Trail Report: Hiking Paria Canyon to Buckskin Gulch and Beyond

paria canyon hiking adventure and paria windows.
Paria Windows are just one fascinating find on the hike from Paria Canyon to the Buckskin Confluence
Hiking from the White House trailhead near the Paria ranger station all the way to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch is a wonderful adventure.  This is a very easy, level hike.  There is virtually no change in elevation at all.  The challenge to this hike is its length.  From the White House trailhead to buckskin Gulch is 7 miles . . .  one way.  To hike further up Buckskin Gulch adds more time to your hike. I ended up hiking 2.5 miles into Buckskin Gulch making my one-way total mileage of 9.5 miles.  My return trip increased the total up to 19 miles in one day.   I want to describe my experience so that others can benefit from it as they plan to explore this amazing slot canyon.

I started hiking at 5:30 AM.  It was very dark and I used headlamp for about one hour.  I wanted to be deep into the Paria Canyon by sunrise that I could shoot some of these amazing structures without having bright direct sunlight on them.  The first amazing thing that you come across are the Paria Windows.  These are 2 miles into the hike.  I actually photographed these on the way out of the canyon as the sun was setting.  These are the first things and the most accessible of Paria.

after hiking 2 miles, you reach paria windows
Paria Windows are found 2 miles into the hike
I hoped to reach Slide Rock Arch at dawn.  This structure below made me stop for some photos and I was tricked into thinking it might be Slide Rock arch.  I took several photos (probably too many) before hiking on.
paria canyon hiking to buckskin gulch
This interesting rock is about 5 miles in Paria Canyon
Between the above formation and Slide Rock Arch there are several fascinating formations in the canyon.  The most interesting are numerous small windows in the sandstone.  These are on both sides of the canyon anywhere from 2 feet up to 10 feet above the ground.
paria canyon hiking trail
Smaller windows are found just before Slide Rock Arch
The screaming ghost caught my attention.
paria canyon ghostly face in sandstone rock
Screaming Ghost was found in this section.

Only a few feet from the screaming ghost, Slide Rock arch is found.  Slide Rock arch is just under 7 miles from the trailhead.  This is an incredible formation.  The size, weight and the beautiful canyons surrounding it make it a destination for photographers.  I stopped here on my way in and on my way out to take photographs.  The light is different at each time of the day and both times yielded wonderful photographs.
hiking paria canyon to slide rock arch
Slide Rock Arch is nearly 7 miles into the hike
Between the arch and the confluence with buckskin gulch, more water and mud are present.  The farther downstream you go in this wash, the more water accumulates.  This is where I had to walk through quite a bit of mud and water.  It is very easy but a little bit slippery.
Near paria and buckskin confluence hiking
Near the Confluence with Buckskin Gulch, mud and water abound
The confluence with buckskin gulch is interesting but not necessarily photogenic.  I did not stop to take a picture there.  Instead I started hiking up buckskin gulch.  After about half a mile, the narrow canyon opens up to a beautiful red-cliff paradise.  Trees and boulders are everywhere.  Wonderful reflected light enchants anyone who can reach this paradise.
buckskin gulch hiking trail from paria canyon
Great boulder and trees in lower Buckskin gulch
trail to buckskin gulch amazing adventure
Golden Wall and Green Trees in Buckskin Gulch
Traveling further upstream, buckskin gulch becomes very dark, deep and cold.  Light will reflect off the canyon walls differently throughout the day.  There are lots of photo opportunities.  This is also where the mind seems to dry up and curl into small scrolls.  This is a fun place to take pictures of the mud and the canyon walls together.  This area is between 8 and 9 miles from the start of the trip.
deep dark buckskin gulch narrows
Deepest and darkest sections of Buckskin Gulch
Mud rolled up like a scroll in Buckskin Gulch hike
Scrolled up mud and sand are abundant here
hiking buckskin gulch adventure
Pillars with Eyes
rolled up mud like a curled scroll
Mud Macro from Buckskin Gulch
At approximately 9.5 miles from the trailhead, 2.5 miles upstream from the confluence of Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, you come across an enormous vertical stone impaled into the ground.  When I saw it I immediately thought of a name for it:  Thor's Dagger.  At Thor's dagger I went a little further.  The canyon narrowed and got dark again.  I decided that it was time to turn around.  The time was 2 PM.  I'd been hiking and photographing for 8.5 hours already.  I knew I'd photograph several spots on my way back out as the light had changed.  To have time for that, I needed to turn around.

