This Beautiful Hike Leads To One Of The Southwest's Most Iconic Photo Op Destinations

Arizona's Superstition Mountains are a place of mysteries: eerie crags that jut up into the impossibly blue sky, deep shadowy canyons, and sadly, a fair number of missing hikers. In some places, petroglyphs are etched onto the cliffs, all that's left of the Native People who once roamed here. Legends swirl around the possibility of a lost mine somewhere in the range that may contain absurd amounts of gold. Many have tried to find it, but so far, all have come up empty handed. 

Hiking opportunities abound in the Superstitions. But adventurers must be prepared for the rigors of the terrain, where the searing heat can overtake you and you can easily get lost if you're lured from the trail into the prickly and enchanting landscape. But those who brave these challenges can discover the mountains' mysteries for themselves, one being a giant rock wave at the mouth of a cave overlooking a stunning slice of the Sonoran Desert. This place is called the Wave Cave, and it's one of central Arizona's most glorious photo op destinations. The hike to the Wave Cave is a 3-mile out-and-back trip that's best done in fall, winter, or spring. Avoid the unshaded trail in summer (from mid-May through early October) unless the idea of being slowly baked into a human raisin appeals to you. 

Hiking to the Wave Cave

The Wave Cave Trail starts at the Carney Springs Trailhead off Peralta Road, which intersects with US-60 near the town of Gold Canyon, Arizona. To reach the trailhead, head northeast on Peralta Road for 6.3 miles to a small parking area on the west side of the road.  Looking up and to the left from the parking location, you'll actually be able to see the cave waiting for you on the mountainside. 

The route to the cave is marked with white arrows. The first portion of the trail is mostly flat and easygoing, but as you approach the cave, you'll begin huffing and puffing. The last section of the hike is very steep and will definitely get your heart pumping. There's also some loose dirt and rock, so be careful not to lose your footing. Rest assured, your efforts will pay off in the end, as the views are incredible from the cave. Below, the pale-green and gold desert stretches for miles, punctuated with boulders and saguaro cacti. Inside the cave, you'll encounter the geological marvel of the wave, which you can stand on to get the best photo ops. Enjoy the shade and take all the pictures your heart desires. 

Helpful information and tips

Plan to arrive at the trailhead as early as you can, since parking is limited, and this is an extremely popular adventure. No matter what time of year you're doing this hike, don't underestimate the intense sun and heat. Wear sunscreen and bring more water than you think you'll need. Wear supportive shoes with good traction to avoid slipping on loose rocks. Respect the natural environment by staying on the marked trail, even when side trails are available. Finally, when you reach the cave, try to not belt out show tunes to avoid disturbing others. This is a place where sound is greatly amplified. 

If you have energy leftover after surfing the Wave, take the nearby Peralta Canyon Trail to the Fremont Saddle, where you'll have spectacular views of another geological miracle of the Superstitions: Weaver's Needle, a craggy volcanic monolith that towers majestically over the surrounding desert. The trailhead for this route is about a mile further down Peralta Road from the Carney Springs trailhead. You can find more amazing hiking trails as well as spacious camping spots at the Lost Dutchman State Park, 17 miles from the Carney Springs Trailhead near the town of Apache Junction.