How to obtain Wave and South Coyote Buttes permits
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 the North and South Coyote Buttes areas. We tour these two landscapes frequently and work through the permit process almost daily so we have built this resource page to offer our expertise in how to get Coyote Buttes permits. The Coyote Buttes system and all its rules are explained at length by the BLM HERE.
Did you know Dreamland Safari Tours can attend the lottery on your behalf to help get you permits?
We recommend you first try to get the permits online (detailed instructions below) but if you don’t succeed or if you’ve missed the deadline, don’t despair. Give us a call to discuss your options or book a “Conditional” tour online. Conditional simply means we do not know where your tour is going until we attend the permit lotteries the day before your trip. You are guaranteed a tour, we just don’t know the location.
If you want to go to the Wave (Coyote Buttes North) but you don’t have permits, you may still book a Wave tour for up to five people. Just indicate in the questions at booking that you do not have wave permits and that you accept the alternatives. We call this our “Conditional A Tour.” We will attend the Wave permit lottery on your behalf the day before your trip to try to obtain those permits for you. If we are lucky enough to win we get to take you to the Wave in Arizona – chances are usually about 10%, but this varies seasonally. If we do not get those permits, we will enter the South Coyote Buttes lottery. If we win that lottery, we will take you on the South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket “combo” tour. If we don’t win either permit, your tour will be for White Pocket (which is equally spectacular but just out side the wilderness boundary meaning: no permits required). ***NEW in 2020: Instead of South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket, you may also choose our new Amazing Sandstone Teepee Tour as your fallback option to the Wave.*** No matter what, a day of your trip has already been arranged and you’re headed somewhere extraordinary. Use the links above to book online or call us to set up a conditional tour.
If you are not interested in the 6-mile minimum hike to the Wave, or you’ve already been but want to see the South Coyote Buttes and don’t have permits, book a South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket combo tour. Also for groups up to 5, just indicate in the questions at booking that you do not have South permits and that you accept the alternatives. We call this our “Conditional B Tour.” We will attend the South Coyote Buttes lottery on your behalf. If we don’t get the permits, we will take you to White Pocket. Either trip is incredible. You won’t be disappointed. Use the links above to book online or call us to set up a Conditional B Tour.
Because of logistics, we will only enter permit lotteries for you when you book a conditional tour as described above. The only time other location alternatives may be selected is if your group has five people. We cannot reserve trucks or have guides on standby in case we get permits. You must agree to White Pocket or the Amazing Sandstone Teepees as the alternate location if we can’t get permits. Trust us, it’s incredible. Many people like either of those two locations better than the Wave.
We do not charge a fee for our service of attending the Coyote Buttes lotteries, we simply request that you reimburse us for the actual cost of the permit, which is $7 per person for the Wave or $5 per person for South Coyote Buttes. If you’re serious about getting to the Wave, the best strategy is to book the Conditional A Tour with us on your first full day in Kanab and choose a 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. time slot. We will attend the lottery for you while you are traveling. If we don’t win, you can attend the lottery on the rest of the days of your vacation to Kanab. We can even pick you up at the BLM Visitor Center right after the lottery for your tour. This increases your chances by being in the draw on one extra day.
Wave Permits – a basic explanation
Because of the high demand for permits to the Wave, which is in North Coyote Buttes, two BLM lotteries determine who gets them. Twenty people total are admitted into North Coyote Buttes on a given day.
Ten of the 20 permits are awarded between three and four months in advance in an Online North Coyote Buttes permit lottery. For example, if you wish to hike to the Wave in October, you would need to apply for a Wave permit sometime from June 1 through June 30. On July 1 at 9 a.m., all of the permits for the month of October will be awarded. The other 10 permits available for each day are drawn in an in-person lottery at 9 a.m. one day before you want to hike at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab (contact info below).
What to expect at the Wave lottery
Go to the Kanab BLM Visitor Center at 8:30 a.m. the day you want to hike and listen to a brief explanation of the lottery process. After 8:30, one representative from each group will be allowed into the lottery room where a permit application must be completed and turned in before 9 a.m. for each group. You will need your license plate number, among other basic contact information. At 9 a.m. each group will be assigned a number and a ball corresponding to each number will be placed in a Bingo ball spinner. The group size limit is 6 people. Only 10 permits are issued during the lottery – one permit per person. So if a group of 6 is chosen in the lottery, there are only four permits remaining. The lottery can go quickly! There are days in which 11 permits are issued instead of 10. This happens if a group of two or larger is chosen when only one permits remains. The BLM will issue one extra permit for safety reasons to prevent a person from hiking solo if they really wanted a buddy.
