Paria Canyon 38 miles. 3 days. Whitehouse to Lee’s Ferry. A thru-hike defined!

The Proper Function

Paria Canyon Thru-Hike

Twisting through the slots of Paria Canyon is a thru-hike you will be talking about for months. The canyon beckons backpackers from all over the globe and is listed as one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States. Storms as far as Bryce Canyon can cause flash flooding, particularly if you’re exploring the Buckskin Gulch. This function will help prepare you for this 38 mile journey from Whitehouse Campground to Lee’s Ferry.

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Get Your Permit

Permits are required for both day and overnight trips in Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch. Day hiking permits may be obtained at self-pay stations at Whitehouse Trailhead. For overnight functions, you will need to apply for a permit in advance. Overnight permits are limited to 20 people per day which dogs do not count against this total. You can obtain more information about permits through the BLM website of the Paria Canyon Wilderness/Vermillion Cliffs. Our permit was for 3 days during the first week of April. When trying to secure a permit, you should consider temperatures, stream gradient, water levels and number of floods on record. Be sure to speak with the BLM rangers as they will provide you with up-to-date weather conditions and advise you of any obstacles to avoid while on your trip!

 Kanab Field Office – 318 North 100 East, Kanab, UT 84741 – Phone: (435) 644-4600  utknmail@blm.gov

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Point A to Point B

For this thru-hike you will either need to setup two vehicles or utilize a shuttle. If you use a shuttle, I would advise that you leave your vehicle at the 14-day parking lot at Lee’s Ferry and catch a shuttle to Whitehouse Campground. You want to be sure to end at your own vehicle as you don’t want to be delayed (i.e. mother nature, ankle sprain) and miss your shuttle. If you end up being several hours late your vehicle will be ready for you! We used Betty Price who charged us $200 for three people. We were surprised at the cost given that 89A is open again after the rockslide, but she does provide some nice knowledge about the area and is quite entertaining. You may reach her at 1-928-355-2252. Chances are you will talk with her mother as Betty is typically out of cellular service. Here is a list of BLM Authorized Shuttles.

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Weather Happens

Check and continue checking the weather the week leading up to your trip! The challenges presented in the canyon include quicksand, high freezing waters, mud and flash floods should a storm decide to brew. We averaged 13 miles per day with about 8 hours of hiking, so you will need to dress for varying temperatures. You may start in 38 degree weather and mid-afternoon reach temperatures of 85 degrees. Here are a few links to assist you in monitoring the weather:

I would highly recommend that you stop by a BLM office and discuss with a ranger what the weather outlook appears to be for your trip. While they may try to provide you with accurate data, you can see from the photo above that we had a storm creep into the canyon unannounced. Thankfully it left as quickly as it came and we never had to seek out an exit route or higher ground.01_WidePhoto

Get Your Gear On

I have to thank thehikeguy for this one! He recommend using water shoes with neoprene socks and it is the best advice you will receive. Most people shop at REI which they sell the 0.5 mm neoprene sock used for Kayaking. Both Juliet and Norvella used these socks, but I chose the NRS Boundary Sock which was a life saver! They are more expensive, but with the 3 mm neoprene my feet were never cold and it provided excellent cushion in my Keens as you’re constantly walking on rocks. The 3 mm sock also eliminated even the smallest pebbles from getting into my Keens. The sock also totals 18″ which protected my leg from trail debris and cacti.

I have never used trekking poles before, but my Scarpa Trail Pro Shock poles really came in handy. I was able to maintain quality balance while walking through water and they greatly assisted my lower extremities when ascending steep areas. The poles were also great for helping me avoid debris and assess bushes for any underlying critters! Here is the rest of my gear:

  • Gregory Baltoro 75 Backpack
  • Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 UL Tent – use guy lines, it can get very windy in the canyon
  • Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 800 Sleep Bag – Sea to Summit Thermolite Liner
  • JetBoil with Coffee Press, Spork
  • SPOT Gen3 – know that you will not have GPS connection throughout most of the canyon
  • Hard Map & Compass – hard to get lost just follow the river
  • Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles
  • NRS Boundary Sock – 3 mm, 18″ Neoprene with Keen Water Shoes
  • ENO Twilight LED Light String – lightweight and I love the ambiance it creates at camp
  • First Aid Kit, Mutli-Tool, Headlamp, Spare Batteries, Garbage Bags, Sunscreen, Sunglasses
  • Day : Long Sleeve Trout Bum Orvis Shirt, Prana Hiking Pants, Northface Down Jacket
  • Night: Fleece Pants, Long Underwear, Camp Shoes – it was a great reward to slip into nice clothes at camp

Paria Canyon : Day One

As you start towards the Paria River from Whitehouse campground you will trek through sand as you head downstream. You will note power lines high above to the south, when you cross these power lines you’ll have reached 2.5 miles. At 4 miles, the narrows begin as the canyon walls slowly begin to hug your group. While not as narrow as the Buckskin Gulch, the river does cut through the red & white sandstone creating picturesque views of eroded earth. At mile 7.5, you will come across Slide Rock, a great place to take a break.

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Approximately 2 miles past Slide Rock, you will come across the Buckskin Gulch Confluence, which you should definitely explore for a short distance while you are here! Mile 9.5 is a Camp with a Spring which during our visit was just trickling down the face of the rock, I would not rely on this spring. At mile 12 you will reach Big Spring (river right) and a fairly high impacted campground (river left). Big Spring was a very reliable spring this time of year and the campground, though listed as high impact, was beautiful. We mistook Big Spring at mile 9.5 which concerned us, so I included a photo below. BLM recommends you filter spring water, carry 4 liters (I carried 3) and avoid the river water. Setup camp, eat dinner and enjoy the multiple colors that alter the canyon presence during sunset.

