20.6 miles (plus 15.5 miles by car)
day 1: 7 1/2 hours
day 2: 4 1/2 hours
760 ft. loss, 180 ft. gain
Wire Pass Trailhead (start): 4,860 ft.
Paria River confluence: 4,100 ft.
White House Trailhead: 4,280 ft.
There is no trail for this hike, but the route is
easy to follow. You will be walking along the bottoms
of two narrow desert canyons. Occasionally there are
deep pools of water in the canyon narrows, so be prepared
with an air mattress or some other means of floating
your backpacks across. You will also need a 30-foot
length of rope to help you get down a rockfall near
the end of Buckskin Gulch.
Spring, summer, fall. Flash floods are common in Buckskin
Gulch, so dont attempt this hike if there is
a chance of rain. Be especially careful from late
July through mid-September, when thundershowers in
southern Utah are more frequent. For current conditions
call the Kanab Resource Area, Bureau of Land Management,
at (801) 644-2672.
Gulch is alleged by many veteran hikers to be the
longest, narrowest slot canyon in the world. There
are many other narrows hikes on the Colorado Plateau,
but Buckskin is exceptional because of its length.
The Buckskin narrows extend almost uninterrupted for
over 12 miles with the width of the canyon seldom
exceeding 20 feet. The walk through the dark, narrow
canyon is truly a unique hiking experience.
The key consideration
in planning a trip through Buckskin Gulch is water.
How much water and mud is there in the canyon? And
what is the probability that it will rain while you
are inside it? The canyon was created by water, and
water continues to shape it and change its character.
As you walk along the sandy bottom you will continually
be confronted with evidence of previous floods. Dozens
of logs have been wedged between the canyon walls,
and piles of huge boulders have been jammed into narrow
constrictions. The characteristics change from year
to year. One can never predict what the last flood
might have taken away or left behind. According to
BLM statistics there are about 8 flash floods a year,
on the average, in Paria Canyon and its tributaries.
About a third of the floods occur during the month
of August, so if you are planning a trip in late summer
you should be especially cautious. Flash flood danger
is lowest during the months of April, May, and June.
It is possible to begin
this hike at either Buckskin Trailhead or Wire Pass
Trailhead, but if you begin at Buckskin Trailhead
the hike is 2.8 miles longer. If you begin the hike
at Wire Pass you will have to walk 13 miles to the
confluence campsite; whereas from Buckskin Trailhead
the distance is 15.8 miles-more than a comfortable
days walk for most people.
From the Wire Pass parking
area the trail proceeds for a short distance along
the south side of Wire Pass, then drops into the sandy
bottom of the wash and descends eastward through the
Cockscomb. At first the wash is so mundane it hardly
seems an appropriate entry point to the worlds
best canyon narrows, but within a mile things begin
to change drastically. The sandstone walls begin to
rise and by the time you reach the mouth of Wire Pass,
half an hour from the trailhead, your narrows experience
is well underway. Buckskin Gulch widens slightly at
the junction with Wire Pass and then quickly narrows
There are several petroglyph
panels of big horn sheep at the junction of the two
canyons that you might want to look for before continuing.
When you are finished check the sky once more, then
turn south into Buckskin. There is no way out of the
canyon until you reach the Middle Trail, 6.3 miles
from the junction.
For the most part it
is an easy walk along the bottom of Buckskin. The
bottom is normally flat with very few large stones
to impede your way. If it has rained recently there
may be a layer of slippery clay mud covering the sand,
but there is usually very little standing water for
the first five miles. It is interesting to note the
number of animals that accidentally fall into the
steep narrow canyon from the desert above. Rattle
snakes are very common, and you will probably see
one or two of them if you are observant. Most of them
are babies, scarcely more than a foot long. Also,
most of the time they are very lethargic-probably
because of a lack of food in the canyon. You might
also see a dead coyote-again, most likely a young
After you have gone
about five miles you will enter a stretch of canyon
where there are often large pools of stagnant water.
Many of the pools contain rotting vegetation and are
foul smelling. The largest of these pools has been
named, appropriately enough, the Cesspool. Wading
through the pools can be a revolting experience, but
fortunately they are rarely more than thigh deep.
Notice that there are no animals of any kind living
in any of the stagnant pools: no tadpoles, no water
skaters, no mosquito larva, nothing. Why? Similar
pools farther down the canyon contain an abundance
Shortly after leaving
the last stagnant pool of water you will notice the
canyon rim starting to get much lower, and soon you
will come to the Middle Trail. The Middle Trail is
not really a trail at all, but rather a route up which
one can climb to the top of the north rim. The route
is not well marked, but nevertheless easy to spot.
