The Wave is a geologic wonder in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of Northern Arizona, formed by Navajo Sandstone. Over millions of years, forces of wind and erosion have shaped the rock here into the remarkable patterns we see today.
As recently as the 1960s, the Wave was only known to local cowboys and ranchers, but it is no longer a secret – the Wave’s popularity has exploded and continues to rise.
To help protect it, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) enforces a strict day-use permit system that allows 10 walk-in permits and 10 online permits per day.
How to Get a Permit for the Wave
You can apply for a permit online, four months in advance of the date you wish to visit. There are two types of online applications:
- A non-refundable and non-transferable lottery application. This does not guarantee that you will obtain a permit to hike the Wave. However, it does submit your name(s) to a random drawing. 48 lucky winners are chosen for each date.
- A cancellation or open date. Although rare, you can obtain a permit four months in advance of an “available entry space”. The Coyote Buttes North permit website has a calendar where you can select these.
Tip: If you are unable to get a permit for The Wave, The Fire Wave in Nevada is a comparable hike that does not require permits.
The other way to apply for a permit is visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT and try your luck in the walk-in permit lottery.
These take place at 9 a.m. every day (except for federal holidays). It’s advisable to show up early. That way, you have time to fill out paperwork and learn about the process.
In late October 2019, Kim and I spent a few days parked at the Kanab RV Corral. I figured I’d enter the lottery each morning and if we didn’t get a permit, explore somewhere else. There is no shortage of spectacular hikes in the area.
As luck would have it, my name was drawn on the second morning. I couldn’t believe it! If you win, you are only able to get a permit for the following day. For us, that was Halloween. We didn’t have costumes but one guy was dressed as Spiderman. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo.
Try During the Offseason for Better Chances
Your chances of securing a permit are much greater during the offseason, between December and February when the weather is colder. During this time of year, average highs are in the 40s, with lows in the 20s.
Winter snowfall is infrequent but it does occur. The Wave’s climate is comparable to Page, Arizona so I recommend referencing climate data here.
- Distance: 6.4 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 4-5 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 740 feet
- Fee: $7 per person
- Dogs: Yes, but you must also pay $7 per dog
- Difficulty: Not a difficult hike, but there are no established trails and lots of sand
Hiking to the Wave
The hike starts at Wire Pass Trailhead, off of the unpaved House Rock Valley Road. The trailhead is 8.3 miles south of the dirt road’s intersection with US Highway 89.
Your permit has two parts: One goes in your vehicle (make sure it’s visible from the dashboard), and the other gets attached to your daypack. There is also a register box at the trailhead. Be sure to write in the time when you arrive and do it again when you leave so the rangers don’t think you’re lost.
From the trailhead, follow the wash for about 1/2 mile then bear right onto a sandy path to leave it. Continue uphill then across a flat section toward a small saddle. When you reach the top, continue south atop the slick rock, then look for Twin Buttes.
As you get closer to Twin Buttes, look for a large cairn (pile of rocks) below the formation. Head toward it, then skirt around the right side of the buttes.
When you reach the other side of Twin Buttes, look to the south for a white rock formation in the distance. The Wave is located at the bottom and center of this blob of sandstone.
As you get closer to the Wave, you’ll drop down from the slick rock and cross Sand Cove Wash. On the other side, ascend a steep sandy hill then follow the drainage to the Wave’s mind-blowing entrance.
What to Bring to the Wave
Your pack list is going to look a bit different depending on what time of year you hike to the Wave. Summertime highs often exceed 100° F and wintertime lows can drop to the teens.
No matter when you go, sun exposure and dehydration are going to be primary concerns. Each person in your group should carry 3-4 liters of water. SPF 50 sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, and hydration salts are also advisable.
Leave No Trace
The Wave itself, the rock formations you encounter on the way to it, and the high desert environment are all quite fragile. Take special care to minimize your impact.
Pack out ALL trash, food scraps, and toilet paper. There are no toilets at the trailhead. If you have to poop, dig a 4-6 inch deep cathole at least 200 feet away from where people walk. I recommend this ultralight shovel for that.
If you use trekking poles on this hike, make sure to use rubber tips instead of carbide ones. It’s unbelievable how soft and brittle the sandstone is and you don’t want to mark it up.
Because the route is off trail and unestablished, it can be difficult to achieve this, but do your best to follow existing footprints. This helps to reduce damage to cryptobiotic soil crusts that support the ecosystem.
From Kanab, UT
From US Highway 89, drive 38 miles east of Kanab, UT and turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. Continue south, 8.3 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead.
From Page, AZ
From US Highway 89, drive 36 miles west of Page, AZ and turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. Continue south, 8.3 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead.
Note: House Rock Valley Road is 2WD but may be impassable when wet. High clearance and AWD are preferable but not required.
- Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau
- Hiking and Exploring the Paria River
- Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country
More Great Hikes Near Kanab
Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.