Paria Canyon, Kanab, Utah
- Length: ~25 miles (roundtrip)
- Difficulty: 7/10, 2B V
- Season: Year-round
- Type: Point-to-point
- Terrain: Wet and dry desert gulches
- Trail Condition: Obvious
Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest, and although not one of the prettiest, it is exceptional in regards to its variety of terrain. With the narrows extending nearly 15 miles, some sections are less than 10 feet from side to side. At the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, the narrow canyon has grown to a height of 500 feet, while growing steadily narrower as it travels downstream. Because of the depth of the canyon walls, the sun is rarely able to reach the bottom resulting in dark marked canyon walls, as well as swirls and curves worn by floods. Aside from the narrow slot canyons, there is another significant challenge Buckskin Gulch gives to its visitors. All year long, backpackers will come upon residual pools of water and mud. While the pools are normally no more than 3 feet deep, swimming isn’t a rare requirement. However, overcoming these obstacles will be worth it for a chance to view the spectacular canyon views Buckskin Gulch has to offer.
Buckskin Gulch and the Paria Canyon are located in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area of Southern Utah. Most consider it a two-day canyoneering and backpacking trip at least, although there are day hiking options (see below).
Buckskin Gulch is a tributary of the Paria River that drains an area around the Vermilion Cliffs in far south Utah and joins the Paria exactly at the Utah/Arizona border, 20 miles from Lees Ferry next to the Colorado River. There are many different trailheads that you can use to access Buckskin Gulch.
From Kanab, UT, drive east on Highway 89 for 38 miles. Turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. This road is compacted dirt and easily accessible by 2WD cars. The Buckskin trailhead is 4.5 miles down this dirt road. There are no restrooms.
Wire Pass Trailhead
From Kanab, UT, drive east on Highway 89 for 38 miles. Turn right onto House Rock Valley Road. This road is compacted dirt and easily accessible by 2WD cars. The Wire Pass trailhead is 8.3 miles down this dirt road. You will see a signpost, parking lot, and restrooms.
White House Trailhead
From Kanab, UT, drive east on Highway 89 for 43 miles. There will be a BLM Ranger Station sign on your right. The White House Trailhead is 2 miles down a dirt road that begins at the Information Station. Restrooms are available.
Lee’s Ferry Trailhead
From Page, AZ, drive south on Highway 89 for 25 miles. Turn right (north) onto Highway 89A and continue for 14 miles. Cross over the Colorado River and pass the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center on your right. Watch for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area entrance on your right. Water and restrooms are available.
Buckskin Gulch Trail Guide
There are main routes of Buckskin Gulch, but the primary route taken is from Wire Pass Trailhead to White House Trailhead. Other common routes include Buckskin to the Confluence and back and Lee’s Ferry to White House. However, you can combine choose your own. The most popular are as follows:
For those with only a few hours to spend in the area the hike from Wire Pass Trailhead down to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch and back is a great introduction to a short fun slot canyon complete with Native American rock art. If you have an entire day to spend the hike from Wire Pass Trailhead down to Middle Trail and back should leave you exhausted. The hike from White House Trailhead down to the Confluence and back is a popular day hike, although the top half of the hike is not really very interesting, mostly a walk down an open wash.
|Mileage between key points of the Buckskin Gulch Trail|
|Wire Pass to Confluence||13.5 miles|
|Buckskin to Confluence||16.3 miles|
|Wire Pass to Middle Exit||6.5 miles|
|Confluence to White House||7.3 miles|
|Lee’s Ferry to Confluence||28 miles|
Wire Pass to White House
The most common route to experience Buckskin Gulch is to begin at the Wire Pass Trailhead, stay the night at the Confluence, and backpack up Paria Canyon the next day to White House Trailhead. With this route you get to experience most of the beauty Buckskin Gulch has to offer. Wire Pass meets up with Buckskin Gulch in 1.7 miles from the trailhead. It is a total of 21 miles, with most people staying the night near the Confluence. Before beginning your trek, make sure you have a shuttle car at the White House Trailhead. Parking, camping, and restrooms are all available at Wire Pass and White House trailheads, but no water.
Buckskin to Confluence
This is another possible route taking backpackers from the Buckskin Trailhead down to the Confluence, where you can choose to stay the night or not, and coming back up through Buckskin or Wire Pass. This way you get much of the ‘narrows’ experience without the long, hot hike through the wash to White House Trailhead. It is 16.3 miles to the confluence of Paria River and Buckskin Gulch from Buckskin Trailhead, and 13.5 miles back if you go through Wire Pass.
This route is only for serious backpackers. Generally, you start at either Wire Pass or Buckskin and backpacking to the Lee’s Ferry Trailhead in Glen Canyon National Park – taking 3-5 days for the journey. It is an enjoyable, but challenging trek. It is recommended that backpackers hire a shuttle service to pick them up at Lee’s Ferry and take them to their entrance trailhead. Some shuttle services include: Circle Tours – Page, AZ, (888) 854-7862; End of the Trail Shuttles – Marble Canyon, AZ, (928) 355-2252; Paria Outpost – Big Water, UT, (928) 691-1047.
