The Paiute Wilderness is located in the northwest strip of Arizona, just southwest of St. George, Utah, which contains 87900 acres of desert wilderness, at elevations ranging from 2000 to 4132 feet above sea level. The wilderness area became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1984. The wilderness is managed partly by the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip Field Office with some of the wilderness situated in the Canyon-Parashant National Monument and managed by the national parks system.
The terrain in the Paiute Wilderness is characterized by the Virgin Mountains, rising 5600 feet above the desert floor, bajadas, alluvium sediment slopes where water runs downhill, creating fan-like formations, and the Piute Mountains. Mount Bangs is the highest peak in the region, at just over 8000 feet. The mountainous terrain ranges from angular, jagged, volcanic rocks, to lower granite hills rounded by erosion. Desert vegetation in the region is typical of the Mojave Desert region consisting mainly of creosote brush and mixed brush.
Pinyon forests, scrub oak, and sagebrush crown the higher elevations in the mountains and there are Joshua trees, yucca, and barrel cactus around the wilderness perimeter. Vegetation along the dry washes and canyons where more water collects at varying times of the year includes catclaw acacia, smoketree, ratany, and desert almond. Although this may seem like a sparse desert environment with hardy vegetation, nature finds a way, and there is also plenty of desert wildlife which includes mule deer and bighorn sheep passing through the region, and more dedicated inhabitants such as coyote, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, prairie falcons, and the rare desert tortoise. The ecosystem here had been identified as a critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. However, water and vegetation is too sparse to support large mammals for extended periods of time.
Visitors can enjoy excellent sightseeing from higher elevations where spectacular vistas exist, and hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, and primitive camping. Temperatures are extreme in the Mojave Desert region and can range from 120 F in summer to below 0 F in winter months. Visitors need to be prepared for the harsh climate and landscape when exploring the region.
Spectacular natural areas abound in the region, including the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness which is just north across Interstate 15 from the Paiute Wilderness as well as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area a little further to the north, Zion National Park to the northeast, Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument to the south, and the Valley of Fire State Park to the west.
There are several access points to the Paiute Wilderness. One of the most straightforward and accessible points is at the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area which can be reached by taking Interstate 15 for 20 miles south from St. George Utah. You can also take Interstate 15 to Black Rock Junction and turn off the freeway and head south on BLM Road 1009 to BLM road 1004. The Paiute Wilderness is beside BLM Road 1004. The Black Rock Mountain access from St George, Utah is not accessible during the winter months due to heavy snowfall in the higher elevations. Dirt roads that access the area require four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicles and may be impassable during wet weather.
Because there are few amenities, spotty or nonexistent cellular coverage, and thinly dispersed human settlements in the area, travelers are advised to be prepared. Satellite-aided GPS devices should be backed up by accurate maps of the wilderness areas you are visiting. Temperatures are extremely hot in summer and cold in winter, and travelers should be prepared for severe climate conditions and changes. Whether traveling on foot or in a vehicle, ensure you have plenty of water. Dirt access roads are dusty, muddy, and rutted with rocks and rough terrain. Vehicles should be well maintained, topped up with fluids, and motorists should ensure they have two spare tires, four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance, and extra water for cooling systems if required. Let someone off-site know of your traveling plans and expected time of return.
The Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area is located on Interstate 15 with a paved access road for RV accessibility and is situated just northeast of the Paiute Wilderness. The Sullivans Canyon Trailhead leading into the BLM wilderness is located on the west side of the recreation area.
The campground is set in a beautiful, desert, mountain setting that displays the colorful geological formations along the rock faces, reminiscent of the much larger Grand Canyon to the southeast. This is a first-come, first-serve campground and amenities include drinking water, flush toilets that are ADA accessible, and a day-use area. There are 77 overnight sites, some with pull-through parking and sites that can accommodate RV units up to 50 feet in length.
