Journey through the unsurpassed Paria Canyon

Tom’s Experience hiking through Paria Canyon:

Paria Canyon has two main entrances; the Wire Pass and White House trailheads. The canyon is on the top of many lists for classic desert hikes. The distance from Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry is about 43 miles and allows you too see all of Buckskin Gulch. From White House to Lee’s Ferry it is about 38.5 miles. The hike will take anywhere from about 3 to 5 days. The hike is all downhill following the river but it takes a while because there are very few established trails through the canyon and you spend a lot of time crossing the river. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes that are also comfortable when wet and filled with mud.

Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs

In order to spend the night in the Paria Canyon you must obtain a Permit and they are hard to come by since they only allow 20 people to spend the night in the canyon. Also, you must pack any human waste out of the canyon but they provide bags with your permit. The Paria River supposedly deposits the most dirt into the Colorado River of any other tributary. The pioneers said it was too thick to pump and too thin to plow.

Paria and Buckskin Confluence

Our first day in the canyon the water was a whitish grey color and it was so pretty in contrast with the steep red rock canyon walls. We were later told that the water was coming from Johnson Canyon to give it the neat white color. That night when we stopped for dinner as we watched the river, it started to fill up with small twigs and other debris. When we woke up on day two the water had changed from the pretty white color to a chocolate-milk color. We were told this was water coming from Bryce Canyon National Park and the recent storms. The water was much too dirty to filter and it is best to make it to the natural springs in the canyon walls to get your water. We didn’t even filter the water out of the walls and we felt fine. Make sure you bring a little excess capacity for water because many camps are dry if you don’t camp right next to the springs.

Backpacking Paria

We started our Paria Canyon adventure from the Wire Pass trailhead which is also the same trailhead as the famous Wave. After about 13 miles we reached the confluence of Buckskin and Paria. We decided to leave our backpacks on a raised sand bar and headed up the Paria about a half mile to Slide Rock.

Slide Rock Paria Canyon

Slide Rock is an interesting rock formation that is similar to an arch but isn’t really an arch. The water goes through and around a giant rock that has fallen from the higher canyon walls. It is a really pretty area.

Paria River

We then hiked back down river and made it to Big Springs. Big Springs is the biggest spring in the canyon and has a very good flow of water out of the canyon walls. We were able to fill our liter water bottles in about 10 seconds from this spring, which was fast compared to some of the other springs.

Kelty TN2

We spent the night at a raised campsite across from the Big Spring. On day two we continued down river until we came to the turn off for Wrather Arch. We joked and said the reason they call it Wrather Arch is because most people would “rather” not stop and take the side route to the arch.

Wrather Arch Paria Canyon

Well we left our backpacks on a bank again and took the 2 mile detour up canyon to the very impressive Wrather Arch. It is one of the largest arches I’ve ever seen and the hike through the canyon was very pretty. I would defiantly recommend taking this detour as well if you have the energy. It is doubtful you will ever be that deep in Paria Canyon again.

Petroglyphs Paria

From there, we continued on to the last reliable spring where we all filled up all of our water bottles. This spring was a lot slower than Big Spring but it was clean which was refreshing after the dirty water we had been walking through.

Deep Mud in Paria

We continued on to the next camping spot after the spring in hopes of making the mileage on the last day a little shorter. In total we hiked 14 miles on day two but it took us almost 11 hours. The mileage through the river is really slow going.

Crossing the Paria

The last day was from our campsite to Lee’s Ferry. The last day there didn’t have very many river crossings which was nice and there were some trails that we could follow so our hiking pace was much quicker. There are also a few petroglyphs along the trail especially closer to Lee’s Ferry.

Exiting Paria River Gorge

The overall mileage with the side trips was about 46 miles. This hike will require a shuttle. Dogs are also allowed but must have a special dog permit and you must carry out their waste as well.

Tom’s Rating:

Trail Info: For the Wire Pass Trailhead: from Kanab, Drive east on Highway 89 for 31.1 miles to a dirt road, turn on the right. The dirt road is called House Rock Road and is fairly well maintained but can be impassable when wet. After about 4.5 miles you will see a sign for Buckskin Gulch trailhead, do not stop here. Continue on another 4 miles to the signed Wire Pass Trailhead and park here. There is a lot of parking and an outhouse. For the White House Trailhead: from Kanab, drive east on Highway 89 for 43 miles. Look for the BLM Contact Station sign on the right. The White House trailhead is two miles (3.2 kilometers) down a dirt road that begins at the Information Station. For Lee’s Ferry Trailhead: From Page, AZ, drive south on Highway 89 for 25 miles. Turn right onto Highway 89A and continue for 14 miles. Cross over the Colorado River and pass the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center on your right. Watch for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area entrance on your right. Park in the Long Term Parking area to avoid any tickets.

