8 Must Follow Tips For Backpacking Paria Canyon In The Vermilion Cliffs Monument
Paria Canyon has been on my bucket list for years, so when I got a chance to backpack the entire length of the Paria Canyon I said yes and then figured out the details.
I was lucky enough to backpack the Paria Canyon as a volunteer with the Bureau of Land Management. This meant that we started hiking from Lee’s Ferry and went up through the canyon in order to check permits and clean up trash.
Doing the route “backward” added a completely different look and feel to the route. As a volunteer, we were able to talk to all of the groups going through the canyon which made it even more fun.
Backpacking Paria Canyon is a lot of work. The basic canyon is 38 miles which means you’ll easily do 40-42 miles minimum. We did just under 50 miles during our 4 ½ days in the canyon.
To read a regular Trip Report and see more pictures check out my other post: Trip Report: Backpacking Paria Canyon
The logistics of planning for a trip like this can be slightly overwhelming. I’ve compiled a list of my top tips for anyone planning to backpack through Paria Canyon.
Tips for Backpacking Paria Canyon
1. You must have a permit for any hiking within Paria Canyon
The Paria Canyon is part of the Vermilion Wilderness area and requires some level of permits at all times. To hike the entire length of the canyon or spend the night at any point, you must have a permit!!!
I happen to know that the BLM does check for permits and if you are caught without a permit it can be a very hefty fine. Overnight permits are hard to get since only 20 permits are issued per day.
This link will take you to the BLM Calendar to check availability. Just remember that the schedule for July & August is open for a reason. Monsoon season isn’t the best time of year to hike a slot canyon.
If you plan to hike the entire route, you’ll also need to arrange a car shuttle. The drive from White House Camping Site to Lee’s Ferry is approximately 1 ½ hour, so plan accordingly.
2. Be prepared for water hiking and extreme weather conditions
You will be hiking in and out of the water the entire trip except for the last few miles near Lee’s Ferry. Most of the time the water was ankle deep with the occasional knee high crossing. However, this may change based on the time of year.
I highly recommend using neoprene socks. They won’t keep your feet dry, but the neoprene will help keep your feet warm once you get a little bit of water in them and start hiking.
I blister easily, so I use ultra thin liner socks under my neoprene booties. They work awesome and are super comfortable.
If you are prone to blisters, skip the moleskin and use Leukotape instead. I swear by this stuff! I use it for all of my hiking trips and virtually never get blisters anymore. If you put it on when your feet are dry before you start hiking then you will most likely only need to apply it once. I put on five pieces on each foot before starting and all of them stayed on through five days of water hiking except for one.
I typically hike in shorts, but I recommend pants for backpacking in Paria Canyon. There is sand literally everywhere and it will find a way to get into every crack and crevice of your shoes. Long pants help keep some of the sand away. Some of the other hikers we meet also used Gaiter shoe protection covers.
I also highly, highly recommend using hiking poles. They rock in Paria Canyon. They are great for checking water depth, helping distribute the weight on heavy packs and playing in quicksand. I’m super short, so I use these kids poles from Black Diamond.
The water isn’t your only concern when backpacking Paria Canyon. Keep in mind that you are still in a desert environment which means that it can be hot during the day and then freezing at night.
We also experienced some very severe wind storms that were absolutely crazy.
Make sure you are prepared for cold nights. I used the following equipment/clothing to stay warm and dry. Although the water isn’t deep I highly recommend packing your clothing and food in dry bags. The mud can be very slippery and you will fall at some point.
Dry bags come in a very wide variety of qualities. When I’m doing my major trips, I always use the nice Sea to Summit dry bags. However, if you are on a tight budget and won’t be using dry bags frequently then I would use something more like these dry bags. They aren’t going to be leak proof if you do a full submersion, but if you fall and accidentally get them wet they will work short term.
- Sleeping bag – I used the Phantom 32 which is about ten years old. I highly recommend spending the money to get a nice bag that is lightweight and rated for at least 20-32 degrees.
- Mattress Pad – I recently switched from my Thermarest to a Klymit Static V2 Sleeping Pad. I’m seriously in love with this pad. I’m short, so I bought the kids version which is 13 ounces. The regular one is only 16.33 ounces and still very small and compact. I haven’t slept so comfortably outdoors in years.
- Sleeping Clothing – I recommend some form of thermal underwear for sleeping.
- Extra lightweight long sleeved shirts
- Down Jacket – typically I would use a synthetic jacket in the canyon, but can’t find my favorite jacket. I was worried about getting the down jacket wet, but it was so warm and packed down so small that I’m glad I ended up taking it.
- Gloves – I personally use Leather gloves like these. They keep my hands warm but also worked great for handling hot pots and protected my hands against the rock.
- Hat (one for sleeping and one for sun protection)
- Shoes for around camp – You don’t want to be stuck wearing your wet hiking shoes around camp at night. I highly, highly recommend these camp shoes. They worked great for backpacking in Paria Canyon. They were easy to walk in, tight enough to keep out the sand and were super comfortable.
The goal is to take clothing that is easily layered. This will allow you to control your body temperature and will hopefully keep your weight manageable.
3. You will see quicksand in Paria Canyon
Quicksand is seriously crazy! I can’t even describe it, but once you see it, you’ll know. Depending on the time of year, you will see quicksand, particularly in the middle and towards the end of Paria Canyon.
