The Wave – a sandstone rock formation painted with shades of red and orange. A dream destination for hikers, photographers, and movie makers. A place of incredible beauty guarded by harsh weather conditions and strict visiting regulations. A place so different and pristine, you might think you are on another planet.
The Wave, or Coyote Buttes North, is located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, near Utah and Arizona border. It was first widely publicized in Germany by the movie ‘Faszination Natur’ in 1996.
Soon after the images of The Wave spread around the world via the Internet, it became an instant mecca for photographers and hikers alike.
I also discovered The Wave on Internet while planning a spring break trip to Arizona. As soon as I saw the pictures, I knew it would be perfect destination for our group – two couples, each with a teenage son.
It turned out that an access to The Wave was strictly restricted and chances of us visiting it were slim, but with a group effort we able to secure the entry.
Planning Your Visit to The Wave – Is This Hike Right for You?
In perfect conditions, it is not a physically demanding hike, about six miles round trip, but you must be aware of potential hazards such as extreme heat, deep sand, and flash floods.
The trail is not marked. You must choose your own route across the open desert. There is no cellular phone service. If this too much for you, consider using a guiding service which is available through Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, website.
Permit is Required
If you decide this hike is right for you, the first thing to do is to obtain a permit. In order to protect the environment, the Bureau of Land Management has placed restrictions on access to The Wave via a permitting system. Start with contacting BLM for latest requirements.
Currently, only 20 permits per day are issued. Ten of them are available in advance by an on-line lottery conducted four months before the month for which the permit is sought.
The remaining ten permits are available by lottery the day before intended hike. Year-round, the lottery is held at 9:00 in the morning at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah.
For our group of six chances of getting the permit did not look great but all six of us entered the on-line lottery, at that time at $5 per entry. We all could request three different dates but we were restricted by our one week vacation.
Luckily one of us won, and luckily again, one winning ticket allowed an entry for up to six people. We planned the rest of our vacation around the winning date. Permits are not transferable and rain checks are not permitted.
Best Time to Visit The Wave
We visited in late March. I cannot imagine a better weather for the hike. Spring and autumn are the most popular due to milder weather. I would not advise to hike in the summer. It could get very hot and with no shade in sight very dangerous.
From Flagstaff, travel north on U.S. Highway 89 to 89A at the Bitter Springs turnoff. From Kanab, Utah, take U.S. Highway 89 to the east or 89A to the south through Fredonia and Jacob Lake.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels available in nearby Kanab, Utah.
Maps and Additional Information
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
345 E. Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790-6714
Hours: 7:45 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Saturday
What to Take for Your Hike
These are your basic essentials for the hike: GPS, compass, map, plenty of water, layers of clothing, hat, good hiking boots, camera, food.
General Information about the Hike
A formal guide to The Wave is now provided to every permitted hiker by the BLM. The guide is designed for use with compass, GPS, and visual navigation.
There is no official trail after passing through a fence a short distance down Coyote Wash. The BLM provided a guide sheet with a number of photos and directions to the Wave.
No overnight camping is allowed. Dogs are allowed. Campfires are prohibited. Trash must be packed out, including toilet paper.
Hiking The Wave
Our friend, Rick, who won the permit for us, did not get to see The Wave. His rental car broke and he needed to fix it before our next day departure.
His wife Lori, her son Robby, my son Daniel, my husband Jakub, and I attended the hike. I was definitely the weakest link of the group. I would normally be, but it was also because I was walking with a walking stick, or a cane, due to recent leg injury.
It was a sunny crisp day with a blue sky accentuating red rocks around us. We had no problem navigating the area. We were exposed to the sun during an entire hike. I can only imagine how hot it must be in the heat of summer.
I suggest to look back once in while to remember the trail for your return hike or even to take photos – on the way back your surroundings will look differently.
The scenery around us looked like surreal paintings. When we arrived at The Wave it only got better. It is truly a one of a kind place, simply beyond imagination. For a long time we had the area to ourselves to take it all in. We saw few other hikers later on.
An Ideal Time to Photograph The Wave
The best time is just a few hours around midday when there are no shadows in the center, although early morning and late afternoon shadows can also make for dramatic photos
See another fantastic Red Rock destination – Sedona, Arizona
If visiting Arizona, try to stop at Horseshoe Band for a short hike and fantastic views.
While in area make sure to visit Zion National Park