Can’t do The Wave Hike in AZ? Try These 5 Alternative Trails

If you (like so many others, including myself) find yourself unable to do the Wave hike in AZ due to its very restrictive permit system, just know that this particular trail isn’t the only one of it’s kind and there are at least 5 that are just as good if not better (and none of them even require permits either).

One of the most important things I’ve learned through my nature travels in the US is that there are many look alike places out there and even something as “unique” as the Wave isn’t really the case. You just have to explore less commercialized areas to find them and I’ve done that research for you (other blogs simply show you what’s near the Wave vs actually showing you hikes that look like it).

So let me show you what (and where) they are (some are close to the Wave, and others are in other states):

Here are the 5 alternative hikes to the Wave (that look a lot like it):

the wave hike az alternatives

  1. White Pocket (Utah).
  2. Fire Wave (Nevada).
  3. Cathedral Wash (Arizona).
  4. Zebra Slot Canyon (Utah).
  5. John Day Fossil Bed National Monument (Oregon).

So far, these are the 5 closes things in looks and terrain that resemble the Wave and in some cases are better looking in my opinion. And the beauty is that none of these hikes require a permit.

You may have to pay an entrance fee in some cases to enter the regions where you’ll find these hikes, but overall, there aren’t going to be large crowds in these places like you would find waiting in line to try and get a permit to the Wave.

1) White Pocket hike:

white pocket vs the wave hike

Location: Arizona, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (very close to the Wave).

Family friendly trails? I would say no.

Description: White Pocket is a region of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area that has mountains and terrain that very closely resembles the Wave.

If that wasn’t enough reason to go there, consider this:

It’s also extremely close to the actual Wave hike, so if you can’t win a lottery to go there, this 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 but it is accessible by driving through rugged roads, so you should have an all wheel drive if you go.

Because White Pocket is in a far more remote area of the Vermilion Cliffs, I would recommend being cautious before going here.

Note: Here is an awesome post on other Wave hike alternatives recommend by Tripadvisor users.

2) Fire Wave hike:

fire wave hike vs the wave in arizona

Location: Nevada, specifically Valley of Fire State Park (maybe 3 hours west of the Wave hike).

Family friendly trails? Yes.

Description: 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 an 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 2 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).

3) Cathedral Wash:

cathedral wash hike alternative to the wave

Location: Arizona, also Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Family friendly hike? No.

Description: In my opinion, Cathedral Wash is one of the best hikes in all of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, as well as in all of Arizona State.

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 and highly recommend it. Like all of the other hikes on this list, it too requires no permit (other than a pass to enter the Vermilion Cliffs), 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.

The hike is 3 miles long in and out.

4) Zebra Slot Canyon:

zebra slot canyon vs the wave hike

Location: Utah, specifically Grand Staircase Escalante.

Family friendly hike? No.

Description: Zebra Slot Canyon looks like a slot canyon version of the Wave.

It is a challenging and fun hike you will find within the Grand Staircase Escalante region of Utah, which in my opinion is one of the best parts of that state.

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.

5) John Day Fossil Bed National Monument:

John Day Fossil Bed National Monument alternative to the wave hike

Location: Central Oregon.

Family friendly hikes? Yes.

Description: 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.

Not many people know about it because most of the time, tourists focus on the main attractions Oregon has to offer like the many waterfall hikes there, the Oregon Coast, Portland and Columbia River Gorge and many of the hot spring areas in the state (all of which are awesome attractions by the way). But east Oregon also has a lot to offer, and this particular spot is one of them that I would recommend you visit if you’re looking for Wave hike alternatives.

Nearby you will also find beautiful parks like Smith Rock State Park (another gem worth checking out).

More recommendations from other users (alternatives to the Wave):

I’m always up for learning what others recommend about this topic, and one of the top ones is a post here on Tripadvisor where similar Wave alternatives are recommended, but there’s 200+ comments, so you may find even MORE alternatives there!

More hikes like the Wave to come!

One thing I can tell you for sure, it’s that the regions near the Wave (in Utah and Arizona) have similar terrains and that makes it very likely to find hikes like the Wave in more than just the areas I shared on this list.

If you’re someone who knows about these other spots and don’t mind sharing their names, I’d love to hear about them below!

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14 thoughts on “Can’t do The Wave Hike in AZ? Try These 5 Alternative Trails”

  1. 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,

    Chastity

    Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
  3. 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!

    Reply
    • 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).

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  5. 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. 

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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