It is located in a short, open section of the canyon
where the walls are not steep and the rim is only
100 feet above the canyon floor. Look for the footprints
of previous hikers going into a fault on the left.
The assent is not a walk, but rather a scramble. Hikers
with a modicum of rock climbing skill should have
no trouble getting up, but dont try it with
your backpack on. Better to leave your pack behind
or pull it up after you with a short piece of rope.
With a little route finding skill it is also possible
to climb out to the south rim at this point.
If you got off to a
late start you might want to use the Middle Trail
to climb out of the narrows and make camp for the
night. Unfortunately there is nothing but slickrock
and sand above the canyon, and no water. But the flash
flood danger makes it unsafe to spend a night inside
Soon after leaving the
Middle Trail the narrows close in again, and the depth
of the canyon continues to increase as you approach
the Paria River. There are usually no more deep wading
pools below Middle Trail, but after about four miles
your progress will be stopped by a pile of huge rocks
that have become wedged into a tight constriction
in the canyon. This rock jam is Buckskin Gulchs
most serious obstacle, and most people will need a
rope to get safely around it. The standard route requires
that you climb about 15 feet down the smooth face
of one of the boulders. Previous hikers have chipped
footholds into the soft sandstone, but unless you
are very agile you will still need a rope to make
a safe descent. Hikers often leave their ropes tied
to the top of the pitch and you might be lucky enough
to find a good one already in place. But BLM rangers
regularly cut away any ropes that appear to be unsafe,
so you had best have one of your own. Conditions change
from year to year and, depending on what happened
during the last canyon flood, you might find another
easier route down the rock jam. But dont count
Soon after you leave
the rock jam you will pass by a series of seeps in
the Navajo Sandstone walls that supply a tiny flowing
stream on the canyon floor. The fresh water is a welcome
change from the stagnant, lifeless pools above Middle
Trail. There is plenty of life in the water of the
lower Buckskin, even including small fish.
About a mile below the
rock jam, or 0.5 mile above the Paria River confluence,
you will come to an excellent campsite. Look for a
large grove of maple and boxelder trees growing in
the sand above the streambed. There are several fine
places to make camp under the trees on the benches
of dry sand ten feet above the canyon floor. Since
this area is the only place in Buckskin Gulch where
it is possible to camp you may have trouble finding
an unoccupied campsite, especially during the busy
months of May and June. If you cant find a place
here the next closest campsite is located about a
mile away in Paria Canyon below the confluence.
It is only a ten minute
walk from the Buckskin Gulch campsite to the Paria
River confluence, where you must turn north up Paria
Canyon to complete the hike. The place where the two
canyons come together is extremely impressive. The
narrows here are much more open than the narrows of
the Buckskin, but the reddish walls are shear and
smooth. The presence of clean running water at the
bottom of the 800-foot gorge also adds a touch of
grandeur to the scene. The Paria is often dry in the
early summer, but there is always at least a trickle
of water flowing out of Buckskin.
The next point of interest
as you walk up the Paria River is Slide Arch, located
about 0.7 mile above the confluence. This is not really
an arch at all, but rather a large piece of sandstone
that has broken away from the east wall and slid down
into the river. Beyond Slide Arch the canyon walls
start to become less shear and the canyon widens until
it is eventually little more than a desert wash. There
are a few hard-to-find panels of petroglyphs on the
west side of the canyon as you approach the White
House Trailhead. The first panel is about a mile before
the point where the electrical power lines cross the
canyon, and the last is just above the power line
Finally, you may want
to pause for a few minutes at the White House Ruins.
These are not Indian ruins, as many people think,
but rather the site of an old homesteaders cabin.
The cabin was originally built in 1887 by Owen Washington
Clark, the same man for whom the West Clark Bench
was named. Unfortunately it burned down in the 1890s,
and today there is little left but a pile of stones.
The ruins are located on the east side of the Paria
River, opposite a small side canyon on the west side
about 0.3 mile below the trailhead.
Many hikers combine
the Buckskin Gulch hike with a hike through the lower
part of Paria Canyon to the Colorado River. If you
turn south at the Paria confluence instead of north
you can walk all the way down the Paria River to Lees
Ferry. This 30-mile walk makes a long but rewarding
backpack trip with a great deal to see. There are
several abandoned homestead sites and mining camps
along the way dating back to the late 1800s. You will
also see several impressive panels of Indian rock
art, as well as one of the largest natural sandstone
arches in the world. The distance by road from Lees
Ferry back to the Paria Ranger Station is about 70
miles; hence two cars are needed for the hike.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order his
Favorite Hiking Trails.