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Paria River Canyon

by Loren Loritz

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Located on the border of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah lies a most beautiful and unique place. This is a major slot canyon formation that is totally baffling how Mother Nature could create such a lovely environment.
The Paria River carved this streambed into the sandstone for thousands of years to form this wonderful slot canyon, washing the soil down into and through the Colorado River helping to carve out the Grand Canyon. This river and many more like it has removed millions of cubic feet of soil from the plains of Utah and Arizona and deposited it into the Gulf of California. Now with all of the dams that stop and slow the Colorado River that soil which once made the river a virtual ribbon of mud is deposited at the bases of the various dams and the Colorado runs clean and cold.

There is a small campground at the trailhead with pit toilets, picnics tables and fire rings. There is no water at the campground, but less that a mile away there is a small spring situated next to an abandoned homestead.
Years later I met the owner of this homestead and surrounding land and was entertained by his many stories of the rich history surrounding this amazing landscape and the colorful people who chose to make this place their homes.

That night while we were unwinding from my flight and drive from North Dakota, I decided to take a flashlight and explore the formations around the campsite. I found a shallow cave at the base of one large formation that had a large black widow spider spinning her web. After observing her for a couple of minutes I slow backed away and that night before I slipped into my sleeping bag I inspected it very thoroughly.

The trail follows the Paria River and at times the river is actually the trail so I would recommend wearing shoes and sock that are suitable. My inexperience showed as I had a pair of heavy leather hiking boots, and when the water ran deep it flowed over the top making the rest of my hike done with wet feet. I think that a very sturdy pair of water sandals with Gore-Tex socks would work the best, as the trail and streambed was mostly sand and small river washed pebbles.
The rock formations that are encountered are awe-inspiring right away and only continues to get more beautiful as you travel downstream toward the narrows.

How to get There
Start by going north on Interstate Highway 17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff and then continuing north on Hwy 89 through Page, over the Glen Canyon Dam and right to the trailhead. This is a fragile area and there are strict quotas on the amount of people allowed in the canyon at one time so you need to call ahead and reserve a permit to access the canyon. People have been reserving dates months ahead of time, so it pays to plan your trip early to ensure room for your party. The permits are hard to get so try to have alternative dates and PLAN EARLY!
The ranger has a house that you can see as soon as you leave the highway and drive up to the information kiosk, the ranger can help you with the necessary permits at a cost of $10 per day/person. They don’t allow fires and they encourage that you pack out your human waste along with anything else you packed in.

The Hike
Once you get into the canyon you will find limited areas for campsites, but because there are only 20 people allowed in the canyon at anytime finding a secluded campsite isn’t a problem. I would recommend a site fairly close to the few springs that are located along the canyon as drinking water is scarce. There is differences of opinion on the quality of the spring water you will find, as there are questions about pesticides and chemicals that have found there way into the aquifers the springs are fed from. If you have any concerns the best bet is to filter and purify any drinking water.

We hiked into the canyon about 6 miles the first day and found a nice campsite, we then backtracked to an area called the ‘confluence’ where Buckskin canyon connects with the Paria River Canyon. This was my favorite part of the trip as the formations and slot canyon are both beautify and puzzling how nature could carve out such narrow and passable slots without caving in and covering the whole thing up.
The hike is really easy, just like the hike in the main canyon, there are a couple of spots were you need to climb up over some sandstone boulders or blockages, but people have caved handholds and there were some driftwood logs to aid in getting over the obstacles. We hiked as far in as we could until we got to an area where there was some deep water pockets and the quality of the water was a bit scummy so we turned around at that point and headed back to our campsite.

There are many small side canyons that allow you to escape from the deep slot that you are hiking in, and it’s neat to climb up to the rim and look down into the Paria River Canyon.
With the depth of the canyon it stays fairly cool even during the heat of the day, and the varying angles of sunlight filtering down give a wide variety of colors on the canyon walls. Every time you walk past a formation it has a different look at different times of the day, so bring plenty of film for your camera. For me this was a very different backpacking adventure as I am so use to hiking up the mountains it was neat to hike down the canyons instead!

About the Author

I am a North Dakota native who loves backpacking and the outdoors. I take about 3 to 4 trips annually and mostly hike the Montana & Wyoming Rocky Mountain Ranges.


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