Hiker access to The Wave and Coyote Buttes North, among the most coveted hiking destinations on the Colorado Plateau, could increase nearly fivefold, from only 20 visitors a day to as many as 96, under a draft plan the Bureau of Land Management has released.
The plan would chart a new management direction for the designated wilderness that wraps around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument straddling the Utah-Arizona state line between Kanab and Page, Ariz. Many thousands come hoping to explore The Wave, located in Arizona, via a 6.4-mile round-trip hike from the Wire Pass Trailhead in Utah, but the vast majority cannot get permits.
The hike is listed as “moderate” difficulty in many guidebooks.
"While this is accurate from a topographic perspective, other aspects of the hike render it more difficult than the ‘moderate’ label implies," the BLM wrote in an environmental review document. "No trail is discernible for most of the hike, and, in compliance with the Wilderness Act of 1964, route signage is minimal within the wilderness portion of the route."
The Wave, with its undulating sandstone features, has received glowing national media exposure.
“The increasing publicity has drawn the attention of people who are not particularly experienced hikers, thus increasing the risk of lost and/or distressed visitors,” the report said. “Weather conditions can be extreme, with hot temperatures in spring, summer and early fall, and cold temperatures in winter. Lost hikers and medical emergencies, particularly heat-related ailments, occur often, including several fatalities in recent years.”
Since 2013, the number of hikers seeking permits for The Wave has exploded from 87,000 to more than 200,000 last year. Just 7,300 permits were awarded last year, meaning permit seekers now have about a 3.65% chance of success.
The new plan proposes issuing 16 group permits, each open to six hikers, allowing for up to 96 people to experience The Wave each day.
The plan would improve signage on the route to The Wave, enlarge the Wire Pass parking area to two acres and add a second two-acre lot nearby “as needed.” It would also enlarge parking at five other trailheads and install several new vault toilets.
Access to Coyote Buttes South would remain limited to 20 hikers a day.
Access to Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch would likewise remain unchanged. Visitation to these two slot canyons, which averages about 800 hikers a month, is unlimited, while just 20 overnight hikers are allowed in each day.
The BLM is accepting public comment through Oct. 12 and will hold public meetings from 5 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 24 in St. George, Sept. 25 in Page and Sept. 26 in Kanab.