The trip through Buckskin Gulch is exhilarating and absolutely magnificent. My first through hike exceeded my expectations in every way. The brilliant sandstone walls grew high overhead and the ever-changing light illuminated the canyon in orange and yellow. Each moment held me captivated. The trek was all I could think about for days after. And I’m no slot canyon rookie. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in dozens of slot canyons. But THIS was really something. Admittedly, I thought I would get bored hiking through such a long slot canyon, missing out on the gorgeous sky and impressive view above. Really? Hike 13 miles through a crack? But now I get it.
Can I hike Buckskin Gulch in a single day?
The shortest possible route to hike Buckskin all the way through is 23 miles from the Wire Pass to White House trailheads. It’s possible for super fit hikers to finish this complete route in a long day trip, but it’s not recommended if you want to spend any time at all taking photos and enjoying the canyon.
Most people only see part of Buckskin Gulch as an in-and-out day hike. If this is your best option, I can’t recommend it enough. But Buckskin reveals her full glory many miles inside where the walls extend 400 feet high and she eventually meets the Paria River in spectacular splendor. Buckskin Gulch is the longest continuous slot canyon in North America and potentially the world.
The full Buckskin experience requires a lot of us as hikers and backpackers, and she rewards the willing. Through hikes take planning, vehicle shuttles, and hard-to-obtain permits if staying overnight – which really is the best way to see Buckskin. We think she’s worth it. That’s why we’ve started offering occasional guided Buckskin backpacking trips that include permits and experienced Buckskin Gulch guides. Few tour companies offer guided trips through the length of Buckskin Gulch. (We also offer guided custom day trips into Buckskin on a case-by-case basis depending on current weather and conditions, so call us.)
Experience part of Buckskin as an easy day hike
Hikers of average ability can experience the grandeur of Buckskin Gulch on a day hike without needing hard-to-obtain permits, technical gear or vehicle shuttles. A round-trip hike of about 5 miles is sufficient to get a good look inside Buckskin. Many people do this safely on their own without a Buckskin tour guide, we only beg you to watch the weather closely. Flash floods are a real risk here.
The best way to do an in-and-out day hike of Buckskin Gulch is to start at the Wire Pass Trailhead on House Rock Valley Road, which is halfway between Kanab and Page off Highway 89. This trailhead requires the least amount of hiking before you enter a narrow slot canyon. Don’t forget to bring $6 cash per person to purchase a day use permit at the trailhead. The hike follows the Wire Pass wash that turns into a slot canyon just over 1.5 miles from the car. As soon as Wire Pass turns into a narrow slot canyon you will encounter a rock jam that requires down climbing. We recommend exiting the slot canyon on your right before you get to the boulder, hiking a short distance, then dropping back down into the slot canyon once you are past the obstacle. You will probably see footprints and rock cairns where others have done the same.
At 1.7 miles from the car, Wire Pass joins up with Buckskin. (Look for Native American rock art near the confluence.) From this point, we recommend you turn right and head downstream into Buckskin Gulch. Simply hike as far as you care to go, then turn around and head back. Often, gooey, sticky mud pits become people’s turning point. Depending on recent precipitation, you might encounter mud just past the Wire Pass confluence, or you might make it many miles before conditions get “interesting.” While many hikers make the trek successfully without a guide, others choose to hire a guide to hike Buckskin Gulch for various reasons. We offer 4X4 transportation, which is sometimes needed to access the trailhead, our guides know a lot and make the day interesting and fun, and they keep guests safe by knowing the terrain, understanding weather and flood risks, and knowing the route. Just as we were working on this blog post, Dreamland owners Paul and Sunny were called on search and rescue duty to help a couple who got lost and separated while hiking Buckskin Gulch. We’re grateful everything worked out. If you’re not confident in your ability to hike the backcountry, give us a call and we’ll help you make the best decision about whether to hike Buckskin on your own or with us.
To get from Kanab to Wire Pass, travel 43 miles east on Highway 89 to House Rock Valley Road. Head south for 8 miles on House Rock Valley Road to the Wire Pass trailhead. House Rock Valley Road is not paved, but it is usually passable in a two-wheel drive vehicle as long as the car has a decent amount of ground clearance. The road can become impassable to just about any vehicle when it’s wet. The mud is extremely slippery and sticky. People get stuck. Also, prepare for driving where there is no phone service. Bring water and blankets just in case and be prepared to change your own flat tire.
The flash flood risk is real
We would be irresponsible if we didn’t warn you about the risk. Buckskin Gulch experiences several flash floods every year. It’s not “if” but “when” in this canyon. Backpacker Magazine lists Buckskin as one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in America because of the flood potential. A large portion of the Grand Staircase drains into Buckskin which means a storm many miles upstream can have deadly consequences. Flood waters carry giant boulders and huge logs and debris that will kill you. The floodwaters can be 100 feet deep and they blast through the canyon like a firehose. Any time there is rain in the local forecasts (Kanab, Big Water, Page), even a 10% chance of rain, hiking Buckskin is a gamble with your life.
Once you enter Buckskin, it’s about eight miles to the Middle Route where you could escape floodwaters if you are proficient at scrambling up steep rock. Be especially careful in July and August where unpredictable afternoon monsoon storms are the norm. If you must hike during monsoon season, hike early and be out of the slot by 10 a.m. to lessen your risk. Some seasons are safer than others, but there isn’t one date in the year where there is an absolute guarantee the canyon won’t flood.
