Tom’s Experience exploring Buckskin Gulch:
Buckskin Gulch is a narrow slot canyon that lasts about 13.1 miles. Almost the entire time the walls are about 6 feet apart and rise high above your head. It has been called the longest slot canyon in the world, and while I’m not sure if that is true or not, it is definitely a magical place. Buckskin was ranked by Backpacker magazine as one of America’s 10 most dangerous hikes.
Overnight camping in Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon is limited and you must be lucky enough to get a permit for camping from this site. They limit the people in the canyon and give you poop bags as well to carry out your human waste. Otherwise, without a permit you are free to explore the canyon and return to your car at Wire Pass or try to make a through hike and exit out of White House Trailhead. Wire Pass to White house is 21 miles and is a long day, but doable.
It is a lot more popular to try to get a permit and break the hike into 2 or more days. The downside of spending the night in the canyon is that you have to take all of your gear, and it may be difficult keeping it all dry through the slot canyon. An unlimited amount of day permits are available at the trailhead for a small fee. We were able to get permits for two nights, so we decided to start at Wire Pass, hike through Buckskin Gulch and then hike down the Paria to Lee’s Ferry.
Starting out at the Wire Pass Trailhead (the same trailhead for The Wave), follow the well marked trail as it takes you through a wash into the Wire Pass slot canyon. There were a couple of challenging sections in Wire Pass, but nothing super difficult. After 1.75 miles, Wire Pass leads into Buckskin Gulch. There are some petroglyphs right before Buckskin on the right side of the canyon wall.
Normally, Buckskin is a fairly dry canyon with a couple of spots where you are wading in ankle-deep water, with a few knee deep sections. Swims are not unheard of in Buckskin so be sure that anything you pack is either in a dry bag or can get wet.
When we entered the confluence for Wire Pass and Buckskin there was actually water flowing from a storm that had ended about an hour before we started our hike. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision we made, but we decided to move on through the flowing water and enjoy our journey.
The canyon was spectacular and the walls rose clear above our heads. Eventually, we were able to catch up to the “flash flood,” which was where the flowing water was ending as it was being drained into the sand. We also saw a baby rattlesnake in the canyon; it was the only rattlesnake we saw the whole trip, probably because of all the rain. I have heard that rattlesnakes are very common in this area so be careful.
Most of the morning was good weather but around lunch time another storm rolled in and it started to rain again with some thunder. We were crossing through a section that had water about up to our knees and a white owl flew down into the canyon, probably trying to escape the rain. He flew by most of our heads and tried to land on my dad’s backpack. My dad ended up dodging as the owl came towards his head and ended up falling into the water we were wading through. We were able to use our hiking poles to lead him to a dry part of the canyon behind us and he just stood there stunned as we continued on.
As we would walk through the cold stagnant water we were able to see our breath. Eventually we made it to the Middle Trail, which is the only exit out of the canyon and isn’t really a trail but more of a scramble out of the canyon. We decided to keep on going since it wasn’t raining incredibly hard. There are a few petroglyph panels at Middle Trail but they are high above and really only visible if you exit out of the Middle Trail.
We continued on and finally made it to the rock fall. There was a fairly easy way down for us but it took a few minutes to find. Most ways looked pretty difficult and I have heard some people recommend bringing a rope for this section as a hand line or to lower backpacks. We didn’t bring a rope nor did we need one but I’m sure every time it floods the rock falls is a little different.
From there, it was a straight shot onto the Paria River. We never had to get in above our knees in the water through the river while we were there (even with the recent rain), but I think we were lucky. Dogs are allowed in Buckskin Gulch but you must clean up after them and purchase a permit for them as well.
Trail Info: From Kanab, drive east on Highway 89 for 31.1 miles to a dirt road, the turn-off is on the right. The dirt road is called House Rock Road and is fairly well maintained but can be impassable when wet. After about 4.5 miles you will see a sign for Buckskin Gulch trailhead, do not stop here. Continue on another 4 miles to the signed Wire Pass Trailhead and park here. There is a lot of parking and an outhouse.
Wire Pass Trailhead: 37.018942,-112.0253
Buckskin Gulch Confluence: 37.019734,-112.002769
Middle Trail Exit: 37.031542,-111.927177
Paria Confluence: 37.001364,-111.865652
White House Campground: 37.079676,-111.889757
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