Backpacking Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon requires an overnight use permit that must be obtained through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Only 20 people per day can camp in Paria Canyon, so you will need to plan ahead, especially if you want to go during the more popular months of April to June and September to November.
In this post, I’m going to cover the following:
- What to consider when planning your trip
- How to secure a permit
- Where springs and points of interest are located
- What gear we recommend
Ready to secure your permit? Here are three things to consider first.
1. When to Go
You can get permits year-round, but different months present different challenges. Here’s my advice: consider going when temperatures are cooler and the risk of flash floods is lower (April – June, September – November).
The canyon will likely be wetter April to August, and you will be wading through more mud and pools of water. September to November has less water to wade through (unless there has been a recent storm), but springs are less reliable and run much slower. We went mid-October, and the conditions were perfect, although we did still have to wade through a few knee-high deep mud pits.
2. Where to Enter and Exit
You will need to specify your entry and exit point when reserving your permit. The most popular entry and exit points are White House and Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry.
- White House to Wire Pass or Buckskin Gulch Trailhead – 2 or 3 days
- White House, Wire Pass, or Buckskin Gulch Trailhead to Lee’s Ferry – 3 to 5 days
Decide which trailhead works best for you and your group. Consider the mileage you will need to cover each day and your abilities, as well as the abilities of those going with you.
3. How Many Days You Want to Spend in the Canyon
The more days you have to explore, the more you can enjoy these two amazing canyons. Depending on which route you choose, the entire trip can be anywhere from 20 to 46 miles, more if you do any side hikes. It is recommended you do the longer route options in four to five or more days, but ambitious folks will do it in three.
Now that you’ve considered those three items, here’s how to secure a permit.
To get your permit, log onto https://www.recreation.gov/permits/74984 no earlier than four months in advance. For example, if you would like permits in June, you can reserve a permit on March 1 at 12:00 PM (noon) MST. The cost is $5 per person per day plus a $9 reservation fee.
Now that you have your permit, it is time to start planning! Here are some things to consider.
1. Shuttle Set-up
Unless you’re doing an out and back (boring!), you will need to leave at least one vehicle at your entry and exit points. It is also not a bad idea to have a hide-a-key somewhere on your vehicle(s) just in case you lose your keys or accidently lock them in your vehicle (happened to me…. Oops!).
2. Water / Springs
Be prepared to carry around 4-6 liters of water per day. You cannot count on all the springs, especially later in the year. If you are going with a larger group, try to have a few different types of water filtration systems in case one fails. I also recommend taking some water purification tablets. We did it on a low water year and got lucky: the Paria River was mainly being fed from reliable springs and was really clear. We filtered straight from the river most of the time. This is a rare occurrence. Usually, it is so silty your filters clog almost immediately.
3. Miles per Day / Campsites
Know how many miles you must cover each day and where the campsites are located. I recommend shooting for a camp near one of the springs. There are several maps and guidebooks available that will point out the different campsites and spring locations. I bought a guide from the ranger station for $12. Regardless, be prepared to cover no less than 14 miles on your first or last day if you choose to enter or exit at Wire Pass Trailhead, further if you start or end at Buckskin Gulch Trailhead.
4. Wag Bags
If you refuse to poop in a bag, this trip is not for you, so stay away. Honestly though, it is not that bad once you give it a try! I felt the same way most do the first time I was told I had to poo in a bag and pack it out.
The ranger you pick up your permit from will give you two bags per person for free. Plan on bringing some of your own too just in case you are like me and need at least one for each day in the canyon. You MUST pack everything out, including your toilet paper.
Your trip is only days away, what now?! Don’t forget to do these three things.
1. Check the Weather
2. Plan for Emergencies
I highly recommend taking a satellite communication device, like the GARMIN InReach Mini. If you run into a life or death situation, it could make all the difference. Also, do not forget to leave your itinerary with a friend or family member. Preferably, a person not going with you! 😉
3. Take Map(s) and a GPS Device
It is nearly impossible to get lost; just keep following the Buckskin Gulch and then head down stream in Paria Canyon. However, I still recommend taking a map and a GPS device to help you navigate and keep track of mileage. I used a combination of GAIA and AllTrails, plus the $12 map from the ranger station.
Be sure to ask about the status of the springs when you stop to check in at the ranger station and be prepared to carry more water than you had hoped or planned for.
The three springs listed below are the most reliable, but this does not mean that other springs won’t be active during your adventure! Look for lush plants growing straight out from or at the bottom of canyon walls. This is a sure sign that a spring is around! We found a spring at mile 16!
