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Backpacking Paria Canyon is one of my all-time favorite backpacking trips. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know in order to plan your own trip!
Backpacking Paria Canyon involves at least a 38-mile hike through the Paria River surrounded by huge Navajo sandstone walls. It’s a remote hike, so if you’re looking for solitude, you’ll find it on this backpacking trip.
Things we’ll cover in this post:
- quick trail facts
- how to get to Paria Canyon
- best time of year to backpack Paria Canyon
- trailhead options
- how and when to get a permit
- shuttle options
- water availability
- Paria Canyon campsites
- gear for Paria Canyon
- hazards and challenges
- possible itinerary
1) Quick Trail Facts
- Paria Canyon is located on the Utah/Arizona border in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.
- I think this trip is best done as at least a 4-day/3-night backpacking trip. That’s what we did, and I felt like that pace was perfect. We had to cover about 10 miles each day. We wished we could have stayed one more night just to have a day off to explore! I think it’s possible to do it as a 3-day/2-night trip, but you would have really long hiking days, and I think the trip would feel rushed.
- Hiking in the river and mud is very slow. Not to mention all the cool things to look at that also slow you down! Be prepared to hike a lot slower than you normally would, and factor that into your planning.
- For the first 3 days of our trip in October, we hiked in ankle to calf deep water. There were a couple deeper sections too – about knee level.
2) How to Get to Paria Canyon
The Paria River Canyon hike is located around the Utah/Arizona border in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.
This backpacking trips begins at one of the trailheads in Utah, and ends at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona (you can do it in the opposite direction as well).
You’ll have to pick up your permit in person in Kanab, UT. Below are rough driving times to Kanab, UT from nearby cities.
Driving times from nearby cities:
From Las Vegas, NV to Kanab, UT:
From Salt Lake City, UT to Kanab, UT:
4 hours, 45 minutes
From Phoenix, AZ to Kanab, UT:
5 hours, 30 minutes
3) Best Time of Year to Backpack Paria Canyon
Southern Utah and Northern Arizona have a wide range of temperatures throughout the year.
Even in a single day, the temperature can vary a lot from day to night. This is normal for the desert.
Monsoon season is July, August, and September. During this time, powerful thunderstorms can come through and dump several inches of rain in just a few hours.
The rocky landscape doesn’t absorb the water very well, so all that water runs off into narrow side canyons forming flash floods.
Flash floods are one of the biggest dangers of hiking in the desert. It’s important that you check the weather and visitor’s center for flash flood warnings or area closures before your trip.
Below is a chart of the average temperatures throughout the year in Paria Canyon.
Like most backpacking trips in the desert, the best time to hike Paria Canyon is in the Spring and Early Fall.
The Spring months of April, May, and June have nice average temperatures in the day and night, although, there will likely be a lot more water during this time of year.
Early Fall is also great because temperatures have started to cool off, monsoon season is coming to an end, and it’s not too cold at night.
I went on my trip in mid-October and the weather was perfect!
4) Paria Canyon Trailhead Options
You can do this hike in either direction – Utah to Arizona, or Arizona to Utah.
The most popular direction to hike is downstream, starting in Utah and ending in Arizona. That’s what I did and that’s what I recommend. It’s a lot easier to hike downstream.
There are 3 trailhead options in Utah and 1 in Arizona:
1) White House Trailhead (Utah)
I chose to start my trip at this trailhead. This trailhead is about 45 minutes from Kanab, UT and about 40 minutes from Page, AZ. It’s easy to get to and only requires driving on a dirt road for 2 miles.
Starting here will make your one-way route through the canyon about 38 miles long. You’ll gradually lose about 1,000 ft in elevation until you reach the end at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.
The trail is very easy to follow. Most of the hiking is done in the river, and you just follow that downstream.
I was so happy with our choice to start the hike here. If I did it again, I think I would do the same thing.
2) Wire Pass Trailhead (Utah)
Starting at the Wire Pass Trailhead is another option for those who want to hike through Buckskin Gulch – one of the longest slot canyons in the world!
This trail is very popular. Some people start here, hike through Buckskin Gulch to the confluence with the Paria River, camp 1 night, and then hike out the way they came.
You cannot camp until you reach the Paria River, so starting here will make your first day very long – about 13.2 miles. In addition, this section of trail is a narrow slot canyon, which means there are more obstacles and higher water levels to consider. The hiking on this first day will be significantly slower than your normal pace.
