Located on the border of Utah and Arizona, the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness protects 112,000 acres of land. This wilderness area contains several great day hikes, as well as offering the opportunity to backpack and stay overnight in Paria Canyon. Depending on whether you also hike Buckskin Gulch and which trailhead you start at, a backpacking trip through Paria Canyon can be anywhere from 38 to 47miles.
Whether you day hike or take on the entire canyon, this is a very scenic area. Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest slot canyons in the world, With wavy, narrow sandstone walls that can stretch for hundreds of feet above the wash and sometimes be only a few feet apart, hiking through Buckskin Gulch is an otherwordly experience. Paria Canyon also has a “narrows” section but opens up wider and wider as the river heads south towards Lee’s Ferry. On our trip, we hiked from Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry for a total of 44.2 miles (per the map provided by the BLM office).
Currently (as of May 2021), dogs are permitted throughout this hike. Dogs must be kept under control. And all dog waste needs to be packed out (just like human waste does). The last 2 miles of the hike pass from BLM land to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (which is managed by the National Park Service). Dogs need to be leashed while in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
If you plan on making an overnight trip, your dog does need to be included on your permit. Dogs do not count towards the 20 people in the canyon overnight limit, but they do cost $5 to be included on the permit.
We saw a few dogs near the Wire Pass Trailhead and the beginning of Buckskin Gulch, but once we were about 5 miles in we just saw a few paw prints in the mud. That being said, we only encountered one group of human hikers after this point also. This canyon offers a fantastic isolated hiking experience.
Practicalities of Hiking with Dog in Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon
As many of us who hike with dogs know, just because dogs can hike somewhere doesn’t always mean they should hike there. My dogs (Glia and Sasha) did not join me for this hike for two main reasons: 1) I flew to Utah and am not very comfortable flying the dogs. 2) The second half of this planned trip included backpacking in a Bryce Canyon National Park and dogs are not allowed on those trails.
Overall, I do think this is a hike that is fairly dog-friendly. The benefits of bringing your dog along on outdoor adventures are pretty obvious. So let’s break down some of the concerns/extra considerations for bringing your dog along on either a day hike or overnight in Paria Canyon +/- Buckskin Gulch.
Water levels and quality in Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon can vary wildly throughout the year. In early spring and fall, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommends expecting to hike through ankle to knee deep water, and even occasionally wading or swimming through frigid pools in Buckskin Gulch. Over the summer, the Paria River is often dry for the first seven miles. And for several weeks after a flood*, there can be quicksand and mud that can make hiking more difficult.
*Flash floods may occur any time of year, but are most common in July and August. Make sure to check-in at the Visitors Center prior to hiking out to check weather conditions. And DO NOT enter slot canyons during stormy or wet weather.
If you plan on bringing your dog, make sure your dog is okay with hiking in wet conditions. We were lucky when we hiked in May 2021. Buckskin Gulch was completely dry and the Paria River, while flowing from the confluence on, was never more than knee-deep. These would have been easy conditions for my 40lb dog, Glia, to handle. But if the water levels had been higher, she may not have enjoyed the hike as much.
The other consideration regarding all of these water level fluctuations is that they can result in silty river water that can easily clog filters. And all water (even from the springs) should be filtered in this area. If the water is too silty to filter, you can treat with iodine or chlorine dioxide tablets. But then you will still have the sediment in your drinking water. Many hikers avoid getting water from the river and plan to exclusively get water at the springs.
On my recent trip through Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, I brought my Sawyer Mini Filter and Chlorine Dioxide tablets. We were lucky in that the water from Paria River was pretty clear and was very easy to treat with the tablets as long as we collected the water in advance and had time for it to sit for 4 hours before drinking. (I did need to use a swiss army knife to open the packets of the Chlorine Dioxide tablets, so make sure you bring something sharp to puncture the packaging. And of course, pack all trash out of the canyon.)
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- The Sawyer Mini Filter is available on Amazon or at REI
- Chlorine Dioxide Tablets are also available on Amazon or at REI
However, if the water is too silty to be drinkable until the first spring, even with your filters you will need to hike over 12 miles before you can refill on water. The first spring you can reliably count on is Big Spring, which is over 12 miles from the White House Trailhead (and further from the Buckskin Gulch or Wire Pass Trailheads).
This means that you have to carry enough water for both yourself and your dog to keep you both well-hydrated until you get to Big Spring. You can see the springs marked on the map above. This map is provided by the permit station Since we started from the Wire Pass Trailhead, we did not encounter Big Springs until our second day of hiking. I brought 7 liters of water for myself and my hiking partner brought 6 liters. We were lucky that the low flowing Paria river ended up being relatively clear and we were able to refill water from the river at our first campsite.
However, if I had brought Glia with, I would have needed significantly more water. A quick google search indicates that dogs consume anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 ounces of water per day per pound of bodyweight, which obviously ranges based on activity level, heat, etc. For Glia this would mean 20 to 60 oz of water, which I translate to roughly 1-2 liters of water a day.
So my 7 liters + 2 liters for Glia and I would have need 9+ liters of water in my pack! Yikes! That would be almost 20 pounds of water. Glia could potentially carry part of her own water, but as she is only 40 lbs and I limit her to carrying 10-15% of her body weight, she only carries 4-6 pounds. So if she carried her own water, I would then be carrying her food, sleeping pad, and other gear.
If you are just beginning to backpack with your dog and are curious how I pack the gear that Glia needs, check out our blog post “Backpacking with Dogs: what to pack and who carries it” or check out our YouTube video on the topic.
Cactus and Snakes
Another consideration is the terrain. You may be used to hiking in the desert or similar ecosystems, but for those coming from different areas (like me coming from the Midwest) the desert can present unique concerns. The two biggest dog hazards that I noticed on this trail were cactus and snakes.
