Zion National Park is part of a tremendous high desert ecosystem, a staircase of graduated red rock monoliths, mountains, and formations called the Colorado Plateau.
Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon National Park are part of the same geologic formation, as is the most underrated and rarely visited Paria-Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area.
The deep sandstone trenches, vast horizon views, and towering vertical walls of this region sit primarily outside of Page, AZ and not far from the Grand Canyon’s forested North Rim at 8,200 feet above sea level.
The region is tread upon by a fraction of the hikers and backpackers that its larger, more advertised siblings along the plateau experience. Thousands of tourists speed by it daily on the way to more well-known desert destinations, oblivious to the incomparable, arid allure that rests within its borders.
The Paria Canyon region is home to the world’s longest and deepest slot canyon, which winds along the Arizona and Utah border providing an ever-changing platform for the Paria River to feed the Colorado. The stunning, serpentine roofless tunnel of beige bends and red shadows is a life-lister, a hike that pictures barely adequately capture.
Backpacking Paria Canyon offers days of opportunities to experience true wild desert. From quiet nights under arching amphitheaters to the profile of soaring California condors, campers fill journals with stories friends back home will think we’re lifted from a Wallace Stegner tome.
One of the best things about backpacking Paria Canyon is that it’s a relatively non-strenuous jaunt (it can be long depending on route, but it’s not steep or technical) and offers plenty of water and ways to stay comfortable while avoiding the type of heat that often stifles hikers in this neck of the desert.
Backpackers can explore the remote and lengthy Buckskin Gulch, kick-back on warm slabs of Navajo sandstone, and sleep soundly on sandy benches under brightly perforated night skies.
In short, there is almost no better way to get away from the people, places, and things that so often drive our search for solitude. When you really want to get away, you come here.
Yes: Zion is a world-class place to hike and camp. However, it’s not the only destination with such a high level of global appeal. Its adjacent lands have as much to offer and as many trails to explore, and it’s virtually impossible to pick a winner. Come visit Zion, but don’t miss its neighbors.
The Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area is an easy drive from St. George, UT, Zion, or Kanab, UT, and backpacking trips and camping options are plentiful.