If you choose to start here, check with the visitors center for the latest information on water levels in the slot canyon.
3) Buckskin Gulch Trailhead (Utah)
This last Utah trailhead option is the longest and least popular starting point. Like the Wire Pass Trailhead mentioned above, this trail also takes you through Buckskin Gulch, but it’s an even longer day hike to reach the Paria River confluence – about 16 miles.
Again, there’s nowhere to camp until you reach the Paria River, so if you start here, you must hike all 16 miles in that first day. For this reason, I don’t recommend starting here.
4) Lee’s Ferry Trailhead (Arizona)
Lee’s Ferry Trailhead is the ending point for backpackers hiking downstream from Utah.
If you want to do this hike in the opposite direction, this would be your starting point. Personally, I recommend starting in Utah and ending at Lee’s Ferry.
5) Paria Canyon Permits
- A permit is required for all overnight trips in Paria Canyon. The group size limit is 10 people.
- The cost is $5.00 per person per day for overnight trips.
- If you take your dog, add an additional $5.00 per dog per day for overnight trips.
- Overnight entry into the canyons is limited to 20 people per day. This is a cumulative total of all four trailheads.
- Permits must be picked up in person no sooner than 10 days before your trip begins.
- Permits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
How to get a permit
Overnight permits can be applied for and purchased online.
You must apply for and purchase a permit in advance and pick up your permit in person within 10 days of the start date of your trip.
I’m going to walk you through the permit process below.
The chart below shows you when to apply for a permit. As you can see, you’ll need to start planning about 4 months in advance.
|Applications accepted after 12 pm on the 1st of the month:||for a permit during…|
For example, on July 1st I logged into the permit system to apply for a permit in mid-October.
You can apply for a Paria Canyon Overnight Permit here.
On that page, you will find all the latest rules and regulations for Paria Canyon.
You’ll see a calendar with available permits that looks like this:
Note: 1 person is 1 entry! For example, if you have a group of 4, you will need a day with at least 4 entries available. Only 20 people total can enter the canyon in a day.
Input your group size first to see accurate availability. Choose your entry date and click “Book Now”.
You’ll be taken to a new reservation page where you’ll need to give more permit holder details.
Scroll down and you’ll see a place to put your entry and exit trailheads and the exit date.
You must decide on your entry trailhead and your exit trailhead at this point.
Don’t forget to put the correct exit date for the duration of your trip. It defaults to 1 night.
This permit reservation page is also where you decide on your permit pickup location – St. George, Kanab, or the Paria Contact Station.
Picking Up Your Permit
Permits must be picked up in person no sooner than 10 days before your trip begins.
They can be picked up in:
- Kanab, Utah at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center
- St. George Interagency Visitor Center
- Paria Contact Station (only open seasonally)
Think through how and when you’re going to pick up your permit and factor that into your travel plans.
Operating hours of these pickup locations can be found here.
When you pickup your permit it will come with a parking tag. Make sure to leave this on the dashboard of your car(s).
6) Paria Canyon Shuttle Options
Since you’ll be doing this hike as a one-way hike, you’ll need to arrange a shuttle, or bring 2 cars to do your own shuttling.
Nick and I didn’t want to drive two cars down and back from Salt Lake City, so we used a shuttle service.
We drove to where we ended the hike at Lee’s Ferry, parked our car there, and then arranged for a shuttle to pick us up in the morning of our first day and drop us off at the White House Trailhead.
The shuttle options are kind of expensive. If you have more than one car in your group, it might make more financial sense to do your own shuttling.
Paria Canyon Shuttle Services
Grand Staircase Discovery Tours is the service that we used. It was the cheapest option I found and I have no complaints. They were responsive, on time, and I would use them again. They can shuttle you to any of the trailheads mentioned above.
Here are some other shuttle services I found, but did not use:
7) Water Availability in Paria Canyon
The Paria River
The Paria River flows year-round. The depth of water will depend on recent weather conditions.
As you can see in the photos, the Paria River is very silty. Nick said that it looked like “chocolate milk that was made with skim milk” – I agree!
The silty-ness can make it more difficult to filter from the Paria River, and since there’s a lot of agriculture and ranching upstream, it’s recommended that you utilize the springs in the canyon as much as you can.
If you do have to use Paria River water, it’s probably not a bad idea to filter and purify it. Filters don’t filter out viruses, so if you’re worried about that, you can choose to purify the water by boiling, chemical treatment, or using a UV purifier.
