Paria River Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Snake Gulch
PARIA RIVER CANYON
We just returned from hiking the Paria for the 7th time. It continues to astound us. We urge you to read about it in our book Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country (Trip 12, page 89), then begin making plans to hike there. Every devoted backpacker should witness this world-wonder canyon at least once.
You already have reservations to hike the Paria? Lucky you. Here are some important updates to the most recent edition of our book:
• Hwy 89, south of Page, is closed indefinitely. The highway was severely damaged during a “seismic event.” That means the shuttle between the White House trailhead and Lees Ferry now takes hours longer (one way) than previously. For that reason, you might not want to hike the Paria as a one-way trip. Until the highway is reopened, we recommend a round trip. Start at White House trailhead. Hike 12.2 mi (19.6 km) down-river to Big Spring. Base-camp there, then dayhike farther down-canyon. Turn around just past Judd Hollow, which is about 18 mi (29 km) from the trailhead.
• The 2011 flood did not significantly rearrange Paria Canyon, or its tributary Buckskin Gulch, nearly as much as we had been led to believe by the reports we’d received.
• The high, sandy benches near the bottom of Buckskin Gulch, just a few minutes upstream from the confluence with Paria Canyon, are still there. (On page 96 of the 2012 reprint of our book, we stated what the authorities had told us: that these benches had been washed away. That’s not true.) These confluence benches continue to offer three, excellent campsites. Each campsite has room for several tents. As for water, however, we could not find the spring that used to drip from the north wall here. So we filtered water from the relatively clear streamlet flowing along the floor of the gulch.
• If you intend to hike up-canyon, generally west, into Buckskin Gulch, within 1 mi (1.6 km) you’ll encounter the boulder jam described on page 88 of our book. A fixed rope previously made the necessary scramble here much easier. That rope is gone, but another option is now available. So, take your pick: (1) moqui steps (chiseled footholds) on a smooth, nearly vertical rockface without help from a fixed rope, or (2) a pair of sturdy logs vertically jammed among the boulders. Approaching from the confluence, you’ll immediately see the moqui steps (right). Continue left, crouching beneath the boulder, to find the vertical logs. The first moqui step is very high, and the pitch, though short, is exposed. The vertical logs are firmly in place and grant relatively safe, easy passage. (See the photos above.) Kids and tentative adults might need assistance, but most hikers will likely find they can use the vertical logs to get up and down.
• About 2 mi (3.2 km) farther down the Paria from the Buckskin/Paria confluence is a high bench on the left (NE) wall. It offers one campsite with room for up to four tents beneath a huge, beautiful cottonwood. Just downstream, on the opposite wall, is a strong, clear-water spring.
• Big Spring, at 12.2 mi (19.6 km), remains an impressively reliable source of water. The long bench opposite the spring, affords numerous tentsites.
As of of the first week of April, Buckskin Gulch was easily hikeable. No need to wade through fetid pools. We encountered only a couple, short, muddy sections — nothing worse than knee deep. Otherwise, the floor of the gulch was solid underfoot: just moist sand.
If you can’t get a permit to backpack the Paria, consider dayhiking Buckskin. Read about it in our book Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country (Trip 11, page 84).
Starting at Wire Pass trailhead, you can hike a round trip: down in, then retracing your steps back out. Or, if you’re strong and can arrange a shuttle, hike all of Buckskin in a single day: 13 mi (21 km) from Wire Pass to the confluence with the Paria, then 7 mi (11.3 km) up the Paria to the White House trailhead.
The average width of Buckskin Gulch is just 12 ft. The walls average 100 ft high. The most spectacular stretch is the lower end of the gulch, closer to the confluence. If hiking down the gulch from Wire Pass, read the fifth paragraph above (under Paria River Canyon), describing the boulder jam you’ll encounter shortly before arriving at the confluence.
If you’re hiking Paria and/or Buckskin, here’s another, nearby dayhike we enthusiastically recommend: Snake Gulch. Plan to do it before or after Paria/Buckskin.
Hidden within Snake Gulch is a prolific concentration of native, rock art. The trailhead is a mere 31 mi (50 km)—an 80-minute drive—from Kanab, Utah. The hike is not in our WOW Utah book because it’s entirely in Arizona.
The rock art dates to 500 B.C. It was created by Archaic, Basketmaker, Ancestral Pueblo, and Fremont natives over a span of 15 centuries. It comprises petroglyphs (pecked into the rock) and pictrographs (painted on the rock). The pictographs display more colors, including yellow and green, than much of the rock art elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau.
From Kanab, drive S on Hwy 89A to Fredonia. Continue left (SE) on 89A for 1 mi (1.6 km), then turn right (S) on paved FSR (4)22. This is just S of an industrial plant. Follow it 21 miles (33.8 km), until FSR 462 forks left (E) toward Jacob Lake (9 mi / 14.5 km distant). Reset your trip odometer to 0 here and proceed right (W). Continue S on unpaved FSR (4)22. At 1.6 (2.6 km) turn right onto FSR 423, signed for Kanab Creek Wilderness (5 mi / 8 km distant). Continue N another 2 miles (3.2 km). Descend through a canyon. At the Y junction, veer right (N) on unpaved FSR 642. The road ends at the signed, Snake Gulch trailhead. The elevation here is 5800 ft (1768 m).
Follow the obvious trail N. The remains of a homesteader’s stone house is visible across the drainage. The trail curves left (W) into Snake Gulch.
Departing the trailhead, hike briskly. There’s little to see initially other than the gulch itself. It’s pleasing but not impressive.
Most of the art in the gulch is on the right (N) wall, facing left (S). If you’re observant, however, you’ll also see panels on the left (S) wall. There are many more panels than we’ll mention here. It’s easy to spend an entire day admiring the rock art in this world-class, outdoor gallery.
Within 50 minutes, fast hikers will see a rock-art panel on the right (N) wall. At 1.5 hours (2.5 mi / 4 km) again look on the right (N) wall, under an overhang, for more, small pictographs. Just 0.6 mi (1 km) farther, you’ll find more pictographs on the right (N) wall.
About 2.5 hours from the trailhead, cross Toothpick Canyon—a narrow, usually dry, tributary gash entering Snake Gulch from the right (N). About eight minutes beyond Toothpick, the distinctive peninsula called Table Rock is visible jutting into the gulch from the left (S).
Soon, the deep arroyo that has so far split the gulch disappears. The floor of the gulch flattens, and you’re able to angle left, crossing the gulch toward Table Rock.
Shortly before reaching Table Rock, look up (left) on the S wall. Here, at 4.7 mi (7.5 km), 5215 ft (1590 m), you’ll see the most impressive rock-art panel in Snake Gulch. An ascending trail allows you to easily ascend to a ledge where you can walk the entire length of the panel. Most dayhikers will recognize this as the ideal, climactic, turn-around point. Simply retrace your steps, up the gulch to the trailhead.
For a post-hike meal celebrating your Paria, Buckskin, and/or Snake Gulch experience, we recommend the muy delicioso Mexican food at Escobar’s, in Kanab. We’ve been stopping there for years: whenever we pass through town. Escobar’s is located on the north side of Hwy 89, two minutes east of the traffic lights at the Hwy 89/89A junction. Their phone number is (435) 644-3739. Every time we’ve been there, Rosa (who owns and runs the restaurant with her husband, Leo) has served us with grace and humour.