A travel journal
to Utah by Ben the Grate
Quote: The Paria Canyon wilderness in extreme southern Utah is insane. There's just no other way to describe it! The intrepid explorer will find himself lost in a maze of slot canyons so narrow he can touch both walls with outstretched arms, so deep that the sun never reaches the bottom.
Four-point-two miles south of the highway you pass the Buckskin Gulch trailhead. At 7.9 miles there is a big parking area on your right with pit toilets. Park here, cross the road, purchase your day pass (see below), and sign into the wilderness log.
The trail avoids the wash bottom, saving slogging through gravel, but can be tricky to follow. When in doubt, just follow the wash. After a mile or so you will enter the first narrows. The second and third narrows follow rapidly, where the walls are only 2 feet wide! Most people have to turn sideways and take off their backpack to negotiate it!
Just beyond this constriction, Wire Pass Narrows intersect Buckskin Gulch at a vast sandstone arch where, if you look closely, you can make out Indian petroglyphs of sheep and goats. There is an incredibly smooth wall of sandstone here that looks man-made.
From this intersection, deep within Buckskin Gulch, you can turn left to explore the upstream narrows toward the Buckskin Trailhead, or you can turn right and explore downstream toward the Paria River which is 13 miles distant.
This is the ONLY dayhike in the Paria Canyon Wilderness that can be done without a permit, but you cannot camp. The BLM charges a trail use fee of $5 per person, which is paid at the wilderness log across the road from the parking area.
***The trail conditions for this hike change each year with the floods!*** Sometimes it is an easy flat walk all the way to Buckskin. More often, however, there are boulder drops to negotiate, sometimes up to 15 feet high. Packs must be lowered with a rope or dropped, and difficult climb-downs must be negotiated. ALWAYS REMEMBER that what goes down must come up! The only way out is back up the climbs. Do not exceed your ability!
Take plenty of water, as there will be none in the canyon!
Some masochists dayhike the entire 28 miles from the Wire Pass Trailhead, through Buckskin, to the Paria River and back. Please note that this is NOT 28 miles of flat trail. This is 28 miles of climbs, deep gravel, puddles, and mud. For extremely strong and fast hikers with rock climbing experience, this hike will take a minimum of 12 hours, probably more.
Please also be aware that distant rains can fill the narrows with whitewater even if you see clear sky above you. If this happens, you will die. See the WEATHER section for more details.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 3, 2003
Wire Pass Trail (Buckskin Gulch access)
U.S. Hwy 89
The trailhead is the same used for Wire Pass. (See that section for directions).
Sign into the wilderness log at the Wire Pass trailhead. You will have already secured your permits from the BLM. Only 10 people are allowed per day.
Leaving the Wire Pass Trailhead you follow the wash downstream. After about 1/2-mile you will come to a gentle curve to the right where a broad, well-worn trail veers up and to the right. It climbs up to the top of a low ridge, turns south and levels off, heading toward a horizontally striated butte.
About 1 mile from the start, the trail ends just after crossing a wash and arriving at the bottom of a low, bare-rock ridge. Veer left and climb an easy gully up to a saddle at the top of the ridge. From the saddle, contour around the other side of the ridge and proceed south paralleling the ridgetop. The ridge to your right rises and you continue to head south up and over a low rise. From here you should recognize two prominent twin cones almost straight ahead of you. Head for the left side of these cones. There, about 2 miles from the start, you will cross the border between Utah and Arizona, marked by a rather desultory barbed wire fence. In the distance, almost due south, are the buttes where "The Wave" is located. There is a prominent black crack running vertically down from the summit toward the base of the mountain.
Head directly toward the crack, across relatively flat, bare rock and arrive about 20min later at a flat rock bench overlooking a wash with the black crack buttes on the opposite side. Cross the wash by a prominent black marking on the rock in the creek bed. Climb the rockface veering a little right toward a shallow, steep gully heading up toward the black crack. Stay in this shallow gully as the slope eases, and it will lead you directly to the bare rock entrance to "The Wave."