Mud: It stinks, but it makes great Instagram photos
If you hike the entire length of Buckskin Gulch you are almost guaranteed to encounter pools of cold, muddy water. If it has rained recently, you might hit mud not long after Wire Pass. It can be that thick, sticky mud that sticks like glue and threatens to pull your shoes right off your feet. If it hasn’t rained for a few months, you might make it in 7 miles before you finally encounter pools of standing water and deep mud. The pools are always cold, even in the summer, and they vary from thigh deep to chest deep depending on conditions. You can let it spoil your day or you can make it fun. Laugh, holler, and get Instagram photos of your friends wading in the pools. The mud does require some smart gear choices. There isn’t time to change your shoes every time you encounter mud. Pick a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting wet (most backpackers will probably want high top boots for ankle support) Choose synthetic fabrics over leather and try not to use waterproof boots with GoreTex. They fill with water and the water never escapes, so you walk around all day with water sloshing around in your boots. If staying overnight, bring sandals or lightweight camp shoes. A dry bag is smart to protect your camera and clothes. Bring a fleece or jacket so you don’t get cold.
Just how long is Buckskin Gulch?
Buckskin Gulch is a narrow continuous slot canyon for 14 miles. But there is no vehicle access to the bottom end of Buckskin where it meets the Paria River. The shortest and most common route to experience pretty much all of Buckskin is Wire Pass to White House, which is a ~23-mile trek. Almost all of this hike takes place in a narrow canyon. It’s possible for very fit hikers to conquer this in one day by shuttling vehicles to both trailheads. But, we don’t recommend rushing through the canyon so quickly. Pools of water and mud inside Buckskin, plus slippery mud and quicksand along the Paria River, make this a slow journey, leaving less time to simply take in the scenery. An overnight backpack is really the way to go.
Wire Pass to White House Route
We’ll describe this route in a bit more detail because it’s the most popular way to hike all the way through Buckskin Gulch. You’ll need two vehicles; one parked at Wire Pass and one parked at White House. For day hikes, start at dawn and bring headlamps.
- Park at Wire Pass
- 1.4 miles: Wire Pass becomes a slot canyon
- 1.5 miles: Downclimb a small boulder jam (not recommended – this spot is the site of many accidents!) or bypass it by exiting the slot canyon on your right
- 1.7 miles: Wire Pass joins with Buckskin Gulch. Look at petroglyphs on the wall. Sweet!
Now head downstream (right) into Buckskin
- 12.1 miles: Middle Route. On your left is an exit that requires scrambling and possibly ropes to lift backpacks.
- 14.5 miles: Rock Jam. If you’re lucky, the “rabbit hole” will be open and you will be able to crawl under the rock jam, but this “tunnel” through the debris is not obvious to find. Sometimes the water level is too high and the rabbit hole is not an option. If the rabbit hole is not open, you’ll need to climb down Moqui steps on the left side of the canyon. Most people require a 40-foot rope to use as a handline and to lower their gear. Experienced climbers probably won’t have a problem with this obstacle.
- 16 miles: Paria River confluence. Take a left and head upstream.
- Hike 7 miles up the Paria River to the White House Trailhead. You will need to walk in the river and cross it many times through mud and possibly quicksand. When you enter the Paria, it will be a fairly narrow slot canyon and it opens wider as you head north.
Buckskin hiking distances
Hikers access Buckskin from five different trailheads to create hikes of various distances. Mileage estimates and notoriously unreliable and divergent as you compare various maps of the region (just compare National Geographic’s #859 Map and the various BLM signs at Wire Pass and White House) but here’s a rough assessment of what distances you can expect.
- Buckskin Trailhead to White House ~26 miles
- Buckskin Trailhead to Lee’s Ferry ~47 miles
- Wire Pass to White House ~23 miles
- Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry ~45 miles
- Wire Pass to Middle Route ~9.5 miles
- Middle Route to White House ~13.5 miles
Accessing Buckskin trailheads
Wire Pass: From Kanab, travel 43 miles east on Highway 89 to House Rock Valley Road. Head south for 8 miles on House Rock Valley Road to the Wire Pass trailhead. This section is not paved, but is usually passable in a two-wheel drive vehicle as long as the car has a decent amount of ground clearance. The road can become impassable to just about any vehicle when it’s wet.
Buckskin: From Kanab, travel 43 miles east on Highway 89 to House Rock Valley Road. Head south for 3 miles on House Rock Valley Road.
White House: From Kanab, travel 45.5 miles east on Highway 89. Turn right by the BLM Paria Contact Station and head south on this gravel road for about 2 miles. Park at the trailhead before the campground.
Middle Route: This trailhead is accessed from the West Clark Bench, just east of the Paria River. You’ll need a good 4X4 for soft sand driving, and there is a clay hog’s back ridge that would be an absolute terror to drive if it’s wet. We won’t rehash the complicated directions to find it here, because Visit Utah has already done it for us. Note: Accessing Buckskin from the Middle Route requires class 3-4 downclimbing. Ropes to lower packs are recommended.
Lee’s Ferry: From Kanab, take Highway 89A over the Kaibab Plateau and east toward Page for 82.5 miles. It’s about a 1 ½ hour drive. (Lee’s Ferry is much closer to Page, Arizona)
Obtaining Buckskin Permits
All overnight trips into Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch require permits to be purchased in advance. Overnight entry into the canyons is limited to 20 people per day. You can apply for and purchase overnight permits online here. Permits get snatched up pretty fast, so you need to be online at exactly noon Utah time the day permits for the month you want to hike are made available. See below:
Applications accepted after 12 noon on the 1st of the month for a permit during
- January 1 –> April
- February 1 –> May
- March 1 –> June
- April 1 –> July
- May 1 –> August
- June 1 –> September
- July 1 –> October
- August 1 –> November
- September 1 –> December
- October 1 –> January
- November 1 –> February
- December 1 –> March
If you made it all the way to the bottom of this article and still want more of Buckskin Gulch: check out this short clip about hiking the gulch with Dreamland co-owner Paul Gagner.