the wave alternative post

The Wave Alternative: 11 Trails That Look Like This Place!

Most people who try to hike the Wave in Arizona quickly find out that it’s not easy to do mainly because there’s a restrictive lottery system in place to make sure this place doesn’t get overcrowded. That is probably why you found this article, beause you’re looking for the Wave alternatives and that’s what I’m going to be showing you in this post and not only do most if not all the options on the list look like it, but most of them don’t even require a permit to get to!

2 important things to know about the Wave in Arizona hike (and alternatives):

  1. The Wave hike actually starts in Utah and passes into Arizona State (where most of the trail is in).
  2. More importantly, the larger region the Wave is located in in has several spots that have similar looking terrain which means there are plenty of spots that look like the Wave. So let’s cover the details of that!

The Wave alternatives (11 options):

  1. White Pocket 
  2. Fire Wave
  3. Cathedral Wash 
  4. Zebra Slot Canyon
  5. John Day Fossil Bed National Monument 
  6. New Wave trail
  7. White Wave 
  8. White Domes 
  9. Coyote Buttes South
  10. Yellow Rock 
  11. Wire Pass Trail

White Pocket:

white pocket vs the wave hike

  • Location: White Pocket
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 1 hour
  • How to reach it: You’ll need to drive 20 miles in rugged road to reach this place. It is absolutely necessary to have a 4WD vehicle to do this drive.

White Pocket is a very special hike in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area that has mountains and terrain that very closely resembles the Wave. And aside from being a great Wave hike alternative, here’s another benefit: It’s also extremely close to the actual Wave hike so if you can’t win a lottery to go there, White Pocket is the next best (and closest) hike that is and it’s only about 30 minutes away. Just as well, this hike is also FAR less crowded (almost empty), and doesn’t require a permit to get to. 

Fire Wave hike:

fire wave hike vs the wave in arizona

  • Location: Fire Wave Trailhead (Nevada)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 3 hours
  • Things to know: This is an easy to reach trailhead which requires a 2 mile hike to get you to the Fire Wave.

The Fire Wave might be the closest look alike hike on this list to the Wave. It is located in the oldest park in Nevada (Valley of Fire State Park) which is small, but it offers amazing adventures, hikes and scenery, one of which is indeed the Fire Wave hike, that is one of the park’s most popular trails (for obvious reasons).

The only thing needed to get into this park (and on this hike) is a $20-$25 entry fee for your car upon entry. Other than that, there is no permit required to hike the Fire Wave (or any hike in this park to my knowledge). It’s also under 3 miles long and is very easy to hike for most people. The only thing you’ll want to watch out for the animals here and hot weather most of the year (go here in the winter to avoid that).

Cathedral Wash:

cathedral wash hike alternative to the wave

  • Location: Cathedral Wash trailhead (Marble Canyon)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 2 hours
  • Things to know: You’ll first have to enter Marble Canyon ($40 per vehicle), then start on the trail. The hike is 3 miles in and out and pretty moderate in difficulty but super fun, very scenic and a great Wave hike alternative.

In my opinion, Cathedral Wash is one of the best hikes in Marble Canyon. It’s also a bit challenging in parts, but since we’re comparing it to the Wave, the question is does it look like it? In my opinion, the answer is yes if you change the colors of that hike.

I’ve done this trail 2x and highly recommend it. Like most of the other hikes on this list, it too requires no permit (other than a $40 pass to enter Marble Canyon), and it’s also barely crowded. I only saw 2 people on this trail when I went there. This hike also changes terrain and by my count, there are 3 different terrain changes as you go through it. The one you see here is the second one which is my favorite and the closest look alike to the Wave.

Zebra Slot Canyon:

zebra slot canyon vs the wave hike

  • Location: Zebra and Tunnel Trailhead (Utah)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 5 hours
  • Things to know: To get to this hike, you’ll need to drive on the Hole in The Rock Road which is very sandy and full of gravel (AWD recommended). Other than this, this is one of the most best slot canyons in Utah and has elements that look like the Wave.

Zebra Slot Canyon looks like a slot canyon version of the Wave. It’s a bit challenging and one of the most popular and best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, about 3 hours from the Wave trail. You can see a list that I linked to for what else there is to see, but long story short, this particular hike will take you through narrow gorges/canyons, and sometimes there’s even water in there.

