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Favorite Photo Locations – The Wave

By Ron Wolfe–

“The Wave” comprises the Navajo Sandstone dunes that have calcified vertically and horizontally, turning into hardened, compacted rocks over time. Photographs of it are widely published and highly desired but it can be a dangerous location for photographers who are not in good physical condition. Located near the Arizona-Utah border in Paria Canyon of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, this sandstone formation is famous both for its distinctive colors and shapes, and for the rugged hike required to reach it. Its peculiar and unique strata were created by wind and rain erosion.


© Ron Wolfe

There were four in our party, ages 62 to 75, and the hike took from about 8:30 to 5:00 p.m. in late August.  We intended to start at dawn, but missed a turn. The youngest person, who was in best physical shape, had problems on the return hike, probably from not drinking sufficient water. The month before we took the hike, two people died on the return trip. The month prior to that a young woman died from a heart attack.

The hike is only about 7 miles total round trip, but in the heat it seemed much longer. “The Wave” is in a desert so carrying adequate water is always essential. Even outside the very hot summer months, the weather can still be hot and is always dry. Despite the location, preparation requirements, and even danger, The Wave is an amazing location that must be visited to fully comprehend. The web is full of comments on The Wave and its effect on visitors:

  • “I have never seen mountains as beautiful and colorful as the sandstone mountains…”
  • “The hike was beautiful! If you get to the Wave, it is really extraordinary. The culmination of the hike is beyond words.”
  • “What a thrill to walk through this wilderness without a trail, below a vibrant blue sky, scrambling over slick rock and ridges, plough through red sand and climbing up rock walls.”
  • “Once you get there, the views are things that will stay with you the rest of your life.”
  • “It’s rugged, it’s isolated and it’s beautiful.”
  • “When I entered The Wave, I was awe-struck … it was magical and exciting.”


© Ron Wolfe

While all who have been to “the Wave” will agree with the blog extracts above, there are many others you should pay close attention to as they are also very true:


  • “This hike is tough! Is it’s hard to find your way.”
  • “No water, no shade, no rescue, no mercy. “
  • “Summertime is brutal because of the heat.”
  • “Best to visit in late fall / winter / very early spring.”
  • “Had a GPS with coordinates plugged in for the Wave and parking. I believe that saved us from being on the evening news.”

Things you should be aware of regarding a trip/hike to the wave:

  • A lottery system is used.
  • Advance permits are required. No overnight camping is allowed.
  • Day use permits are available online. Walk-in permits are issued the day before you hike at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah.
  • No Campfires. Dogs are allowed and must be kept under control at all times.
  • Successful applicants receive a map and directions.
  • All trash must be packed out.
  • No motorized & mechanized vehicles or equipment.
The Wave © Ron Wolfe
© Ron Wolfe


The lottery application for The Wave (officially known as Coyote Buttes North) is located on the BLM website here. Twenty permits are issued per day. Ten permits are issued in-advance, and ten are walk-in permits. The advance permits include:

  • You may enter the lottery to apply for a group up to 6 people.
  • Apply to the lottery four months in advance of when you want to make the trip. You have the entire month to apply.
  • Select up to three dates that month. Successful applicants are authorized for one trip.
  • Non-refundable $5 fee per application.
  • You are notified at the beginning of the next month if your application was successful.
  • If selected, permits are $7 per person.

There are many people/groups requesting permits each month. Do not expect to have your lottery entry drawn on a specific month. Many apply to the lottery multiple times before their entry is selected.

The wave is located between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. The map below gives the general location. Route 89A runs from Kanab to Page north of the wave (mostly in Utah), and route 89 runs between the two cities south of The Wave (mostly in Arizona.) About half-way between the two cities on either 89 or 89A, you will find House Rock Valley Road. Turn onto this road and continue until you reach the “Wire Pass Trailhead.” This is where the hike to The Wave begins.

Beware that there are many portions of the hike where you will not find a trail. When you receive your permit, you will also receive a map as well a document containing many photos of landmarks with their GPS coordinates. This information can be very valuable and should be part of the material carried on the hike.

The hike is only about 3.5 miles each way, but you may find it difficult. In the summer it is hot. It is recommended that water be most of the weight you carry. The Wave is in a desert area and water is necessary regardless of season. The equipment you take along should include:

  • A backpack.
  • A map, compass and/or a GPS.
  • A minimum of camera equipment.
  • A wide angle lens. Avoid heavy long lenses as they are of little use.
  • Monopod which would work as a walking stick. Avoid heavy tripods.
  • Shoes, hat, sun screen, hiking boots, wide brim hat, and sunglasses.
© Ron Wolfe

People have died on the hike to/from the Wave from dehydration, heart attacks, and falling into canyons. Please take appropriate precautions to avoid being on the evening news and so you can spend the night comfortably in your motel after the hike. Among the precautions are:

  • Watch for signs of trouble as it could take hours or days for help to reach you.
  • Pack lots of water (in all seasons).
  • Carry a first aid kit.
  • Summer – start hike at dawn when cooler as by midday it will be hot! Photo blogs can help you pick the best photo locations along the hike.
  • Prepare physically. The hike is not for those with medical conditions that might limit your ability to exert yourself for up to eight hours.
  • Finish the hike and leave before dark.
  • No trail exists for much of the hike.
  • A GPS can be helpful, some might say it is a must have item. There is no mobile phone service in the area. The map given with your permit is very helpful as it contains photos of landmarks and GPS coordinates.
  • Carry food for energy.
  • Bring any medicine that you may require.
© Ron Wolfe

Some information and general tips you should pay attention to include:

  • The hike is up and down rock slopes and sand dunes.
  • Select your equipment carefully to minimize weight.
  • Remember, the weight carried should be mostly water.
  • Improve your physical health before trip.
  • Carefully note the path taken, several people get lost each year. The return hike does not look the same as the path to The Wave.
  • Read all the information and blogs you can find to familiarize yourself with The Wave.
  • Have a cooler with liquids in your car as well as food. It is a long drive to a store and you will want to replenish your energy as soon as you complete the hike.
  • For those taking medicines or pills, remember to have these handy.

Assuming you are lucky enough to have your lottery entry selected, and pay attention to the information above, you should have an experience that is well worth the hike. When you return, please inform others about the beauty of The Wave, and especially all the safety precautions you found useful.  –Ron Wolfe, Red River Paper Pro.



Original Publication Date: July 24, 2014

Article Last updated: July 24, 2014

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