Have you ever seen a picture or a desktop background of a red and winding sandstone formation, maybe with a puddle in it, and wondered “where is that”? It’s a good chance that it’s a picture of The Wave, a sandstone formation in the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona. The Wave is famous for its picturesque and, well, wave-like surface and is a popular destination for photographers and hikers alike. Photographing The Wave ranks high on many landscape photographers’ bucket lists. I visited The Wave in October 2012.
View The Wave, AZ in a larger map
How to get to The Wave: The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North section of the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, just on the Arizona side of the Utah/Arizona border. The easiest way to get to the Wave is to take U.S. Route 89 between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ (both of them full service towns). 38 miles from Kanab (35 miles from Page) you go south on House Rock Valley Road (BLM Road 1065) for 8 miles until you get to Wire Pass Trailhead. Click here to see the driving directions from Kanab, UT to Wire Pass on Google Maps. From Wire Pass Trailhead it’s about an hour and a half of hiking one way, mostly on sandstone, to get to the Wave.
Please be aware that House Rock Valley Road is a dirt road. It’s usually accessible by normal clearance 2WD car, but the road is subject to occasional flash floods and can have rough sections. Always check the current road conditions and weather forecast before driving out there. Wire Pass Trailhead can also be accessed from old U.S. Route 89A and entering House Rock Valley Road from the south, but that is a longer drive.
When to go
The Wave is a year-round destination. Spring and fall are the most popular times of the year. It’s neither too hot, nor too cold. From a photographer’s perspective The Wave is best visited around mid-day when the sun is at its highest and there are few shadows. But by all means, it’s a beautiful destination any time of the day. There are plenty of other things to photograph out there when the sun is lower and casting those long shadows. Plan on spending a full day if you are out there to do photography.
The Wave is located within a special permit area of the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness called Coyote Buttes North. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The number of visitors is limited to a maximum of 20 per day. 10 permits can be booked by joining an online lottery 4 months in advance. The remaining 10 permits are reserved for a walk-in lottery at the at the visitor center in Kanab, Utah. That was how I got my permit when I visited the Wave in October of 2012. Be warned though that the Wave is a very popular destination, year round. There were around 60-70 people attending the lottery every day when I was there, and I had to try the lottery 4 times before getting a permit. So plan on hanging around Kanab for a few days if you really want to go. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the area. You can read more about how to obtain a permit on the BLM website.
Photos from The Wave
The main purpose of my 2012 trip to the U.S. was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and I didn’t bring my DSLR. All photos from The Wave were shot with my Canon PowerShot S95.
Thinking about going to The Wave? Please check out the BLM website covering Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument for updated information.