On Fridays during the off-season (November-February) the drawing is for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday because the BLM office closes over the weekend. The office is also closed on Thanksgiving, which is the fourth Thursday of November, and also on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Permits for the holiday and the day after the holiday are both drawn the day before the holiday. In general, more people travel during holidays and these permit holiday draws are usually heavily attended, so your chances of obtaining a permit are usually below average even though two or more permit draws are held on the same day.
You increase your chances slightly by being in a small group vs. a larger one. Also, plan in advance how you might split your group if your number is called but there are not enough permits for all of you to go. If you are a group of 5 and only 3 permits remain when your number is drawn, you will have to give up all the permits or leave 2 people home.
This is a tough decision, better made ahead of time in private than in front of a large group of strangers. Tears have been shed and the strongest of friendships have been tested at the Wave lottery. We’re sort of kidding, but not really.
How do I fill out a Coyote Buttes permit application?
Most of the questions on the application will be straight forward. If you are applying online you will be asked which trail head you plan to use. If you plan to hire us as your guide service, put Wire Pass for the Wave. This is the trail head just about everybody uses. For South Coyote Buttes enter Cottonwood Cove for entry and exit. This is the area our tours visit most often. If your tour includes Paw Hole, you can still visit both areas. When entering a group number you do not need to include the guide when obtaining permits yourself. Just put the total number in your group. For the license plate, put UTAH. For the license plate number, enter GUIDE. When asked about the recreation fee, enter NO. If the company name is required, put DREAMLAND.
What are my chances of winning a Wave permit, really?
According to data presented by the BLM at a public meeting held in Kanab in 2019, 32,272 people applied for Wave permits in person in 2018 and 168,317 applied online.
7,300 total permits were awarded in 2018, that’s 3,650 online and 3,650 in person. So the chances of winning the in-person lottery on a given day were 11% and chances of winning online were 2%. Of course, this number fluctuates seasonally, especially with the in-person lottery. Recently, we have seen the odds as good as 50% on a December day in 2018, as good as 25% in late July, and as bad as 7% when 395 applicants applied for a three-day holiday weekend over Christmas. Generally speaking, in the heat of the summer, odds are normally around 1 in 4 of winning in person. In the winter, odds are typically somewhere around 1 in 3. In the spring and fall, odds are 1 in 10 or worse.
How to get a South Coyote Buttes permit
South Coyote Buttes, another area of multi-color slickrock sandstone that is just south of where the Wave is, also requires a permit that can be obtained by online application three months in advance (first come/first served) or by walk-in request the previous day at 10 a.m. at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab. For instance, permits for October are made available at Noon, Utah time, July 1 for the entire month of October. These permits go very quickly, usually within 15 minutes. Be on time. Be prepared to answer all of the questions on the application. Have a range of dates in which you are available and you are likely to get a permit online.
If you miss your chance, just like Wave permits, 10 South Coyote Buttes permits are awarded in person the day beforehand. Go into the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab and request a South Coyote Buttes application. At 10 a.m. permits will be awarded. If there are more than 10 applicants, a lottery will be held. During the busy spring and fall season, odds can be about 1 in 3 or 1 in 4, while in the middle of winter or heat of the summer, a lottery is not usually held at all and everyone who requests a permit gets one.
There is a lot of difficult navigation and deep sand on the way to South Coyote Buttes. South Coyote Buttes requires a high-clearance 4wd, knowledge of how to drive on sand, and navigation tools and abilities. Paw Hole can be reached by a long, difficult uphill hike in deep sand. Cottonwood Cove requires a good 4X4. The rental AWDs are not good enough. Don’t even try it. We strongly recommend hiring a guide service. Please do not obtain a permit if you are not prepared to use it. This prevents others from enjoying this remarkable landscape.
Wire Pass permits
Wire Pass Slot Canyon requires a self-service permit obtained at the trail head. These cost $7 per person.
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.
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 the Wire Pass trail head where the Wave hike starts even if the drivers are violating rental contracts and risking flats driving on thin tires designed only for street use. 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.
Kanab BLM Visitor Center contact info:
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 Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
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. Our 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. We explain how the geology, ecology, paleontology, and human history of these extraordinary places have unfolded over hundreds of millions of years. We 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.