Trailhead: White House
Length: 38.5 miles roundtrip
Wilderness Area: Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Journal: "Paria Canyon"
Directions to Trailhead:
This hike actually begins in Utah. From Page, drive Northwest on SR 89 toward Kanab UT. Between mile markers 20 and 21 turn left at the Paria Ranger Station. Follow the signs as you follow 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.
You will need to have a shuttle to get your first car as it is 75 road miles back to the White House Trailhead. We hired a shuttle each time to take us from Lee's Ferry to the White House Trailhead to begin our trip. This left us with a waiting motor home when we staggered into Lee's Ferry. The cost is around $100.00 for the ride. A list of Shuttles is available on the BLM Website.
Update: We did this hike the first time in September 2000 and did it again in September 2001. The difference between the two trips is remarkable. In 2000 there was no water in the upper creek and it had not rained recently. In 2001, we entered just 3 days after a rainstorm. The rain changes every thing.
The upper creek was flowing. There was mud and quicksand every where. We were only able to explore about a half a mile up Buckskin Gulch before the mud and quicksand blocked our path.
In 2001, the river itself was brown and murky. In 2000 it had been grey and murky. We were still able to complete the entire journey in 3 days.
This trip is an incredible journey. You will need to obtain permits from the BLM for this trip. Permits may be obtained online no more than 6 months in advance.
There is no trail in Paria Canyon, although as long as you follow the river you cannot get lost. Two excellent sources of information on this trip are The Hikers Guide to the Paria River, available from the BLM and Michael Kelsey's book "Hiking and Exploring the Paria River", available through Amazon.com.
The trip begins by walking form the trailhead register toward the broad, dry Paria River. Follow the river down stream. After a mile and a half, you will reach a series of low one man caves at river level. These are called the Paria windows.
At mile 4 you will enter the Narrows. The narrows extend from mile 4 to mile 16 and are definitely not the place to be if rain is threatening. There is no place for escape from the devastating flash floods that have shaped this canyon.
At mile 6.5 is Slide Rock Arch, an enormous piece of Navajo Sandstone that fell from the cliff above and landed in the river bed creating a huge and beautiful arch. Shortly after mile 7 is the Confluence with Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin Gulch is a tributary of the Paria River. Some 16 miles long, it is a "slot" and is only 4 to 15 feet wide for most of its length. We took some time to explore the lower end of this incredible area.
Continuing down the Paria River, the narrows continue. There are springs at Mile 9.5 (Wall Spring) and at mile 10 (First Crack Spring). In September 2000, both were running well. We camped the first night at mile 10.
As you continue down stream, the biggest and most reliable spring is called Big Spring at mile 12. This is the last reliable spring until Mile 18. After big spring, the river enters the Goosenecks, and twists and turns back and for until mile 16 and the end of the narrows.
From the Confluence with Buckskin Gulch until the end, the Paria River is banked on both sides by a quagmire of slick clay-like mud. This stuff is deep in some places and will suck you in like quicksand. Be aware of this and watch your step.
Just before Mile 18 is Judd Hollow. We did not take time to explore this area but it was quite pretty. About this point the walls lower and the canyon spreads out. Cottonwoods and Box Elders line the banks. At mile 19 is "The Hole". The Hole is a slot in the wall of the canyon about 20 feet wide. As you follow the slot in, the walls widen and a circular room emerges. The Hole was caused by water cascading down for the Paria Plateau above and dropping in to the Hole before emerging through the slot into the river. We had lunch in the shade inside the Hole. There is a small spring in the Hole as well, but it it was more of seep when we were there.
Between Mile 20 and 21 is Wrather Canyon. At the upper end of this canyon is Wrather Arch. A 200 foot natural bridge that looks neat in the photos we have seen. Unfortunately, there is no trail to the arch. There is a hiker made route that we found quite difficult to follow. After 35 minutes of hitting many false trails and dead ends, I reached a wall and my fatigue said to give up. I turned around and made my way back out of the canyon. That evening while looking at Kelsey's book. I saw a photo of where I had turned around. I was literally right next to the end of the arch. Had I bushwhacked another 100 feet South and up about 20 feet I would have been there!
Leaving Wrather Canyon, we continued down stream and set up camp at Mile 22 in a campsite across from Shower Spring. Shower Spring is reliable and cascades down from a ledge.
After Shower Spring, the river becomes deeper and choked with more large boulders. It really slowed us down. At Mile 25.5 is the Last Reliable Spring. Be sure to stock up here because there are no more reliable springs for the next 13 miles. Paria River water should only be used as a last resort. It is very silty and needs to settle before filtering.
At mile 26 is Bush Head Canyon. We did not explore here, but it also looked interesting.
At Mile 28 you will find the beginnings of the High Water Route. This unmaintained route takes you out of the river and across high ground as it cuts across the meanders in the river. This section is very hot and has little shade. There are several sections that are steep rocky descents. The High Water Route is easy to follow once you figure out its nuances.
The hike ends at Mile 38 at Lonely Dell Ranch at Lee's Ferry. This picturesque ranch has an incredible history.
On our last day we decided to make it to the end because of threatening skies. We hiked 16 miles in 9 hours to end the trip.
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