The Upper Paria doesn’t get as much attention as the Lower Paria a little farther south. The Upper Paria (rhymes w/ “Maria”) is located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and is a braided river in a much more wide-open canyon than its lower counterpart which is famous for its narrows. The Upper Paria’s amazing geography, historical/cultural sites, and interesting side canyons make it worthy of a visit. Hayduke hikers travel this stretch as they head to/from Bryce Canyon, thus this entry is in my Hayduke Trail Reference.
Access to the lower end of the Upper Paria is via the Cottonwood Road or the Paria Spur Road (aka Movie Set Road). The upper end is most frequently accessed via Willis Creek along the Skutumpah Road, but it’s also possible to access the Paria directly near the town of Cannonville. Many loop hike possibilities exist depending on how long you’d like to spend and which sights are the priorities to see. Write to me if you’d like suggestions.
Here’s a description of the route starting at the southern end near Cottonwood Road and traveling up the river:
Just south of the extremely cool Yellow Rock, the Paria River cuts though the Cockscomb formation. This somewhat narrow canyon is known as “The Box”. Walk up the river and through the narrow corridor — don’t bother trying to keep your feet dry as they will get wet sooner or later.
In less than 2 miles the canyon walls pull back and reveal incredibly colorful and stripped hills on all sides. These hills are truly amazing and the product of of the Chinle formation of geology.
On the right side (east) of the river are the old ruins of the Pahreah Townsite. This was a failed farming/mining community that was established around 1870. It never got that large and was completely abandoned within about 40 years. Technically the ruins still seen today were part of the Spencer Mining Camp and not part of the original farming community which was on the other side of the river.
On the left (west side of river) is where the Paria Spur Road (aka Movie Set Road) ends. This used to be the location of a movie set used in several Hollywood westerns back in the day. The original sets are long gone and unfortunately even the re-creations which came later are now gone as well (one due to a flood and a later one due to fire. Orig photos in gallery at bottom of page.) The old townsite cemetery can still be seen on this side of the river though.
As you continue north along the river, make sure to watch your step. The clay sediment makes for an extremely slick surface when wet. It really can take one by surprise if not careful. Also, there are a bunch of cows along this stretch. Their stench can be fairly repugnant at times. One may also see people driving up the river in 4x4s or ATVs along this stretch (and even the length of the canyon.) This seems to be discouraged, but not strictly forbidden (or at least enforced) by the GSENM*. If not for the amazing striped hills and interesting history, this lower end of the Upper Paria would not be a fun place to hike.
*NOTE: the Paria River corridor was part of the area removed from GSENM in 2017 by the Trump Administration at the request of local politicians. The cliffs and surrounding area was kept as part of the monument, but the somewhat sneaky move to remove the corridor indicated what some locals would like to see happen (ie open the corridor to more motorized travel and/or build a road there.) The monument was later re-instated in 2021 to its original boundaries including the river corridor.
About 4 miles up from the townsite, the striped hills begin to fade and the red vertical walls close in and Kitchen Canyon enters from the west. There are some petroglyphs near the mouth of this canyon on the northern side. Not too far up this canyon one can see Kitchen Canyon Falls and the Starlight Canyon Narrows. Farther up Starlight are some great cave pictographs. Read more detail in the Hike Guide for that area.
Continuing up canyon and just around the bend, Hogeye Canyon enters from the east. Good water usually runs in the lower end of this canyon. A short side hike will take one to the cascades and then to a rockfall. It’s possible to get all the way up this canyon into a cool area of slickrock. It’s even possible to connect to Stone Donkey Canyon (bypass slot) and Hackberry Canyon.
The next several miles up the Paria is a fairly quick walk along the red-walled canyon. Cows are still present, but not as common it seems.
Farther up, Snake Canyon enters from the east. A short hike up this side canyon and one gets blocked by an 15′ obstacle where water trickles over a drop. I found it impossible to get past this solo, but adventurous groups could possibly make the tricky climb and then continue exploring toward the cool slickrock domes in upper Snake.
In another mile or so up, Deer Creek enters on the left. This is a really nice canyon with petroglyphs covering the northern wall at its mouth. Just a few hundred yards up the canyon on the same wall are some good pictographs and cowboyglyphs. Deer Creek will have good water flowing in its lower end. A short hike up the canyon will take one to another good panel of pictographs and then a narrows section and dryfall which marks the end of the Deer Canyon technical route.
Continuing up the Paria the next few bends change character a bit as the vertical red walls give way to a string of large alcoves. Look closely and you will spot a few arches up in the alcoves.
Farther up on the left, hidden behind some trees, is one of the best water sources in the area — Crack or Pipe Spring (yes, some like myself call it Crack Pipe Spring.) A pipe sticks into a crack in the wall and good water flows out. Cowyboyglyphs on the wall nearby seem to indicate this has been a popular waterhole for quite some time.
Less than another mile up the river one comes to Lone Rock — a cool toadstool right beside the river. Evidently it used to be a mile-marker of sorts for cowboys and thus it too has cowboyglyphs at its base.
Turn around and on the same side of the river one can spot an arch high on the cliffs to the south. This arch seems to be unofficially known as Paria Arch. You may need to walk back down river a bit for the best look. On the opposite side of the river a smaller arch is tucked against the wall behind some brush.
If you are looking for a diversion, on the eastern bank behind Lone Rock it’s possible to climb up and get atop the cliffs. From there it’s a short hike to the SE to see an amazing Balanced Rock and/or to the NE to visit Red Slot — a cool short slot canyon which is red (bet you would have never guessed that!) Keep your map handy to visit these cross-country and not-heavily-frequented spots (more info in the Balanced Rock and Red Slot Hike Guide).
