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How to Visit the Paria Rainbow Mountains and Paria Townsite

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Nestled in the heart of Utah’s stunning landscape lies the otherworldly Paria Rainbow Mountains and Ghost Town Site, a hidden gem waiting to be explored.

We’ve visited Paria on each of our many visits to southern Utah, and to this day it remains one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen!

This unique destination offers visitors a chance to witness the vibrant hues of the rainbow-colored mountains, as well as step back in time at the eerie remains of the once-thriving ghost town.

In this article, we will guide you on how to plan your trip to this mesmerizing site and make the most of your time exploring its wonders.

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

Paria Rainbow Mountains At-A-Glance

The Paria Rainbow Mountains are colorful hills of what is called Chinle Formation in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The different minerals create rainbow-striped layers in the landscape, creating a kaliedoscope of vibrant colors! To visit, all you need to do is drive 5 miles down a dirt road off of Highway 89 between Page and Kanab.

  • Location: Between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ off of Highway 89.
  • Hiking Required: No
  • Road Conditions: Dirt road that is washboarded and suitable for any vehicle in dry conditions. Do not attempt the road when it rains, as it becomes a sticky clay mud that essentially will glue your tires into place. It isn’t fun and it’s expensive to get towed out!
  • Vehicle Required: Any vehicle will get you to the Paria Rainbow Mountains and Ghost Town in dry conditions. In wet conditions, the road can be impassable and should not be attempted!
  • Entrance Fee: None
  • Toilets: Yes
  • Pets Allowed: Yes, but please keep them leashed.

How to Visit the Paria Rainbow Mountains and Townsite

Getting There

Despite being right off a major highway that connects Utah and Arizona (Highway 89), most people drive right by the turn off for Paria Townsite without ever even knowing all of the beauty that a short 5 mile dirt road drive will lead them to!

From Kanab, Utah:

To reach Paria Rainbow Mountains and Ghost Town from Kanab, take Highway 89 east for about 34 miles. You’ll see a dirt pull out on your left leading to Paria Movie Road. Take the dirt road 5 miles and you will arrive at Paria Townsite.

From Page, Arizona:

To get to Paria Rainbow Mountains from Page, take Highway 89 west for about 40 miles. On your right you will see a dirt pull out with an interpretative sign at the entrance to a dirt road. Take the dirt road (Paria Movie Road) for 5 miles on a scenic route that winds through the Paria Badlands.

Tip: Simply enter “Paria Townsite – Picnic Area” in Google Maps for directions directly to the parking area for the Paria Rainbow Mountains!

Driving Paria Movie Road

As you drive Paria Movie Road, you’ll be surrounded by an otherworldly landscape of colorful mountains. Along the way to the Picnic Area, you will pass by several pull outs where you can stop to enjoy the majestic views and explore the badlands on foot.

After five miles on Paria Movie Road, you’ll arrive at a parking area.

There is a drop toilet here that is usually stocked with toilet paper, but just in case, we always recommend bringing your own, as well as some hand sanitizer!

What to See and Do at Paria Rainbow Mountains

Simply enjoy the views

The best thing to do at the Paria Rainbow Mountains is to simply take in the stunning views! This is a place to relax, listen to the birdsong, enjoy a picnic, or just look around.

Explore the ghost town remains

If you’d like to see the remains of Paria Townsite, an 1870s Mormon settlement, you’ll have to work for it! The remains are not located where you parked. Instead, you’ll need to cross the Paria River on foot to get to the other side.

Be careful crossing, as the current and water level can vary dramatically (more about flash flooding below under Important Tips!).

Not much is left of the Paria Townsite other than a few building foundations. Most of the town has been washed away over years of flooding and abandonment.

Visit the cemetary

One of the most intriguing things to see in Paria is the Paria Cemetary. The headstones are unnamed, leaving you to wonder about the people and lives who made Paria Canyon their home over 150 years ago.

Explore the movie set location

Paria Canyon was a popular filming location for Western movies like “Buffalo Bill” (1944) and the “Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976). To support the filming, crew built a replica of an Old West town in Paria. Unfortunately, the original set burnt down in a fire in 1999. Although it was rebuilt, an arsonist set fire to the buildings in 2006.

Now, there is nothing to see except the stunning natural backdrop, which Western film buffs will recognize from some of their favorite movies.

Hike into the canyon

There are no marked trails in Paria, but if you are experienced in wayfinding in harsh desert environments, there are many adventures to be had deep within Paria Canyon. If you plan to hike in Paria Canyon, be sure to discuss your plans with a BLM ranger in advance and bring a detailed topographical map like the National Geographic Paria Canyon, Kanab map.

