The Wave is perhaps the most magical and amazing place you’ll ever visit! You will not want to leave. Some of the most extraordinary rock formations in the world are found here. The Wave is Nature’s Sistine Chapel. Located along the Utah/Arizona border, in the middle of the desert, its exact location is kept hidden by the Bureau of Land Management, that unless issued a rare hiking permit, you’ll never get within miles of The Wave. They even make sure there is no trail leading to or from it. After a 3 mile unmarked, cross-country hike in the desert, and if you don’t get lost trying to locate it, you’ll find yourself at The Wave.
*In July 2013 alone, three hikers have died on the way back from the Wave. This hike is a routefinding challenge. Carry a GPS to track your route, and refer frequently to the map that the BLM gives you to locate The Wave. Stop periodically and observe your surroundings and landmarks, to make it easier to find your way back to the trailhead. Most importantly, be prepared! Drink plenty of water the day or two before the hike so that you’re fully hydrated when you start. Carry at least three liters of water with you on the hike to The Wave. It’s helpful to have a brimmed hat, and wear light colors made of lightweight material, to help reflect some of the sun’s rays and keep you cooler.
The Wave Hike Details
Distance – 5.2 miles round trip
Approximate hiking time – 2-4 hours
Elevation at the trailhead – 4807 feet
Elevation at The Wave – 5225 feet
Elevation gain – 418 feet
Difficulty – Moderate
Trail – None
Amount of water recommended – At least 2-3 liters
Bathrooms – Located at Wire Pass Trailhead
Season to hike – Permits available 365 days a year
Permits – Must have a permit for Coyote Buttes North. Only 20 are given out each day. Ten permits handed out in person at the BLM office, and ten permits online. All permits are chosen via lottery. Must display the permit on the outside of backpack. Do not go without obtaining a permit. Trespassers will be prosecuted, and BLM rangers frequent the area. To obtain a permit go to BLM website, www.blm.gov/az/st/en/arolrsmain/paria/coyote_buttes.html
You’ll want to apply for a permit for Coyote Buttes North, since that is where The Wave is located. You will pick three dates four months in advance for the lottery. If you are lucky enough to get your number drawn, you’ll be granted the number of passes that you requested. Here’s a tip: The smaller the number of your group, the better. You may also try going to the Paria Ranger Station located just 4.4 miles east of Kanab on US-89 and try to obtain a walk-in permit for the following day. Get there early as a line quickly forms for the ten walk-in permits that the BLM hands out in lottery fashion as well.
Pets allowed – Permitted
How to get there:
From Kanab, Utah take US-89 east for 39 miles, and the road will take a sharp curve to the right (south) and then make another sharp curve to the left (east). House Rock Valley Road is a gravel road that turns off and goes straight instead of taking the tight curve that goes east. There should be a sign to help you make the turn off.
If coming from Page, Arizona, take US-89 north/west for 33 miles from the Glen Canyon Dam. At about 32.5 miles from the Glen Canyon Dam on US-89 the road will make a tight curve to the north, when you nearly completed the curve the turnoff onto House Rock Valley Road will be on the left side of the road.
Once on House Rock Valley Road, you will continue south for 8.3 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead. It is a dirt road, but is passable with a passenger car.
Hitting the Trail!
The Wire Pass Trailhead is the starting point for two of the most amazing hikes in the world: Buckskin Gulch, and The Wave. Both are located in what is called the Coyote Buttes North area. After signing in at the trail registry and paying your parking fee at the self-pay box, cross House Rock Valley Road, and follow the trail into the dry wash to the east. Hikers for both Buckskin Gulch and The Wave walk along this wash for about 0.5 mile, before the trail splits. Those going to Buckskin Gulch will continue in the dry wash of Wire Pass for another 1.2 miles to the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. The trail for The Wave will break off to the right, rapidly climbing above the wash you were just in. At this point, there is a “No Trespassing with out permits” sign. The trail will climb for about a quarter-mile until you reach the top of the mesa. From here there is no reliable trail. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is very stringent on having the proper permit for this hike, and they want you to secure your permits to the outside of your backpacks while hiking in the area. I would encourage you to bring and use your GPS from this point of the hike forward. It will make returning much easier, especially if you’re traveling back after sunset.
The only official map to The Wave is mailed to you by the BLM once you’ve been selected in the permit lottery. There are also rumors that the BLM routinely monitors the trail from Wire Pass to The Wave on a daily basis, and if you are caught without the proper permit, you will be prosecuted for trespassing. It’s also said that any cairns (trail markers) are knocked over so that only individuals with the permit maps can find your way. I’m not going to give you step by step instructions there, but I will say that I wanted to go to The Wave so badly that I had studied so many maps and pictures, that when I did get permits and the map, I didn’t need to rely on the map to find it, I already had the route memorized. I would also recommend making mental notes of the landscape that can aid in your return trip.
It’s only a 2.6 mile hike to The Wave, and the terrain is pretty flat and easy to cross. The only problem that most people have is actually finding The Wave. After the initial climb out of the Wire Pass wash, there is virtually no trail, and your map reading skills and orientation abilities will be tested. It’s been said that as many as 30% of hikers that obtain permits never end up even finding The Wave. That number may be a bit inflated, but I can see how it could happen since you are in the middle of the desert and there is no marked trail along the sand and slickrock.
The hike to The Wave is in and of itself beautiful, and there are several rock formations in and around The Wave for you to check out, so don’t make it a one stop trip. See everything you can. Your permit is for the whole day, and I recommend using all of it in and around The Wave.
Once in The Wave, it becomes almost a religious experience. We had the whole place to ourselves for over an hour, and I took over one thousand pictures just inside The Wave! One thousand! You can’t stop taking pictures. Once a couple of other hikers arrived, we hiked up to Top Rock Arch, did some exploring, checked out a formation that has been called The Wave 2. It’s not nearly as spectacular as the The Wave, but then again, what would be? Shortly after the other hikers left, we dropped back into The Wave, and took more pictures. The sun and the shadows make this place great for pictures during mid-day.
I promise that it will be almost physically painful to leave The Wave, but when it comes time to head back make sure that you consult the map and use your GPS if necessary. The formations will look a little different on the return trip, so make sure you find a correct landmark in the distance and keep it view while hiking towards it. This will help keep you on course as you make your way from point to point from the map back to where the trail appears toward the beginning of the hike.