The area covered by "The Wave" is not large but you should take time to explore the various gullies where this unusual psychedelic phenomenon is most prominent. The rock sides seem to be flowing in waves. You can also climb above the contorted, wavy strata into the bowl at the base of the black crack that served as your navigational beacon.
Return the way you came, having made sure to bring along plenty of water! This hike is unbearably hot.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 4, 2003
Hiking Paria Canyon requires a permit which should be obtained well in advance from the Bureau of Land Management. Please see the PERMITS section for more info.
Paria River trail offers the less-experienced hiker a much safer way to view slot canyons than the more intense and dangerous Buckskin Gulch. The trail normally takes a minimum of three days to hike, but more time is preferable to allow for exploration of the many narrow slot canyons which empty into Paria Canyon. Five days is usually the perfect amount of time.
To reach the trailhead from Page, AZ, drive Northwest on SR 89 toward Kanab UT. Between mile markers 20 and 21 turn left at the Paria Ranger Station. Follow the signs on an all weather road for 2 miles to the trailhead. There are several wash crossings on this road that regularly get washed out by flash floods. The trail's opposite end is at Lee's Ferry, Arizona, 70 road miles from the Paria River trailhead. If you don't organize your own vehicle shuttle, you will need to pay for one, which normally runs around $100.
Water is available throughout the hike at springs, which should not be completely relied upon. The water in the Paria River is so silty that it should only be used as a last resort. Let it sit for a few hours to allow the dirt to settle, then filter the clear water on top.
Care should be taken with weather, especially if hiking up side canyons, particularly Buckskin Gulch.
Bring lots of film, especially low ISO slide film and black and white. The patterns in the canyon will stun you, and challenge your photography skills to an extreme level with its sharp contrast between light and dark and unique erosion patterns in the sandstone walls.
Attraction | "Buckskin Gulch Trail"
Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the world, 16 miles of high walls so narrow you can touch them with outstretched arms. While this is a place of potent beauty, it is also a place of extraordinary danger. At best, you will have a dry walk over sand and gravel, with an occasional vertical boulder drop to negotiate, all the way to the Paria River. At worst, flooding near the canyon or higher up in the mountains will send a torrent of water down the narrows and kill you. Normal experience, however, is to be confronted with deep pools of silty water, thick mud sometimes thigh deep, and numerous difficult overhung drops over boulder chokes.
This is an extremely challenging hike, and the BLM limits the number of people in the canyon to 20 hikers per day. Permits must be secured well in advance, especially for the two prime hiking months, April and May. See the permits section for more information.
To reach the trailhead, follow US Hwy 89 for 34 miles west of Page, Arizona. Between mile markers 25 and 26 is an unmarked road (on the west side of the dry creekbed) turning left (or south). This road, when dry, is passable with a passenger car. When wet, you'll have problems even with a 4WD as places are steep and extremely slippery mud makes it impassable. 4.2 miles south of the highway you arrive at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead.
A detailed description of the hike is avoided here, to force more in-depth research upon a potential hiker.
Note that many sources say the only possible exit from the canyon in the event of flooding is at mile 10.5. Many hikers who traverse the Buckskin have noted other potential exits from the canyon below this. You really should only hike this trail if you have rock climbing or scrambling experience, and if you do, please continuously note any potential exit from the canyon as you pass it, in case of emergency. ANY exit from the canyon will involve an exposed climb up vertical cliffs which will deposit you into the harsh desert. An exit from the right-hand wall of the canyon (as you face downstream) will allow easier cross-country travel back to the road, as the canyon will not be a barrier.
Carry plenty of water, as there are no water sources until well after you get to the Paria River.
You cannot safely camp anywhere in the Buckskin, you must make it all the way to the Paria on the first day, so an early start is a necessity.
At the Paria, you may turn left to reach the Paria trailhead, or right to reach Lee's Ferry in Arizona at the head of the Grand Canyon. Either option will require a second vehicle or an expensive vehicle shuttle. Or you may camp in the Paria, explore for a few days, and return to your vehicle via the Buckskin.
The centerpiece of the area is the Paria River, which flows through some spectacularly narrow canyons on its way to the Grand Canyon.