If you’re into adventurous hikes and want to avoid the crowds, Zebra Slot Canyon is where you want to be. If you want to find even more challenging hikes like this one, there are 2 others close by called Peekaboo Slot Canyon and Spooky Gulch Slot Canyon, both of which are part of 1 hiking trail that gets very tight in spots. Additionally, there is also an awesome place called Coyote Gulch in this region I highly recommend checking out if you’re more of an advanced hiker.

Painted Hills:

John Day Fossil Bed National Monument alternative to the wave hike

  • Location: Painted Hills (Eastern Oregon)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 11 hours
  • Things to know: This is the furthest option for the Wave alternatives but it is also the easiest to explore. 

I never believed Oregon has a place that looks like the Wave, but John Day Fossil Bed National Monument sure does have that same look and feel to it. It is a national park with mountains (called Painted Hills) that bear a lot of beautiful colors (red and white) that also look a lot like the Wave and even some of the hikes on this list (particularly White Pocket). Another awesome thing is that they also look similar to the Painted Mountains (in Peru).

Out of every option on this list, this particular spot is the easiest to access and hike on. Most of the “trails” within Painted Hills are just simple board walks, but the beauty of this area makes it one of the best things to do in Eastern Oregon.

New Wave Trail:

new wave trail page arizona alternative hike

  • Location: New Wave (Page Arizona)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave: 1-2 hours
  • Things to know: I recommend staying in Page Arizona if you do this hike. It’s the closest major town to it (and the Wave as well). The hike is only about 2 miles long.

Firstly, I want to thank Kevin Eassa for sharing this location. The New Wave Trail is a pretty similar in views to the classic Wave hike, but it’s got a bit less color and less detail in the rocks. Never the less, the area is very beautiful and some people might think you visited the official Wave hike after seeing it.

One of the other benefits to exploring this hike is that there is no permit needed (to my knowledge) to access this hike and it’s not far from the road in general, although cell phone reception might be bad here. Either way, for less crowds, less red tape and seeing what else is out there in terms of Wave hike alternatives, this is an awesome one to list and considering it’s not far from Page Arizona, it also means it’s close to the official Wave and White Pocket hikes, meaning if you can’t get the permit to go there, you’ve got at least 2 alternatives now nearby!

White Wave:

white wave hike alternative to classic wave trail

  • Location: The White Wave (Near Kanab Utah)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave hike: 2 hours
  • Things to know: This is a pretty remote hike but excellent option if you’re driving through the city of Kanab.

After doing a post about the best things to do in Kanab Utah, I discovered that one of the best gems near that town happens to be a hike that is literally a Wave look alike but is completely made up of white rock. Yet the same wave elements you see in all the other alternatives on this list are present there.

What’s more is that this hike is one of many amazing areas near the town I highly recommend you explore and on top of that, they are all so close to each other than if you go, you can easily explore this and the tons of other amazing hikes and trails within a few days, all while enjoying staying in Kanab, Utah. I’m so glad I discovered this hike exists and when it comes to logistics, if you can’t do the Wave hike, go up 1 hour to Kanab and try this one instead.

White Domes by Canaan Mountain Utah:

white domes utah wave hike alternative 05

  • Location: Water Canyon Trailhead (Near Hilldale Utah)
  • Permit needed? No
  • Distance from the Wave hike: 3 hours
  • Things to know: This trail is difficult and will likely involve a 10 mile hike through canyons and tight places. However it is also one of the most diverse hikes on this list to get to a place that also looks like the Wave.

I did a part of this hike without even realizing (until later) that it was a great alternative to the Wave. To find this place, you will need to first to go Hilldale Utah, then get to a trail called Water Canyon Trail which is about 10 miles long. You will start in a long canyon and work your way up and out of it. Once you are at the top, that trail will take you through the White Domes which also look like the Wave hike, but they are mostly white with a little bit of pink rock mixed in. This is a great hike overall, but it is also difficult.

Coyote Buttes South (South Wave):

coyote buttes south wave alternative 03

  • Location: Coyote Buttes South (Located South of the original Wave Trail)
  • Permit needed? Yes (lottery)
  • Distance from the Wave hike: 1 hour
  • Things to know: This is the 2nd best option in terms of the Wave alternative because it’s located very close to it and looks almost exactly like it but it does require a moderate level hike to reach as well as winning a lottery too (but it’s much easier to get that here than for the regular Wave trail)

I originally thought that the south Wave and official Wave trail were the same but they are not. The South Wave, also referred to (more officially) as Coyote Buttes South is located south of the original Wave Trail and while there is also a permit required to go here, it is much easier to access than the lottery system for the main Wave Trail. These 2 trails are very close to each other and aside from White Pocket, Coyote Buttes South is technically the closest Wave alternative. In terms of looks, it’s very similar.