Dogs don’t always pay a lot of attention to the type of plants they are running around, through, and into. Cactus spines can become embedded in dogs’ skin and paw pads. As a veterinarian in Minnesota, I don’t have much knowledge about treating dogs with embedded cactus spines, so I found this helpful article posted on Sabino Veterinary Care’s website.
They noted that the quills of several cactus species have small overlapping scales that function as barbs. This makes them operate like a porcupine quill, in that it is easier to push them in to skin than it is to pull them out. So if you are bringing your dog along on a desert hike be prepared with a tweezers or some other object to help you safely remove spines from your dog.
The second desert hazard that I noted along this trail were snakes. Rattlesnakes live in this area, although the two snakes we encountered did not appear to be rattlesnakes. Many dogs will try to chase or otherwise bother snakes (and the many lizards along the trail for that matter) putting themselves at risk for a snake bite.
If you hike with your dog in this area, either keep them on a leash or make sure you have a reliable enough recall that you can call them away from a menacing reptile.
During this trip, I startled one snake that slithered almost right over my feet as he left the area. The other snake startled us as we took our tent down for the day and discovered that he had taken advantage of the warm air trapped under our tent footprint, cozying down to nestle in the space between the heads of our sleeping pads as we slept overnight.
So be aware of your surroundings and ensure that your dog has good recall on this hike. A rattlesnake bite could be devastating if it occurs 20 miles from a road and cell-service. For more information on what to do if your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, check out information from the Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center or this good overview from Gallant.com.
Temperatures in southern Utah and northern Arizona can be hot. If your dog is not acclimated to the hot temperatures, it is especially important to consider just how warm the weather will be during your planned hike into the canyon. The river does offer some nice opportunities to cool off, but dogs can overheat easily.
Make sure you can recognize the signs of over heating in dogs and know what to do if your dog shows any warning signs of heatstroke. Want to learn more about preventing heatstroke in dogs? Head over to my post “Preventing Heatstroke and Keeping Your Dog Cool While Hiking.”
Packing Out Waste
Another consideration when bringing your dog along on this hike is that you must pack out ALL waste – and that includes both human and dog poop. Unlike some hikes where you can bury your dog’s feces 6-8″ deep, in Paria you will need to have a plan to pack everything out.
Humans are provided with 1-2 WAG bags per person with the permit. We also packed a couple extra WAG bags along which weren’t quite as nice as the ones from the permit station, but we were happy to have them.
This is the kind that was provided by the permit station.
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You don’t need to use a wag bag for each of your dogs bowel movements, but I would highly recommend having a sealed container to help block the smell. You can find a list of options for dealing with carrying dog poop in my post “7 Creative Ways to Deal with Your Dog’s Poop While Hiking.” Not all of these options are backpacking friendly, but they can help you start brainstorming how you want to deal with your dog’s fecal material on the trail.
There are just a few trail obstacles to note when considering if this trip is right for your dog.
The most serious obstacle is the Rockfall near the end of Buckskin Gulch (shortly before its confluence with the Paria River). Below you can read some descriptions of the Rockfall/jam.
This rock jam is Buckskin Gulch’s most serious obstacle, and most people will need a rope to get safely around it. The standard route requires that you climb about 15 feet down the smooth face of one of the boulders. Previous hikers have chipped footholds into the soft sandstone, but unless you are very agile you will still need a rope to make a safe descent. Hikers often leave their ropes tied to the top of the pitch and you might be lucky enough to find a good one already in place. But BLM rangers regularly cut away any ropes that appear to be unsafe, so you had best have one of your own. Conditions change from year to year and, depending on what happened during the last canyon flood, you might find another easier route down the rock jam. But don’t count on it.http://www.utahtrails.com/Backcountry%20pages/Buckskin.html
This is a pile of huge rocks that have become wedged in a tight canyon constriction. This rock jam is Buckskin Gulch’s most serious obstacle.
Sometimes there is a very easy route that allows you to crawl under the rock jam. This opening is often referred to as the rabbit hole. Sometimes the opening is clogged with debris and sand. If the rabbit hole is open you are in luck, if not, your only option is to climb over the top of the rock jam. To do this most people will need a 40-foot rope to use as a handline and to lower packs. Rock climbers, technical canyoneers and experienced hikers should have no difficulty with this obstacle.https://climb-utah.com/Escalante/buckskin.htm
And this YouTube video shows the Moki Steps that are one option for getting over/through the Rockfall.
During our trip, there was a rope behind the boulder that you see next to the Moki Steps in the video above. We were able to use this rope to help lower ourselves down without our packs. We passed the packs down using a trekking pole to help lower the packs to each other.
Having your dog wear a harness with a good handle (like Ruffwear’s Flagline Harness) may be helpful in assisting your dog through the Rockfall.
There were a few other small boulder obstacles and areas to crawl through, but if you think you and your dog can conquer the Rockfall, then you should be good to go.
Pictures of the Trail
Day 1 in Buckskin Gulch. The canyon is narrow with tall walls through Buckskin Gulch.
Day 2 from the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon to the campsite before Wrather Canyon. As we hiked the canyon began to slowly widen.
Day 3 in Paria Canyon. The canyon continue to widen and we ended up on a couple of trails above the river bed.
Day 4 the last few miles of Paria Canyon to Lee’s Ferry. It really felt like desert terrain here with hot sun, sand, snakes, and cactus. Oh and lots of cute lizards.
If you think your dog is up for it, this was an amazing hiking experience and I would highly recommend it. If you have questions about the hike, feel free to leave questions in the comments below.