A little farther north Asay Canyon enters from the west and its mouth is mostly obscured by cottonwoods. A short diversion here will lead one into a short sculpted slot canyon which ends in a tight crack. It possible to hike up and around the lower slot and access another set of narrows a mile+ up the canyon. See more detail and photos in the Asay Canyon Hike Guide post.
Just north of Asay Slot is where the white upper layer of slickrock becomes visible on the cliffs. The distinct color shift from red-to-white makes for an interesting sight.
A little farther up a red and white rock peninsula marks the confluence of Sheep Creek and the Paria. On the left (west) is Sheep Creek and it is the direction to go to access Skutumpah Road either via Bull Valley Gorge or Willis Creek. Water flows in the bottom end of Sheep Creek, but it will likely disappear soon as the wash cuts through the towering White Cliffs. Bull Valley Gorge enters from the left in a few miles and a hike up this canyon is an adventure. BVG forms an incredible slot canyon before reaching the road and it makes for a tough hike at times with mud/water and several small scrambles. The route up Willis Creek also contains a nice set of narrows and is much easier to get through. See more detail and photos in the Willis Creek Narrows Hike Guide.
If not going up Sheep Creek, stay right and continue to follow the Paria to get up near Cannonville. From this area it is possible to make a big loop around Rock Springs Point and east to Hackberry Canyon to hike back to the lower end of Upper Paria. See the Hackberry Canyon Hike Guide for options.
2006 Grand Staircase-Escalante Hike (Willis Creek to Cottonwood Road)
2009 NV to CO Hike (Deer Creek to Hogeye Canyon)
2012 Bryce to Moab* Hike (Willis Creek to Hogeye Canyon)
2015 Zion to Capitol Reef Hike (Starlight Canyon to Cottonwood Road)
2018 Zion to Arches ep05: The Upper Paria (full episode on the area)
Hey Jamal! I have hiked the route of either Bull Valley Gorge or Willis Creek all the way to Paria townsite several times. I am planning to go this summer and want to try and find as many petroglyphs as possible. Do you have any coordinates of petroglyphs you can share through email?
My maps note the general areas and usually a trained eye can find them when that close. But, feel free to email me if you’d like a bit more help with any in particular.
Thanks for the info! I’m looking at just getting out for a 2 nights on Dec 5 & 6. Does Hackberry to Pollock to Hogeye to Paria and then back over to Hackberry sound doable in winter? Here’s the Caltopo route
Yeah — I think that would make for a good loop. With short days of December you’ll prob appreciate taking three days in stead of rushing through with just one night out. Personally… I think a better loop would be to skip Pollock and go up to Stone Donkey. But — either route would be good. I would shy away from either if it snows beforehand though.
Jamal – How many days do you think we would want to comfortably hike and explore the side canyons if we had a shuttle up to Willis Creek and hiked all the way to the Paria Movie Set?
It really depends on how many diversions one does along the way. Minimum walking distance is about 25 miles and one could easily add another 10 miles of diversions. I’d say this would be fairly enjoyable as a 3 day hike. Two days could be pushing it and 4 days may seem too slow. But, like most things… it all depends on your preferences!
Beautiful pictures! Any recommendations for a two night backpacking trip (~20 miles, loop preferred, but not essential)? We’ll be going in late December and are trying to maximize the views while minimizing wet feet.
Sorry — missed your comment earlier. Did you go and enjoy it? Definitely some loop possibilities via Hogeye/Stone Donkey and Hackberry. There’s a way around upper Snake Canyon too for more of an adventure.
Yep, we just got back and had a great time. Went down Sheep Creek and then up the Paria- really enjoyed Sheep Creek.
Looks like you made it to the Pariah movie site before 2012, by then the vandals had torched any buildings. The butte seen in the background is recognizable in the battle scene with the Indians seen early in the 1944 film Buffalo Bill- Joel McRae.
Yep — I was lucky enough to see the original re-creations and then the later re-created re-creations. I think those burnt down in 2006. Thanks for the info about Buffalo Bill.
It only took one video and I found you loved southern Utah as much as I do. Watched all of them and was very impressed with the quality and beauty of the videos. The walking back and forth to set up a shot must add miles onto any hike. Great job.
Just had to let you know that I have been looking for the old movie set location for some time now. Was reading your latest post and you found it for me. Marked the spot on google for the next trip to Utah. I was close a couple times when I went down the Cottonwood Canyon Rd. Thanks for taking us with you on your adventures.
Thanks, Kim! Unfortunately the movie set is no longer there. 🙁 The originals are long gone, but even a re-creation was hit but a flood and then a re-build was destroyed by a fire in 2006.
your third photo shows Spencer’s Mining Camp, not the ruins of Old Paria Townsite. When I was there some years ago I could find just the remain of one old cellar. But I do agree that the Upper Paria River Drainage is great for dayhiking and backpacking. Have you ever considered the traverse to Hackberry canyon?
I thought the mining settlement grew out of the original Pahreah Townsite at that location (later renamed to Paria and not to be confused with the original settlement area several miles down river and definitely not to be confused with the movie sets!) I’ll dig through some books to check.
I’ve used Hogeye to connect with Hackberry via Sam Pollock Arch canyon as well as Stone Donkey, but haven’t done the route south of Yellow Rock.
Thanks for the comment.