Paria Canyon : Day Two

The morning of Day Two was cold so we waiting for the sun to rise before starting our Day Two hike. Breakfast and hot pressed coffee made the crisp air feel welcomed. As the canyon warmed up, we started our hike and took at break at mile 17.3 which is Judd Hollow Pump (river left on the bank). Much of the equipment still exists, but it was a pump that was installed during the 1930s in attempt to pump water to the rim, it failed. You can also climb up the wall behind the equipment and visit a pretty valley (hollow).

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break_line_mtnAt mile 22 you will reach Shower Spring which was another reliable spring during out trip. The spring is hidden in some brush, but some hikers prior to our visit did place a rock arrow in the sand pointing you in the right direction. If you wish to break your trip up into a third night, there is a campground located across from the spring.

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As the canyon starts to widen at mile 24, you will note some large boulders lying near the river. There is a trail to the right that allows for some easier hiking, but this large slide is your landmark to look for some amazing petroglyphs. The petroglyphs are high up on a dark rock face as the river starts to bend left after the fallen boulders. This was a good time to remove your pack and hike up to the petroglyphs. Norvilla, who is 100% navajo, didn’t feel comfortable approaching them, but did state it represented what the natives call ‘star people’ – hmmm. Ironically, there are petroglyphs of big horn sheep, which 2 minutes after leaving the petroglyphs around the bend, I saw a Big Horn Sheep standing on the rim of the Paria Canyon. It literally gave me chills as I acknowledge this moment as a The Proper Function.

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At mile 25.3 you will reach a campground (river right) and The Last Reliable Spring. This spring (river left) is about 40 yards past the campground. This is ‘THE LAST RELIABLE SPRING’ so you definitely need to fill up with water as you won’t have any springs for your last day. The spring is hidden behind what appears to be large ferns, but look for water running down the rock into the Paria River. At this time, the spring was dripping from the rock and we had to capture it in a bowl then filter. While the springs appear to be fairly clean the consequences simply aren’t worth it, so filter your water and don’t try to be a hero! We setup camp and had to endure 40-50 mph winds which blew our tents and launched enough sand that exfoliated our faces. Be sure you know how to guy your tent before you come on this trip!

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Paria Canyon : Day Three

The wind continued to abuse us during the morning of Day Three. Given that the majority of the last 13 miles is in a desert setting, we decided to set out early to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. I advise that you hydrate with a full liter before embarking on the last 13 miles, it will keep you hydrated and assist you in reserving your water supply during the open hot desert. Be prepared, beginning your last day is very slow going as the route forces you up and down the face of the cliff while avoiding several fallen boulders. Be sure to keep an eye out for the trail which traverses high on the right as it will make your hike much easier. Soon the trail becomes much more established and the Paria Canyon starts to open its arms again releasing you into the desert for your final hike.

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The hiking is easy from this point and you will come across Wilson Ranch at mile 33.5. The trail register is located at mile 37.4 which is right along the trail until you reach The Lonely Dell Ranch sign which is the first sign that you’re almost done with this grueling hike. As you enter the parking lot of The Lonely Dell Ranch, there is a cut-through hike behind the bathrooms that will direct you to your vehicle parked at Lee’s Ferry. We enjoyed water, snacks and moist toilettes to clean ourselves at the restrooms just down the road from the parking lot.

Judd Hollow PumpPetroglyph Wall

01_WidePhotoThis water pump was installed in the Paria River Canyon in 1949 in a futile attempt to pump water from the river to the lands on top of the canyon. It wasn’t in use very long.

01_WidePhoto Numerous glyphs such as this wall often represents a village history where you can see hunts, ceremonies and even marriages.It is thought when you see animal figures without humans, it often represents a form or prayer. The symbols were drawn to lure animals from the earth to be hunted. The glyph with the circle in the center of the line is a migration symbol. The wavy line moving from east to west may represent a water source.

This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Utah
71°
clear sky
humidity: 69%
wind: 5mph S
H 75 • L 68
77°
Sat
76°
Sun
77°
Mon
78°
Tue
72°
Wed
Weather from OpenWeatherMap
F
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
LocationKanab
State, RegionUtah,South
Coordinates37.079681°, -111.886980°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
DifficultyDifficult
WaterFilter
DogsYes
HistoricNo
Time3 days

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Dan is the editor and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor online editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.

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  • Paul

    Thanks for a great trip narrative. I’ve been to Big Spring and through Buckskin. My daughter and I are going to do the 38-mile trek to Lee’s Ferry in October 2016. Thanks for the insight and information.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for stopping by. This is a fantastic trip and it surely will be even better with your daughter! October can get cold, so be prepared for that. Please drop a note after your trip!

  • Jason Fico

    Awesome, I am planning the same trip the same time this year 2016. I appreciate your pics and notes. I even plan to use the same shuttle gal. May I ask what kind of shoes and socks you used. I am prone to blisters and am a bit worried since my feet will be wet crossing the river multiple times. Thanks

  • Juliet

    Great write up Dan. It was an awesome memorable trip. Glad I got to share the experience with you and Vella. But no mention of the wag bag?

    • TPF

      Juliet,

      I agree, it was an epitome of a Proper Function! It was really fantastic to embark on such an adventure with such a long-time friend. In terms of the wag bag, I was hoping you’d provide some personal experience as a guest blogger! Mount Baldy is next!