Paria Canyon Backpacking Photos
I just got home from an amazing backpacking trip through Paria Canyon, which sits on the edge of the Southern Utah / Arizona border. Thirty-eight miles long and flanked by brilliantly colored vertical rock walls, Paria Canyon has been carved by the Paria River which runs the length of the canyon.
A Paria Canyon backpacking trip requires wading downriver, with dozens of crossings – in some ways similar to hiking the Narrows in Zion. Your feet will be wet the entire time. Due to the nature of the trail (or lack of trail), the hiking is slow, but it is nothing short of spectacular and worth every ounce of effort. What made it even better was that over the course of 4 days, we only crossed paths with one other pair of hikers, and they were headed the opposite direction. We had the canyon all to ourselves.
For more information on permits, gear, and planning, check out my Paria Canyon Backpacking Guide.
Paria Canyon Backpacking Photos: Day 1
There are several options for accessing Paria Canyon, and we started at the Whitehouse Trailhead right next to the Paria Contact Station where you pick up your permit. Within minutes of being on the trail, we were already in the river with wet feet. The flows here can vary from week to week. Sometimes it will be completely dry, other times knee deep. The canyon walls start out short and wide and slowly narrow as you continue hiking down the river. The first part of the hike can be quite hot as there is little shade. So if you are hiking in the warmer months, make sure to get an early start.
Around mile 4, you reach the entrance to the Paria Narrows. The towering sandstone walls in this section reach up to 800 feet high and at some points, the walls are a mere 6 feet apart. In this section, it is cool and shady, and some places in the Narrows, the water can get deep following rainfall. During my trip, it was never more than knee deep. However, it is hard for the rangers to predict current water levels, so you should be mentally and physically prepared to wade through waist deep water in the case that water levels are high.
At mile 6.7, you reach Slide Rock Arch – an enormous boulder that once fell into the canyon and has formed a short tunnel. If you catch it at the right time in the afternoon, the sun beams down creating some great photo opportunities.
Around mile 7, you reach the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. In the photo below, Buckskin is on the left and the Paria Narrows where we came from is on the right. Buckskin is considered to be the longest slot canyon in the world. Buckskin is very narrow with deeper water and has a lot more obstacles than the Paria Narrows, so most people explore Buckskin on day hikes without big backpacks on. Initially our plan was to ditch our packs and head up Buckskin to explore, but it was late in the day and we decided that it was going to have to wait until next time.
On our first night, we camped at one of the first campsites just south of the confluence, making our total mileage on day 1 about 8 miles. Existing campsites, where you are advised to camp, are on sandy benches just above the river. It ended up being a super clear night, and the stargazing was phenomenal. I was happy I had my MeFoto tripod so I could practice my night time photography.
Paria Canyon Backpacking Photos: Day 2
I expected the second day to be less exciting than the first for some reason, but I was mistaken. The topography of the Paria Narrows was going to be hard to beat, but the canyon on the second day felt even grander.
Shortly after leaving camp, we reached the first fresh water spring….see the moss below that is growing out of the canyon walls? Water drips right of the seeps, and most people prefer to get their drinking water straight from these springs, rather than filtering from the river. If you choose to get your water from the springs, you have to plan your itinerary a bit more carefully and keep a close eye out for them. Many of the springs are easy to miss.
As we moved further down the canyon, the walls got wider, but the landscape was equally as impressive as day 1. We decided to take a nice long lunch break and listened to some tunes on my FUGOO waterproof bluetooth speaker. Can’t beat that!
After lunch, the river began to meander, and around mile 15, there are a series of cave-like amphitheaters that rise 650 feet above the riverbed. This was my favorite part of day 2. There are tons of beaches to stop and relax on, so make sure to take your time and enjoy it.
Paria Canyon Backpacking Photos: Day 3
We once again woke up to clear skies on day 3. We had a slow morning at camp since it was a little bit cooler than the previous day, and we also had fewer miles to cover.
As soon as we hit the trail, the terrain began to change. The canyon broadened, but the river features were getting more interesting with more rocky obstacles, deep holes, and small cascades. It was really interesting to watch the canyon slowly transform over the course of the trip.
Many people to choose to camp at the last reliable spring at mile 25, but that leaves 13.5 miles for the final day. That didn’t sound too appealing to us, so we filled up at the spring and kept going. I will talk more about water filtration in my follow up post.
Using the map provided by the BLM office, we decided to stop at one of the last good spots on the river, around mile 28 or 29. We found an awesome spot on a bench on the right side of the river with a perfect sunset view. We got there with plenty of time to relax before dinner.
That night, the sky was perfectly clear. I again got to experiment with my fancy rental camera and had a blast hanging out under the stars.
Paria Canyon Backpacking Photos: Day 4
The final day the landscape takes on more of a desert feel. The trail is hotter, drier, and sandier and with the canyon broadening, sun exposure can be intense. That said, the views on the descent to Lee’s Ferry were gorgeous, and the variety in the scenery kept things interesting. April is also prime time in Paria with the blooming cacti and green desert shrubs.
Around mile 31.5, there are a series of boulders on the left side of the river with petroglyphs.
While the trail does cross the river a few times over the last several miles, most of your time is spent out of the water. The trail also becomes more prominent since you are no longer hiking down the riverbed.
Eventually, you come to an old ranch, indicating that you are close to the trail’s end at Lee’s Ferry. We made it back to our car around 4pm and then headed back to Page to grab some grub.
Just like every trip I’ve made to this region over the last year, Paria Canyon blew my mind. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on a backpacking trip where I saw so few people. That, combined with Paria’s gorgeous scenery, made it one of my favorite backpacking trips to date.
If you are interested in planning a Paria Canyon backpacking trip, my Paria Canyon Backpacking Guide provides everything you need to know about planning your trip here, including permits, trail logistics, water filtration, and speciality gear.