Wave Cave Hike Superstition Mountains Arizona

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I’m always in search of good hikes nearby as I road trip around the USA and Canada. Fortunately, there are a lot of great hiking trails near Tucson. Although I love the desert, I can’t handle hiking in hot weather.

So, a mountain hike to a cave is a pretty cool hike to do in Arizona.

The Wave Cave is a prefect day trip from Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tucson. Located in the Tonto National Forest, the Wave Cave Trail is a moderate hike in the Superstition Mountains.

The hike starts out easy but there is a steep incline closer to the summit at the cave.

It’s one of those hikes that could make your quads feel the burn a day or two after you hike it. I know mine did! Totally worth it though, this hike is a wonderful escape to the beauty of the Superstition Mountain range.


Wave Cave Superstition Mountains Arizona


Why are they called Superstition Mountains?

The mountain range got it’s name from Spanish conquistadors who ignored the warnings from Apache Native Americans. To the Apaches, the highest peak was sacred, home of the Thunder God.

The Spanish, with their love of gold, ventured into the mountain range to try and take what they could find. Apparently, a few of them went missing or were found dead during their search for the precious metal.

The conquistadors kept trying to find the gold. And they kept turning up dead.

Finally, they left the area, naming it Monte Superstition.

Legend has it that a huge goldmine (Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine) is located somewhere in the Superstition Mountains. Treasure hunters have yet to locate the alleged riches, but some modern day fortune hunters have died trying.


Superstition Mountains Arizona


What is the Wave Cave?

Well, I thought the wave cave would look something like “The Wave” trail in Utah. LOL! NO! Not even close! BUT it is a great hike, nonetheless. Once you wrap your mind around the idea that the wave isn’t going to be a spectacular sight.

Don’t get me wrong, the wave is neat to see. But it would be a cool hike whether or not a “wave” existed within the cave.

The “wave” is a wave shaped chunk of rock at the front of the cave. It’s cool to see. And you can do your best surfer pose in front of the wave.

The views from the cave are glorious. And the cave offers some much welcome shade after a (usually) sunny and hot Arizona hike.

Bring water and snacks to enjoy a picnic lunch in the cave with incredible views.


View from Wave Cave summit

Views from the cave are amazing, pictures do not do it justice


Getting to Superstition Mountains

The beautiful thing about Superstition Mountains is that you can easily do a day trip from Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tucson to hike there. I drove from Tucson and it’s a lovely drive.

And there are a lot of trails within the mountain range, part of the Tonto National Forest, the 5th largest national forest in the United States. If you have more time you could go camping at Superstition Mountains and do a bunch of hikes.

Tonto National Forest is the largest national forest within Arizona.


Saguaro cactus Arizona Tonto National Forest


The parking for Wave Cave Trail is at Carney Springs Trailhead. If the lot is full you can park at the nearby lot before you get to Carney Springs Trailhead or use the overflow parking at Lost Goldmine Trailhead which is .7 miles further down the road.

Here are the directions to the Wave Cave hike:

From Phoenix, Scottdale, Tempe

1 hour driving time

  • Take Hwy 60 East (Superstition Freeway) for 32.5 miles (52 km)
  • Turn left onto E Peralta Road and continue for 5.5 miles (9 km) This is a dirt road and some places get huge puddles after heavy rains.
  • Turn left when the road forks and you’ll see a sign “Peralta Trail 1.5 miles”
  • Continue for a half mile (.8 km) to the parking lot


Camping at Tonto National Forest Arizona

The Superstition Mountains make a gorgeous view from this campsite


From Tucson

2 hours driving time

  • Take Oracle Road – Hwy AZ-77 North for 20 miles (32 km)
  • Turn left on AZ-79 North and continue for 58 miles (93 km)
  • Turn left onto Hwy US-60 West and continue for 8 miles (13 km)
  • Turn left onto E Peralta Road and continue for 5.5 miles (9 km) This is a dirt road and some places get huge puddles after heavy rains.
  • Turn left when the road forks and you’ll see a sign “Peralta Trail 1.5 miles”
  • Continue for a half mile (.8 km) to the parking lot


Cholla Cactus alongside trail Arizona

Desert and mountains make for beautiful scenery


You may notice the sign near the parking lot stating “State Trust Land No Trespassing Permit Required” but I didn’t know anything about a permit.

AllTrails app doesn’t mention anything about a fee.


Siganage states AZ state trust land permit required

I’m not sure why the permit required sign is at the trailhead – no one I spoke with paid a fee


And no one that I spoke with along the trail paid a fee or knew anything about a permit for this hike.

I did look up the permit info and it’s $15 per year and includes up to 14 days of camping! That’s a bargain for camping. No facilities, but still a great deal.


Parking lot for Wave Cave hike Superstition Mountains

There’s a small parking lot near the trailhead to Wave Cave


Do I Need a 4WD or High Clearance Vehicle?

No you don’t need a 4WD but a high clearance vehicle would be nice. Although I did see a Toyota Camry at the trailhead parking lot so it’s up to you to judge based on recent rainfall.

But I didn’t take my Toyota Yaris through to the parking lot because of a big water puddle along the way. I didn’t know how deep it was and I didn’t want to get stuck in the muck.

A few SUVs were parked along the road, so I figured if they didn’t want to chance it neither would I, with my little Yaris.

You can also park at the Goldmine Trailhead parking lot and walk to Wave Cave Trailhead from there.


Massive puddle in the dirt road to Superstition Mountains

Higher clearance vehicle is better for navigating the big puddles when it rains


Hike Description

Distance: 3.2 miles (5 km) round trip

Type of hike: Out and Back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 870 ft (265 m)

Time: Allow 2 – 3 hours


Hiking Wave Cave Trail Superstition Mountains

The hike starts out level but it gets more difficult closer to the cave


The trail starts out level and easy for the first mile or so, then it gets rocky and the more difficult portion of the hike begins.

At the last half mile or so it is a steep climb. If you bring young kids be aware you may have to carry them at this point.

Dogs (on leash) are allowed on the Wave Cave trail, but towards the summit of the hike it’s too steep for some dogs to make it.

If your furbaby is a climber (or part mountain goat) they will do fine.


Hikers on the Wave Cave Trail Arizona


Getting away from the city completely is usually my preference when I go hiking. I don’t want to hear cars or any sounds from urban life. The Tonto National Forest is a great place to escape to nature.

I don’t know anything about Phoenix hiking trails but if you want to escape the city then the Superstition Mountains are the place to go.

Even while walking from my parking spot to the trailhead I was struck by the beautiful views.


Hiker poses as surfer under the wave rock formation

Do your best surfer pose under the wave


Other Things to Do in Arizona

Little Horse Trail Best of the Red Rocks in Sedona Arizona

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona

Hiking in Tucson Arizona Best Hiking Trails for Solo Travelers

Things to do in Tucson Arizona – Best Tourist Attractions

Fun Things to Do on a Day Trip to Winslow Arizona

Grand Canyon North Rim Day Trip


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Wave Cave Hiking Trail Superstition Mountains Arizona

Amazing Arizona Hike in the Mountains Day Trip from Phoenix Scottsdale or Tucson

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

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