BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH’S BEST SLOT CANYON

You’ll often hear that Buckskin Gulch is one of the best hikes in Utah, and we couldn’t agree more! No, we didn’t hike the 46 miles round-trip trek in the Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness…we just hiked 5.6 miles from WirePass…and I still must agree that it’s one of the most gorgeous Southwest hikes we’ve ever done. Come read how you can see the beauty of the longest and deepest slot canyon without overnight permits.

buckskin gulch

WHY WE LOVED IT

Distance: 5.6 miles
Elevation Change: 616 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Area of the State: Kanab
Wire Pass Trailhead to Buckskin Gulch

We hiked a lot of slot canyons while we spent a month in Utah. I mean, A LOT. I thought that this dream was out of reach for us without a permit until I read about the Wire Pass route, and I am so thankful we did it. The hike into the wash was a hot one, but the beauty of the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch slots are unprecedented. No one without a day trip ride of Kanab, Utah should leave the state without hiking this gem.

MORE WAYS TO DO BUCKSKIN GULCH

Hike to Middle Trail Escape Route from Wire Pass. You’ll reach it at 12.1 miles. From there you will need to scramble out of the canyon. Be aware this is a VERY strenuous climb out. Sometimes there are ropes here to haul up your backpack; sometimes there are not.

You can also start from Middle Trail Escape Route and hike to Wire Pass. You’ll need rope packs that allow you to lower into the canyon.

If you’d like to hike all of Buckskin Gulch then start at Wire Pass and hike to White House. In theory, you could do this in a day. But in order to enjoy it you’ll want to request a (difficult to get) overnight backpacking permit and make it a multi-day trip. Plan for a pick-up at White House unless you’re doing a round trip.

To be clear, Buckskin Gulch is only 13 miles long, but it ends at the Paria River, with no vehicle access. From the river you’ll need to hike another 10 miles to get to the White House Trailhead. Side note: This section at the confluence of the Paria River is a great place to camp if you’ve secured a permit.

Serious backpackers can travel Paria Canyon to Lees Ferry – taking 3-5 days. While an unbelievably amazing journey, we see over and over again that Buckskin Gulch is the most enjoyable segment.

This post does NOT cover the rappelling option from Middle Trail or the 23 mile full hike – we are sharing the deets on the 5.6 mile family-friendly day hike. If you want more info on those longer hikes then I recommend checking out Dreamland Tours. They are experienced in the canyon and often offer days trips and/or overnights.

BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH'S BEST SLOT CANYON

BEFORE YOU GO

You know the drill…if there is any hint of rain in the forecast, you’ll want to stay home from visiting Buckskin Gulch (or any slot canyon). Flash floods are real, and really dangerous, especially here in the longest slot canyon in the world.

If you have any question about the weather, give a call to the Paria Bureau of Land Management Office to discuss their opinion on your adventure. If it rained recently, you might experience pools of water along your hike.

Finally, pack some cash. Day use permits are required; they are available at the trailhead but you’ll need cash or check. When we visited it was $6 per heartbeat (yes, that includes Fido.)

BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH'S BEST SLOT CANYON

GETTING THERE

Off 89 you’ll take House Rock Valley Road about 8.5 miles to the trailhead. House Rock Valley Rd is not paved, but it’s not too harsh. We were in a 4WD truck but didn’t utilize the four-wheel drive, and we saw plenty of people in typical sedans navigating the road.

The parking lot can hold about 25-30 cars and this is where you’ll find the fee station.

Note: At about 4.5 miles on House Rock Valley you’ll see the Buckskin Trailhead parking lot. Keep going; that’s not your stop.

BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH'S BEST SLOT CANYON

THE APPROACH TRAIL

The first 1.7 miles of this hike are the hardest. There is nearly zero elevation gain, but hiking through the wash in the open sun was exhausting. Please bring plenty of water for your hike in the section, both for getting there and for the hike back out.

BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH'S BEST SLOT CANYON

NAVIGATING THE CANYONS

When you first enter the Wire Pass canyon, your first obstacle will be climbing down into the slot. When we visited there was a make-shift (fantastic) ladder to climb up and down the rocks. We learned that this was not built by the BLM, but by a fellow hiker. Awesome, right? But I can’t promise it will still be there…be ready to use your Spiderman skills to navigate the 10-ft drop if necessary.

Your hike thru Wire Pass is short – maybe only 2/10 of a mile before you reach the confluence with Buckskin Gulch. You’ll know you’ve reached the end because the canyon goes from only about 3 ft wide to large open area, dead-ending into your target.

Be sure to take this large area in and look for the petroglyphs above the streambed as you’re coming out of Wire Pass.

Now, Buckskin Gulch awaits. If you go left, you’re going to find more wide open areas like you see here. To see the slots, turn right (this is the way the AllTrails link above recommends, also.)

How far should you hike in? That’s totally up to you! Just remember that you’ll have to hike back out still, including the wash. We went about a mile into the Gulch and enjoyed every second of it.

Before going we did read about this hiker’s 20+ miles into the Gulch, which was a huge inspiration for us. I’d love to go back and backpack here with the kids.

BUCKSKIN GULCH: TIPS & TRICKS FOR NAVIGATING UTAH'S BEST SLOT CANYON

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WHERE SHOULD WE CAMP IN ORDER TO HIKE THE GULCH?

The area around Kanab and Buckskin Gulch is primarily BLM land, so you can camp in hundreds of locations nearby. If you’e looking for something a little less rustic then try Dark Sky RV Campground. They are offering 18 premiere, pull-through RV sites, tent sites, and van sites, each with unobstructed views of the Red Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs, and the Kaibab Plateau…with plenty of amenities.

HOW TO GET TO BUCKSKIN GULCH?

In Kanab, take House Rock Valley Road (off 89) about 8.5 miles to the Wire Pass trailhead. From here you can access Buckskin Gulch.

ARE DOGS ALLOWED IN THE CANYON?

Dogs are allowed. Please be aware that day use fees include your pup.

ARE THERE ANY FEES FOR HIKING THIS?

Yes. Day use fees are per heartbeat (including kids and pets.) Cash or check only; available at the trailhead. Interagency passes do not cover these fees.

IS THE WAVE VISIBLE ON THE BUCKSKIN GULCH HIKE?

Nope; you can’t see it from this hike. You do hike The Wave from the Wire Pass trailhead, but please do this only if you have a permit. Permits are obtained thru lotteries and are very very difficult to obtain. If you are caught hiking here without a permit, there is a $10,000 per person fine and the BLM can press charges which may lead to 1 year in jail.

DO I NEED A PERMIT FOR BUCKSKIN GULCH?

There may be some confusion here because Utah often calls day hike fees “permits.” So in that case, yes. You need a permit to hike the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike…which is basically the $6 pp fee at the trailhead.

You do NOT need a permit for this hike like you do for The Wave. That is only necessary if you want to overnight in the slot.

DO I NEED A PERMIT TO CAMP AT BUCKSKIN GULCH?

Yes, you will need a permit to overnight here. Paria Canyon Overnight Permits can be obtained here.

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO UTAH

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