The Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is a world-class scenic resource that draws outdoor enthusiasts of all types, especially photographers, from all over the world. In order to protect the environment and the experience here, the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, has placed restrictions on access to certain parts of this area via a permitting system. This system and all its rules are explained at length by the BLM HERE. The process is often confusing, even for locals, so this blog attempts to break it down in one place, and to provide you with insights into strategy, which as far as I can tell, no one has yet done in writing. It will behoove you to read it all even though it is long and complex.
The Wave Permits and Lottery Strategy
Because of the high demand for permits to The Wave (Coyote Buttes North), two BLM lotteries now determine who gets them.
One BLM lottery is held online HERE. 10 online permits per day are drawn 3 months* in advance. The draw on the 1st of the current month at 9:00am is for the entire future month. Online Applications can be made for 30 days prior to each monthly draw. The other 10 permits are drawn in an in-person lottery at 9am the day before at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab (see below). On Fridays during the off-season (NOVEMBER-FEBRUARY) the drawing is for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
*PLEASE NOTE: THE BLM SAYS THE ONLINE LOTTERY IS 4 MONTHS IN ADVANCE BECAUSE THEY INCLUDE THE 30 DAY ENTRY PERIOD IN THE TOTAL.
The truth is the chances are not particularly high in either lottery as only 10 people are given permits through each lottery for each day. I think the odds can reasonably estimated at somewhere between 2% and 10% between April and October depending on party sizes. Odds are better for smaller groups and on Friday in Winter (December-February) because of the triple day draw in a proportionately smaller pool. Odds used to be much better in the dead of winter especially if weather loomed or it was a holiday like Christmas, as high as 100%, but since the original writing this is almost unheard of. Winter travelers are more numerous reducing odds to less than 25%. Winter, be warned, has other considerations namely weather and road conditions.
Weather and Road Conditions on House Rock Valley Road
The limiting factors in winter are wet weather, snow on the ground, the sloppy condition of House Rock Valley Road, and a dangerously icy trail over the sandstone. Wet weather can also be a factor in summer when afternoon thunderstorms can flood/mud the crossing of the Buckskin Gulch and turn the road into what us guides call “gorilla snot”. In this condition the road can become nearly impassible and/or dangerous for ill-prepared visitors. The local tow company has a field day. Never attempt House Rock Valley Road or crossing Buckskin Gulch when flooded or muddy, especially in a 2wd. Not only will you ruin your own day, but you will block the road for everyone else.
All that being said, in good conditions most vehicles can make it to Wire Pass TH (Wave) even if the drivers are violating rental contracts and risking flats with cheap street tires. High Clearance 4wd is necessary though if one wishes to leave the main road to go to South Coyote Buttes or White Pocket. When the conditions are borderline or roads too sandy, guided tours will still operate and can keep you safe. There are limitations, however. Sometimes they still cancel for safety when there is significant snow on the ground. To take risks of injury and have the Wave covered in snow anyway is a losing proposition for everyone.
Other Paria Permits
South Coyote Buttes, another area of multi-color slickrock sandstone, requires a permit that can be obtained by online application 3 months in advance (first come/first served) or by walk-in request the previous day at 10am at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Canter in Kanab (see below). When there are more requests than permits a lottery is held. If this occurs, odds are usually much higher than the “WAVE” lottery as the area is less visited due to difficult navigation and deep sand. SCB requires a high-clearance 4wd, knowledge of how to drive on sand, and navigation tools and abilities. It used to be that these could be gotten about 90% of the time a few years ago. I estimate that as of 2016, this has gone down to about 50%-60% depending on time of year. ******Please don’t be the person that reflexively grabs South Coyote Buttes permits online right after you lose the Wave lottery without knowing what you are getting into. This wastes permits for those that can actually use them. Without a tough hike to get to the tough hike you cannot use SCB permits with a rental car of any type. AWD is NOT 4WD. A Traverse, or Subaru, or other typical samll rental wagon will not make it.*****
Wire Pass Slot Canyon requires a self-service permit obtained at the trailhead.
White Pocket does not require a Special Permit, but it does require a high-clearance 4wd, knowledge of how to drive on sand, and navigation tools and abilities. To read more about White Pocket as a great substitute for the Wave and the difficulties getting there read my article HERE.
There are small fees ($5-$7) associated with all Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Permits.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab:
745 East Highway 89, Kanab, UT 84741
Phone Number: Information: (435) 688-3200, Actual VC Desk: (435)644-1300
Hours: 8am-4:30pm, 7 days a week (March-November), Mon-Fri (December-February). Closed on Holidays.
