Paria Canyon and Bucskin Gulch Trip Report

BACKPACKING PARIA CANYON AND BUCKSKIN GULCH: A PARADISE WHERE YOU HAVE TO CARRY YOUR OWN SHIT OUT
Written by Mina Young Lee. Last Updated on September 12th, 2018.

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buckskin gulch

Trip Length: 5 days 4 nights
Trip Dates: May 2018
Start Trailhead: (37.019087, -112.024839)
End Trailhead: (36.867120, -111.595350)
Permits: Required, by the BLM
Total Mileage: 46.2 trekking miles
Location: Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Arizona
Notes: Poop Bags Required; Car Shuttle Required; Campfires Prohibited; Flash Flood Danger (check weather); Dogs Allowed

Day One: Wire Pass to Paria / Buckskin Confluence
13.2 miles

We camped the night before on some BLM land close to the Paria Contact Station where we picked up our permits and poop bags around opening time. By the time we got to the trailhead and started on our hike it was around 10am. Our first day was long and a bit more physically demanding than we expected but everyone in our group of three (plus dog) agreed it was the most scenic part of the trip. Tall narrowing canyon walls on both sides and at times was just wide enough for us to squeeze through with our backpacks. There were log jams 75 feet high above our heads from past flash floods - makes one consider the powerful force of nature, and what it would be like to be there during a flash flood. My vision of surfing packrafts down the canyons might differ from most.

I think the most surprising experience on this day's hike was the cold potholes of water sometimes waist to chest high. We knew there'd be some wet crossings but just how many and how cold, we had no idea. We must've waded through over 15 potholes that were over knee deep and every time we touched the water we were surprised at how cold the temperature of the water was. Some of these potholes only saw about half an hour of sunlight per day. Later we were informed that there was a search and rescue mission for someone suffering from hypothermia about a month prior. Not surprising. Calories and a warm layer are your friends the first day. What was a nice surprise though was how most of the times, Kyra took the lead into the water and by watching to see if she swam or trotted we could tell if we were going past our knees before we entered. My trekking poles were also helpful for gaging depth before taking the plunge.

buckskin gulch
buckskin gulch

There were two sections that required hauling Kyra over obstacles. The first was a log jam, and the second was about a 15 ft drop. The following is a little video showing the first obstacle.

My right ankle wasn't completely healed a malleolus fibula fracture some months back and after hiking through a bunch of loose rocks and mud, the weight irritated it further. Luckily ex-guerilla-unit-military, Juuso was there to help me shed some pounds for parts of the hike. Towards the end of our 13 miles I slowed down due to inflammation and constant "cranking" my ankle into a bad position, so Juuso ran ahead to drop off our bags at camp while Eric hiked slowly with me. After Juuso rid of the bags, he came back and carried me on his back for the last half-ish mile. I was pretty darn lucky to have such patient all-stars with me on this trip.

buckskin gulch
backpacking paria canyon
buckskin gulch

By the time we got to camp, the sun had just set and it was getting dark. There were already two groups in the area, we settled for the first spot on the left next to a small creek of spring water, on top of a balcony made out of sand.

Day Two: Paria / Buckskin Confluence to Judd Hollow area
9 miles

paria canyon
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon
DSC03337.jpg
paria canyon

With over 13 miles completed the first day we figured we had about 7.5 miles/day average left. The day ended up being longer as Juuso was persistent in getting out miles now as to shorten the last day's hike out, which probably made our last day's hike more pleasant but also was forced to pass up the opportunity to camp in some of the more scenic spots. If I had to do it again I'd camp around the 8 mile mark just past the second campsite from Big Springs.

Big Springs was a really big spring. There were several springs and seeps on our way to big springs including a decent flowing spring just before big springs which we mistakenly thought was big springs at first - until Juuso pointed out the fact that the prominent sound of water flowing was coming from about 50 yards away. When we did finally reach the Big Spring it exceeded our expectations - the whole canyon did actually, for me personally. It was obvious we were in an area of high water volume as the scenery went from canyons with limited green plant life to all of a sudden, life and trees all around us. I took a moment to appreciate what water and sun together could create.

big springs paria canyon
big springs paria canyon

After establishing camp, the group separated for some private time to relax and skinny dip along the river. The only people we encountered this day was a group we passed while trekking by their campsite. The limited human contact emphasized the feeling of wilderness.

Paria Canyon

Day Three: Judd Hollow area to a mile past Shower Spring
7 miles + Wrather Canyon 2 miles

After breakfast and packing up camp we made our way through my personal favorite part of the canyon. The pinkish boulders and bluish water reminded me of Havasu Creek, but with much less people.

Paria Canyon
paria canyon
paria canyon

We made a side trip through Wrather Canyon which featured a large arch that I can't tell you about as I didn't make it all the way there. The last section required a steep vertical climb up sand and taking into consideration my injured ankle, I decided with 2 days left of hiking it was best to save it for next time. Photo below of Eric sitting next to the arch, courtesy of Juuso.

wrather arch
shower springs paria canyon

Shower Springs was a bit tricky to find and had it not been for the group who told us where it was, we might have walked right past it. The springs wasn't visible from the main path and we had to do some bush whacking to get there. There's a small worn path to the left of the river in the middle of some tall grassy plants. Once we got on the path all we had to do was follow the sound of the water. It became clear we were at the spring when we ended standing in a big pool of water with water dripping from the surrounding walls. Great place for a dip and opportunity to wash your face.

