Yes, we won! We won the lottery to hike The Wave! For those of you who are not familiar with The Wave, it is an area in northern Arizona that is so popular that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls access to the area using a lottery system. For details on the lottery and more information about The Wave click here.
The Wave is accessed from a trailhead in southern Utah and you hike about 3.5 miles (roughly) to a spectacular rock formation with colors that swirl. A portion of the trail is unmarked and you hike on sand, dirt, and rock. You go up and down a number of times before the final climb to The Wave. In some sections there is no real trail and the rumour is about 30% of hikers get lost returning so you are encouraged to keep checking your landmarks from all directions (which is what you should always do when hiking in the wilderness). The BLM, should you win, will send you both a permit for the hiker and one for your vehicle along with directions, trail markings, and landmarks to aid in your navigation.
We stayed at Wahweap Campground in Page, Arizona and departed early on the morning of our permit day just before the sun rose. We wanted to be hiking as early as we could to ensure plenty of time to make it to The Wave and back while enjoying a leisurely day. The drive was close to an hour from Page with the last 8 miles being slow going as it was on a sand/dirt road which can be impassable (or require 4WD) should there be a heavy rain.
We got to the trailhead (which is actually in Utah) around 7am and it already had about 5 or 6 cars there. Only 20 people are allowed into The Wave hiking area per day with a permit but other people park at this same trailhead to hike some of the other trails in the area. We were here in early October and when we arrived the temperature was about 37 degrees F. The sun wasn’t quite over the mountains yet but it quickly warmed up to the 80’s or higher once the sun came out. Off we went on our hike!
The first part of the hike is a wash and not real sandy so it was quite easy. After 1/2 mile or so we climbed up a rocky/dirt hill to a plateau and the trail became hard packed sand. We followed that for quite a distance going slowly downhill to another wash which we crossed. At this point we needed to make sure that we identified the correct saddle to cross over as there are more than one. Up we went over the saddle (the correct one) to a rocky area. From there we had to try and stay as high up as we could, at least that’s the advice they give hikers. We followed the landmarks as directed through rocks and some deep sand until we eventually could see a crevice in a rock quite a distance away. The crevice is what you aim for as The Wave is just below that. Somewhere along this way we entered back into Arizona. What surprised me most was how much deep sand we hiked through. The last little bit to The Wave is uphill in deep sand (which I fought for awhile) while my husband took a detour around the sand. His route was steep and a bit longer but he avoided the exhausting climb in the deep sand. It worked. We made it up there but my boots were full of sand!!
We arrived at The Wave just as a group of 3 people were leaving. This meant we had the area to ourselves for the time being. We walked around, explored, and sat for awhile soaking up the scenery. Yes, the pictures all look the same but it was beautiful, red, golden, and swirly.
As we left The Wave a couple was just entering it. It was like a tag team. Your turn! It probably took us a little over 2 hours to get to The Wave and almost the same to get back. Before we headed back we stopped for a picnic lunch under the only tree we could find. It was a nice rest and allowed us to soak up some dinosaur tracks! All in all we probably spent at least 5 hours hiking there and back and enjoying the unique scenery along with an hour drive each direction. That makes for about 7 hours in total. A perfect day!
We had no problem making it back to the trailhead but did have to check the landmarks from time to time to make sure we kept heading in the right direction. No problem. Towards the end of the hike as we made our way back up the last hill of sand/dirt we encountered 3 park rangers who were doing a safety/permit check so we chatted with them for a few minutes. Between the rangers and the people we encountered leaving and entering The Wave, that was the only people we saw…..until we returned to the car at the trailhead parking lot.
Yes, the parking lot was quite full but we got to our car and made the hour long journey back to Lake Powell. It was a great day, perfect weather, a fantastic hike, and well worth it! We would do it again if we were ever lucky enough to have the opportunity!!!