Middle Trail Escape
The narrows run for nearly 15 miles, with only one spot where people generally exit, if needed. Near the middle of the narrows, the slot is not as deep, about 100 feet, and a crack runs up to the north rim. Petroglyphs on the north rim, about 20 feet up, indicate you are about to the Middle Exit. Experienced hikers can scramble up, while others may need a rope, this crack to get out of the canyon if it looks like flood potential is developing.
Although the hiking may be easy, several miles into Buckskin Gulch several pools of standing water impede your way. Even the deepest of the pools, the Cesspool, generally is only waist deep and a few yards long, although an occasional swim is not unheard of. The depth of the pools simply depends on how recently the canyon was flooded. Waterproof stuff sacks or even large plastic bags are recommended for keeping your items dry if swimming is required. Otherwise, simply putting your pack on your shoulder will do. The pools are all very stagnant and very cold. Because sun rarely reaches the slot canyon floor, it takes awhile for you to dry after wading in the water. After leaving Middle Trail the narrows close in and become very deep. There is usually no deep wading below Middle Trail, but you might encounter some knee-deep pools depending on past weather conditions. 4 miles past Middle Trail is the famous Rock Jam. Rocks have clogged the way, and this may be a difficult area to get around. A 30 ft rope would be helpful for lowering packs. About 0.5 mile past that are steps formed in the sandstone and the only source for fresh water in the canyon. Once reaching the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, the trail splits. The water of the Paria river is fast-flowing and light-brown colored, quite different to the clear lazy flow down the Gulch. If you are coming from Buckskin Gulch and heading to White House Trailhead, take a left (north) up Paria Canyon. Turn south, right, if you are heading to Lee’s Ferry Trailhead. The narrows in Paria Canyon are more open than the narrows of Buckskin, with smooth, shear, red sandstone walls. After hiking up Paria Canyon for 0.75 mile, you will come to Slide Arch where the canyon walls become less shear and the canyon widens until it is just a desert wash. During the heat of the summer, this last stretch can be very long and grueling with no shade. Make sure you have enough water for these last few miles, as there is no water until the White House Trailhead. If you head downstream to Lee’s Ferry, the gorge becomes wider, and eventually joins the Colorado at Lee’s Ferry. There are plenty of possible camp sites, and several fresh water sources on the way.
Other Buckskin Gulch Trail Information
Buckskin Gulch is very popular, yet potentially very hazardous. Because of this, there are several rules regarding access. A permit is required for both day hiking and overnight backpacking. Permits are $6 per person for day hiking and $5 per person per day for overnight backpacking. Day hiking permits can be obtained at the self-pay station at each trailhead (except for Coyote Buttes North and South). Overnight backpacking permits are only available through the BLM Online Permit System or by calling the Paria Canyon Project Permits Desk at (435-688-3246). Overnight trips must be booked in advance (up to 4 months ahead) and are restricted to 20 people per day, though this limit is rarely reached.
Besides camping at the trailheads, the best campsites are 0.25 mile above the Paria River confluence. There are two different spots on each side of the canyon. The sites are easy to spot with a large grove of maple and box elder trees growing in the sand above the streambed. There are many good places to make camp under the trees on the benches of dry sand above the canyon floor. Camping is limited, so be prepared to share campsites if necessary. The next closest campsite is located 1 mile away in Paria Canyon below the confluence.
Safety and Regulations
Regulations mandate packing your waste out of this area.
Spring and fall are the ideal times to backpack as the summer heat can be very dangerous, but people do this route year-round. During cold months, a wet suite or some such insulation is recommended as you make the wades through the pools. Also be sure to check the current and recent weather conditions of Buckskin Gulch, as this may determine flash flood danger. However, the Bureau of Land Management is ultimately the judge whether the conditions are safe or not to backpack.
There are many petroglyph panels located on the South, right, wall of Wire Pass just before the junction of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. 50 feet past Middle Trail, on the north wall, there is a large number of very faded petroglyphs. 100 feet above the faded petroglyphs, located in a horizontal black streak of desert varnish, is one of the best petroglyph panels you might ever see. You must hike down Buckskin 100 feet and look back toward middle trail, or climb up the ledge system opposite Middle Trail Exit to see this panel.
- Wild Backpacker – Google Earth Trail Map of the Buckskin Gulch
- Climb-Utah – Buckskin Gulch Topographical Map
- Utah Trails – Buckskin Gulch Trail Map
- YouTube – Buckskin Gulch Video Slideshow
- BLM – Paria Canyon Area
- BLM – Paria Canyon Area Online Permit System
- NOAA – Current Buckskin Gulch Weather Conditions
- Backpacker Magazine – Buckskin Gulch Danger
- The Hike Guy – 7 Tips For Hiking Buckskin Gulch