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Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness: Backpack through the Paria Canyon

backpack the paria canyon

THE RUNDOWN

Duration: 4 days/3 nights (I completed it in 3 days/2 nights, I highly advise against this)

Distance: 38 miles point-to-point

Elevation Loss: 1,600 feet

Trailhead: White House Trailhead

Every Thanksgiving weekend Alex and I choose to #optoutside. In 2015 we headed to Utah and spent some time hiking in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. In 2016 I was looking for something a little more rugged and remote. After a little research I found the Paria Canyon, a 38 mile hike that follows the Paria River from Utah into northern Arizona. The BLM also strictly limits the number of people allowed to enter the canyon for overnight hikes each day. With its stunning, remote beauty and limited access, the Paria Canyon was exactly what I was looking for! 

planning your hike in the paria canyon

Are permits required? Yes. The BLM strictly limits the access of the Paria Canyon and only allows 20 people (people, not groups) to enter the canyon for overnight trips each day from all trailheads. This means in peak seasons the competition for permits can be fierce. However, since we were heading out in November we didn't have a problem getting a permit a month prior. Permits cost $5 per person per day. Permits are available for reservation through this link on the 1st of the month 4 months prior to the month you wish to complete the hike. For example, if you wished to hike in June you could apply for a permit on April 1st. 

Once you confirm there is availability for your desired trip date you can apply for the permit by clicking the date. You will be taken to a screen where you are required to watch a video about the Paria Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs wilderness, this is a very informative and interesting video, watch it! Once you have watched the video you will be taken to the application where you will designate which trailhead you wish to start from. The 3 most common starting trailheads are Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and White House. The Wire Pass Trailhead will take you through a majority of Buckskin Gulch, a very scenic narrows, but this section also can have deep pools and requires a 13.2 mile hike to reach the Buckskin Gulch and Paria Narrows confluence. The Buckskin Gulch Trailhead will take you through the entirety of the 16 mile Buckskin Gulch. The White House Trailhead will take you through the Paria Narrows and is only a 7 mile hike to the Buckskin-Paria confluence. Given the limited daylight hours we faced in November, we chose to depart from the White House Trailhead. Finally, you can choose to hike up the river, from Lee's Ferry Trailhead, however most people choose to hike from north to south and follow the flow of the river.

How to get to the Paria Canyon and the trailhead: The White House Trailhead is located in Kanab, UT. The closest major airports are Las Vegas (250 miles) and Flagstaff (165 miles). We chose to fly into Las Vegas and drive to Kanab, which took about 4 hours. Since this is a point-to-point hike you will be required to use two cars and park one at Lee's Ferry Trailhead and one at White House Trailhead or use a shuttle service. 

The overnight parking is the grey pin in the map. The nearest marker on Google is  Lee's Ferry Trailhead . 

The overnight parking is the grey pin in the map. The nearest marker on Google is Lee's Ferry Trailhead

Shuttle service: If using 2 cars isn't an option for you there are shuttle services available. I used Seeking Treasure Adventures and was incredibly impressed with the service Yermo provided. Not only did Yermo drive us from Lee's Ferry to White House on Thanksgiving day, he also picked up our permits and wag bags from the ranger station, he picked up fuel for our camp stove since we can't fly with fuel, and he brought us turkey for our Thanksgiving hike! I couldn't have asked for better service. The cost of the shuttle using Seeking Treasure Adventures is $250.

When to go: This hike is most popular in the spring and fall months when the weather is pleasant. In the summer there are risks of flash floods in the canyon due to an increase in precipitation. Regardless of the time of year you go you should check in at the ranger station to find out the latest conditions of the canyon. 

Refilling our water at Big Spring

Refilling our water at Big Spring

Special notes: 

Water - Despite this route following a river you cannot drink the river water. It is extremely silty and attempting to filter it will destroy your filter. There are 3 reliable springs along the route where you can refill your water. These springs can be easily missed if you aren't looking for them so make sure to pay close attention to your mileage. Moss growing on the walls and clear water streams running into the river are signs that the springs are near!

  • Big Spring - Mile 12
  • Shower Spring - Mile 22
  • Last Reliable Spring - Mile 25

Campsites - While there are no designated campsites in the canyon there are established sites that hikers are expected to camp in. Don't make your own campsite, most of the already established campsites are in the most beautiful spots. The campsites are pretty obvious as they are usually on elevated benches above the river and there are social trails leading up from the river into a green area. 

Waste - Pack everything out, including your excrement. The ranger station will provide you with wag bags for each member in your party. These bags have an odor-eating substance in them and have a large garbage bag inside the zippered bag to contain your waste. This isn't the most pleasant arrangement but it is necessary to keep the wilderness of the Paria Canyon pristine. 

Gear to pack: 

  • The 10 Essentials
  • Map (I used the National Geographic Topographic Trails Map)
  • Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent
  • Camera gear
  • Trekking poles
  • Water filter
  • Neoprene socks 
  • Wool socks
  • Extra layers
  • Footwear that drains water, such as mesh trail running shoes. The last thing you want on a cold, wet hike is water pooling in your shoes!


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