 Although I started at 5:30 AM in darkness, I did not get back to my car until about 8:30 PM.  It was getting dark again about that time.  This was a very long but extremely rewarding day for hiking, exploring, adventure and photography.
Thor's Dagger in Buckskin Gulch
Thor's Dagger is 2 miles upstream from the Confluence
Be sure to take plenty of water.  I had 3 L of water but I ran out with about 5 miles to hike.  Fortunately I had some fruit and other things with moisture to keep me going.

Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★★★ Moderate
Trail Condition:                   ★★★ Moderate flat
Trail Hazards:                      ★★ Mild:  mud and smaller rocks
Trailhead:                              White House campground
Time Required:                     1 - 16 hours
Distance round trip:              1 - 18 miles, at least 10 to reach the good stuff
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★★★★ Yes, 5 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★★★★ Spectacular, 5 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★★★★ Amazing, 5 Stars

Paria Windows

Paria Windows with cracked mud Grand staircase
Paria Windows:  Cracked Windows of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Several beautiful sections of Paria Canyon give different photographic rewards.  The easiest one to reach is the Paria Windows.  These formations are scooped out from the cliff.  Wind and water erode them.  They are bleached white by the floodwaters which occasionally traveled down.  Higher up, the deep red canyon walls give a wonderful colorful contrast to the whitewashed windows below.

If it hasn't rained recently, deep cracks in the mud are usually present in front of the windows.  When I visited, it had one week earlier.  Much of the water was dried up but not very many people had visited this area since the last rain.  Consequently there were no footprints and these cracked mud surfaces were undisturbed.

Curiously while I was there, water did start to flow down.  It did not reach the windows photographed above.  It did reach some of the windows farther down the canyon.  A photograph of them is below.
flash flood Paria Canyon water reflection at the windows
Paria Canyon windows and flood water

Slide Rock Arch: Photography in Paria Canyon

Slide rock arch paria hiking utah
Slide Rock Arch in Paria Canyon:  Massive and Beautiful
Slide rock arch is a spectacular destination deep inside Paria Canyon.  It is neither easy to reach nor easy to photograph.  The massive size as well as the restrictions of a slot canyon present challenges.  The mixed lighting (some direct, some reflected, some indirect) is also a challenge.  

To deal with the lighting difficulties that often arise at mid day, I hiked very early so that I would reach this before light was shining directly into the canyon.  To deal with the massive size, I also used my tilt shift 17 mm lens.  Taking several different shots, I was able to stitch them together to create the photograph above.  This is what the eye can see.  This is what is too wide for a standard camera to include.  

Several other views of slide rock arch are included here so that you can get a good idea of what this special place is really like.

Slide rock arch utah paria grand staircase
Slide Rock Arch photographed from a small sandy hill in Paria Canyon
utah arch slide rock paria
Triangles in Nature:  Slide Rock arch and Reflection of Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon heavy boulder arch Utah
Huge, heavy boulder creating Slide Rock Arch.  

Deep in Buckskin Gulch

buckskin gulch hiking through deep narrow canyon
Curve and Glow:  Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin gulch is famous for the deep and extremely long narrows.  I think it is possible the hike  through these narrows without ever having the sunlight directly strike you.  These narrows are so deep.  The light which you see is primarily reflected off the canyon walls much higher up.  This creates a beautiful blowing color on the walls.  As a landscape photographer, this type of life is so unique and wonderful to me.  There are a few examples of that light and what it can do in a beautiful canyon.
hiking through buckskin gulch amazing.
Sculpted wall of Buckskin Gulch
buckskin gulch deep and narrow canyon
Deep Glowing Wall far into Buckskin Gulch
buckskin gulch sandstone narrows
High canyon wall and light reflected everywhere
in Buckskin Gulch

Paria Canyon Narrows: Glowing Light and Mud

paria canyon narrows grand staircase escalante
Paria Narrows:  hiking through mud and glowing light.
One of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the Paria canyon and Buckskin canyon combination.  This hike begins at the White House trail head, heading south down the Paria canyon.  Initially it is very wide and unremarkable.  After about 5 miles it becomes more narrow, wet and fascinating.  In this narrow section, lites seems to come around each corner, illuminating canyon walls beautifully and artistically.  In the shot above, I had to wade through that slippery pool of mud in the center of the picture.  Then I turned around and composed this photograph.  I was careful not to overexpose because this is a fairly dark environment.  I did not want to "blow" the highlights in the brightest sections.

Of course I used my tripod because of the relative dark.  A long shutter speed was required.