The Wave is an unbelievable place complete with multicolored and complex undulating rock formations that baffle the senses. Located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, this natural sandstone phenomenon is as stunning as it is difficult to access. Because of its delicate nature only a few lucky lottery winners are allowed to hike here and witness this wonder first hand. By the title of this post you’ve probably already guessed that we were not one of the lucky winners but we have some alternative suggestions laid out for other breathtaking places nearby that are definitely worth a visit. So if you’re like us: visiting the area, coming down from your lottery high and looking for an alternative rush nearby this post is for you!
Before we get into the other incredible places to visit, I’ll outline details on the fun and thrilling lottery process that’s worth a shot if you’re visiting the area. For a chance at the coveted walk-in permit visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab. While you will witness nervous folks arriving as early as 7 am pressing their noses against the glass, the visitor center doors do not open until 8 am. Although “first-come, first-served” order does not matter, be sure to arrive by 8:30 am at the latest so that you can begin filling out the application for the Wave and to hear the safety talk from the ranger.
If you aren’t scared off after the talk, the ranger will steer all the remaining comrades into a tiny room where you have 30 minutes to fill out your application and ask a few questions. Every application is assigned a number that corresponds to a little bingo ball that is thrown into a cage and spun around into oblivion.
Now the fun really begins! At precisely 9 am, the “Ron Swanson-esque” park ranger complete with dry wit and monotone begins to call out numbers like a fun bingo night at the senior center. Everyone is on edge and hoping they are the one. Winners cheer while the others groan and squirm in their seats as the 10 slots begin to quickly fill up. Manu and I look at each other hearts racing hoping our number is next as the last person is called. More fun—the last slot is called and it happens to be a couple but there is only room for one. Since the ranger advises against hiking this bare and desolate land solo he allowed room for one more number to be called. Unfortunately, we didn’t win and quickly shuffled out of the room vowing to try again someday.
- If you win the lottery be prepared for a hike in the wilderness. There are no trails, facilities or signage on the approximately 6-mile hike.
- There is not much shade on the hike and the heat can be brutal especially in summer so make sure to bring at least 1 gallon of water per person/per day.
- Only 20 people per day are allowed to hike the Wave (10 from online drawing and 10 from walk-in drawing). It gets busy so you must apply months in advance online (see here).
- Only 1 person per party is allowed to fill out an application. Duplicate applications will therefore disqualify your party from the lottery.
- Max number per party is 6. If a person from the group of 6 wins then there will be only 4 slots left and so on…
- Be sure to know your tag number when filling out the application in person
- Make sure to stick around after you have won. The ranger told a funny anecdote about a winner who ran out of the room screaming in excitement and never came back…
Other Area Attractions
Here are some other outstanding sites you must check out if you missed out on The Wave.
Further East on Highway 89 we came across this remarkable oasis in the middle of the desert. This “lake” which really happens to be a reservoir, is a water lover’s dream offering the opportunity for boating, kayaking, waterskiing, swimming and more. If you prefer sticking to land you can also camp and hike in the area. Manu and I visited Lone Rock Beach ($10, save with the annual pass) and enjoyed the scenic views. Although this area is under some contention, you can visit the nearby Glen Canyon Dam on your way towards Page, Arizona.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most spectacular natural wonders I have ever seen and one of the highlights of our trip. I had no idea what to expect before visiting and found out that this area could only be seen by booking a tour. We thankfully booked a great one with Ken’s Tours to visit the lower Antelope Canyon. Our guide Justin was fantastic, he showed us some of his great photographs and even helped us with pictures.
Antelope canyon offers an otherworldly landscape that is a joy to see and shoot. Once you’re inside the slot canyon you cannot believe that nature has sculpted such perfect curves and shapes. As you make your way through and the light bounces off the walls at different angles, multiple vibrant hues surround you in a dream-like glow. I lingered at the back of the group just to marvel at this magnificent place trying to get as many pictures as I could.
- General Tour Cost- $20 entrance fee + $ 8 Navajo permit fee per person.
- General Tour takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
- You can book the Photographer Guided Tour for $42 in addition to the $8 Navajo permit.
- Photographer tour allows for a 2 hour & 15 minute guided tour and you must have the “required” camera and equipment (see here for details).
- The canyon gets very dusty so be sure to bring a blower to clean your sensor after the tour (I learned this the hard way). When changing lenses do it away from the dust and only if absolutely necessary.
- After your tour, for an authentic meal in Page try El Tapatio.
No trip to the area is complete without a visit to Horseshoe Bend. At this overlook the Colorado River snakes its way through the rocks giving this site its distinctive shape and name. The 1.5-mile roundtrip hike leads you to the edge of a cliff with a 1,000-foot drop-off. While here you get a real sense of the river’s grandeur and how vast the plateau truly is as it stretches beyond the horizon. At different times of the day the panorama shifts as the light changes and illuminates the rocks and crystal blue water transforming them into different shades. This natural spectacle is not to be missed when passing through the area.