Updated on September 9, 2020
Buckskin Gulch in Utah is the longest slot canyon hiking trail in the world. And for sure, one of the most dangerous. The main reason for this is the flood danger. And the threat is real – while in the canyon, there are limited escape options. Still, you can do part of the Buckskin Gulch as a Day Hike from Kanab or Page.
From the other side, this canyon is so magnificent that you can’t compare it to anything else. Even if you know Antelope or Canyon X or Zebra, Buckskin Gulch still is something incredible, and its charm is unimaginable. This is why many people are trying to visit it, fighting for permits. And it’s not easy to get one. But for those who still want at least to touch it, there is an easier day hike option. Easier from permit perspective, but you still have to prepare yourself a similar way as multi-day hikers. Buckskin Gulch hike might be even 16 miles long, but of course, you can’t do it in one day. As a day hiker, you can set your limit according to your physical conditions.
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When to go?
There are three aspects to consider selecting your visit date. If you plan a multi-day hike, it depends on the permit. For a day hike, it’s easier because you only rely on the weather forecast and your free time availability. In this post, we are focusing only on day hikes, so the most important factor in planning your trip is the weather forecast.
The best time to plan your trip to Buckskin Gulch slot canyon is between April-June and September-November. There’s the lowest threat of flood in those periods, however, please always remember to check the Buckskin Gulch weather forecast. It’s a good idea to ask at the Paria Station even a day before your planned hike. If there is at least a very low probability of rain and even as far as in Bryce Canyon, we recommend to stay off the trail.
It is also a good idea to make sure what mud conditions are in the slot canyon. Sometimes after the rain, you can encounter muddy pools that may require wading or even using the appropriate gear. They are sometimes even waist-deep.
Another question is the time of the day. And here the answer is easy – start as early as you can because you don’t want to hike in darkness and you would like to go as far as possible during the day.
Below we have prepared an average temperatures chart for Buckskin Gulch so that you can adequately prepare.
The good idea is to call the Paria Contact Station at (435) 644 1200 before your trip and ask them for current conditions (mud and flood/rain threat).
Buckskin Gulch Permit
If you plan to stay overnight in Buckskin Gulch (Paria Canyon), you must reserve a permit in advance. There is a limit on overnight use in the canyon to 20 people per day. Paria Canyon day-use permits are available via self-serve envelopes at each trailhead. There are no visitor use limits for day use for Paria Canyon. The fee is $6 per person per day for day hiking and $5 per person per day for overnight trips. If you take your dog, the price is $6 per dog per day for day hiking and $5 per dog per day for overnight trips. There is no fee for children 12 years and younger. All permits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
In this article, we will focus on day hikes, but if you would like to get more information about overnight permits, please go to the BLM webpage that provides all the required info. Permits are available only in an on-line lottery system and 4 months in advance. There is no other option.
You can get a permit for day hiking in Buckskin Gulch at the self-pay stations at each trailhead. You can enter the slot canyon permit area using one of four trailheads (Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, Whitehouse, or Lee’s Ferry). While you reach the trailhead, please follow the procedure:
- Take an envelope from the self-pay station.
- Fill out both sides.
- Insert the correct fees.
- Tear off the flap and place it in a visible location on the dashboard of your vehicle.
- Seal the envelope with the fee and drop it in the fee box
If you are a day hiker, the most likely trailhead will be Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, or Whitehouse.
How to get to Buckskin Gulch Hike?
There are four trailheads to Buckskin Gulch Hike. Below we will describe each of them in details:
Buckskin Gulch Trailhead – If you are driving from Kanab, head east on US89 for 38 miles (from Page, AZ it will be 35.5 miles). Turn right onto gravel House Rock Valley Road and continue for 4.5 miles.
Wirepass Trailhead – If you are driving from Kanab, head east on US89 for 38 miles (from Page, AZ it will be 35.5 miles). Turn right onto gravel House Rock Valley Road and continue for 8.4 miles. You will park your car on your right and the Wire Pass Trailhead will be on your left across the road.
Whitehouse Trailhead – From Kanab, head east on US89 for 43 miles (till Paria Contact Station). From Page, AZ, it is 30 miles. Turn right onto White House Trailhead Road. After driving 2 miles on this road, you will notice the White House Trailhead and Campground.
