Destinations

Coyote Buttes North

The Wave

Trail Length: 6.5 miles out-and-back

Degree of Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Change: 1,500 feet

In the heart of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona lies a geological wonder known as "The Wave." This unique sandstone formation has captivated the imagination of adventurers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts from around the world. This page will delve into the fascinating details of what The Wave is, the reasons behind its unparalleled popularity, how it was formed, its location, obtaining permits, and what to expect if you have obtained a permit.

Where is the wave located?

Situated on the Utah-Arizona border within the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and Coyote Butte. The Wave is part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The remote location and protected status of the area contribute to its pristine and unspoiled condition. Visitors can expect an isolated and serene environment that enhances the sense of wonder when encountering this geological masterpiece.

Hiking to the wave

Accessing The Wave requires embarking on a challenging hike. The round-trip trek covers approximately 6.5 miles, starting from the Wire Pass Trailhead. Hikers must navigate a combination of sandy terrain, rocky slopes, and occasional scrambling. The elevation gain and difficulty of the trail is not extreme but the environment is very exposed on an often undefined trail. Challenges that hikers face are, getting lost, extreme heat, and sun exposure. The difficulty of the hike, coupled with the unpredictable desert climate demands proper preparation, a reasonable level of fitness, and a reliable means of navigation.

The wave in Arizona

What is the wave?

The Wave is a surreal and otherworldly sandstone formation renowned for its undulating, wave-like patterns that seem to ripple across the rock surface. Composed of Navajo Sandstone, the mesmerizing striations and vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow create an almost dreamlike landscape. The visual appeal is so profound that The Wave has become a mecca for photographers, drawing artists and nature lovers seeking the truly unique experience and visual sights found in the area.

How was the wave formed?

The geological story behind The Wave begins around 190 million years ago during the Jurassic period. The area was once a vast expanse of dunes, and over time, the accumulation of windblown sand transformed into the intricate patterns solidified into the shapes we see today. Erosion played a significant role, sculpting the Navajo Sandstone into the sinuous curves and delicate ridges that make The Wave so visually arresting.

Why is the wave so popular?

The allure of The Wave lies in the obvious beauty and the sense of discovery that awaits. The unique geological features, combined with the challenging journey required to reach it, create an exclusive and intimate experience for those fortunate enough to secure a permit. The limited daily access contributes to the site's preservation, ensuring that only a select few get to witness its mesmerizing beauty at any given time and that those who are exploring can be accounted for.

The Wave has gained international acclaim through social media, with stunning photographs shared by lucky visitors spreading its fame. Its popularity has turned The Wave into a bucket-list destination, attracting nature enthusiasts, photographers, and adventure seekers from all corners of the globe.

Getting to the wave

It is essential to bring an abundance of water. Most of the 6.5 miles are exposed with little shade or protection from the sun. It is critical to have the proper sun protection, food, and water. 

An additional challenge those exploring the area must be prepared for is, much of the trail is unmarked making navigation preparedness vital. The BLM reccommends considering the hiring of a guide and urges only attempting with the proper hiking and navigation experience. It is very easy to get lost on the vast and seemingly endless red rock surface and desert expanse.

Permits

Due to the fragile nature of The Wave's environment and the dangers present in this harsh climate, a limited number of permits are issued each day. To secure a permit, prospective visitors must participate in a lottery system or day-of permit process. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages The Wave permit system and physically monitor the area and compliance with permit numbers and permissions. Individuals can apply online using the rotating lottery system or in person at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center for limited day-of permitted access.

The max group size is 6 people. Dogs are permitted in the area with a fee and do not count against the permit allowance. If visitors secure an approved guide, one guide is permitted and also does not count against the permit allowance.

What to bring

  • Sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes. 
  • Sun protection: Hats, bandanas, sunscreen, sunglasses. 
  • Water/food.
  • Navigation: Maps, off-grid navigation, and/or a guide.

Seasons

The Wave is in a desert region on the border of Utah and Northern Arizona. The summer can get extremely hot and temperatures are often in the upper 90's or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with high sun exposure. Winter may experience some snow but winter can be a great time with increase chance of permit drawout and walk in permits. Spring and Fall are some of the best weather conditions for this trek through the sand and stone. 
The Wave is in a desert region on the border of Utah and Northern Arizona. The summer can get extremely hot and temperatures are often in the upper 90's or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with high sun exposure. Winter may experience some snow but winter can be a great time with increase chance of permit drawout and walk in permits. Spring and Fall are some of the best weather conditions for this trek through the sand and stone. 

Nearby

Kanab 
White Pockets 
Antelope Canyon
Horseshoe Bend
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