Explore Arizona's Paria Canyon
DURATION: 45 days
THE PLAN: Canyoneering does not have to equal rappelling in wetsuits. The Paria River Canyon, a tributary of the Colorado River, is almost entirely flat, meaning you can focus on its brilliantly colored, two-hundred-foot-plus walls, hanging fern and orchid gardens, and finding the next beautiful, cottonwood-shaded campsite. Plan for at least four days to cover the 50 miles, which leaves time to peek into dozens of side canyonsespecially Wrather Canyon and Slide Rock Arch, which is just upstream of Paria's entrance through Buckskin Gulch. There are other ways in, but none is as spectacular as Buckskin: This 16-mile slot canyon averages 15 to 40 feet wide and has more than enough tight squeezes and spooky light to live up to its reputation as one of the Southwest's most impressive geological wonders. Start by 7 A.M., pay close attention to the weather (flash floods, especially common in the fall, can be deadly), and pack your trekking poles (to depth-gauge the muck) and a reliable backup filter for the gritty water. Start (and end) with lots of liquids: There are numerous springs in the heart of the canyon, but both Buckskin and the last 12 miles of Paria hold only runoff.
ESSENTIALS: Only 20 people per day can enter Paria, so apply four months ahead of time for a BLM permit (blm.gov/az), and get a copy of Hiking and Exploring the Paria River ($12; kelseyguidebooks.com). Our advice: Start at Wire Pass trailhead, finish at Lees Ferry, and hire End of the Trail Shuttles (928-355-2252).
PREREQUISITES: Moderate hiking and camping experience.
WHEN TO GO: April or May, when the springs are still running, the weather is still cool, and the cacti are blooming.