The Wave, a rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the Utah-Arizona border, looks as though it were sculpted by hand. This multicolored sandstone rock formation was, in fact, sculpted, just not by a set of hands. It was formed by millions of years of wind and water erosion. Carved in the Jurassic era, these Navajo Sandstone sculptures consist of intersecting troughs that wind in, around, and through each other.
The patterns in these rocks can be read like a book — for those who know the language — depicting weather phenomena of ancient times. You’ll see steps and risers cut into the vertical walls of the wave whose direction tell a story of the prevailing wind direction. While they were once eroded by water and wind, they now continue to be shaped almost exclusively by wind.
Since 2009, when Microsoft released a wallpaper image of The Wave, it has become a bucket-list destination for experience collectors, hiking aficionados, and outdoor enthusiasts. So many people want to hike this fragile landscape that they’ve implemented a lottery system where only 20 people are allowed per day.
How to get there
If you are one of the lucky ones to win the lottery, you’ll be supplied with a map to The Wave. Even if you don’t win the lottery there are incredible hiking opportunities in the area and Coyote Buttes South is spectacular.
What to consider
- The Wave is located in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, in Coyote Buttes North. Permits are required to visit Coyote Buttes North and South.
- To visit The Wave you’ll need to enter a lottery — if you’re four months out you can apply online. If your trip is coming up in less time than that, you can apply the day before at the Visitors Center in Kanab, UT.
- Half the permits are issued online via lottery and half are issued in person.
- Permits are non-transferrable.
- Permits for both North and South must be purchased in advance.
- Coyote Buttes South is still on the calendar system, which means anyone can grab a permit and go. Permits are $5 per person per day.
- The hike is 5.2 miles roundtrip and takes 2-4 hours.
- The best time to photograph The Wave is around mid-day when there are no shadows; however, early morning and late afternoon shadows can make for a dramatic shot.
- There is no water in the canyon, so come prepared.