The Wave: A Three Mile Trek To Candy Land

· by wendy · utah

Let me tell you about one of our top 2 favorite places we have EVER visited. It’s making a serious run at the title against the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. To give you an idea of how much we liked this place, this post has been delayed for 2 months because we had trouble whittling our 700 photos down to an acceptable number. It was an almost impossible task.

You’ve probably seen pictures of The Wave before, made popular by the screensaver on those things you call a PC (ick). In order to get your chance at hiking to The Wave on the Utah/Arizona border, you must secure one of twenty permits allowed per day, ten of which are issued online four months in advance. If you’re not so lucky or need a more flexible plan, it’s possible to show up the day before for a chance at one of the ten remaining permits.

Upon arriving in Kanab, Utah, we went directly to the visitor’s center to look into details for the next day’s lottery. We thought there was a lottery every morning for the next day’s hike. Nope, not on Saturdays and Sundays. On Fridays they have a lottery for not only Saturday’s hike, but Sunday’s and Monday’s, too. That left us hanging in Kanab for a few more days than we’d have liked. Fortunately, we found there’s lots to do in the area.

Three days later, we took our chances for a Tuesday hike. That Monday, ninety-eight people showed up. If they draw your name and you have 6 people in your party, that’s 6 spots gone, 4 left. It’s a crapshoot. We did not win. Next, we contemplated leaving for a new destination, but instead decided to take our chances just one more time. The next day, after 5 days in Kanab, we hit the jackpot. Our names were first to be called out of 64 people! Whoop whoop!

Hiking to The Wave is no easy feat. While it’s only 6 miles roundtrip, there is no trail. Once you win the lottery and receive your hiking permit, you’re given a description of how to get there. The directions they give are pretty helpful, although getting lost is certainly a possibility.

There are GPS coordinates included, but if you don’t have such a thing, then you’re stuck following compass directions, mini pictures of landmarks and descriptions such as “head towards the shaded crack”. Mmmkay. See that below? What I’m pointing to in the background is this “shaded crack”.

Seemed easy enough until the lottery lady at the visitor’s center told us some daunting stories. One such story involves a photographer who decided to get sunset pictures at The Wave. Normally this seems like an acceptable goal for a photographer. Unfortunately, when you stay out until the sun comes down, it’s no longer possible to see things like “the shaded crack” and thus nearly impossible to make it back. We were warned that if we were lost past dark, we should just stop and “camp” for the night. In the morning we would then see new hikers wandering in trying to find their way and would be able to make it back. In the case of the aforementioned sunset photographer, he had the unfortunate luck of wandering too far off in the wrong direction and stumbling into a slot canyon. That’s one of those really narrow canyon cracks that look really cool in the day time, from the bottom. Falling into them means certain death.

On to happier news, we made it there and back without incident! My excellent “shaded crack” finding skills brought us to The Wave, huffin’ and puffin’. For your enjoyment, I recorded the big reveal and sped it up into hyper speed for fun. Despite the fact that I sound like I might collapse, the hike was not this difficult the entire way. I just didn’t want to stop and rest since we were so close. Sand on the uphill climb didn’t help things, either. Apologies for the shaky hands.

What’s baffling about The Wave is how small it is. Photos make it appear to be some giant cavern. It is not. What’s great about only having 20 hikers allowed per day is that there are plenty of photo ops without anyone in your way. Can you imagine if it was open to everyone and anyone? This place would be like some Disney adventure. There’d probably be cotton candy booths and funnel cake vendors.


Crouching tiger, hidden Dusty. Can you find him?

After about an hour of camera play, we moved off to the side for a lunch break and to allow others time alone with The Wave. We’ve learned in our travels that even out in the middle of the dessert, you don’t have to eat crappy food. Chock this up as another surreal experience….preparing and eating veggie sandwiches complete with sprouts while overlooking The Wave. No need for McDonald’s out here.

Just beyond The Wave are more rocks to explore, which we did despite the strong winds. Luckily, the grooves in the wavy rock wall make for easy stepping to reach high up formations. There are rocks that look like they came straight from Candy Land, as well as a natural arch that looks down on it all.

Finally, we decided it was time go home just in case the journey back wasn’t as easy as the way in. And guess what, it wasn’t. You want me to go where?

The absence of our trusty guide, the “shaded crack”, coupled with 6 hours out in the hot sunny desert, made the reverse trip much more difficult. In the end, we were pooped but it was well worth it. I’d visit The Wave again in a heartbeat and suggest that you do, too. In fact, I would suggest a whole week in Kanab, Utah. Spend the week trying to win a spot in the lottery for The Wave. All the other days can be spent visiting Zion National Park, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and some of the other hikes we didn’t get to do in Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park. There’s so much to do, it’s ridiculous.


See the entire photo gallery here.

Paria Canyon – Coyote Buttes – The Wave
Permit Information
Permit Costs: $7.00 per person/per day

Wendy’s Review: OMG! This place is DA BOMB!
Dusty’s Review: Freakin’ awesome!

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Minor Differences: Don't Be A Chicken
Side Trip to Zion
The Wave: A Three Mile Trek To Candy Land
Best Friends
Grand Canyon