We chose to only use our Sawyer Squeeze water filter (not purifier) and had no problems.
Warning: You can try to use only Spring water, but you still need to be prepared to filter from the Paria River, because you might have to. Although I wanted to only use spring water on my trip, I had to filter from the river a couple times. I’ll walk you through the process I used below.
Springs in the Paria River Canyon
There are a few reliable springs along the hike!
Here’s where things get interesting – the map at the White House Trailhead signpost (shown above) and the map that the BLM office gave me, didn’t match up when it came to the springs.
Actually, we found the BLM map given to us at permit pickup to be pretty useless when it came to finding the springs.
It’s best to be on the lookout for springs by looking for hanging gardens on the rocks and any clear flowing water. You can also purchase a more detailed and reliable map at the visitors center when you pick up your permit.
The biggest spring you’ll encounter is Big Spring. From the White House Trailhead it’s about 12.2 miles to get to Big Spring and it will be on your right if you’re hiking downstream.
We didn’t make it there on our first night, so we had to filter from the river that night.
Other reliable springs marked on the map are Shower Spring and Last Reliable Spring. We found an additional spring between the Buckskin Gulch confluence and Big Spring, so like I said above, keep your eyes peeled for them as you hike!
Although it’s spring water, I still filtered it using my Sawyer Squeeze Filter just to be safe. I also packed an extra water reservoir to carry additional spring water in-between springs so I had to use the Paria River as little as possible.
Filtering from the Paria River
Even if you only want to filter from the springs, it’s still important that you be prepared to filter and purify from the Paria River incase you have to. Know how to back-flush your filter too!
Here’s how we did it using the Sawyer Squeeze:
- Collect water in your dirty reservoir. Wait at least 30 minutes before filtering it to let some of the silt settle to the bottom. The longer you can wait, the better. Waiting overnight resulted in almost clear water.
- Use a second dirty reservoir to syphon off the top layer of clear-er unfiltered water. It should be a light yellow/brown color or almost clear at this point.
- Squeeze it through the Sawyer Squeeze into your clean water reservoir.
- At this point you can choose to take additional precaution and also purify it. We did not do this step, but it’s what a lot of people recommend, so it’s your choice.
- At the next spring, back-flush your filter to clean it out and prevent it from getting clogged so it can be used again if needed.
Warning: Never let your water filter freeze!! It’s no longer reliable if it freezes, so take good care of it.
Nick and I each brought a Sawyer Squeeze Filter on this trip. We only used his to filter from the river and then we still had mine to use as a backup if needed.
8) Paria Canyon Campsites
There are plenty of camping options in the Paria River Canyon. Use existing campsites on the beaches above the river and avoid creating new ones.
Campfires are prohibited.
You’ll need to hang your food out of reach of rodents.
9) Gear for Paria Canyon
In addition to your usual backpacking gear, below are a few items I highly recommend for this particular trip:
I HIGHLY recommend bringing neoprene socks. They made a huge difference hiking through the cold Paria River water, and I think I would have been really uncomfortable without them.
The ones Nick and I bought are these NRS Neoprene Socks and we both liked them a lot. We didn’t get any blisters and they were thin enough to fit in my shoes, but still warm.
You can use these lightweight dry sacks to store gear that you don’t want to get wet. On my trip, the water was never more than knee deep, so these dry sacks are really for incase you fall in the water. If you accidentally trip, and your pack gets wet, they would help keep your valuables dry.
If you’re starting at the Wire Pass Trailhead, you might encounter deeper water in Buckskin Gulch and would need additional water protection for your backpack. See notes on the Wire Pass Trailhead above.
Trekking poles are a must on this trip! Since you can’t see where you’re stepping in the water or how deep the sand is, trekking poles will help you keep your balance and feel for rocks or soft spots to avoid.
If you don’t have trekking poles, these are the ones I use! I love them and they’re really affordable.
4) Additional Water Reservoir
You should have your main water reservoir that you use on all your backpacking trips, but I recommend packing an additional water reservoir if you want to carry more water in-between the springs.
In addition, you might need an extra dirty water reservoir for filtering from the Paria River so you can syphon off the top layer of dirty water after the silt has settled. (See water availability section above.)
Nick and I really love the EVERNEW water bags for using with the Sawyer Squeeze water filter.
We packed in two EVERNEW bags for dirty water and one larger bag to hold the clean filtered water.
