The federal government does not designate its public lands without forethought. If a “national park” is created it is intended to be visited. If a “wilderness” is designated the land is intended to be preserved. That is why places like Zion and the Grand Canyon are designed to handle many thousands of visitors a day. And that is why the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness allows 20 overnight passes per day.
It is certainly the lucky explorer indeed who is able to spend the night camped beneath the towering cliffs of Paria Canyon. Millions of years of water flowing across the Colorado Plateau have sculpted iron-streaked sandstone into wavy walls 1000 feet high. A definite highlight is Buckskin Gulch, considered the world’s longest slot canyon. This tributary of Paria Canyon is about 13 miles long and although the sandy passage is nearly level it can require a full day to conquer – when you include all the time spent filling the memory card on your camera with photographs. After Buckskin Gulch the Paria Canyon widens out as it winds its way towards the Colorado River, matching the narrow spaces of the slot canyon memory for memory.
The wilderness swallows over 112,000 acres of northern Arizona and the hike through Paria Canyon covers 38 miles – one way. And since this is a wilderness there are no signs on the trail. There is plenty of wet hiking due to frequent river crossings and occasional waist-high wading through murky pool. And a boulder jam. There are several wonderful side hikes such as must-see Wrather Arch in the secluded recesses of Wrather Canyon.
So to fully enjoy Paria Canyon you are going to need transportation, navigation, mastery of regulations and inside knowledge of all there is to see. Does that sound like a guide might be helpful? At Four Season Guides we block out five or six days to backpack this legendary canyon twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.