Some adventures have to be recorded and hiking Paria Canyon in Southern Utah is one of them. It’s time to break out the ole blog again for this bucket list backpack trip.
We had been staying in Kanab through the week and after signing off to family and work, Tim and I drove off the bandwidth grid to Lees Ferry at the head of the Grand Canyon. Here we stayed up packing and getting ready for the 4 day hike ahead of us.
Wednesday morning, we were picked up at by Steve Dodson of Paria Outpost and Outfitters to shuttle 2 hours to the Whitehouse Trail Head for the hike. Steve is a tour guide by trade as well as a restaurateur. The Paria Outpost Restaurant is only open the first weekend of each month…otherwise we would have bellied up for some BBQ on the way.
Instead we listened as Steve told us great stories of John D Lee and lesser known spots in the Vermillion Cliffs Plateau as we drove up House Rock Valley Road, a treasure trove of amazing rock formations, dinosaur remains and Anasazi ruins.
We took a lot of notes.
Steve dropped us at the Whitehouse Trailhead at 11am – just as things were heating up. Projected temperatures were in the 90’s for the week and our first 6 miles were in a sandy open wash. We got moving right away.
The Paria Canyon hike has 3 possible entrances, Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch and White House Trailhead. We chose White House for length, to get the full taste of the Paria and we’d already explored Wire Pass and the upper portion of Buckskin. We love the area so much we’re already dreaming about our next trip to hike Buckskin, the world’s longest slot canyon from top to bottom.
The hike began with 6 hot miles of trudging through sand (a great butt workout, I kept telling myself) in 95 degree heat with a headwind. Not sure why in those circumstances, it’s always a headwind and never a tailwind…but that’s a discussion for another day.
We were ecstatic when the Canyon walls began to narrow and there was some welcome shade. Here every turn through the Canyon brought new surprises – from giant arches to lush desert oases. You never knew what expect around the corner.
After 10 miles of hiking, we camped at the first Spring in Paria Canyon. The singing frogs kept us company as we dined on delicious Mountain House Chili Mac. You’d never eat it at home, but on the trail there is no better meal.
Day 2, we planned 10 miles of hiking. We hiked through the narrow Canyon until mile 17 when the Paria Narrows opened up. Our necks ached from our continuous gawking at the incredible splicing of rock.
In the Paria Narrows, the easily eroded Navajo sandstone was carved away by the flash floods and trickling Paria springs. Our river bed went from bone dry to ankle deep as we passes springs dripping from the canyon walls. Water is sweetest after a decade of filtering through layers of sandstone. We were respectful of each drop from rainstorms that may have fallen 20 years before.
Once we passed through the Narrows, the Canyon gradually opened. Here we began to see large side canyons spurring from the main channel.
One of these hid Wrather Arch. Tucked a mile and a half up high in a canyon, Wrather Arch is one of the largest arches on the Colorado Plateau. We decided to camp at the base of Wrather Canyon in order to save the Wrather Arch as a sunrise treat for Day 3.
That afternoon, we splashed in a pool in the river, cooling off in the hot sun, washing shoes and socks and getting the dust out of the pockets. Then back to camp for naps, an early meal then bed. We couldn’t remembering having so much free time to relax.
After a bright moonlit night, we woke up early in order to hike up Wrather Canyon in time for sunrise. We bushwacked our way 1 and 1/2 miles up the sandy canyon. As we neared the head of the canyon, the Arch seems to materialize from the surrounding walls.
Though Wrather Arch is one of the largest arches in the region, some people report walking to the base without ever seeing it. To get the full effect, you need to scramble the canyon walls behind the arch to look out past the canyon.
While we sat perched next to the arch, we heard a shriek echo through the canyon. A huge hawk swooped down on a flying sparrow and plucked it out of the air before our eyes. We couldn’t believe what we’d seen…incredible and very harsh, very fitting for our environment.
We returned to camp after the hike and ate Canyon breakfast of hard boiled eggs, grits with jalapenos, bacon and cheddar, and steaming cups of coffee and tea. Day 3’s plan was to hike through the wider canyon. As the layers change from Navajo Sandstone to the darker green gray Kayenta formation, the canyon transforms itself once again.
Boulders sliced down the canyon walls into the river. The flash floods which flush the rocks from the narrow canyon above don’t occur in the wider lower section of canyon. Here the boulders create large pools in the river. It was hard to believe that this was the same bone dry riverbed we’d started hiking 2 days earlier.
We hiked 10 miles before lunch and then pulled over into a shady grove to eat. The temperature continued to climb into the 90’s so we set up the tent for an afternoon siesta.
While we were safe behind mesh, deer flies came hunting for us. When we woke up, they were waiting. We outran them down to the safety of the water to keep from getting stung. Here we cooked dinner, while standing in thigh deep pools to both stay cool and bug free.
As soon as the sun went down, we packed up and started hiking again. We had 10 miles left to go and we figured we’d walk until we were tired and finished the rest the next day.
This lower section of canyon became even more boulder choked, as if the Canyon were crumbling in on itself. We navigated two miles slowly before stopping on a high ledge to camp. Here we had views for miles down the canyon, framed by the distant Vermillion Cliffs. It was yet another personality change of Paria.
Our last day would be a hot one. The final canyon miles had very little shade so we got moving early. Here the deer flies would catch you when you stopped so we were highly motivated to keep walking. We now understood why long pants seemed to be popular for this hike. We hiked through the open desert, watching for lizards, flowers and ancient petroglyphs.
As we walked, the canyon continued to open until it was nearly 3 miles wide. This was one of my first backpacking adventures where we slowed down near the end, not wanting it to be over so soon. Despite the call of ice cream and a cold beer in the van…we would have been happy to stay in the desert longer.
We knew we’d reached the end when we came upon Lonely Dell, John D Lee’s Ranch above the Ferry. We explored the old corral and Emma’s cabin before walking the final mile out the canyon.
When we arrived back to Lee’s Ferry parking, we watched two huge rafts drive towards the boat ramp. Lee’s Ferry is the launch point for the 10 and 21 day Grand Canyon raft trips, and a large commercial outfitting trip was about to set sail. We were curious so we grabbed some liquid refreshment and walked the 1/4 mile down to see the carnival.
While we walked, a giant motorcoach drove by to unload the passengers into the waiting rafts. This was luxury. The guests piled out of the bus and boarded the 30 foot rafts while the heavily laden gear barges followed behind. Tim and I both considered stowing away as passengers, but suspected our unshowered state might give us a way. Instead we returned to the van, pledging to double our efforts to get on a river trip soon.
We packed up and hit the road, checking our email in the occasional blips of cell service. Satisfied that nothing significant had changed in the world during our four days of solitude, we turned off the highway onto a washboarded gravel road for part two of our remote weekend.
60 miles and an hour and a half later, we found a perfect camp spot on the Rainbow Rim. Here on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we found some of the best camping in the United States. Our front porch opened onto the Canyon Rim and the backdoor opened towards 17 miles of single track which wove through the pine forest and opened out on 5 incredible Canyon rim viewpoints.
Next day, we let the feet rest and instead got the biking muscles back in shape exploring the Canyon rim.
We couldn’t have asked for a more amazing canyon adventure.