The Paria townsite is worth a visit for its interesting history and beautiful red-rock scenery.
This site is home to an old town settlement (called Pahreah). It was most active throughout the 1870s. Regular flash flooding eventually drove the residents away.
A movie set was built in the area in the 1960s, known mostly for Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Joey Wales and episodes of Gunsmoke.
The set was ultimately destroyed by an arsonist in 2006, but the area continues to provide opportunities for photography and supports a substantial human history.
ELEVATION: The elevation of the Paria River at the picnic area is about 4,800ft, whereas the access road averages about 5,000ft.
BEST SEASONS: Spring and Fall have the best weather conditions. In winter, the road is likely to be soggy and impassable because of snowmelt. July and August have the highest risk of flash flooding, but monsoon clouds can provide wonderful light for photography.
Access involves driving on a dirt road, which is okay for passenger vehicles when dry. If the road is wet, do not go to the site. Wet clay can be impassable for all vehicles, even with 4wd.
All vehicles and bicycles must stay on existing roads. Driving off-road is prohibited. This includes ATV’s, OHV’s, motorcycles, bicycles, etc.
FROM KANAB, UT: Drive east on US Highway 89 for about 34 miles. Find the signed turnoff to the left (north), about a fifth of a mile beyond mile marker 31. Continue north on the dirt road for about 5 miles to reach the old townsite.
FROM PAGE, AZ: Drive west on US Highway 89 for about 39 miles. Find the signed turnoff to the right (north), beyond mile marker 30. Continue north on the dirt road for about 5 miles to reach the old townsite.
Paria Townsite registers in Google Maps.
Here’s an area map that shows the Pahreah Town Site. Right-click to enlarge it. The entry road is marked as 585.
There’s a small campground near the site of the movie set. It has fire rings, tables, and a pit toilet. No water is available at this free, informal setting.
White House is the area’s primary campground, and dispersed camping can found along the Cottonwood Canyon Road.
Paria Movie Set to Buckskin Gulch
There seems to be a misconception that the classic hike to Buckskin Gulch is accessed from the Paria Movie Set. This is incorrect, as hikes beginning along the Paria River to Buckskin Gulch are traditionally accessed via the White House trailhead, beyond the Paria Contact Station – a separate location that’s south of Highway 89.
I suppose you technically could do a long hike down the Paria beginning from the townsite, but this would be a much longer and less scenic trip.
Most of the confusion seems to stem from this page. Rather than discussing Buckskin Gulch, it goes on to describe a hike to Starlight Arch. It also incorrectly makes reference to the Vermilion Cliffs, which are located far to the south of this area.
Old Pahreah Ghost Town
Much of the information below is pulled directly from interpretive plaques at the site.
People have used the Paria River Valley for thousands of years. Early hunters and gatherers used the river as a travel corridor, Puebloan groups farmed in the area, and most recently, the Southern Paiute inhabited the region.
European explorers, travelers, and trappers wandered this country, and later, pioneers settled here. The pioneers came to the Paria for the same reasons as Native Americans: a relatively easy travel route, a reliable water source, and fertile land that supported crops and forage for grazing animals.
Human History Timeline
4000 BCE Archaic-style rock art suggests use of the canyon as a travel corridor.
1000 CE Puebloan farmers attempt to farm the canyon bottom.
1500 Southern Paiute hunt and gather in the area
1776 Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante is among the first European explorers to visit Southern Utah.
1865 Peter Shurtz settles Rock House, down stream from the Pahreah town site.
1870 William Meeks establishes Pahreah, in part due to failing water supply at Rock House.
1871 Eli Stout and Priddy Meeks go to Pahreah to help plant grain.
1872 through 1882 Pahreah prospers, growing to 47 families – 130 people, including 20 Paiutes. Log and sandstone houses and a church are built. A small cemetery is established on the river’s west side.
1883 Massive flooding causes most people to abandon Pahreah.
1892 Only eight families remain.
1893 Post office opens under postmistress Emily P. Adair.
1912 Charles H Spencer attempts to mine flour gold from Chinle shale formation south of Pahreah.
1915 Post office closed.
Late 1920s or early 1930s Jame Edward Smith Jr moves to Pahreah with wife Nellie and several of their children, but stay only a few years.
1950s and 1960s Movie and television crews film against backdrop of Pahreah and Kane County scenery. Tourism increases as roads are built.
1962 Paria Move Set constructed for Sergeants 3.
1976 The Outlaw Josey Wales is the last movie filmed at set and town site.
1996 Paria Movie Set, and Pahreah Town Site and Cemetery included in the newly designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
1998 Flash flood erodes movie set main street and threatens buildings.
1999 Movie set measured, drawn, and dismantled.
2000 – 2002 Movie set built in new location.
2001 Descendants of Smiths and Smithsons renovate the Pahreah Cemetary.
2006 The replica movie set was burned by an arsonist, and never replaced.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I explored the old Paria movie set and town site on September 24, 2019. Late-monsoon-season clouds wonderfully lit the landscape. The weather was hot, but not overbearing.
We ended up walking the final mile of the road to the site of the ghost town, where very little remains beyond the graveyard.
the old cemetery