The Wave, located in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the Arizona-Utah border, is a striking geological formation renowned for its vibrant, undulating layers of red and orange sandstone. This natural wonder, shaped by wind and water over millions of years, attracts photographers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts from around the globe. This comprehensive guide explores everything you need to know about visiting The Wave, from its geological formation and unique features to permits, hiking tips, and nearby attractions.

Geological Formation

Origins of The Wave

The Wave is a product of the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, formed approximately 190 million years ago. During this period, the region was covered by a vast desert with enormous sand dunes. Over time, these dunes were buried and cemented into sandstone, with subsequent erosion by wind and water sculpting the rock into the wave-like formations seen today.

Unique Features

The Wave’s distinctive appearance is characterized by its smooth, flowing curves and vibrant colors. The alternating bands of red, orange, yellow, and pink sandstone are a result of varying iron oxide concentrations and mineral deposits within the rock. The intricate patterns and colors make The Wave a stunning subject for photography and a remarkable natural spectacle.

Permits and Access

Permit System

Access to The Wave is strictly regulated to preserve its delicate environment. Only 64 people are allowed to visit per day, divided between an online lottery (48 permits) and a walk-in lottery (16 permits).

  • Online Lottery: Applications for the online lottery can be made four months in advance through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website. The lottery is highly competitive due to the limited number of permits.
  • Walk-in Lottery: The walk-in lottery is held at the Kanab Center in Kanab, Utah, for permits to visit the following day. Applicants must be present for the lottery drawing.

Lottery Tips

  • Online Lottery: Apply as early as possible and consider applying for multiple dates to increase your chances.
  • Walk-in Lottery: Arrive early, as the lottery is popular and the number of participants can be high, especially during peak seasons.

Getting There

Starting Points

The primary starting point for hiking to The Wave is the Wire Pass Trailhead, located off House Rock Valley Road. This unpaved road can be rough and may require a high-clearance vehicle, especially after rain.


  • From Kanab, Utah: Drive east on US-89 for about 43 miles, then turn right onto House Rock Valley Road and follow it for approximately 8.3 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead.
  • From Page, Arizona: Drive west on US-89 for about 35 miles, then turn left onto House Rock Valley Road and follow it for approximately 8.3 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead.

Hiking to The Wave

Trail Overview

The hike to The Wave is a challenging 6.4-mile round trip with a moderate elevation gain. The trail is not well-marked, requiring good navigation skills and a sense of direction. The hike typically takes 3-5 hours to complete, depending on fitness level and pace.

Navigation Tips

  • Maps and GPS: Use the map and GPS coordinates provided with your permit. The BLM also offers detailed route descriptions and photos to help with navigation.
  • Landmarks: Pay attention to key landmarks described in the route guide, such as rock formations and distinctive features.
  • Avoid Getting Lost: Stay aware of your surroundings and take note of significant landmarks to help guide you back to the trailhead.

What to Bring

  • Water: Bring at least 2 liters of water per person, more during hot weather.
  • Sun Protection: Wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect against the intense desert sun.
  • Navigation Tools: Carry a map, compass, and GPS device or smartphone with offline maps.
  • Food and Snacks: Pack enough food and high-energy snacks to keep you fueled during the hike.
  • First Aid Kit: Include basic first aid supplies for blisters, cuts, and other minor injuries.

Best Time to Visit


  • Spring (March to May): Spring offers mild temperatures and vibrant wildflowers. It’s one of the best times to visit, but also one of the most popular.
  • Summer (June to August): Summer can be extremely hot, with temperatures often exceeding 100°F (38°C). If visiting in summer, start your hike early to avoid the heat.
  • Fall (September to November): Fall provides cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, making it another excellent time to visit.
  • Winter (December to February): Winter brings colder temperatures and the possibility of snow, which can add a unique beauty to the landscape but also make the hike more challenging.

Photography Tips

Capturing The Wave

The Wave is a photographer’s paradise, offering countless opportunities to capture its stunning colors and patterns. Here are some tips for getting the best shots:

  • Lighting: The best light for photographing The Wave is in the morning and late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky, creating softer light and enhancing the colors.
  • Angles: Experiment with different angles and perspectives to capture the flowing lines and curves of the rock formations.
  • Equipment: Bring a wide-angle lens to capture the expansive landscape and a tripod for stability, especially in low-light conditions.

Nearby Attractions

Coyote Buttes South

While The Wave is located in Coyote Buttes North, the Coyote Buttes South area also offers stunning rock formations and fewer crowds. Permits are required and can be obtained through a separate lottery system.

  • Highlights: Colorful rock formations, remote and less-visited landscapes.
  • Access: High-clearance vehicle recommended due to rough roads.

Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world, offering a dramatic and challenging hiking experience.

  • Highlights: Narrow canyon walls, stunning rock formations.
  • Difficulty: Advanced hike, requires preparation and good navigation skills.

White Pocket

White Pocket is another lesser-known but equally spectacular destination, featuring swirling rock formations and vibrant colors.

  • Highlights: Unique geological formations, fewer visitors.
  • Access: High-clearance vehicle recommended, often combined with a visit to Coyote Buttes South.

Environmental Responsibility

Leave No Trace

Preserving the pristine beauty of The Wave is crucial. Visitors are encouraged to follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize their impact on the environment.

  • Pack Out Trash: Take all your trash with you, including food wrappers and toilet paper.
  • Stay on Trail: Avoid creating new trails and stick to established paths to protect the fragile desert ecosystem.
  • Respect Wildlife: Do not disturb or feed wildlife, and keep a safe distance from any animals you encounter.


The Wave in Arizona is a natural masterpiece that offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience for those lucky enough to secure a permit. From its stunning geological formations and vibrant colors to the challenging hike and surrounding attractions, a visit to The Wave is a journey into one of nature’s most remarkable creations. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, an avid photographer, or simply a lover of natural beauty, The Wave promises an unforgettable adventure in the heart of the American Southwest. Plan your visit carefully, respect the environment, and immerse yourself in the breathtaking splendor of The Wave.

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