Paria Movie Set to Buckskin Gulch
Overview: This hike begins at the Paria Movie Set, where five plank buildings have provided the backdrop for films such as The Outlaw Josie Wales, as well as episodes of the 1960s TV show Gunsmoke.
Start: Paria Movie Set
Distance: 8.4 miles round-trip
Approximate hiking time: 5 to 6 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous Class 2 and 3 scrambling while ascending the Vermilion Cliffs
Trail surface: Wash route and cross-country scramble; good routefinding skills required
Trailhead access: Impassable when road is wet; 2WD access only when road is dry
Best seasons: April through May; September through October
Canine compatibility: Dogs permitted (not recommended due to Class 2 and 3 scrambling section)
Water availability: None available; bring your own
Hazards: Flash-flood danger; exposure to steep drop-offs; inexperienced hikers risk becoming disoriented or lost
Topo maps: Fivemile Valley and Calico Peak USGS quads; BLM Kanab
Finding the trailhead: Follow US 89 to a northeast-bound dirt road prominently signed Historical Marker and Paria Movie Set–5. Find this turnoff 37.2 miles east of Kanab, Utah, and 0.2 mile east of milepost 31, or 39.3 miles northwest of Page, Arizona, and 0.8 mile west of milepost 30.
Immediately north of the highway is a large parking area and historical marker that offers a brief history of the settlement of the Pahreah townsite, now a ghost town with few signs of habitation remaining.
Drive northeast over the cattle guard and onto the good graded road, which is not recommended for RVs or trailers. The road is graveled in places and invariably has a washboard surface. Do not attempt to drive this road when it’s wet, at which time its slippery clay surface can become dangerous if not impassable.
Enter Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument after 0.9 mile, and as you continue Starlight Arch becomes visible on the northern skyline, and you can begin to visualize a route through the Vermilion Cliffs to the arch.
One of the greatest exposures on the Colorado Plateau of the colorful Chinle Formation comes into view as the road begins a steady descent toward the badlands surrounding the movie set. After 4.7 miles, as you enter the movie set, avoid an often-washed out road that branches left and descends to a wash crossing. Continue straight ahead among the plank buildings of the movie set for another 0.1 mile to the center of “town,” where you meet a westbound road that leads into a side canyon.
Barring severe flood damage, cars can usually make the drive to the movie set. Unless you are driving a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, park in one of several spots about 0.1 mile down the spur road west of the movie set. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers ask that hikers avoid parking at the movie set, since parked cars ruin the mood for other visitors. The extent of flood damage will determine how far west of the movie set 4WD vehicles can proceed. West of the movie set, the road crosses the wash four times in 0.7 mile to the first north-trending arroyo, where the road is often washed out.
There is a small, no-fee walk-in campground adjacent to the movie set that has tables, fire grills, and pit toilets, but no water.
This is a demanding day hike for experienced hikers only, as it involves an ascent of the Vermilion Cliffs to Starlight Arch. The route begins on a usually washed-out dirt road, then follows a narrow, sinuous drainage to the foot of the Vermilion Cliffs. From there the hike ascends steep talus slopes, surmounting the cliffs on the rim of a wooded mesa, which is followed to the foot of the skyline arch.
The aperture of Starlight Arch is visible from US 89 and briefly en route to the movie set as a pinpoint of light near the top of a cluster of Navajo Sandstone domes atop the Vermilion Cliffs. It seems a faraway, nigh unreachable goal, and those who complete this demanding hike gain a well-earned sense of accomplishment. Only hikers with determination, experience, and good routefinding skills should attempt this trip.