5) Human Waste Toilet Bags
It’s required that you pack out all your waste on this trip. When you pick up your permit, they should provide you with a human waste bag, but I recommend that you be prepared with your own too. I packed two bags on this trip.
10) Hazards and Challenges on this Trip
I would not recommend this trip for beginner backpackers.
If you’re new to backpacking or desert hiking, Coyote Gulch is another incredible Southern Utah backpacking trip that I recommend! You can find my complete Coyote Gulch Backpacking Guide here.
Remote and Isolated
Depending on where you start this Paria Canyon backpacking trip, the hike is at least 38 miles long in a very remote and isolated canyon.
As you approach the mid-way point between White House and Lee’s Ferry, you’re about 19 miles from help if an accident were to occur. It’s important that you consider the risks, your experience, and your ability level before attempting this trip.
Hiking in Water
You’ll be hiking in water most of the time on this hike. The water is cold, silty, and you can’t see where you’re stepping. I highly recommend trekking poles to help you balance and feel for rocks and soft sand.
There’s also a lot of hiking in mud which can be very slippery.
Hiking in water and mud is slow. Don’t try to rush this hike. Take your time and watch where you’re stepping.
Watch out for quicksand and deep thick mud. Use your trekking poles to help find these soft spots.
Quicksand is just ordinary sand that has been so saturated with water that the friction between sand particles is reduced. It can’t support any weight, so when you step in it, your foot sinks.
GPS devices don’t work well in these types of slot canyon hikes, so if you try to track your route, the mileage will likely be way off. Don’t rely on your GPS device to tell you mileage.
However, a GPS is still useful for telling you your location within the canyon, and I recommend having one, in addition to a map and compass.
Maps are available at the visitors center when you pick up your permit and online here. I liked having the GPS to tell me my location within the canyon, and then I could use a map to get a better idea of how many miles I hiked and where the springs were.
11) Possible Paria Canyon Trip Itinerary
As I mentioned above, I recommend doing this backpacking trip in 4-days/3-nights, or even longer if you have the time!
Every turn of the canyon is so incredible that Nick and I wished we had an extra day “off” to explore some of the side canyons.
Below are the details of our trip itinerary.
The night before our trip we car camped in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, woke up early on Day 1, and drove to Lee’s Ferry – the end of our hike. We booked the shuttle to pick us up at 8am at Lee’s Ferry and drive us to the White House Trailhead. The shuttle was about 1 hour and 30 minutes. We started hiking around 10am.
Day 1 ended up being our shortest hiking day. We wanted to hike around 10 miles, but ended up finding a cool camp a little before that and decided to stay there. I’m so glad we did! We had the afternoon to relax and enjoy the canyon at camp.
It ended up being one of my favorite campsites, but we did have to filter water from the Paria River on this night because we weren’t close enough to a natural spring.
Day 2 was our longest hike day. We didn’t get moving until around 9:30am and ended up hiking until around 6pm.
We were moving SLOW, and I wasn’t mad about it!
The canyon was so beautiful around every corner, and we kept stopping to take photos! We passed Big Spring on this day. I filtered and carried a lot of water from here to our next camp. We had enough water from the spring to use at camp that evening and the following morning.
On day 3, we tried to get moving a little earlier just so we could have some more daylight at camp in the afternoon. We started hiking around 8:30am and again, it was slow!
We passed what we think was the Last Reliable Spring and continued to hike a few miles further. The canyon really started to open up after we passed The Last Reliable Spring and we found another beautiful campsite for our last night. We camped about 10 miles from Lee’s Ferry.
Nick and I were so sad that the trip was ending! On the last day, we had a 10 mile hike back to the car. By the end of Day 3, the canyon was a lot wider and we started hiking along the high-water trail, which is the recommended route at this point because there are a lot of big boulders in the river. We continued along this trail on day 4, and as a result, we didn’t hike in the water as much as the previous days.
The hiking on day 4 was a lot faster and easier.
Even though the canyon really opened up at the end, it was still so beautiful and different from the rest of the trip. We loved it!
Once we got to Lee’s Ferry, our car was waiting for us and we started the drive home!
Paria Canyon is one of my favorite backpacking trips!
If you want a sneak peak into the canyon, I made a video of my trip below:
Paria Canyon is such a special place. If you’re looking for a gorgeous, unique, challenging, and remote backpacking trip, Paria Canyon has it all! I already cannot wait to go back.
If you have any questions as you’re planning your trip, ask me in the comments!