Take a Top 5 Southwest Backpacking Trip: Paria Canyon

By Michael Lanza

Walls of searing, orange-red sandstone towered hundreds of feet overhead in a chasm at times no more than a dozen strides across. A shallow river flowed like very thin chocolate milk down the canyon, spanning it from wall to wall in spots. And the spectacle had only just begun: We were mere hours into the first day of one of the most continually stunning, multi-day canyon hikes in the Southwest: Paria Canyon.

Over five days in early spring, my family and another backpacked the 38-mile length of Paria Canyon, which straddles the border of Utah and Arizona and joins the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, the gateway to the Grand Canyon.

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In the narrows of Paria Canyon.
My son, Nate, in the narrows of Paria Canyon.

Lying within the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Paria Canyon has become famous among backpackers for its soaring walls painted wildly with desert varnish, massive red rock amphitheaters and arches, hanging gardens where the few springs in the canyon gush from rock, and campsites on sandy benches shaded by cottonwood trees.

Its tributary, Buckskin Gulch, is one of the longest, if not the longest continuous slot canyon in the Southwest.

That’s why Paria Canyon deserves to be called one of “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest” and, many experienced Southwest backpackers would agree, one of the top five.

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Spring and fall are the prime seasons for backpacking Paria Canyon; my family did it in the last week of March. This is a popular hike, and the time to apply for a backcountry permit reservation is around the corner if you want to backpack Paria Canyon next spring. Permits are issued to only 20 people per day, so apply for a permit reservation as soon as they become available, which is after 12 p.m. on the first of the month, three months in advance, for example, on Jan. 1 for a trip anytime in April.

View the photo gallery below for a sampling of the breathtaking scenery of Paria Canyon. Then click the link below the gallery to read my feature story about this classic trip.

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Read my story “The Quicksand Chronicles: Backpacking Paria Canyon,” which has many more photos, a video, and information on planning the trip. As with most stories about trips at The Big Outside, reading that entire story requires a paid subscription, which gives you access to ALL stories at my blog and member gear discounts.

See menus of all stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah, backpacking in the Grand Canyon, and all stories about family adventures at The Big Outside.

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