Paria Canyon Backpacking
Here’s my trip report from a 4 day desert backpacking trip through the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs
Wilderness in Utah/Arizona!
The first day started off in Lee’s Ferry where we met our shuttle driver. After packing our backpacks we drove on up to the Paria Contact Station at White House. Here we talked to the ranger about the weather and he gave us some useful maps and poop-bags.
We made sure to fill our water bottles at the water station here. The actual trail-head was a few miles down the road at the Paria campground. We unpacked our bags and thanked our driver.
The river was super-low when we started, barely ankle deep! We made it a contest of who could go the longest without getting their feet wet. By the end of the day we had all resigned to just walking in the water.
We encountered maybe a dozen day-hikers in this section, and a few others who had just camped for one night and headed back out. By the end of the first day we were in the narrows, walking among the enormous canyon walls.
There were plenty of good campsites along the river. Nice and flat with sand. A lot of the pre-made campsites also had rocks arranged in a cooking area. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice the camping spots were. We had a satellite messenger with us and the canyon walls made it very difficult to get a signal.
The weather was much colder in the morning and we had to fish out our jackets while cooking and packing up.
The narrows continued on day two. At the narrowest point, I would guess the canyon was about 10 feet wide. Wouldn’t want to get caught in a flash flood here!
There were a few streams along the way where we were able to refill our water. We had to pay close attention to the map, however, because these streams were not always easy to spot. We could usually find them by looking for green moss growing on the canyon walls.
On the third day we finally were out of the narrows. The canyon walls took on a gentler slope, and there were more plants and beaches. The vegetation in the canyon was quite impressive. It’s neat how so many different trees, cacti, and plants could live deep in the canyon. We had to bush-wack our way through a few points.
We came across an abandoned water pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump fresh water.
At the end of the third day we camped right at the start of the high-water trail.
The high water trail headed up the valley wall, which gave us a great view down the canyon. There were lots of cacti here and we had to be careful not to get pricked. The trail crossed back and forth across the river at a few points. The river was definitely much bigger, but still easy to cross; at most knee deep.
There were plenty of lizards around. One in particular was quite large, maybe 2 feet long.
The guidebook we had had all sorts of interesting landmarks to look out for, one of which was the Upsidedown rock.
The trail eventually became just desert. It was very hot (90 degrees), and there was no water in sight! We barely had enough water to make it to the end. There were a lot of cool old ranches and buildings that could be found among the cacti and tumbleweeds.
After trekking once more back across the river, we finally were back in Lee’s Ferry. We had a couple of bottles of water in our car which we promptly chugged upon arriving.
Overall it was an amazing trip! Highly recommended!
- Check the weather before you start! This is very important because flash floods can be deadly. Historical data for the river can be seen here.
- Make sure to pay attention to the map and note where you can find springs to get drinking water. There are not that many springs, and you don’t want to run out of water. Also, be prepared to stock up since the last day and a half had no water sources.
- Neoprene socks were really handy for all of the walking we did in the river. Wool socks will do fine too, but the neoprene socks kept our feet warm, and they dry out much faster than wool.
- Mornings and late evenings can be quite chilly, so bring a warm fleece.