Safety and Guided Tours
There are many safety and logistical issues associated with getting to the Paria Wilderness and back to civilization safely. Don’t become a statistic! People sometimes get themselves in predicaments in the Paria Wilderness by being unprepared, ill-equipped, and/or inexperienced. Kane County Search and Rescue goes after wayward tourists multiple times every year. It has turned fatal more than once.
Guided Tours to the all of the locations mentioned above as well as several different combinations are available through Dreamland Safari Tours. Their experienced, naturalist guides help you to get the most out of your experience in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness by showing you the subtle points of interest and photography you won’t find on your own. They explain how the geology, ecology, paleontology, and human history of these extraordinary places have unfolded over hundreds of millions of years. They keep you and your rental contract safe on unpredictable House Rock Valley Road, guide you on a special scenic route to the Wave, and carry satellite communications as well as abundant supplies in case of Emergency.
Lottery and Planning Strategy with Guided Tours
There is definitely a strategy for those wanting to visit the Wave (Coyote Buttes North) on a guided tour. It all begins with attempting the online lottery DRAWN 3 MONTHS IN ADVANCE. If you get lucky online, then the issue is settled and you can set up a tour with us on your date. For South Coyote Buttes the same process applies except the online permit process is first come/first served. On the 1st of the month, 3 months in advance, at 12pm, be on the ball to get the dates you want. They do not last long.
Kanab In-Person Lottery
If you miss the online lottery you still have another chance. One choice is to go to the in-person lottery in Kanab at the last minute and try to get permits and then give us a call to see if we have seats available. If we do we would love to serve you. Just keep in mind we do fill up and that this strategy may leave you with no options for a guide if you do get permits, and no experience of this place in general, as a reward for coming here, if you do not win.
Over the years we have devised a better strategy. It amounts to both us and our guests agreeing to hedge our bets. Because of the ever increasing demand, the current extreme complexities in the lottery system, and the prospect (unbelievably) that the government may introduce more complications and efficiency losses to this process, we have been forced to create an orderly way to book people in that are interested both in the Wave and in the nearby locations/formations which are similar to the Wave. When I say similar they feature some of the same geologic sandstone layers of which there are many outcroppings. Formations and colors do vary. We call these options Conditional Tours and we have two varieties of them.
Keep in mind that whatever conditional option you choose, the results are bound to one day and all participants win or lose as a group. We do not accept remainder permits and split tours at the last minute. We do one draw for one tour on one day. Because of the extremely negative efficiencies for us, and what would be total chaos on our calendar and planning, we cannot do multiple draws on multiple days until a single group wins. We also cannot make just any of our tours the alternate. Because most people are attracted to the Wave in the first place, the alternative will always be a similar nearby location, depending on permits (SCB/WhPo or WhPo only). The only exception to this is if you are a group that fills the truck (5 passengers). A group of five, since it already fills the truck can set up any alternative tour they wish. Likewise as long as it is a full group who wishes to go on a tour each and everyday that they have us draw, we can draw for them on multiple days. Keep in mind it is a free service and these are the limitations we are forced to observe. It is however a free service that many find desirable and valuable as they do not have to be present in Kanab the day before.
Conditional Tour A:
Wave/White Pocket & South Coyote Buttes Combo/White Pocket Only
We enter both lotteries the day before. If Wave (North Coyote Buttes) lottery is won the tour simply goes to the Wave. Hooray! If we lose the Wave lottery, then an hour later we try for South Coyote Buttes. If we win the SCB lottery, then we do the SCB/WhPo Combo tour. If we lose both lotteries we do White Pocket only. Don’t worry if this happens, and it is somewhat likely, it is still an awesome tour. White Pocket many people think is more stunning than the Wave. It also has a larger variety in a bigger area amongst other advantages listed HERE on a separate blog post.
Conditional Tour B:
White Pocket & South Coyote Buttes Combo/White Pocket Only
This is the same as above only some people choose this option without the Wave for various reasons: they have already seen it, they can’t or don’t desire to do the longer hike, they just want to have a great day and don’t care about the Wave.
Currently all conditional options are booked by phone, which is fine because many times there is confusion over the complexities, which we can explain.
****Please do not call us and try to game our system or convince our personnel to agree to any other arrangement. We cannot do it. All of our staff are extremely well versed in the nexus of navigating our internal complexities and the lottery complexities to the best result of everyone. Please trust us. It gets very tiring answering 5 calls a day with people trying to find a better way and questioning whether we know our stuff, and then making what we strongly believe is the incorrect decision to wait to the last minute to be stuck with no destination, and no guide. We are not a magic bullet to getting permits. We can only assist you in the process and try to maximize your overall chances of having a good time here, including a CHANCE of the Wave. We are here to serve you, but not to the detriment of ourselves. Other than that we would love to hear from you.******
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog. We hope to hear from you!