6-8 April 2017
This is a classic 46 mile hike on the border of Utah and Arizona in Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. Buckskin is widely believed to be the longest slot canyon in the world, and Paria is a beautiful tributary of the Colorado River, flowing into its parent right at the head of the Grand Canyon. It is not only beautiful, but exhausting — the many deep pockets of icy cold water will suck the life right out of an otherwise easy hike with little elevation change (next time I would bring neoprene socks to keep my feet warm). And there are two challenging down climbs, a class 3 10 foot climb in Wire Pass and a class 4 15 foot climb near the end of Buckskin where there is usually a fixed rope so you don’t have to bring one yourself. That said, I am not a canyoneer and have little experience with ropes, but I did not think the down climbs were that bad.
The Paria Gorge is more straightforward, but requires numerous crossings (maybe 50) so the lower half of your legs will be wet most of the time. We went during a very wet year, so all springs (and then some) were flowing. Our biggest water carries were 3.5 liters to get to the first spring on the Paria at mile 10, and again 3.5 liters to get from the “last reliable spring” at mile 25, camp at mile 26.5, and then finish the hike to Lee’s Ferry at mile 38.
The shuttle for this hike is very annoying, with a 2 hour trip from Lee’s Ferry at the end to Wire Pass at the beginning, depending on which way you go. The southern route is quite scenic passing by the Vermillion Cliffs, but it involves over 20 miles on badly washed-out dirt road to get to the trailhead. We only barely made the trip in our rented Camry. The northern route is more miles, but it is only 8 miles on a better-maintained road. We took that route at the end when we expected rain and we were really glad we did.
Permits are competitive, so plan early. When we did this hike we had to get permits four months in advance. The State Line campsite is near the trailhead, but if it’s full (it was for us) you are allowed to camp at the trailhead itself.
The BLM says this is a 3-6 day hike but we had no problems doing it in 2.5 days. It was an easy pace, including time for naps, but we basically hiked all day. The hardest day is the first, because everywhere you want to take a break is cold and muddy. You should definitely plan to take a good long break at the Middle Route trail where it is sunny, warm, and dry.
I plan to do this hike again with my wife in a few years. I had high expectations, and they were easily exceeded!