GPS:

Wire Pass: 37.018977,-112.025285

White House: 37.079656,-111.889683

Slide Rock: 37.008817, -111.866200

Buckskin Paria Confluence: 37.001451,-111.865724

Big Spring:  36.981867, -111.832600

Wrather Arch Turnoff:  36.969383, -111.773033

Last Reliable Spring:  36.953067, -111.724983

Lee’s Ferry: 36.865804,-111.592032

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Survive the dangerous and unparalleled Buckskin Gulch Trail

Tom’s Experience exploring Buckskin Gulch:

Buckskin Gulch is a narrow slot canyon that lasts about 13.1 miles. Almost the entire time the walls are about 6 feet apart and rise high above your head. It has been called the longest slot canyon in the world, and while I’m not sure if that is true or not,  it is definitely a magical place. Buckskin was ranked by Backpacker magazine as one of America’s 10 most dangerous hikes.

Wire Pass

Overnight camping in Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon is limited and you must be lucky enough to get a permit for camping from this site. They limit the people in the canyon and give you poop bags as well to carry out your human waste. Otherwise, without a permit you are free to explore the canyon and return to your car at Wire Pass or try to make a through hike and exit out of White House Trailhead. Wire Pass to White house is 21 miles and is a long day, but doable.

Longest Slot Canyons

It is a lot more popular to try to get a permit and break the hike into 2 or more days. The downside of spending the night in the canyon is that you have to take all of your gear, and it may be difficult keeping it all dry through the slot canyon. An unlimited amount of day permits are available at the trailhead for a small fee. We were able to get permits for two nights, so we decided to start at Wire Pass, hike through Buckskin Gulch and then hike down the Paria to Lee’s Ferry.

Nontechnical Slot Canyons

Starting out at the Wire Pass Trailhead (the same trailhead for The Wave), follow the well marked trail as it takes you through a wash into the Wire Pass slot canyon. There were a couple of challenging sections in Wire Pass, but nothing super difficult. After 1.75 miles, Wire Pass leads into Buckskin Gulch. There are some petroglyphs right before Buckskin on the right side of the canyon wall.

Backpacking Buckskin Gulch

Normally, Buckskin is a fairly dry canyon with a couple of spots where you are wading in ankle-deep water, with a few knee deep sections. Swims are not unheard of in Buckskin so be sure that anything you pack is either in a dry bag or can get wet.

Buckskin Gulch Flash Flood

When we entered the confluence for Wire Pass and Buckskin there was actually water flowing from a storm that had ended about an hour before we started our hike. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision we made, but we decided to move on through the flowing water and enjoy our journey.

Paria River Confluence

The canyon was spectacular and the walls rose clear above our heads. Eventually, we were able to catch up to the “flash flood,” which was where the flowing water was ending as it was being drained into the sand. We also saw a baby rattlesnake in the canyon; it was the only rattlesnake we saw the whole trip, probably because of all the rain. I have heard that rattlesnakes are very common in this area so be careful.

Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon

Most of the morning was good weather but around lunch time another storm rolled in and it started to rain again with some thunder. We were crossing through a section that had water about up to our knees and a white owl flew down into the canyon, probably trying to escape the rain. He flew by most of our heads and tried to land on my dad’s backpack. My dad ended up dodging as the owl came towards his head and ended up falling into the water we were wading through. We were able to use our hiking poles to lead him to a dry part of the canyon behind us and he just stood there stunned as we continued on.

Owl in Slot Canyon

As we would walk through the cold stagnant water we were able to see our breath. Eventually we made it to the Middle Trail, which is the only exit out of the canyon and isn’t really a trail but more of a scramble out of the canyon. We decided to keep on going since it wasn’t raining incredibly hard. There are a few petroglyph panels at Middle Trail but they are high above and really only visible if you exit out of the Middle Trail.

Utah Slot Canyons

We continued on and finally made it to the rock fall. There was a fairly easy way down for us but it took a few minutes to find. Most ways looked pretty difficult and I have heard some people recommend bringing a rope for this section as a hand line or to lower backpacks. We didn’t bring a rope nor did we need one but I’m sure every time it floods the rock falls is a little different.

Best Slot Canyons

From there, it was a straight shot onto the Paria River. We never had to get in above our knees in the water through the river while we were there (even with the recent rain), but I think we were lucky. Dogs are allowed in Buckskin Gulch but you must clean up after them and purchase a permit for them as well.

Tom’s Rating:

Trail Info: From Kanab, drive east on Highway 89 for 31.1 miles to a dirt road, the turn-off is on the right. The dirt road is called House Rock Road and is fairly well maintained but can be impassable when wet. After about 4.5 miles you will see a sign for Buckskin Gulch trailhead, do not stop here. Continue on another 4 miles to the signed Wire Pass Trailhead and park here. There is a lot of parking and an outhouse.

GPS:

Wire Pass Trailhead: 37.018942,-112.0253

Buckskin Gulch Confluence: 37.019734,-112.002769

Middle Trail Exit: 37.031542,-111.927177

Paria Confluence: 37.001364,-111.865652

White House Campground: 37.079676,-111.889757

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 Please comment below to share your experience exploring Buckskin Gulch or Wire Pass. Don’t forget to register to receive the Travel Tom’s Newsletter by submitting your email in the bar above.