Take pictures

The Paria Rainbow Mountains are most photogenic during blue and golden hours. In other words, the best time to photograph the Chinle Formations you see at Paria Townsite is the time before and after sunrise and sunset.

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Important Tips for Visiting Paria

Paria is located in a remote location in the southwest desert, so while it is easily accessible between two touristy towns, you should not underestimate the power of nature!

Here are some need-to-know tips for respecting and preparing for Paria’s unique environment.

Stay on Paria Movie Road

You will likely see some unauthorized dirt trails created by ATVs or UTVs – do not take those roads. In order to protect the environment, the Bureau of Land Management does not permit off-road vehicular travel at Paria.

Avoid driving Paria Movie Road in wet conditions

This dirt road is washboarded and easily navigable by any vehicle during dry conditions, however, if there has been any recent rain or snow, the road turns into a sticky clay that will make it impassable! Do not attemp to drive Paria Movie Road in wet conditions.

Avoid flash floods in Paria Canyon

Additionally, Paria Movie Road and Paria Canyon as a whole are prone to flash flooding. Always check the weather forecast in advance, and when in doubt, contact the BLM at 435-644-1300 or escalante_interagency@blm.gov to verify your plans are safe!

Do not rely on cell phone service

Lastly, do not expect to have cell phone reception at the Paria Rainbow Mountains. More than likely, you’ll have already lost cell phone service back on Highway 89, so be sure to have directions loaded in your phone in advance, and consider carrying a satellite GPS and communication device like a Garmin InReach to call for emergency help outside of cell phone service range.

History of Paria

Your visit to Paria will be enhanced with a basic understanding of the area’s history. Since this is a ghost town location, this information will help you add meaning to what you see as you explore Paria Townsite!

The Early Inhabitants

Long before European settlers ventured into the region, Paria was home to indigenous peoples, including the Ancestral Puebloans and the Fremont Culture.

These ancient inhabitants left behind a legacy of remarkable cliff dwellings, rock art, and artifacts, providing glimpses into their complex societies and spiritual beliefs.

Exploration and Settlement

In the 19th century, Paria became a hub for exploration and settlement as pioneers sought to carve out a new life in the American West. Mormon settlers established the town of Old Paria in the 1860s.

However, the harsh desert environment and unpredictable floods posed formidable challenges, leading to the eventual abandonment of the town.

Mining Boom Era

The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a brief but prosperous period for Paria with the discovery of valuable gold.

Yet, the boom was short-lived, as economic downturns and shifting market demands led to the abandonment of these once-thriving settlements.

Movie Set Magic

Paria’s dramatic landscapes have captured the imagination of filmmakers for decades, serving as the backdrop for iconic movies such as “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

The haunting beauty of Paria’s canyons and mesas has provided the perfect setting for epic Westerns and Hollywood blockbusters, immortalizing the region on the silver screen.


Recognizing the ecological and cultural significance of Paria, efforts have been made to preserve and protect its pristine wilderness.

The establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 safeguarded vast stretches of Paria’s stunning landscapes, ensuring future generations can continue to marvel at its natural wonders.

How were the Paria Rainbow Mountains formed?

The formation of the Paria Rainbow Mountains goes back millions of years.

Here is a summary of the high-level forces at play that result in the colorful landscape we enjoy today:


At the heart of the Paria Rainbow Mountains lies a complex geological history that spans 85 million years. Each color that you see is a sedimentary layer that represents a different geological era.

The vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple that adorn the towering cliffs and mesas are a testament to the layers upon layers of sedimentary rock that have accumulated over time.

Tectonic Uplift

The dynamic forces of plate tectonics played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of the Paria region, specifically the uplifting of the Colorado Plateau.

Millions of years ago, the collision and convergence of tectonic plates caused the uplift of vast sedimentary layers, thrusting them upwards the unique landscape.


What truly sets the Paria Rainbow Mountains apart is the presence of vividly colored mineral deposits that saturate the rock formations with a dazzling array of hues.

Minerals such as iron oxide (hematite), manganese oxide, and sulfur compounds contribute to the vibrant colors, each imparting its unique shade to the landscape.


While the forces of uplift and mineral deposition shaped the initial framework of the Paria Rainbow Mountains, it is the relentless power of erosion and weathering that continues to sculpt and refine the landscape.

Each passing season leaves its mark on the landscape, perpetually reshaping and reinventing the natural masterpiece that is the Paria Rainbow Mountains.

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