Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon
Key information: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon
- Two of the USA’s most impressive slot canyons (some think Buckskin is the best): deep and extraordinarily narrow, gouged into soft, colourful sandstone.
- Day or a multi-day hikes.
- Walkopedia rating93
- Natural interest19
- Human interest2
- Negative points0
- Total rating93
- Length: 33km
- 1-2 days
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon in the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness on the Utah/Arizona border are two of the USA’s most impressive slot canyons (some think Buckskin is the finest of all): deep and extraordinarily narrow alleys, gouged into soft, colourful sandstone. Buckskin is claimed to be the longest and deepest in the South-west, and possibly in the world. That said, some prefer Paria to Buckskin – and even to the amazing if heavily walked Zion Narrows.
This is a complex area, with Buckskin Gulch joining Paria at the famously beautiful “Confluence”, and a longer walk would involve both canyons, so we are writing them up together here.
The wonder of these places has been shared by visitors over thousands of years, evidenced by the ancient petroglyphs carved into the walls.
Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass
It is hard to overstate this canyon’s beauty and mystery, as it gouges and burrows its way deep inside the earth, its beautiful, colourful walls seldom more than 4 metres apart and at times so close you can touch them both. You will take a subterranean tour through the Colorado Plateau, beginning at the Chinle and Moenave formations, then travelling downhill to the red rock of the Navajo sandstone. From the magnificent to the subtle, the beauty of the walk is hugely varied; whilst the rock can glow in sunlight, in much of the canyon the walls feel dark, high and even daunting. Expect the unexpected.
The main entrance route is Wire Pass, down a dirt road sign-posted ‘Wire Pass’, a short drive from Page, Arizona or east from Kanab, Utah. Wire Pass is a challenging (as well as thrilling) prelude to the main Buckskin Gulch walk, a gateway so narrow in places one must turn sideways to fit through it which leads to Buckskin Gulch in less than 2 miles. You can also access Buckskin Gulch from Buckskin Trailhead. Wire Pass to the Confluence is 12 miles or so, whereas it is 15 miles or so from the Buckskin Trailhead.
Heading down Buckskin Gulch from Wire Pass, east toward the Paria River, is a 12 mile stretch, on average 10 to 12 feet wide for its entirety, which may involve some wading through deep, stagnant, sometimes stinking pools. While they are usually not that deep, this is not always the case. This stretch to the Confluence is described as the most beautiful of the entire route, as the walls reach 500ft (150m) high.
The canyon floor is generally flat-ish, but with sometimes sticky mud and some rough rock. There is a 20ft rock pile towards the bottom to get down, which can be difficult to negotiate, so taking a 30ft rope is recommended.
A few hundred yards further is the Confluence, where Buckskin Gulch joins the larger Paria Canyon. The beauty and atmosphere of the confluence are much admired.
The larger Paria Canyon runs for 60+km in total.
The “normal” route is to enter the canyon at the White House Trailhead, some 3km from the Paria information station, off Highway 89. You then walk 7 miles downstream to the Confluence, where famous Buckskin Gulch joins, making a side-trip up the lower reaches of that amazing canyon. White House to the Confluence is less dramatic than Wire Pass/upper Buckskin Gulch, so a less appealing day walk if you only have one choice.
You then camp in the Paria canyon and head downstream to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona the next day. 3-5 days in total.
You can day hike Paria, returning the way you came, from the White House Trailhead 14 miles return. Do allow time to walk up and back in the narrows of Buckskin Gulch from the Confluence. This is, obviously, preferable if you leave a car at the White House Trailhead, although you can always camp in the canyon if you want to wallow in the magic of this amazing place.
You will be walking in knee-deep water in quite a lot of places.
Walking options and camping
You can walk Buckskin Gulch down to the Confluence. From the Confluence, there are two choices. Heading north up Paria to the White House Trailhead, the Paria Canyon becomes broader and shallow, making for a pleasant end to a challenging long day walk (31km/19 miles in total). But it is better to camp en route near the Confluence. Or you can turn downstream to walk the down the canyon to Lee’s Ferry. (3-5 days).
