This is one of the longest natural corridors in the world, like a giant crack in the surface of the Earth. It is reddish, made of sandstone, forming an otherworldly landscape. This crack is called Buckskin Gulch- one of the largest slot canyons in the world. So, if you love geography and the beauty of its wonders, let’s go exploring the Buckskin Gulch- by hiking, camping, and shooting a lot of photos and videos!
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Basic facts about the Buckskin Gulch
The area around the states of Utah and Arizona is full of plateaus, with a lot of high mountains rising on them. But these plateaus are not a whole flat landmass, they are cut by deep canyons. Here is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River– one of the largest canyons in the world. Many tributaries of Colorado form shorter sub-canyons with similar features.
One of these sub-canyons is Paria Canyon. Actually, the point where the Paria River joins the Colorado River, at Lee’s Ferry, is the official beginning of the Grand Canyon. And the Paria Canyon itself has a sub-canyon too. But it is different- it is a slot canyon, one of the largest in the world. This is Buckskin Gulch.
The slot canyons are like cracks in a plain, formed in proper geological conditions, mostly like erosions in a sandstone rock. Usually, they can be found in arid areas with low precipitation. Most of the time their bottom is dry, and the stream that forms them is seasonal. They are subject to flash floods and in certain conditions can be dangerous for people walking on their bottoms.
Buckskin Gulch is a typical slot canyon with all the features described above. It is like an endless corridor, sometimes only 1-2 m wide. In fact, it is a canyon in a canyon- Buckskin Gulch is formed on the bottom of a larger “normal” canyon- a sub-canyon of the Paria Canyon. Its northern rim is cliff-shaped and is called Vermilion Cliffs.
From Buckskin Gulch to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River
So, the streams that form Buckskin Gulch start from the mountains deep inside Utah. The longest of them is Lower Crawford Creek which forms Meadow Canyon (it is a small “normal” mountain canyon). From there it proceeds to flow to the southeast and joins more streams, all of them seasonable.
And when the streams reach U.S. Road 89 and join, the new larger stream is called Buckskin Gulch. It proceeds its way in the same direction. At a certain point, it “drops” into a slot… this is the beginning of the Buckskin Gulch canyon. It gets deeper and deeper. A small sub-canyon, called Wire Pass joins it a bit further, then it gradually changes its directions to the east.
The next point is where Buckskin Gulch joins the Paria River and its canyon. The slot proceeds further on the Paria River canyon but gradually starts opening until it disappears and the canyon turns just into a normal sub-canyon of the Grand Canyon.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
The whole area around the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon and the Paria Canyon is today turned into a protected wilderness, called Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Its border mostly follows the northern and the southern rims of the combined canyons, as well as the western slopes of the Eastern Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. It is designed to protect the unique geological forms and the local slot canyon flora and fauna.
How to explore the Buckskin Gulch Canyon
The best way to explore Buckskin Gulch is to walk on its bottom. It is like wandering in an alien world, like an endless weird maze. There is one basic hiking trail that follows the bottom of the canyon, and it has three starting points, forming three versions.
The hiking routes at the bottom of the canyon
The first and most popular hiking trail is Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch (or Buckskin Gulch to Wire Pass) trail. The second one is Wire Pass to White House trail- it is longer and includes some of the most interesting points in the area like The Wave. And the third one is the longest: Buckskin Gulch to White House- it just covers the whole Buckskin Gulch from end to end. Both the second and the third routes reach the Paria River and exit from there.
Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch trail
This is the shortest hiking option in the Buckskin Gulch Canyon area. The whole trail, known also as Hayduke No.9 Trail is 5,7 miles long, starting from Wire Pass trailhead and ending at Buckskin Gulch trailhead. The two trailheads are located at different points on House Rock Valley Rd. It is a dirt road but in relatively good condition.
The section from Wire Pass trailhead to the confluence of the short Wire Pass canyon with the Buckskin Gulch canyon is 1,7 miles long. First, you walk on a dry wilderness, and about a mile further, you enter the Wire Pass canyon. Soon after that, you reach the Buckskin Gulch Canyon.
