The Wave in Coyote Buttes

Mother nature is usually pretty cagey about her creative process. She wants us to believe all the earth’s features are just coincidental products of natural processes.

But she tipped her hand when she made The Wave, just across the Arizona border. It’s a little too down-the-middle, beauty-wise, with its baroque bands of red, pink, yellow and white Navajo sandstone arcing precipitously up, down and around ancient stone chutes. A little over-designed if she’s trying to maintain an air of indifference.

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The Wave is the common point on the map where world’s geologists, psychedelics, couples taking engagement photos and Victor Vasarely groupies get together and try to keep their mouths closed. It’s like a hurricane, freeze-framed. If you forget your camera, no one will believe you.


The Wave is in the north section of Coyote Buttes, between Paria Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Turn off US-89 about halfway between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona — if you can get a hiking permit, that is.

The Wave’s overwhelming popularity caused the BLM to limit foot traffic to 64 people per day, so while the hike itself is a fairly straightforward 2.6 miles each way, getting the required permit can be tricky. The majority of permits are issued by lottery for dates four months out; the other 16 are granted one day in advance. The most popular months are April, May, September and October.

Consider yourself warned: Riding the Wave requires either dumb luck or patience and planning. More info on permits here.


On its résumé, the Wave refers to its stripes as lithified eolian laminae, but that just means rock layers made of windblown sand. As Jurassic wind patterns changed, different sand dunes blew across the southwest desert, cementing into the striations that now look like a topographic map writ large. The water drainage that carved the two main chutes dried up a long time ago, so now wind is the Wave’s primary erosional force. Maybe you care about all that, maybe you don’t, but keep in mind how many millions of years it took to make before you climb on something you shouldn’t.

Oh, and the Wave doesn’t have a monopoly on Coyote Buttes North’s picturesque. Leave some time to explore nearby dinosaur tracks, Melody Arch, Top Rock, Fatali’s Boneyard, Sand Cove and the Second Wave.

Access world-class longform canyoneering in Paria Canyon’s Buckskin Gulch. Same trailhead as the Wave but a different (self-paid and unlimited) permit.

And if you don’t draw one of the coveted North permits, Coyote Buttes South is bigger and less crowded, with plenty of its own amorphous Jurassic earthwork. Some people even prefer the Wave-less (placid?) South section. See Paw Hole, Cottonwood Cove, teepees, fins, etc.

Coyote Buttes North and South are areas to wander, not trails to hike, so bring a GPS and either hire a guide or do some homework. South permits are easier to come by, but apply early anyway. Four-wheel drive recommended.


Professional photographers, don’t even bother. At the Wave, even an idiot with a flip phone will take pictures that belong on a gallery wall. (Just kidding, pros. We can tell the difference. Do your thing.)

If you’re hiking Coyote Buttes North, you literally won the lottery, so you’re gonna feel pretty giddy to rush straight to the Wave. But take a breath; first consider the theropod footprints in the soft morning light. Save the Wave for midday, when it’s all lit up, then hurry up and try to shoot everything else before you run out of light or energy.




78 South 100 East
Kanab, UT 84741

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