Paria Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch are among the most excellent canyons in the world, with Buckskin Gulch in particular being regarded as the longest, deepest slot in the world. Whatever your choice, rest assured that just because you didn’t score that permit to The Wave you won’t be missing out on some of the best the American Southwest has to offer.
As always, the best way to experience The Wave, Coyote Buttes, White Pocket, or Wire Pass is with our geologist/guides. See you on the Trail!
May The Goat be always with you
For The Goat’s Geological Musings visit his personal blog
Follow @RealGeoGoatand @bluemarblegoat
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How Long is the Havasupai Falls Hike?
Hiking down to the shimmering waters of Havasu Falls is on the bucket list of most outdoor enthusiasts. Who wouldn’t want to take the plunge into some of the most iconic waters of the American Southwest? Inviting as they seem, however, getting to Havasu Falls is not particularly easy, cheap, or for the faint of heart. The trail is quite long, steep in places, and mostly in the sun. This is not to mention the sometimes dizzying exposures along two ridges.
Here are the best ways to get to Havasu Falls, as dictated by The Goat:
Hiking, as usual, is The Goat’s recommended method of travel. It allows one to truly experience nature and the wilderness was meant to be; unobstructed by whirring motors, and metal boxes on wheels. Though there are other means of travel to reach Havasu Falls (two of which are covered later in this post), hiking is by far the most rewarding. In addition to the physical rewards, the scenery is outstanding, and a multi-day backpacking trip allows hikers to explore the area deeply, which is not to be missed.
Several small tributaries to Havasu creek have carved intricate canyons of their own. Though the waterfalls and turquoise waters are the main attraction, the creeks, chives, falls, slots, and defiles off the beaten path are well worth the time to explore. Here, we outline the particulars of the main hike from its main (read: only) trailhead. Please do not attempt to reach the falls by any other routes or trails.
Length: 10 miles one-way
Difficulty: Strenuous, especially coming out of the canyon in the summer
If you can get a permit, GO! (Read more about Havasupai Permits here). This is one of the most coveted permits in the world, and getting one is no easy task. The best season to go is the date your permit says.
As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has changed and streamlined its permit process. You MUST reserve permits online, there is no longer a number to call.
Once again, the tribe has changed things up a bit. New in 2019, the only kind of trip available to reserve as 4 days/3 nights. You can no longer customize your trip length. The rates are $100/night during the week (mon-thurs) and $125/night on the weekends (fri-sun). This means, on average, a 4 day/3 night trip the Havasu Falls will cost you somewhere between $300-$375 per person on the permit.
Hiking down to the village of Supai and Havasu Falls is absolutely the way to do it. The 10-mile hike from Hualapai Hilltop to the campgrounds is reasonably difficult, so plan on hiking 4-5 hours down, and 7-8 hours back up. The weather can be very warm, and there is NO water along the trail. Bring at least 3 liters of personal drinking water, and remember there is no water until you reach the village of Supai, 8 miles down the canyon.
The trail starts quickly, with 1 mile of switchbacks descending 2000 feet into the canyon. Be aware of mules and horses on the trail as you make your way, they can be unpredictable. Always yield to animals. One of the most unfortunate things along the trail is the observation of animal caracasses; the pack animal situation here has become untenable (more on this later). You may reserve pack animals in the village of Supai, or at the campground. Stay on the side of the trail to avoid spooking the animals, and respect their handlers instructions..
Animals and Wildlife
There can be other wildlife (as if pack animals are wildlife) on the trail the you will want to stay aware of. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and poisonous spiders are part of the desert ecosystem here. Do not put your hands in a place where you can’t see them. Do not, under any circumstances approach or in any way disturb rattlesnakes in particular. The most commonly-treated snakebite injury is on the hand. Would you like to guess how a rattlesnake bites a person on the hand?
Hikers may also catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, California condors, Red-tailed Hawks, and copious numbers of lizards and rodents such as chipmunks and ground squirrels. Do not approach or attempt to feed wildlife. The rodents may carry the Hantavirus, which is a particularly horrific, Ebola-like virus that can result in death. Also, keeping wildlife wild is what makes wilderness what it is and was meant to be!
Continuing Down the Canyon…..
The hike meanders on the trail for 7 miles before reaching the village of Supai. The first 3 miles of this trek offers very little shelter from the sun. At length, hikers reach the terminus of Hualapai Canyon at the junction of Havasu Canyon, where the famous turquoise waters of Havasu Creek first appear. From this junction, you have just 1.5 miles to reach the village of Supai.
The Village of Supai
The village of Supai, where the Havasuapai Tribe has made their home for the better part of the last 800 years, is a small and quaint place. Services are very limited. There is no cell phone reception (but you probably knew this from the moment your phone lost reception below the canyon rim), and even the mail comes by mule train to this day.