- Mile 18~ Big Spring
- Mile 26.4~ Shower Spring
- Mile 29.4~ Last Reliable Spring
(Mileage indicated is based off starting at Wire Pass Trailhead, using the AllTrails recording https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/wire-pass-to-lees-ferry. Subtract about seven miles if you start your journey from Whitehouse Trailhead and add mileage if starting from Buckskin Gulch Trailhead.)
Locating Points of Interest
When we got to this spot, there was a rope set up to assist you down a rabbit hole. Lower your packs first and then head down. Sometimes this hole is clogged with debris. If this is the case, you will have to use the famous Moqui steps, pictured below, which looked pretty tricky!
It is probably a good idea to bring some sort of rope with you to set up a hand-line for lowering packs and to assist yourself down in case a rope isn’t already there when you do this trip.
Two of the best campsites are located just before the confluence in Buckskin. We continued another mile or so to a nice campsite across from an unnamed spring.
Mile 22.3~ Judd Hollow Pump
Here you will find an old rusty water pump station. This was the one and only attempt to pump water from Judd Hollow to East Clark Bench.
This arch is a two-mile hike up a short side canyon and is definitely worth the effort. There is also a nice campsite just past this side canyon, which is where we stayed the second night.
Located on the left side of the canyon, you’ll need to climb up out of the river bed and then do some minor scrambling up to this panel, but it is worth the extra effort for a closer look!
This panel is easy to miss, so keep an eye out for a large red sand dune on the right-hand side of the Paria River. These petroglyphs are just across from the large sand dune on the left side of the canyon.
This panel is on fallen boulders, so you’ll have to do some hunting!
Gear I Took / Recommend for This Trip
Here’s a list of some of my favorite backpacking items, as well as some of the items I specifically used for this trip.
Tent: For this trip, you want to go as light as possible. I took my MSR Hubba NX 1-Person backpacking tent. I prefer free standing tents, so I don’t have to stress about gusty winds or finding something to tie off to.
Sleeping Bag: Sea to Summit makes some great bags for women. Female-specific bags have extra insulation in key areas, like the footbox. I also prefer 100% down bags because they weigh less and pack down better.
Sleeping Pad: Thermarest NeoAir UberLite – weighing just over 8 oz, this pad is super compact and still provides 2.5 inches of cushion.
Sheet: LUXURY ITEM ALERT!! I do not backpack without my Klymit Sheet. It keeps my pillow from sliding all over the place and adds extra warmth to your pad.
Inflatable Pillow: Ultralight Camping Pillow
Down Blanket: a Packable Down Throw comes in handy if you need a little extra warmth in your sleeping bag or when you are just hanging around camp!
Water Filter: the Katadyn Hiker Pro is my filter of choice when I’m not filtering from a river. I brought a collapsible water bucket so I could fill that with spring water and pump from it back at camp.
Water Bottles: I took two Nalgene 48 oz water bottles for a convenient and lightweight way to carry extra water while on the trail and to drink from / use while at camp.
Plate & Bowl: I love the Fozzils Snapfold solo plate, bowl, and cup set. They pack down flat and are super durable.
Clothing / Shoes
Shoes: conditions on this hike are a huge consideration for this hike. I wore Salomon Crossamphibian water shoes because they are lightweight, dry quickly, and grip to surfaces well. They also have good arch support. Bonus! They survived the trip with no significant wear or tear, which I’ve heard can be a real issue on this trek.
Socks: I found these amazing waterproof socks while searching for neoprene socks. They kept my feet dry and the mud off my legs.
Down Jacket: Another item I rarely backpack without is a down jacket. You can’t find my particular jacket for sale anymore, but I have several friends who love their Marmot Women’s Jena Jacket.
Fleece Jacket: Great for layering, I love my Marmot Full Zip Fleece Jacket.
Rain Jacket / Shell: Rain jackets are not just for rainy days; they are also great for blocking those chilly winds. It took my Black Diamond Stormline. It’s lightweight and has pit zips (super important!).
Camp Slippers: We Wine Hikers almost always can be found in the backcountry with our Baffins slippers. They are the perfect camp shoe: lightweight, packable, and cozy.
Gloves: I love my TrailHeads Women’s Power Stretch Convertible Mittens. I can flip back the mitten part when I need to use my fingers, and the rest of my hand stays warm.
Written by Cindy Bird Vance