Juuso enjoying the view while stuck in quicksand:

Our camp this night featured a small cascade nearby which we fell asleep to the sound of. Instead of pitching a tent we blew up our pads on sand and rock, and slept in our sleeping bags directly under the night sky. I woke up several times throughout the night and smiled at the sight of a billion stars above me.

Paria Canyon
paria canyon camping
paria canyon

Day Four: Between Shower Spring and Last Reliable Spring to Last Impacted Camp before Wilson Ranch
8 miles

paria canyon
paria canyon
Paria Canyon

It wasn't long after we started hiking that we reached Last Reliable Springs. It was on the left side of the canyon right before a bend. There were a couple spots along the wall dripping water where we could place our nalgene bottles directly under to fill. As with each spring before this one, the water was refreshing and delicious.

paria canyon
paria canyon last reliable springs

A bit after the springs the canyon started to really open up, with each wall getting further and further away from the river. There was a section in the water with a bunch of boulders that could have been by-passed by using a sandy trail to the right of the river, but I opted for the rocky water trail as it was cooler, both in temperature and scenery - more fun.

Paria Canyon

After a while the boulders following the river got too slow going and we all hopped on the high water route which was more exposed to height, drop offs, and sun than we expected. The trail veered away from the river, through a rocky pass which led to several campsites, but none that offered protection from the sun. Our only real break from the sun was in a small shady space between two big boulders and during short periodic moments the clouds graced us with their presence.

paria canyon high water route
paria canyon high water route
DSC04075.jpg
paria canyon high water route

After descending the river we kept our eye out for a campsite and settled on the second shady flat area we came across by a cottonwood tree which provided shade, lizards, and was home to a bunch of bees. We cooled off in the river, ate dinner, and eventually too many ants decorated our gear and intended campsite so we set up the tents in a couple sandy spots closer to the river after sunset, then watched the moonset, and went to sleep happy, full, and satisfied.

Day Five: Last Impacted Campsite to Lee's Ferry Trailhead
7 miles

We got an early start this morning as we guessed right that most of the hike out would be exposed to the sun. The trek out consisted of sandy trails on either side of the river and lots of river crossings. The feeling of cold water on my feet was welcomed.

Our only other human contact this day was with a friendly BLM ranger who was hiking the trail backwards (from what's considered traditional). He asked to see our permits, asked us if we were using the poop bags, and gave us a little beta, history about the place, and we went our separate ways.

By the time we reached the trailhead, Eric, who went ahead of us, was pulling up with his car. What a glorious sight. Our watches read 10am. After throwing away our bags of shit we hopped in the car for some celebratory beers and made our way back to Wire Pass Trailhead where the other vehicle was waiting.

None of us took photos this day but here's a video of us talking about our shits after hiking out:

Closing Notes

This was my first trip using wag bags and carrying my own shit out. Carrying your own shit out is absolutely necessary to preserve the fragile ecosystem, minimize human impact, and leave no trace for the next person. Think about it, would you want to camp near a field of shit mines? Tip: bring another bag to put your shit bags in. My poop bag smelled like someone was constantly farting around me the day after getting fresh poop into the bag. A laundry/dryer sheet for smell isn't a bad idea. After the second day the smell is gone. Eric didn't have any issues with smell as his bag was stored deep inside his backpack (Juuso's and mine was on the outside or tops of our bag). The canyon was beautiful and I plan on going back next year. Permits are required by the BLM to overnight hike this area but if you are only able to day hike I highly recommend Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch as an out and back hike.

Gear I found Essential for this Trip:

paria canyon shoes
  • Wag Bags: mandatory, 2 are provided per person by the BLM upon picking up permits

  • Shoes: durable, lightweight (especially when wet), drains water, dries quickly. this is a good pair for backpacking and water

  • Overnight Backpack: comfortable, fits correctly, can distribute weight evenly among shoulders and hips. this is my favorite overnight backpack I use on all my trips

  • Lightweight Tent: lightweight is key in this department. here’s my favorite two person backpacking tent

  • Sleeping bags: used 20 degree rated bags and it was more than sufficient for this time of year. the magma series is amazing

  • Sleeping pads: the more lightweight and compact-able, the better. I’ve been using this sleeping pad for years, one of the more comfortable ones.

  • Water Storage: we had one 10L bag and two 1.5L bottles between Juuso and I

  • Water Filter: possible to do without but if you want to carry less weight it’s a must. Juuso and I used this water filter, while Eric used this filter-everything beast

  • Cookware: we used a jetboil for this trip although next time I’d bring less freeze-dried meals, more cook-your-own-meals and bring this cooking system

  • Food: we brought a lot of freeze dried dehyrated meals, ramen, beef jerky, nuts, dried mango, and energy chews

  • Dry Bag: protect electronics during water crossings. I like to line my backpack with this dry bag

  • Baby Wipes: to wipe your booty and hands clean after letting the chocolate nuggets out. you’ll have to carry out your wipes but regardless I like to use biodegradable wipes

  • Headlamp: to see in the dark. this is the headlamp I use

  • Hat: protection from the sun

  • Long-sleeve lightweight shirt: along with breathable, UV protected, dries quickly. this pullover is what I use on most of my trips

  • Hiking poles: these were a personal life saver for me due to my injured ankle, but it was also nice to gage the depth of water crossings

Photos & Videos by Mina Young Lee and Juuso Ringman.
For more, check out this video by Eric Hanson.

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