From this point, you have to walk 4 miles northward, upstream, on the bottom of the canyon. About 3 miles before the endpoint, you go out of the slot canyon and walk just in a “normal” valley. The main point of interest on this short route is the two slot canyons and their confluence, but in the north, beyond the slot, you can see the Column Arch- an amazing sandstone rock formation.
Finally, when you reach Buckskin Gulch trailhead, you can just walk on the dirt House Rock Valley Rd to the parking lot at Wire Pass trailhead.
However, that’s not all. There is another popular route in this area that, although not inside the Buckskin Gulch canyon, still is a convenient experience that can be combined with the canyon. This is The Wave.
The Wave is an amazing sandstone rock formation, like a glimpse from another planet. Here the sandstone is shaped like a curved water wave. At the same time, it is in strips with different colors.
So, The Wave trail is extremely popular. It is 6 miles long in two directions, and you can complete it within half of the day. However, only a few people are allowed to get there. In order to protect this phenomenon, the government has limited the access to only 68 persons a day.
But if you are not among the lucky visitors, you can at least visit the Twin Buttes- two sandstone domes that are also very spectacular. They are located at the beginning of The Wave trail.
But let’s back to the Buckskin Gulch.
Wire Pass to White House trail
This is the most popular long trail of Buckskin Gulch. It covers most of the slot canyon, the short Wire Pass Canyon, and 7 miles of the Paria River Canyon. The whole length of the trail is 20,7 miles, which includes: 1,7 miles of Wire Pass section (already described above), 12 miles of Buckskin Gulch Canyon (its best part), and 7 miles of Paria River Canyon.
So, you start your hike from Wire Pass (same as the short trail) and reach the confluence with the Buckskin Gulch Canyon. But from this point, you turn right and downstream, until you reach the confluence with the Paria River. This is the best and most essential part of the Buckskin Gulch Canyon.
After 12 miles of walking in a weird fantastic corridor, you arrive at the confluence with the Paria River and proceed upward for another 7 miles. Paria River Canyon is a slot canyon too but is wider than the Buckskin Gulch, and there is water (the water of the river) all the time. It gradually opens into a “normal” valley until you reach White House Trailhead and Campground.
Buckskin Gulch to White House trail
This is the longest combination of the Buckskin Gulch trail sections. The difference is that you start from Buckskin Gulch trailhead (instead of Wire Pass), reach the confluence with the Wire Pass Canyon and proceed further as described above to White House trailhead.
The whole length of this route is 23 miles (in one direction)- quite long and challenging for a one-day hike, but possible for fitter people. The best highlight of it is that it covers the whole Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, from end to end.
Down the Paria River
This is another challenging route. You reach the confluence of the Buckskin Gulch and Paria River Canyon, but instead of going upstream to the White House trailhead, you proceed downstream, following the Paria River to its confluence with the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry.
The whole route, from Buckskin Gulch trailhead to Lee’s Ferry is 46 miles long (ok, you can make it shorter if you just skip the Buckskin Gulch and start from White House trailhead).
Here, at the confluence of the Buckskin Gulch with the Paria River, you leave Utah and enter Arizona. So, you need another permit to proceed further. And since it is really long, it is technically impossible to be completed in one day, so you have to camp at the river bank for one or two nights. That’s no problem because the Paria Canyon gradually opens downstream and turns into a “normal” canyon, with spaces that can be used for camping.
How to get to the Buckskin Gulch
To reach the Buckskin Gulch Canyon, you have to choose one of the trailheads: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, or White House (or Lee’s Ferry, if you want to go all the time upstream). Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch trailheads are reachable from House Rock Valley Rd, and White House trailhead is located on Hwy 89. There are parking lots at each trailhead, as well as park stations- from here you enter Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, and you can proceed further only with a permit.
Permits and fees
To explore the Buckskin Gulch Canyon, you need a permit. It is a one-day permit that you have to stick on your car when approaching one of the trailheads. It is USD 6 per person per day (and per dog, if you bring your dog).