But intersecting Paria Canyon at numerous intervals are other even narrower slot canyons that divide into other even narrower slot canyons. It's an explorer's dream (or worst nightmare!)
It can be difficult to comprehend the complex system of trails in the area, and there is a lot of redundant or bad information out there. The area is EXTREMELY popular in the summer with canyoneers and hikers, and the BLM restricts the number of hikers in the area so it doesn't get overcrowded.
Well, that's the OFFICIAL reason.
The real reason is that slot canyons are notoriously prone to flooding. And with the unpredictable summer rains higher up in the mountains, these canyons flood regularly. And people die in these floods every year. Therefore, if we limit the number of people IN the canyon, less people die when the canyon inevitably floods.
SO . . . if you're planning a hiking or backpacking trip to Paria Canyon, do your research. Know what to do if the canyon starts to flood! And be smart.
There are so many hikes in the area, and I've tried to lay out here the main three trails. But there are literally hundreds of trails and thousands of "routes" possible. You should consult topographic maps, and obtain the brochure "Hikers Guide to the Paria River" published by the BLM, and the book Hiking and Exploring the Paria River, which you can get from Amazon.com.
PERMITS are required for hiking in most areas. In the summertime these permits disappear rapidly. Call exactly 7 months ahead of when you want to begin your trip to ensure that you secure a permit.
Trails in the Paria River Wilderness
White House, 39 miles one-way
A 3- to 5-day hike from the Paria ranger station in Utah to Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River at the entrance to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Vehicle shuttle required. (The trek will cost you $100 . . . trailheads are 75 road miles apart.) It is a spectacular journey down the Paria River with a chance to explore the mouths of hundreds of slot canyons.
Buckskin Gulch, 16 miles one-way
The longest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch is the most popular part of the Paria Canyon Wilderness. Reaching it requires long or multi-day hikes from most trailheads, except for Wire Pass, from which you can day-hike into the heart of this dark and frightening gorge. Traversing the gorge can be extremely difficult, due to boulder chokes which result in climb-downs of up to 15 feet. There are virtually no places in the 16-mile length of this canyon that are safe from flash floods. If it floods big enough and you are in the canyon, you will die.
Wire Pass Trail, 1.5 miles to Buckskin Gulch
This short trail passes through an EXTREMELY narrow slot canyon and intersects Buckskin Gulch halfway to the Paria River. This is the only trail in the wilderness area that does not require a special permit (unless you're continuing down Buckskin to the Paria).
The Wave, 3 miles each way
This cross-desert route leads to one of the most bizarre landscapes on earth. I challenge you to find a more surreal spot. The only way to describe it is to have you look at the pictures, so enjoy! The hike is long and hot with no shade or water, and the number of hikers is severely restricted, so apply for your permit early!
The BLM severely limits the number of people on the trails for numerous reasons, which is good if you''re the lucky one to get the permit! 20 hikers are allowed to enter Buckskin Gulch each day. Only 10 are allowed to hike to The Wave from the Wire Pass trailhead each day.
Permits are available no more than seven months in advance. They book up solidly seven months out for the prime dry hiking months of April and May. Weekends throughout the summer also tend to disappear right at seven months out.
Permits can be obtained by calling the BLM directly at 435-688-3246, or you can apply for permits online at AZ Paria and by clicking the RESERVATIONS button. If booking your permits online, you will need a credit card to pay the $5 per person, per day fee, plus a 5% surcharge. (Permits for Buckskin Gulch are ONLY available by calling the BLM, not booking online!!!)
April and May are historically the driest and prettiest months for hiking. Though summer temperatures can peak around 110 degrees, the temperature in the bottom of Buckskin Gorge may remain a dark cool 75 or 80. However, on the exposed hike to The Wave, you may roast alive.
On all hikes but Paria Canyon, plan on taking at least 1/2-gallon of water per person per day. For The Wave, carry 1 gallon. There are springs along the Paria River where water can be filtered, but check with the ranger station before beginning the hike to ensure they are flowing.
Ben the Grate