There are some options for supplies, however. In addition to the campground office, there is a convenience store stocked with items like chips, jerky, gatorade/water, and other snacks provisions (bacon!). This a great place to recharge for the last 2 miles of the trek to the campgrounds. There is also a diner, grocery store, and more in the town, so take a moment to explore.
The Last Leg to the Falls
Departing from Supai, hikers descend for an additional 1.5 miles down Havasu Canyon. Come around a bend, and wait for a figurative punch in the face. The outstanding scene around the corner, the famous Havasu Falls, comes into view. Cascading nearly 150 feet over cliffs of travertine, Havasu Falls plunges into the blue-green waters with a thunderous might. This view alone will make every step of the journey worth it.
If you can, pry yourself away from the mesmerizing view and continue to the campground, a short half-mile beyond the falls. The campground has running water and trash receptacles, please use them both responsibly (more on this later). Bringing additional water bladders and water bottles can cut down on the time spent at the faucet. There is but one faucet, and lines will form at any time of year. Be smart, plan ahead, save time.
While at the Campground
Havasu Falls and the surrounding area is a very popular place. Do not come here expecting solitude, or anything that could be considered a “wilderness experience”. While it is intensely beautiful, it is that beauty that makes it very crowded. On any given night, during all times of the year, expect to share the campground with somewhere between 300-400 other people. Also expect a nearly constant din of helicopters landing and taking off, as this has become a very popular method of reaching the falls.
There are several things you can do while at Havasu Campground to minimize your personal impact. Rule one: Pack it in, pack it out. If you bring it, take it the hell out (please). Do not flick cigarette butts, toss napkins or do your dishes in the creek. Do not act a fool. Over the years, especially as the popularity of this place has grown, guests here have acted fools; don’t be them.
There are trash receptacles at the campground itself, along with more in Supai. Don’t be one of the rubes who comes to this beautiful place only to treat it as their personal dumping grounds. Please contribute positively towards a future where everyone that comes here can enjoy its pristine beauty and granduer without having to stare a pools full of popped intertubes, discarded bras, cigarette butts, and beer cans.
Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds – 10 Miles
Hualapai Hilltop to Supai – 8 Miles
Supai to Campground – 2 Miles
Campground to Mooney Falls – 0.5 Miles
Mooney Falls To Colorado River – 8 Miles
Mules and other pack animals such as horses have long been used to transport gear, supplies, and people up and down the canyon walls of Havasu. In recent years, this practice has been adopted by several private outfitters that run trips to Havasu Falls. Due to crowding, jostling, and overall irresponsibility and disregard, this pack animal situation has become untenable. What exactly does that mean? It means that there have been numerous cases of serious animal abuses, from dehydration and starvation, to squalid trail and living conditions, to outright physical abuse and death.
The Goat strongly advises against using any company that offers pack animal-supported tours. The long list of serious offenders (which we won’t mention here out of professional respect), reflects a culture of lack of accountability. There are ZERO companies that offer pack animal-supported tours that have a 100% clean sheet of responsibility. You may contact us directly for more information on this malpractice.
There has been a massive increase in the popularity of getting to Havasu Falls by skipping the hike, instead opting to ride a helicopter. The Goat cannot stress how much he detests this practice, and bids adieu to anyone wishing to do it. You may do what you please, but we cannot and will not instruct, offer information to, or otherwise involve ourselves in an industry that actively degrades and disrespects the sanctity of wilderness. Also, get off your lazy butt and walk down if you want to see something beautiful.
****As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has placed a moratorium on all commercial guiding into Havasu Canyon. Due to overwhelming popularity, overcrowding, and lack of regulation, the tribe thought it best to place a hold on all guided tours until a proper management plan can be outlined. Contact us for information regarding self-guided tours, and other means of support for trips to Havasu Falls.
The Goat’s Final Word
Havasu Falls and the four azure waterfalls that accompany, are some of the most beautiful, unique, and stunning scenes the world has to offer. The journey to reach it is challenging, but extraordinarily rewarding. Please follow and respect the permit regulations and requirements, and once there please have reverence and respect for this truly special landscape. The tribe has significantly altered the permit process, and placed restrictions on commercial guiding companies in order to combat the overrunning of their homeland.
Going to Havasu Falls and exploring the fantasy-like landscape is an absolute bucket list destination; a destination that any hiker who wishes to explore Earth’s most special landscapes would want to check off. However, getting there takes advance planning, commitment, and respect.
For more information on the Permit Process, visit the Havasupai Tribal Website
Like our blog? Check out our guided tours through geologic time to Grand Canyon, Utah Canyon Country, and Arizona Red Rock Country!
How Much Does it Cost to get into Grand Canyon?
What would you pay for a million dollar view into 2 billion years of Earth’s history? While we say this is priceless, there is a price when entering Grand Canyon, and all National Parks here in the USA and around the world. In fact, depending on what you want to do, there may be other fees to explore the park in addition entry fee itself. There are permit fees for overnight hiking, camping and designated use area fees, lodging, and if you’re the gift shop type (who among us can resist?), there can be almost limitless optional fees. Never fear, The Goat is here to break it down for you, whatever adventure you may crave in Grand Canyon National Park.