Yellow Rock:

yellow rock hike wave alternative 04

  • Location: Yellow Rock (Off Cottonwood Canyon Road Utah)
  • Permit required? No
  • Distance from the Wave hike: 1 hour
  • Things to know: To get here you will need to drive on the Cottonwood Canyon Road (AWD recommended) and then hike up to get there.

The Yellow Rock hike is another Wave hike alternative that came up today and I was amazed that this place was also in Grand Staircase Escalante. Basically what you have here is an amazing rock formation that sort of looks like White Pocket, but has mixes of colors including literal yellow rock and a lot of it looks like the Wave (more like White Pocket though).

Wire Pass trail:

wire pass trail near the wave arizona hike new 02

  • Location: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
  • Permit needed? Yes ($6)
  • Distance from the Wave hike: 1 hour
  • Things to know: Getting a permit to do this hike is easy and can be done online and the hike itself is very easy and family friendly.

This last option is NOT a Wave hike alternative but I’m including it on this list because I did this hike with friends and family and only later realized that we started on the same trailhead that actually connects with the Wave trail. I’m adding this hike to the list because it’s close to White Pocket (the first alternative to the Wave hike above), and it’s also an amazing hike that is in the area, so if you are exploring Vermilion Cliffs and try your luck at getting a Wave permit, but aren’t able to, add this (The Wire Pass) trail as another stop. Trust me, it’s awesome.

There’s so many beautiful and different looking hikes in this region (and in Utah and Arizona overall). Why limit yourself to only the Wave and places like that look it when there’s so much more you can see?

And the Wire Pass Trail is one of many examples of this. It does require a parking permit though but it’s nothing crazy like with the Wave (no lottery stuff). You just have to pay $6+ so you can park your car in the area.

More common questions about the Wave hike:

How difficult is the hike to the Wave?

It’s a moderate and above level hike for most people and it takes about 3-4 miles to reach it from the trailhead.

How long is the Wave hike in Arizona?

6-7 miles total. Most of the hike involves walking to the actual Wave part.

Why is the Wave hike in Arizona famous?

Because it is very beautiful and has a lot of people sharing it on social media.

Can you visit the Wave in Arizona?

Not without a permit or winning a lottery to get that permit.


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  1. I hiked wire pass and buckskin gulch last week. The ladder in wire pass is missing, so to access wire pass you must climb the hill on the right side of the entrance and then scramble down the hill into the canyon. It’s some good rock scrambling.

    1. I’ve heard cases where that ladder was washed away by a flood. I think that’s what happened here John but I appreciate you mentioning an alternatve way to enter the Wire Pass trail from there.

    2. We’ve done wire pass a few times now, and only once was there a ladder. Luckily, each time there was some type of alternative, driftwood once and a rope the other. Worth having a look or maybe bringing a rope along as backup. That’s probably our favorite hike near Kanab. The toadstools are pretty cool too, and an easy hike.

      1. I guess I was lucky when I went on the Wire Pass trail as there was a ladder there Chuck, but I hear it gets washed away often so maybe bringing a rope would be good. I agree that the Toadstool Hoodoos trail is also awesome!

  2. In any of these spots can I fly with drones? I mean aren’t they state parks and then small drones can be used? Thanks a lot for those spots!

    1. I’ve seen people do drone videos in White Pocket and some of the spots in Utah but overall I’m not 100% sure on that Jeff. I know Utah has state parks where you can actually buy drone flying passes for $5, but in terms of the areas on this list, I would look for signs or check with the official sites for each spot to be sure. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend flying anywhere where you’re not sure if it’s allowed or not and these days it’s tough to figure out where you can fly your drone.

  3. Awesome article! I’ve hiked peekaboo, spooky and coyote gulches. They are amazing. Your article has given me further motivation to visit Zebra as well.

    1. All of those are awesome hikes Rich (the ones you did plus the others on this list I hope you get to check out too).

  4. I have always loved to hike but have more time now since I am 70. Or don’t I? Lol, no matter I am determined to make the most of each day. I live 1.5 hours away from Yosemite National Park but I have adventured the year to the bottom of Bryce Canyon, Red Rock Canyon and the Petrified wood State park and Arches a few months ago.

    Zion is hard to get a permit to so I am exited about the article alternatives to the Wave. Is there any chance the info can be sent to my email? I have just signed up for your newsletter. Thanks so much. All who are young, don’t take a minute of your life for granted! Keep moving! Electronics will always be here but your ability to move won’t. GO FOR IT!