Lee’s Ferry Trailhead – From Kanab, head south on US89A for 78 miles. In Marble Canyon, turn right onto Lee’s Ferry Road and follow this for 4.4 miles to the trailhead. You will not cross the Colorado River. From Page, head south on US89 and in Bitter Springs turn right onto US89A. From Marble Canyon, follow the same Lee’s Ferry Road to the trailhead.
Buckskin Gulch Shuttle
In case you would like to do a one-way hike instead of out-and-back, there is an attractive option to book a shuttle. It’s not cheap, but it might be your only option sometimes. Please book through the webpage http://grandstaircasediscoverytours.com/ or call the Paria Contact Station.
Example prices (as of 2020):
Lee’s Ferry to Whitehouse: 175.00 USD
Wire Pass to Lee’s Ferry: 200.00 USD
Lee’s Ferry to Buckskin Gulch: 200.00 USD
Whitehouse to Wire Pass: 100.00 USD
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How to prepare for the trail?
It doesn’t matter if you go for a day or multi-day hike. In Buckskin Gulch, the crucial is water. For a day, you must carry 4-6l of water per person. On the warmer day, you will be likely to drink more. On the colder days, you can survive on 4l. In case you plan to fill water in Big Springs or Paria Canyon, you should definitely filter it. The good idea is to use Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System.
Although there is no designated trail in the Buckskin Gulch canyon and you will not lose yourself, it’s a good idea to have some offline maps to know how far you are from the confluence or the entrance. It will help you to plan your return during the daylight. The good idea is to download offline maps on Alltrails application. In some wider parts of the canyon, you will have a chance to catch some GPS signals. If you feel more comfortable with paper maps, we can recommend Paria Canyon, Kanab [Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map (859)).
Leave Nothing but Footprints
In Paria Canyon, it’s necessary to think about how you will carry out your waste. In case you are doing a multi-day hike, you will get proper bags together with your permit. While doing a day hike, please take care of it yourself. The good idea is to use Restop 2 – Solid and Liquid Waste Bag.
This hike is not very different from other hikes in the area. And we have already prepared a universal list of gear you should always have with you on a day hike. In such a case, you will not need any rope in Buckskin Gulch.
No matter if the trail is short or long, easy or demanding, you always have to be prepared for your hike. Accidents happen, or the weather can change dramatically in a few minutes. That’s why we pack carefully, even for shorts and leisurely walks. Below is a list of our essentials, the most necessary things you must have on the trail. So we pack the essentials even on day hikes. We do not use most of them but take just in case of an emergency. If you are hiking responsibly and carefully, you should have them. They might save your life or someone else life. If something happens on the trail, these items could be essential to your survival.
|Water is most important even during short hikes, so bring a sufficient amount of water, and extra water in case of emergency. Always carry a water treatment method, f.e.tablets. Check before the hike if there any water sources on the trail. The best idea is to take a light water reservoir.|
|Take a salty snack, as high energy protein bars and beef jerky or other high - calorie meals, as nuts and sandwiches. Always take extra portions.|
|Always take a trail map. You can use App with your hike, but remember that there is no coverage often on the trails, so you should have printed maps too.|
|GPS watch or GPS device allows you to find your location on a digital map accurately. They are waterproof and robust. Another option is to use a smartphone with a GPS app, but often there is no connection on the trails. If you have a phone, remember not to use its battery. Finally, monitor your battery power.|
|First aid kit with blister care, duct tape. It will help you handle unexpected moments (includes CPR Mask, Bandaids, Blanket, Tourniquet and more)|
|Headlap or flashlight with spare batteries. Yes, we take it with us even if the hike is lasting only a few hours during the day. A long time ago we lost during the day and then we had to come back through the wilderness at night. You never know what will happen, that's why we always have headlamp with us.|
|Emergency sleeping bag, which serves as your emergency blanket, survival shelter, and emergency bivy sack all-in-one.|
|Pocket Knife with Multitool it's ideal for outdoor activities like camping, and hiking. It's essentail for gear repair, food preparation, first aid.|
|Fire Starter, because in case of an emergency, you need to have reliable supplies with you for starting and maintaining a fire.|
|Emergency Whistles is must-have, too. Battery in the cellphone will run down, or there will be no coverage on the trail, and this is the only way you can call for help.|
|Sun protection. Always pack with you and wear sunglasses, sun-protection hat and sunscreen.|
|Always carry some type of emergency shelter to protect you from wind and rain in case you get stranded or injured on the trail.|
|Extra Clothes. Even for short hikes, we dress in layers. We always have high trekking shoes with reliable traction, and we use trekking poles, too. But we always put it in the backpack extra clothes beyond those required for the trip. We add a warm hoodie, raincoat, gloves, a hat, and socks,in case of weather breakdown.|
|Leave no trace but footprints - keep up to this rule and use waste bags. You can buy some Restop here.|
Buckskin Gulch Trail
For a day hikers, the best option is to start at the Wire Pass trailhead or Buckskin Gulch Trailhead. We prefer starting at the Wire Pass because the part from Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch is not very interesting. It’s better to cut those 3 miles and make more of the main canyon.