There are no RV hookups. However, five sites have shade shelters, and five sites are ADA compliant. There is also a day-use area with 38 picnic sites where the trailhead to the Paiute Wilderness is situated, and there is a trail to the Virgin River, as well as an interpretive trail to trek. A campground host may be available on-site. If not, then self-pay register boxes are available.
Backcountry camping is permitted in the Paiute Wilderness, but be prepared for challenging desert camping conditions. Check out How to Camp in the Desert for helpful tips on being prepared, and best practices for this harsh environment. You will need to pack adequate water and food for each person in your party, which includes one gallon of water per day per person, and be prepared to pack out the trash on your return trip. Familiarize yourself with BLM “Leave No Trace” principles so you can help preserve this rugged, but delicate desert ecosystem for the local wildlife that flourishes here.
Try to utilize previously occupied sites when staying overnight. You can stay for a maximum of 14 days at one site which must be at least 200 yards from trails and water sources. Deadfall can be collected for fires, but no live vegetation should be disturbed. If you've got the room amongst your required backpacking items, bring a camera and binoculars for wildlife viewing and photography, and/or a telescope to enjoy the night sky.
In season hiking in the Paiute Wilderness is during the spring and fall, as high temperatures reaching 120 F in summer months, and sub-zero winter temperatures are not conducive to hiking activities. Also, be aware that some of the lands around, and extending into the BLM Paiute Wilderness are privately owned, and should not be crossed without permission from landowners.
You will encounter few other humans, if any, in the wilderness area, so enjoy the peace and solitude, but be prepared with plenty of supplies. You will need to bring food and water; at least one gallon of water per person per day. There are hiking trails to the top of Mount Bangs and through Sullivan Canyon.
Bring a field guide, binoculars, and a camera and get ready to capture the local wildlife and amazing landscape on “film”. Hike up Mount Bangs for spectacular views of the surrounding desert features, alluvial fans, mountains, and canyons. Be ready to capture stunning sunsets and sunrises across uninterrupted wilderness plateaus.
Wildlife in this remote harsh environment may seem non-existent, but it’s there. Stay very still and wait for the desert inhabitants to present themselves and then snap a picture of your unsuspecting quarry.
The Paiute Wilderness may seem unforgiving to some, but it’s the perfect environment for many animal species. Although there is not enough water or vegetation to support large mammals, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and mountain lions do occasionally pass through the region, and you might be lucky enough to see them in the cooler spring and fall months.
Animals that make the area home throughout the year include coyotes, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, and prairie falcons. The Paiute Wilderness has been identified as a critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, so be careful not to damage the ecosystem or disturb these slow but steady creatures if you encounter them.
Downhill skiing in the desert? Well not exactly, but just 100 miles to the northeast, Brian's Head Ski Resort provides plenty of fun winter and snow sports. Enjoy snowboarding, skiing, and tubing on the groomed runs here. The ski resort is located on Utah’s highest base elevation, and covers 650 acres, with an average yearly snowfall of 360 inches. That’s a lot of snow, so pack up your winter gear and venture down the highway from Paiute Wilderness in the winter months. There are rentals and lessons available for beginners, 71 runs, eight chair lifts, and two surface lifts to facilitate your frosty fun!
Few human settlements in the remote area mean little light noise at night. This makes for excellent stargazing opportunities, as stars and celestial bodies are more readily visible in a dark sky uncontaminated by light from human activities. Prepare for chilly nights out in the Mojave Desert landscape; the temperature really dips at night, even in the summer!
Remember there is no cellular service in the Paiute Wilderness, bring satellite devices or star charts, a telescope, or binoculars, and get ready to conduct some heavenly observations!
If you own an ATV or OHV, or arrange to rent one locally, you can go on an off-highway adventure to the north in Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area. The national conservation area has OHV and ATV trails aplenty.
The terrain is rocky, remote, and rough - the 3 “R”s - so use caution. You are a fair way from services and amenities for repairs to man or machine. Use appropriate safety gear including helmets and supervise novice riders and kids closely.