We talked to two different groups who had experienced quicksand and lost shoes. In one group, the wife had gotten stuck and her husband lost his shoes trying to rescue her. He was hiking out in her extra sandals and didn’t look very comfortable.
I didn’t catch how the other gentleman lost his shoes, but his group had cut up a mattress pad which they used as an extra sole within his neoprene socks. There is no way it was a comfortable walk for him.
Most of the quicksand in the Paria is pretty small in diameter, so your best bet is to run quickly if you feel yourself starting to sink.
Here are some links to additional information on quicksand.
One of the best ways to avoid the quicksand is to take along hiking poles. I know that hiking poles can seem expensive, but once you start using them (particularly with a heavy pack), you’ll never go back.
Hiking poles are a life-saver on the Paria River.
4. Plan your food carefully
We did a total of just under 50 miles in 4 ½ days. It isn’t a crazy number of miles, but when you have a heavy pack and are in and out of cold water, you are going to be using a lot of calories. Plan your menu’s accordingly.
I always overpack on food and came out with a little bit of extra, but I ate a lot more than I thought I would. We were literally stopping every 1-3 hours for food breaks in addition to our normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Make sure that you have plenty of fuel for your stove and if possible I recommend always having two heat sources.
There is nothing more amazing than a nice hot meal at the end of a long day.
Here are a couple of the food ideas that I liked and used on the trip. Just remember that variety is the spice of life and you’ll get pretty sick of the same thing over and over again.
5. Although you are surrounded by water, there isn’t as much water available as you think.
Paria Canyon is muddy, muddy, muddy. The water is full of dirt and silt. You don’t want to drink it unless absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, there are plenty of springs throughout the canyon. We went in April, so the springs were everywhere. However, be prepared to filter the Paria water if necessary since you can’t always count on the springs.
We found excellent water at Shower Spring, Big Spring, and the Buckskin Paria Confluence.
Since we were drinking spring water, we used basic two basic filters. We had two Sawyer Mini’s which worked excellent and then a Katadyn BeFree Water Filter with a Hydrapack collapsible bottle. The Katadyn/Hydrapack system was significantly quicker, so after the first night, we used it exclusively.
Personally, I always recommend having 2 filters at all times. I wouldn’t want to have issues with one and not have a backup.
The other item that was invaluable was this Folding Bucket. I know it sounds stupid, but it was the easiest way of collecting water. We would put it under the stream, fill it up and then transfer the water to our Platipuses and then filter the water from there.
6. You’ll need to carry out your poop
Sorry, it has to be covered. When backpack in Paria canyon you are required to carry out your poop. I know it sounds like a hassle and is seriously disgusting, but it would be even more disgusting if everyone left their poop in the canyon.
I know it is tempting to bend the rules, but for the future of the canyon, please suck it up and use your wag bag. Just think of how gross it would be to find someone else’s poop.
Here are my helpful hints on using a wag bag.
When you pick up your permit, the BLM office will supply you with poop bags, so you don’t even have to spend your money on them.
However, they don’t include the extras. I highly recommend purchasing the following items as well:
Find an open spot with lots of sand (there is sand everyone) to take care of business. Open up your wag bag and pull everything out so you are ready to go. Once you have taken care of business use your diaper bag like you would a doggy bag and clean up your poop. In other words, scoop it up and then turn the bag inside out and tie it up. I personally used a second diaper bag just to be on the safe side. I didn’t want any potential for leakage.
Put your diaper bag full of poop inside the wag bag, use the drawstring to pull it tight and then stuff everything back inside. Just make sure that you leave the drawstring accessible in case you need to poo again.
I then put my wag bag inside of my dry bag and hung it outside of my pack. Trust me, you don’t want that stuff inside your pack.
I had to take care of business multiple times during the trip and using this method, kept the smell down and it was surprisingly easy. Yes, it is disgusting, but it is better than leaving it around for others to step in or have it contaminate the water.
7. Flash flooding is a constant danger
You are inside of Paria Canyon virtually the entire time you are backpacking. There are certain areas with very minimal escape areas. Don’t chance it. Check the weather frequently and if there is even a slight chance of flooding don’t enter the canyon.
I know the permits are difficult to get and it is hard to arrange a trip of this level, but please don’t take a chance on flash flooding. It just isn’t worth it. There are tons of other amazing things you can see in the Paria area if the weather isn’t cooperating.
8. Every ounce matters when backpacking Paria Canyon
Pack light! I’m going to be super blunt. I don’t think that backpacking in Paria Canyon is particularly hard. The water isn’t crazy deep, there isn’t a lot of elevation change and the water hiking although cold isn’t full of big slippery rocks. However, you are still covering a lot of ground in a short period of time. You are in and out of cold water and your body is going to get tired and sore.
The lighter your pack, the more fun you are going to have.
Weigh every once and consider your choices carefully. If you can find a lighter version, I recommend going that route. Don’t take a ton of extra gear you don’t need. It isn’t worth the extra weight.
Backpacking Paria Canyon is a life-changing experience
If you get a chance to spend 3-5 days backpacking Paria Canyon I highly recommend taking the opportunity. It was an amazing canyon and I’m so thankful I was able to spend my time soaking up the beauty. Special thanks to the BLM who let us volunteer and who do so much to keep the canyon pristine.
PS. Don’t forget to check out my trip report of backpacking Paria Canyon.
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