A Guide to Visiting The Wave the 'Right Way'

From suggestions for how to snag a coveted lottery-only permit to tips on how to make the most of your time, here’s the scoop on everything you need to know to visit The Wave.

Hugging the Utah border in Northern Arizona, The Wave makes its home in the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. The famously photographed sandstone formations of The Wave look like an undulating orange and pink landscape, a nature-made work of art rivaling the masterpieces of Van Gogh or Dali. Because of its delicate ecosystem and the difficult hike necessary to reach The Wave, visitors must have a permit — available via lottery — and strong wayfaring skills to access it.

Getting to The Wave

From Highway 89, turn south on House Rock Valley Road and drive 8.3 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead parking lot. Although you can make it to the trailhead in a two-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle, the road is unpaved and minimally maintained. When it rains, you will need four-wheel-drive. Always check road conditions before you go.

The Basics

When to Go

The Wave is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Generally, October through early November is the perfect time to visit since the weather is cooler with less of a chance of rain than in the spring. Snow is possible during winter, but because fewer people apply for permits then, your chances of getting one increase.

How to Get Permits

Visitors to The Wave must have a permit to access the area. Apply online four months in advance for the general lottery, or enter the daily lottery, held two days in advance. If you win either lottery, you will need to pick up your permit and maps the day before your hike and attend a safety meeting.

What You’ll Need

Bring at least one gallon of water per person, especially during the summer, and light snacks. Although the ranger’s station will provide a map, consider bringing a combination GPS and communication device since cell service is spotty.

Check the weather, and dress appropriately for the desert terrain and the season. You should wear:

  • Closed-toe shoes, preferably hiking boots that can grip sandstone
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Layers, especially in the winter when it can get cold and even snow
A Guide to Visiting The Wave the 'Right Way'
Credit: @seanstumblingthrough.

What To Pack

A camera with a wide-angle lens (or a cell phone in wide-angle or panorama mode) is a must to capture the otherworldly orange landscape. Leave your drone at home, though. Drones are not allowed.

You may also want to bring hiking poles with rubber tips to help reduce stress on your knees while trekking through uneven and sandy areas.

What It Costs

Recreation.gov charges a non-refundable $9 fee for each lottery application. If you win a permit, the recreation fee is $7 per person or dog. National Park passes do not entitle you to a discount.

If you choose to hire a guide via a regional outfitter, expect to pay about $200 per person. Having a guide maximizes your time at The Wave and minimizes your chances of getting lost or hurt.

A Guide to Visiting The Wave the 'Right Way'
Credit: @justinsicarire.

A Day at The Wave

Visiting The Wave requires a strenuous 6.4-mile hike that starts at the Wire Pass Trailhead parking lot. From there, cross House Rock Valley Road and head north through the river wash for about half a mile to the sign indicating you are entering a permitted area. The hike continues to the right. Follow the provided maps and occasional signs to The Wave.

Once at The Wave, most visitors spend two or three hours exploring and taking photos. The best time of day for shadow-free pictures is midday, though early morning and late afternoon create more striking images.

Before hiking out, find a scenic spot to fuel up for the return.

Where to Stay

The day before your trip, you’re required to visit the permitting office in either Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona. Since Page is a larger city with more accommodation options, it’s ideal for overnighting before your big adventure. Two options:

  • Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell: Boasting breathtaking lake views, this hotel gets rave reviews for its clean, modern rooms and on-site restaurant. The hotel’s adventure concierge can offer suggestions for ways to explore other attractions in the area.
  • Sleep Inn & Suites Page at Lake Powell: One of the area’s newer offerings, this hotel is conveniently located off Highway 89. It features comfortable rooms and free breakfast. Book a room on the top floor for the best lake views.
A Guide to Visiting The Wave the 'Right Way'
Credit: @bilder.strom

If You Can’t Get a Permit

Less than 5 percent of applicants annually are drawn for a permit. If you don’t get one, you have other options. You can apply for a Coyote Buttes South permit to hike through similar — but not wavy — scenic formations. Or, you can explore nearby geological wonders such as Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.

If seeing The Wave is an absolute must and money is no object, you can charter a private airplane or helicopter out of Page Municipal Airport to take you over the formation.

Leave No Trace

The Bureau of Land Management limits the number of visitors to The Wave to preserve its unique beauty. Help these key efforts by following the Appreciate AZ guidelines and Leave No Trace principles.

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About the Author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Wine Enthusiast, and AAA publications. She is the author of two guidebooks and a contributor to Fodors Arizona & The Grand Canyon.


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