Wire Pass Trailhead shares the parking lot with Coyote Buttes North/The Wave trailhead, and actually part of the trail goes the same Wire Pass wash. After lucky people that won the Wave lottery turn right, you have to go further straight forward, but be careful. The wash actually transforms into the slot joining the Buckskin Gulch, but it’s a trap. You will come to the point where there is a big stone and high jump down. You will not be able to do it without a rope. And that’s ok because it’s not the proper trail. If you are stuck here, turn back and find the unmarked trail on your left just before the slot opening. You must climb a little bit, and you will find the easy workaround leading you to the main part of the slot directly connecting with Buckskin Gulch.
After about 1.7 miles from the parking lot, you should reach the confluence leading to the left and right. On the left, there’s a way to the Buckskin Gulch and Whitehouse trailheads, and on the right, there is a way to Lee’s Ferry leading through the whole Buckskin Gulch slot canyon.
Now you have to decide if you want to end at the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, or maybe you are well prepared and have enough time to reach Whitehouse? But the most often chosen option is to go to Buckskin as far as possible and turn back when the time is right. Don’t risk your way back in the darkness. It might be a risky choice.
Let’s focus on the best part of the hike – the one leading to Lee’s Ferry. Of course, to get the whole trail, you need like 3-5 days. In this post, we focus only on day hikes. And during the day you can do like 4-5 miles one way – it will depend on the canyon floor, and it changes after each flood. Generally, it should be flat. Sometimes you will be stepping on the deep sand like on the beach. Otherwise, you will cross large fields of rocks. And be careful, and don’t break your ankle on this unstable surface.
If the year is dry, you can encounter some water pools, and they will require you to wade, sometimes waist-deep. In case you are doing a day hike, you will probably not get as far as Buckskin Gulch Cesspool located about 7.5 miles from Wire Pass trailhead. It seems to be the worst pool on the whole hike.
8 Slot Canyons Photography Hints
In this part of the article, we selected a couple of hints for slot canyon photography – it is useful not only for Buckskin Gulch but also for other similar canyons.
If you want to take great pictures in the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, you must carry the tripod with you. It’s very dark inside. The good idea is to have a comfortable and precise ball head.
Choose a Perfect Day
The best light is on a sunny day (no clouds in the sky) and in the middle of the day when walls glow in the sun.
Find Great Composition
Try to find narrow, curvy slots for better composition. In the canyons, you can find beautiful horizontal lines that your spectator can follow. Likewise try to find also light composition.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
It would be best if you were looking for places without direct bright fields of light. The contrast will be too high for a good picture (sensors in the camera doesn’t cover such a wide dynamic range).
Use Wide Lens
Put People in the Frame
If you have a chance, sometimes it’s good to put people in the frame and show how big canyon walls are. It makes the wow effect.
If the dynamic range is too low, you can try HDR mode on your camera and take at least 3 frames with different settings, then compose it in the post-process. It sometimes helps if the contrast is not too big.
Use sand, water or other elements to make photo more dynamic
Photographing canyon walls might be boring after a while. So you can try to find some water and move it for long exposure photography—the same thing you can do with sand slowly flowing from the rock. Try to add some leaves or branches if they fit the frame. Be creative.
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