You can also purchase an overnight permit with a basic fee of USD 9 + USD 5 per day (depending on how many days you would stay inside the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness). The overnight permits are limited only to 20 people per day.
This permit can’t be replaced by America the Beautiful Interagency Pass. And it is valid only for the routes that go on the bottom of the Buckskin Gulch Canyon. In other words, if you want to go to Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon, or The Wave, you need another permit.
Presumably, it is supposed that you hike the Buckskin Gulch within one day (no matter which route you would choose). So, there are no hotels or campgrounds on the trails described above, but only at their starting points (trailheads). You can stay in Stateline Campground at Wire Pass trailhead or White House Campground at White House trailhead.
You can’t sleep inside the Buckskin Gulch Canyon- it is too narrow for camping. And once you are inside, there is no way out- you can only walk to one of the exits, and once you reach them, you can just back to the nearby campground (one of the campgrounds mentioned above).
Alternatively, you can stay in some of the few properties in the towns of Kanab or Page (you can check for them on Booking or Agoda), along Hwy 89, and drive from there to one of the trailheads of the Buckskin Gulch Canyon.
You arrive at Buckskin Gulch or Wire Pass trailheads, park your car there and go on the short Buckskin Gulch to Wire Pass trail. When you complete it, you can easily walk about 2 hours on the dirt House Rock Valley Rd to the point where your car would wait for you.
But what about the long trails that end at the White House trailhead and campground? First, it would be a challenging hike, probably more than 10 hours long. Your car is waiting in Buckskin Gulch or Wire Pass trailheads, and there are more than 15 miles from the White House trailhead to the Wire Pass trailhead.
A convenient (but a bit expensive) solution is to use a shuttle service. They offer a shuttle between the two trailheads for USD 100 per 4 persons, and every additional person has to pay USD 25. Their shuttle vans can carry up to 10 persons with their hiking gear.
Another option is just to go with more people and use two cars (but not more than 10 people, as this is a limit for a hiking group in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness), and “install” one car in Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch trailhead, and another car in White House trailhead. Then, after the hike, the two cars bring the passengers and get together again.
This is another option for those who want to make it easier. Your transport is arranged so you don’t need to think about it.
From Page: Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon Guided Hike. This is a one-day tour, about 7-8 hours long, with Page as a starting and ending point. About 4-5 hours of the tour is hiking time. It has two options, and you can choose one- starting from Wire Pass or Buckskin Gulch trailheads. The routes of these options are almost the same (although the Buckskin Gulch trailhead option focuses more on the North Coyotte Buttes) but in opposite directions.
Seasons and flash floods
When we talk about seasons, we don’t mean hot or cold weather. Hot is not a problem, because inside the canyon, you are almost constantly in the shadow. And for cold weather, you can just wear more clothes (however, in winter, House Rock Valley Rd can be impassable, even by 4×4 vehicle, if it is covered by snow).
The real problem here is the rain. Basically, slot canyons are subjects of flash floods. So, if there is heavy rain that falls into the Buckskin River basin, its water streams merge and form a furious flood that rushes into the slot. And it can fill it with several feet of water for minutes.
If this happens and you are inside the canyon, you are trapped, there is no way out. Probably, you can just try to find a higher rock and step on it, waiting for the end of the flood (but you may need to wait for hours, even more, depending on the weather). Needless to say, it can be dangerous for your life.
Although, fortunately, there are no known fatal cases due to flash floods in the Buckskin Gulch (but there are cases of trapped hikers), you still need to be careful, and always watch the weather forecast before you go hiking there. And if they say about rains in the area, just postpone it!
Buckskin Gulch- one of the weirdest places on our planet
This is the Buckskin Gulch- one of the weirdest places on our planet. It requires different and unusual ways to explore it, and exploring it is 100% worth it. So, include this crack on the Earth in your explorer’s bucket list and be ready to enjoy amazing adventures!
Take a look at this video for more impressions from the Buckskin Gulch:
Check some travel books about the Buckskin Gulch:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.