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The best way to complete the famous Buckskin Gulch slot canyon hike in one day


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Map Key

21.5

Miles

34.7

KM

Point to Point

4,869' 1,484 m

High

4,146' 1,264 m

Low

2,862' 872 m

Up

3,427' 1,045 m

Down

6%

Avg Grade (3°)

27%

Max Grade (15°)

Dogs Off-leash

Features Cave · Commonly Backpacked · Geological Significance · Historical Significance · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Views

Permits required for day hikes or overnight trips. See Recreation.gov for more info.

Overview

Buckskin Gulch has topped multiple "World's Most" lists in magazines and online. It is thought to be the longest slot canyon in the world, meaning no other canyon runs as narrow for as many miles. It has also been called the world's most dangerous hike. This is because of flash flood danger, which is a very real threat during parts of the year. Despite the risk, Buckskin is known as one of the best canyon hikes anywhere, and it's not so dangerous if you go at the right time of year. Regardless of what list you place it on, Buckskin Gulch is a geologic wonder that is actually very accessible, doable, and immensely rewarding as long as you prepare properly.

The slot canyon runs practically uninterrupted for 15 miles, and it intersects with the narrows of Paria River Canyon, adding to the scale. There are pools to wade, muddy stretches to slog through, rocks to scramble, and rivers to cross, but the majority is flat and dry. From Wire Pass trailhead, through Buckskin Gulch, and out along the Paria is about 21 miles, making a rather grueling one-way day hike, but out-and-back trips of any distance are possible because you can hike the canyon in either direction.

Need to Know

If you wish to hike any part of Buckskin, the first thing to know is the permit system. Day hiking is no problem, simply pay $6 per person and $6 per dog at the trailhead's self-pay station or print it in advance on Recreation.gov. Overnight trips, however, require securing a permit in advance, and the numbers are restricted to 20 people per night. You must obtain permits online on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits can be reserved up to four months in advance.

Second, in order to stay safe in Buckskin you need need to know about weather and flash flood risk. This is a slot canyon with a large watershed comprised largely of slickrock, which means that rain falling anywhere in the area washes off solid rock and funnels right into the narrow canyon. Summer monsoon season is the riskiest time to hike because unpredictable showers can be sudden and intense.

Description

The route mapped here starts at Wire Pass, which is the shorter alternative to the full hike starting at Buckskin Gulch Trailhead. Taking Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch cuts almost 3 miles off the full distance, and it doesn't miss out on much scenery. Be aware that House Rock Valley Road to this trailhead is rather rough. High clearance is recommended, but four-wheel drive is not required as long as the road is dry. Floods periodically wash out the road, and repairs may be delayed, so drive with caution.

Once at Wire Pass Trail, be sure to obtain your permit at the kiosk if you haven't already, and display it on your vehicle. The hike begins in a typical sandy desert wash, but in just a few bends the cliff walls start to close in. About half a mile of tall narrows lead up to the confluence with the main canyon of Buckskin Gulch. Depending on recent rains, your first pool crossing may come just before this junction.

If hiking all of Buckskin, you can expect to cross water many times. 200 feet below the reach of sunlight, water is slow to evaporate and perpetually cold, even in summer. Expect to get wet and muddy; pack accordingly with quick-dry clothes, multiple layers, and dry bags for gear.

The number and depth of pools is dependent on recent rainfall. You may only encounter occasional pools that are no more than knee deep, or you may slog through miles of waist- and neck-deep water. And remember that along with water comes mud. Sometimes the muck is so soupy that you sink to your knees, but only in a few spots. During particularly rainy or cold seasons you should have a wetsuit. Check the region's recent weather history or with the BLM Kanab office to know what to expect.

Even with all this water, none is drinkable. The pools can stay stagnant for months, and sediment will clog filters. There is one seep in Buckskin, about a mile above the confluence with Paria that sometimes flows with clear water, but it is not always available. The best bet is to pack enough water to last you for the whole day.

Though the canyon floor is generally flat, you'll come upon a few vertical obstacles. Floods rearrange rocks, logs, and sediment that sometimes jumble up. Short downclimbs, scrambles, and crawls may be occasionally necessary, but they are unpredictable because the terrain can change with each flood.

Count on navigating at least one large rock fall 1.5 miles above the Paria confluence (about 11.5 miles below Wire Pass trailhead). This boulder pile has a 15-foot downclimb with cut steps and a fixed rope, but some parties choose to bring their own rope as a handline. Before committing to the descent, check for a sneaky route beneath the boulders that is sometimes but not always free of debris.

Once beyond this rock fall you are well on your way to the Paria River and the final hike out. The Paria nearly always has flowing water, and you'll have to cross it numerous times in the 7.3 miles to White House. It is typically anywhere from ankle to thigh deep. Just a few miles into this canyon the walls open up to greet the sky again, which is rather unwelcoming in the heat of summer. Be sure to save plenty of drinking water and food saved for this portion. It will likely take you longer than you think. Eventually you'll see the aptly named rocks of White House Campground ahead, and your Buckskin journey is complete.

Another note about safety: If water levels begin to rise while you are in the Buckskin narrows, get out. The only easy escape route is Middle Pass about 5.3 miles above the Buckskin/Paria confluence. This is a relatively open area where the walls are short and a low-angle gully leads to the rim. Run to this spot if you fear a flood. There are other places where it would be possible to scramble above flood waters if necessary, but not without some basic rock climbing skills. Escaping via Middle Pass could be your best bet in event of emergency, if you happen to be close enough to it.

History & Background

Look for well-preserved petroglyphs on the rock wall to your right when you meet the Buckskin confluence from Wire Pass. Their presence indicates that people have been traveling these canyons for hundreds or thousands of years, and this natural junction might be a significant crossroads on the ancient routes.

Contacts

Shared By:

Jesse Weber

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Photos

I feel wonderful, the surroundings are beautiful, and this is just the beginning of the adventure.
Mar 14, 2017 near Kanab, UT
This area is utterly stunning.
Mar 17, 2017 near Kanab, UT
View from the trail
Jan 20, 2022 near Kanab, UT
View from the trail.
Jan 20, 2022 near Kanab, UT
View from the trail
Feb 12, 2022 near Kanab, UT
View from the trail.
Jan 20, 2022 near Kanab, UT

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