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The Wave Cave Trail – A Stunning Hike in Gold Canyon, Arizona

the wave cave trail

Hiking Lenght: 3.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 900 feet

Hiking Time: 2 hours

When researching places to hike near Phoenix, Arizona, my team decided to look into the Wave Cave trail that’s recently flooded our social media feeds.

Since we planned on checking out the Superstition Mountains and the Golden Canyon we decided to add it to our list.

We set out in the morning to complete it before the heat of the day and try to avoid some of the crowds, as we knew it was quite a popular trail. 

This hike is well-known because of the interesting pictures you can take with the rock formation at the end. Many visitors describe it as a “wave” in the middle of the desert. 

Keep reading to learn more about our experience hiking the Wave trail and our expert tips to help make your own experience here fun and successful. 

was absolutely amazing! great trail if your a beginner but looking for a little challenge!

Sean Wolking, Pro Hiker

Do You Need a Permit for Wave Cave Trail? 

permit hiking arizona
Arizona Boards

Yes, you need a Recreational Permit from the State of Arizona for hiking the Wave Cave Trail. The cost is $15 for an individual pass and $20 for a family pass.

You can purchase this permit in person at the Arizona State Land Department Office (1616 West Adams Street in Phoenix) or online directly from the Arizona State Land Department

Depending on your needs, options for small and large group permits also exist. Officials periodically patrol the area to verify permits and may ticket you without one. 

How Long Does It Take to Hike Wave Cave? 

Most hikers can complete the out-and-back Wave Cave trail in about 2 to 2.5 hours. It took our group of experienced hikers just under 2 hours to complete.

You may want to allow for more time to rest or picnic at the cave before making the trip back down to the parking area. 

How to Get to the Wave Cave Arizona?

the wave cave trail map
The Wave Cave Trail Map – Courtesy of Alltrails.com

You will find the Wave Cave in Gold Canyon, AZ, within the Tonto National Forest. The national park with the wave is the sixth-largest national forest in the United States.

It is about an hour from Phoenix, and you must get there by car.

The drive involves about 5 miles on a dirt road to the parking area. We were lucky to drive a 4×4 car, but be aware of whether your vehicle can handle this part of the trip.

From Phoenix, take Highway 60 East to East Peralta Road in Pinal County. Follow East Peralta Road (a dirt road) for about 5 miles.

At the fork in the road, a sign reads “Peralta Trail 1.5 miles.” Turn left when you see this sign and continue about half a mile to the parking lot. 

Other Hiking Trails in Arizona:

The Wave Trailhead 

The Wave Trailhead
The Wave Trailhead – Courtesy of au_ears @ Flickr

Start your hike from the Carney Springs trailhead, where you will find a small parking lot. If the area has experienced a lot of recent rainfall, large puddles may exist on the dirt road to get there.

You may want only to attempt it with a high-clearance vehicle at these times.

Some people also choose to park at the nearby Goldmine Trailhead parking lot and hike to the Wave trailhead from there.

We didn’t find any restrooms, porta-potties, or water fountains existing in the parking area or near the trailhead, so prepare accordingly. 

Trail Description 

Hiking the Wave Arizona – Courtesy of Shaan Hurley @ Flickr

The Wave Cave is an out-and-back trail that is one of the most popular hikes near Phoenix. It takes you a total of 3.2 miles roundtrip, and you will gain 900 feet of elevation during the hike.

This trail starts pretty level and is relatively easy for about the first mile from the parking area.

It got moderately difficult toward the end because of the steepness and some loose rocks. 

You can bring dogs on this hike, and we saw some hikers with them. Just ensure that you keep them leashed and that your dog can handle the steep climb.

This part of the hike could prove challenging for young children as well as it involves a scramble.

hike to the wave arizona
Views From the Trail

Mountains and beautiful desert scenery surrounded us on the way up, making the journey worth it even before getting to the main attraction.

Although the trail is marked with white paint on the rocks, parts of it were faint. Some parts were also a little bit overgrown. We made sure to watch out for snakes while walking through those areas. 

Worth noting that at least the last half mile is a climb over rocks. Not a bad thing, but from the other reviews I didn’t realize it was more than the last ascent. Large cool cave at the top was a welcome treat.

Jan Thomson, Pro Hiker

Along the route, the cave was visible at various points, confirming that we were heading in the right direction. When you reach the intersection with the Superstition Ridgeline Trail, keep left and continue up the Wave Cave Trail.

The steep climbing began at about the last half of a mile. The trail at this point is clearly marked. In less than ten minutes, we had reached the cave. 

the wave hike arizona
The Wave Hike Arizona – Courtesy of Andy Jou @ Flickr

The cave made a great place to rest because it provides a good amount of shade and feels significantly cooler inside.

We didn’t pack a hiking lunch but saw some people enjoying a picnic within the cave’s confines. We took in the scenery and the views of the valley below and ended with a picture of the cool-looking wave rock.

Before heading back, we visited the smaller cave just west of the main one. This cave also provided shade and some spots to stop and have lunch. After a brief rest, we made our way back down the way we came up. 

We strongly suggest you visit it because is a stunning area and is listed as one of the best places to visit in the whole state of Arizona.

Best Time to Hike the Wave 

September through April are the best times to hike the Wave Cave. Because it is a desert hike, the summer months can prove extremely hot and make the hike more challenging. 

Some people prefer to hike the Wave during winter, but winter hiking is not something I really enjoy.

Our Tips and Recommendations 

If it’s your first time hiking the Wave Cave trail, keep in mind the following recommendations: 

  • Use Bug Spray—many gnats and flies are in the area as you make your way up. Consider spraying yourself with bug spray before starting, or wear protective long sleeves.
  • Bring Enough Water —this hike gets hot quickly, especially in the afternoon. We definitely suggest bringing a filled reusable water bottle for hiking (or two) to keep you hydrated during the hike. If you’re in the market for a new one, check out our recommendations – these are bottles we’ve tried and tested that work great for hikes.  
  • Watch for Loose Gravel —the trail has loose gravel on it. Wear shoes with good enough traction to handle these conditions so that you won’t slip and fall, especially on the way back down. 
  • Consider hiking poles —some hikers might find that hiking poles help with stability during the steeper parts of the hike, particularly on the way back down.  

FAQs

What Is the Elevation of Wave Cave? 

The total elevation of the Wave Cave is 3,100 feet. The trailhead starts at 2,200 feet, and the hike gives you an elevation gain of 900 feet. 

Where Do You Park for the Wave Cave Trail?

Park in the parking area for the Carney Springs Trailhead off of Peralta Road. You will see signs there indicating you need a parking and hiking permit. 

How Hard Is It to Get a Permit for the Wave Trail in Arizona?

It is probably one of the hardest permits to get as only 64 people or 16 groups (whichever comes first) per day are allowed. To get a permit for the Wave Trail, you need to purchase a Recreational Permit from the State of Arizona.

How Difficult Is the Wave Hike? 

Most people consider the Wave Cave hike challenging or moderately challenging because of the steep climb at the end that requires using both hands and feet, the elevation gain, and the rocky descent.