Looking out across the Tanner Trail in Grand Canyon
This is the most straightforward, and it is paid upon entry to Grand Canyon. Instead of individual fees, the fee is per vehicle for passenger cars. Fees vary depending upon the type of vehicle you drive, and your vehicle can include up to the legal number of people that can fit in your vehicle.
Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit- $35.00 (U.S. Dollars)
Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized groups are not eligible for the vehicle permit.
Grand Canyon National Park Motorcycle Permit- $25.00 (U.S. Dollars)
Admits one single, private, non-commercial motorcycle and its passenger(s).
Grand Canyon National Park Individual Permit – $15.00/person (U.S. Dollars)
Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, park shuttle bus, Grand Canyon Railway and private rafting trip. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.
These fees are charged for any kind of overnight expedition below the rim. This includes backpacking, rafting, or any kind of activity that requires an overnight stay below either North or South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park.
Backcountry overnight permits are $10 per permit plus $8 per person or stock animal per night camped below the rim and $8 per group per night camped above the rim.
*Be advised that backcountry permits can be hard to come by in busy season, and really all times of year, especially for corridor trails such as Bright Angel and South Kaibab into Phantom Ranch. Make your reservations as early as possible, or call us for more information on a guided tour
Camping in the developed campgrounds of Grand Canyon National Park provides easy access to the canyon during sunrise and sunset, two times that any photo enthusiast will want to observe. Be sure to make reservations well (months) in advance, as spots book very quickly. Do not expect to roll into the park, regardless of the time of year, and get a campsite without a reservation. The North Rim Campground is open from May 15 to October 31, and camping can be had at-large and for free in the Coconino National Forest (South Rim) and Kaibab National Forest (North Rim) if you get shut out of the park.
South Rim Campgrounds:
Mather Campground: $22/night, reservations required
Desert View Campground: $22/night, first come-first served
North Rim Campgrounds:
North Rim Campground: $22/night, reservations required
Contact Grand Canyon National Park
Sunrise on the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park
Annual passes to Grand Canyon are the way to go if you plan to be here more than a couple of times in a year. There are several passes to choose from, and some are awarded free to those who qualify such as military and senior citizens.
National Parks Annual Pass
This pass allows for unlimited access to every National Park and National Monument in the National Park system. It does not cover other fees such as camping, nor does it grant access to State Parks. This is easily the best value for people that want to explore several (more than 3) National Parks within the year. The pass grants one year of access from the date it was purchased, and costs $80.
This pass is available to currently-serving members of any military branch. Simply present your military ID at any federal recreation site, and you will be granted free entrance. You may also get a hard copy of the pass itself. Thank you for your service!
The Senior Pass is available to any US citizen over the age of 62. You must present proof of age and residency. This is typically as simple as showing a current drivers license. If you do not have a driver’s license, here is a list of acceptable documentation. The cost for this pass is $80 lifetime, or $20 annually.
This program began just a few years ago, and is a really great initiative by the NPS. Any child in 4th grade may be granted a free pass during their entire 4th-grade school year (September-August). This is a great way to get kids excited about America’s Best Idea, the National Parks! Visit the Every Kid Outdoors website for more information about this pass.
The Access Pass is available FREE to any US citizen or permanent resident with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation on their residency and medical conditions to qualify. Read this article for more information about the Access Pass.
250 hours of volunteer service will earn you a free lifetime pass to the National Parks. Find out more about how to volunteer here.
Exploring and hiking in Grand Canyon is more than worth the cost of admission. Simply seeing the canyon up close is an experience that most cherish for their entire lives. Hiring a guide outfitter service dramatically enhances your experience in these glorious wild lands. Outfitters handle logistics that could otherwise bog down a trip, provide safety and security in the wild, and have a depth of knowledge about the region that truly brings it to life.
Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism takes it to the next level, offering a glimpse into deep time with our geologist/guides. Tours function as time machines, whisking guests back in time through the lens of the dramatic rocks.
Happy guests on a Blue Marble Grand Canyon backpacking tour
The Goat’s Final Word
Grand Canyon is a stupendous hole in the ground. In this hole you can find wonder, awe, spirit, and soul. Come here; the cost matters not. However, if general information is required that is certainly sensible. The cost of entry to Grand Canyon is $35/week for passenger vehicles, which is how most enter the park.
There are different fees for different activities within Grand Canyon, such as overnight use and camping. There is a myriad of annual passes available as well that can provide tremendous value for those that wish to visit multiple times a year, or to visit different parks besides Grand Canyon. See you on the trail!
Read our blog, The Call of the Goat.
To experience the southwest in a geologic time machine check out our tours in Grand Canyon, Utah, and Arizona.
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Explore Further, Be Wild, See Through Time — Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism