There’s no question Grand Canyon is the most photographed natural wonder in Arizona. Any respectable short list of runners-up must include Wave Cave – a unique geologic formation in the rocky cliffs of the Superstition Mountains.
The hike isn’t long (just over 3 miles round trip), but parts of it are quite challenging; especially the final quarter-mile leading up to the cave. The payoff for your effort is spectacular views of a thriving section of the Sonoran Desert and photo opportunities you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Wave Cave gets its name from a unique rock structure at the cave’s opening that survived thousands of years of erosion. As soon as you see it, the reason for the name becomes obvious. When viewed from the back of the cave, its shape perfectly resembles that of a huge pipeline wave you might see a surfer riding in the ocean.
Without a doubt, it’s the photo opps that make this place so popular with newcomers and experienced hikers alike. On any given day, you’re likely to see people striking a variety of poses in the pipeline section of the wave or on the crest. The surfing stance is most common. Close behind in popularity are yoga poses, followed by leaps and group pics.
I was so enamored with the creativity of people and their poses on my first visit to Wave Cave that I decided to make a time lapse video (below).
Time lapse video of people posing for Wave Cave pictures
What you need to know
Wave Cave permit
Do I need a permit to hike to the Wave Cave in Arizona? That’s probably the smartest question to ask because many of the popular natural sites in Arizona do require a permit. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” The correct answer is it depends on where you park.
There are two primary places you can park to access the trail to Wave Cave:
If you park in the Lost Goldmine East Trailhead ⇒ lot, a PERMIT IS NOT REQUIRED.
If you park in the Carney Springs Trailhead⇒ lot, a PERMIT IS REQUIRED.
Signage spells out very clearly that you must have State Land Trust permit to park at the Carney Springs Trailhead or hike on the Carney Springs Trail to Wave Cave. However, you cannot purchase a permit at the lot. You must purchase it online in advance and print the permit to display in your car. The annual fee is $15 for an individual or $20 for a family (subject to change).
Seems like a no-brainer to park in the Lost Goldmine East lot to avoid the permit issue. Maybe so, just be aware that the hike from that lot is a bit longer and not as flat.
Wave Cave trailhead directions
Regardless of which trailhead you choose to park at, the directions are pretty much the same:
- Take Hwy 60 Superstition Freeway east from Phoenix/Mesa toward Gold Canyon, AZ
- Turn left (north) on Peralta Road 6.5 to 7 miles
- Carney Springs Trailhead lot is a pulloff on the left about 6.5 miles from Hwy 60
- Lost Goldmine East Trailhead (the permit free lot) is another half mile beyond Carney Springs (look for a narrow dirt road heading off to the left)
If you happen to be coming from points east of Gold Canyon, you’ll turn right on Peralta Road instead of left.
There are plenty of cool places to take selfies in Arizona, but you won’t find another place like the Wave Cave to get pictures of yourself “surfing”. The hike is quite challenging, especially in the hot summer months, but the experience and memories are well worth the effort.