    1. Hi Lora, thanks for signing up for my newsletter and you can always message me here (or email) if you have questions on what to see. I am very inspired by your adventurous spirit and hope you see many more places and that my blog helps you find that (just be careful with some spots!).

      Other than this, I’m surprised you said it’s tough to get a permit for to Zion National Park. There is no reservation needed to enter the park, but there ARE permits to enter certain parts in the park like the Subway and possibly the Narrows. You would have to check the site, but I know Arches has begun doing that since 2021.

  5. Hi Vitaliy,

    Your post is gorgeous! I actually lived in Arizona for 16 years and never went hiking, but loved the mountain scenes there. I have heat strokes pretty easily so I didn’t venture up the mountains too many times.  

    I love the patterns in the rock formations! They are beautiful. The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument looks like maybe one I could try since it seems more shaded. Next time I am around Arizona I’ll have to check it out. I appreciate you writing the list of alternatives.

    Thank you,


  6. I’ve always wanted to do the Wave hike, but like you, had no luck with the permit situation. However, I really enjoyed reading your alternative choices. These are some beautiful options, some of which I’d never heard of. I wasn’t aware of White Pocket, but that looks like a super place to visit that is similar to the Wave. Plus I like the sound of it being less crowded. I’m definitely going to write these spots down and will hopefully get the chance to visit in the future. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. No problem! White Pocket is the closest alternative on this list and everyone I know who has been there raves about how awesome it is Lee 🙂

  7. These are all dream-hiking sites, unique and worth seeing. I am surprised to discover that some sites like the Wave Hike in AZ, require a special permit. It is sad that you are not able to go?! However, these 5 alternative trails are amazing! The Zebra Slot Canyon really caught my attention. It looks like an adventurous and fun hike to do with its narrow gorges. How long does it take to do this trail? Thank you for this helpful and informative article!

    1. Zebra slot canyon takes a few hours to hike mostly, but if you like these types of canyons, nearby that area (Grand Staircase Escalante) are 2 more called Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons, both of which are part of 1 trail that is a 5 mile loop (although the spacing there is much tighter).

  8. I live in South Africa and this is the first time that I have heard of places where you need to have a permit to hike. We just hike where ever we feel like it here, and sometimes there is only a minimal fee or donation needed, so I guess we are lucky.

    The National Bed Monument in Oregon looks amazing and is definitely something we don’t see here. I am planning a trip to the US in a year or so and will definitely add this one to my bucket list.

    1. I have found again and again that the US houses nature spots that can be found everywhere in this world. So while I would love to visit South Africa one day, I’m pretty sure there’s many places there which you can also find here in the states as well.

  9. This was a great article. I liked the references used. The Wave hike is hard to get to do. There were a couple of the hikes that looked very similar though. Have you done a similar article like this on Havasu falls? I think it would be a good one to cover as well because it isn’t as easy to get into. 

    1. Hi Amber, I have not yet done an article on that, but I know a bit about it. The summary is that it’s located inside Havasupai (an Indian Reservation) west of the Grand Canyon. You need to reserve a visit there a year in advance and when you arrive, stay either at a campground inside this region or at their hotel. Day trips are not permitted there.

  10. The more I read your article, the more I’m interested in hiking. I understand that Fire State Park is maybe the best option for someone who would be a beginner like me. I live in Canada so, I wonder if you have ever visited some places like Grizzly Lake Trail, Yukon or West Coast Trail, British Columbia.

    1. I’ve explored quite a bit of Western Canada, and out of the list you made, BC would probably be the closest. In fact, here is a short compilation of the spots I’ve seen:

      Vancouver Island (great place!)

      Vancouver itself and the coast to it.

      BC and Alterba, specifically the Canadian Rockies which I absolutely loved!

      Canada is an astounding place for nature, that’s for sure.

  11. I have a couple of friends who have been able to do the wave hike, but literally, they are lucky like lottery winners for getting this amazing opportunity! I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of Zebra slot canyon before, as the photos of the area look absolutely stunning. That one is going on my list to try the next time I am in the area. Thank you for sharing these beautiful gems!

    1. Hi Aly, your friends certainly are lucky to have done the Wave, but since you mentioned Zebra Slot Canyon, that one is about a 5-6 hour drive up north (to Utah) and is in a very remote place. The closest hike that looks like the Wave is in White Pocket, which is about 30 minutes away, so if you’re in the region, I’d recommend that one.

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