The Superstition Mountains have gained popularity due to the majestic views and unique rock formations hidden within. So it is no surprise that the Wave Cave is one of the most popular gems within the wilderness, and for good reason!
This short and sweet hike leads you to a natural cave tucked into the side of a mountain. It got its name for obvious reasons- it resembles a wave.
Get your camera ready because this place is perfect for silhouette photos. I have a feeling you’ll be wanting to head out to ride the wave once you’re done reading this one.
This guide includes trail details, permit information, best time to hike, and more. After reading you should be fully equipped to hike to the Wave Cave in Gold Canyon!
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Wave Cave Hike Stats
- Difficulty | Moderate
- Hiking Distance | 3.0 miles RT
- Elevation Gain | 890 feet
- Trailhead | Carney Springs Trailhead
- Permits | $15 State Trust Permit
- Dogs Allowed | Yes
Getting Your Permit For The Wave Cave
Not all Superstition Mountain hikes are located on Arizona State Trust Land, however this particular hike is. That means a Recreational Permit for all activities- even hiking and camping- is required. Below are the permit types available to choose from:
- Individual ($15 for 12 months)
- Family Permit ($20 for 12 months. This covers 2 parents and any children under the age of 18)
- Small Group Permit ($15 for 5 days, 20 people or less)
Permits can be purchased online or in person at one of the locations listed on their website. You can learn more and purchase your permit here.
How To Get To The Wave Cave
You can follow the directions below or map your directions here.
The Superstition Wilderness is on the far east side of the Phoenix valley making the drive roughly 40 minutes or more, depending on where you’re embarking from. You’ll take US 60 East until it turns into a 2 lane road.
A few miles more and you’ll turn left onto E Peralta Road. This road will lead you through a quiet neighborhood, past an elementary school, and eventually dead end into a dirt road. Once you drive this dirt road you are entering Arizona State Trust Land and need a permit.
Drive down the dirt road for a several miles, keeping left at any forks in the road. Eventually you’ll see a small dirt parking lot (you can’t miss it) on the left side. This is where you’ll park to begin your hike to the Wave Cave!
This dirt road is kept in good enough shape for just about any car. Be cautious after it rains though- the washes will flood parts of the road making them impassible. There will be muddy parts too so keep this in mind if you want to keep those wheels clean!
LOCAL TIP: the areas along the dirt road are prime dispersed camping spots! Just don’t forget your permit.
When To Hike The Wave Cave
Hiking within the Superstition Mountains in general should only be done during winter and early spring months, usually November-April. During this time the temperatures are much cooler and the mountains come alive with the chance of rain.
Summer is not the time to be hiking in these mountains let alone Phoenix in general. Temperatures are too extreme. Heat exhaustion is a real thing and unprepared hikers are rescued too often during Phoenix summers. I’d refrain as best as you can from hiking during the summer, but if you must then choose sunrise or sunset.
As always, plan on arriving early if you’re visiting over the weekend OR if you enjoy evening hikes you can wait to begin later in the afternoon to miss the crowds. This is a very popular hike and it doesn’t have the biggest parking area.
Wave Cave: The Hike
The hike begins at the Carney Springs Trailhead which is located at the end of the parking lot. For about the first 1-1.25 miles you’ll be hiking along a wide, rocky dirt road.
Eventually you’ll run into a wire fence that looks like you can’t get through- but you can! Don’t let it fool you.
It’s hard to tell but it is open, you just have to weave through it. There is a trail at the fence that veers off to the left- don’t take this one! Continue straight past the fence.
Not long after and you’ll begin climbing a little bit of elevation. The last .25 miles is where it really hits you and is why this hike would be rated more moderate than easy.
It will definitely make your lungs work, but I’ve seen children and adults of all fitness levels conquer this one. There is some very slight scrambling involved but nothing too crazy.
Along the way you’ll see many spur trails veering in different directions which may get confusing. If you have a GPS App this will help you stay on trail, but there are also white painted arrows on rocks along the way. These will wash off over time so don’t count on these to find your way!
You’ll be able to see the Wave Cave on your left, nestled in the side of the mountain as you’re climbing. Paying attention to where it is located throughout the hike will also help keep you on track.
Once you reach the cave there won’t be any climbing into it. It actually is pretty sandy inside and relatively flat until you climb up onto the wave.
First thing you should do is walk all the way to the back of the cave and look out. The Wave Cave creates a perfect lens to view out of, living up to its name. While you enjoy the shade be sure to walk up on the wave and look out, ride it, and take crazy fun silhouette photos!
Monty and I sat on the wave for quite a while last time we visited, eating our snacks, and looking out at the wilderness, planning our next adventure. We tend to visit this spot on off hours so we always miss the crowds and get the place to ourselves.
Do pay attention for rattlesnakes inside the Wave Cave as well as along the trail. I’ve heard people say they have spotted one in the cave every year, so it is best to scout it out when you first get in.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of silhouette photos in the Wave Cave you’ll head back down the way you came.
Please practice leave no trace principals while inside the cave and do not carve, paint, or alter the cave walls! Also, pack out your trash!
Other Hikes Nearby
Were you wondering where the long, windy dirt road leads to? Well, I’ll tell you. It dead ends directly into another great local trail, the Peralta Trail. You can hike Peralta Trail to Fremont Saddle for some epic views of Weavers Needle as an out and back.
Or, you can hike the entire Peralta Trail, making a 12.6 mile loop called Weavers Needle Loop. This is a great all day hike with options for backpacking if you’re interested.
On the other side of the mountains are a few other great ones- my all time favorite being Battleship Mountain. I like to conquer this one once a year because it never gets old and is a fun one!
If you’re looking for another cool cave, not too far away is the Broadway Cave which is actually much easier to get to.
Recap On Hiking The Wave Cave
The Wave Cave is a great introductory hike into the majestic Superstition Wilderness and I suggest it to anyone visiting or new to the area. I like to hike this one every once in a while because it is a great little trail that gets my blood flowing.
It can get packed on weekends so try to visit during an off time so you can have the best experience and maybe have the Wave Cave to yourself.
As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.
You may also like:
- Massacre Falls- A Magical Waterfall in the Superstitions
- Hiking with Dogs Packing List- 10 Essentials
- Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, AZ- all you need to know
- 9 Amazing Superstition Mountains Hikes for your Bucket List
- Ultimate Picacho Peak Hike Guide via The Hunter Trail
I’d love to hear from you!
Are you convinced to hike to the Wave Cave now? Or have you already visited? Share in the comments below.