You can also manage your timing (and deal with the transport issue) by walking in through Wire Pass and down Buckskin Gulch to the standing pools, and back in one day. While you will miss the full drama of the whole canyon, this is still a very viable option.
You can day hike Paria or walk the length of this marvellous canyon (see above).
You can apparently camp where you want in Paria Canyon. There is a superb campsite in Paria Canyon not far above the Confluence, on benches of sand above the river bed. The other main site is below the Confluence. If you are camping, you will have to carry everything in and out (including your own doings). You will need to be totally self-sufficient, and careful to take enough water.
There is a campsite in Buckskin Gulch on sand benches above the bed shortly above the Confluence. It can get crowded in high season. You can also scramble up the “Middle Trail” up out of the Buckskin Gulch at a point where its walls are quite a lot lower, to sleep in the desert above; on the north rim of Buckskin Gulch, known as ‘The Dive’, good campsites can be found. This is roughly half way between Wire Pass and the Confluence; beware, the route is not obvious!
Page and Kanab offer good accommodation, restaurants and services, and are superb bases from which to begin a walk through the canyon.
Risks and other practicalities (see also ‘Practical Information’ below)
These are tough, dry walks, and you will need to be wholly self-sufficient. Carry enough water (carry 2 days’ water if starting in Buckskin Gulch). But both Buckskin Gulch and Paria have standing water, so you will need specialist boots (and a dry pair) and other kit.
Canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods, so check weather conditions carefully before you set out. The main risk season is July – mid September. August is said to be the worst because of the rain risk.
Permits are needed to walk here.
We will be developing this page further. All comments and photos welcome.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk (support us: find books using our Amazon links)
Utah’s favourite Hiking Trails – David Day
An excellent Chapter in Classic Hikes of the World – by Peter Potterfield
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Other books (support us: find books using our Amazon links)
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Good maps can be bought locally, easily.
The Trails Illustrated Series, and other specific trail maps, can be bought at visitor centres. For real remote walking, you will need the US Geological Survey maps. May be gettable locally, but need to be ordered online to be sure.
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. A good online specialist source of worldwide.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Spring through to the fall. Late July to mid-September are the riskiest times for flash floods, so late April to June and October are the best months to walk here.
Flash floods are common, so don’t attempt this hike if there is any chance of rain. Be especially careful from late July through to mid-September, when thunderstorms in southern Utah are more frequent. For current conditions check with the Kanab Resource Area, Bureau of Land Management, at (435) 644-2672.
From Kanab, Utah, head east on US 89 to the Paria Ranger Station (44 miles, 71 km). From Page, Arizona, head west (30 miles, 48 km).
Transport back can be an issue. If you can, leave a second vehicle or a mountain bike at your exit – eg the campground at the White House trailhead, 2 miles (3km) south of the Ranger Station. Or arrange for a ride with a shuttle provider.
There are various shuttle providers, eg www.trailsendshuttles.com.
Wire Pass: Turn off to the south on a dirt road between mileposts 25 and 26. Continue to the signed Wire Pass trailhead and parking lot almost 10 miles (16km) from US 89. Sign in at the trailhead register, and self-service pay station.
Permits are required to walk in Buckskin Gulch and Paria, and are pretty limited for overnight (no limits for day walks) as at 2018, so book ahead (a strict 3-month system is imposed – see https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/permits-and-passes/lotteries-and-permit-systems/arizona/paria-canyon).
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun outside the canyon. Lack of water. Carry enough water.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Dangerous/harmful animals, including snakes, scorpions, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyon beds, including checking the weather forecast – don’t go into narrow canyons when rain is expected. Main risk season is July – mid September.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.
While these walks can be done independently, people can form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and potential risks, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Organisers can also arrange for permits to be obtained. Expedition organisers include:
- Grand Circle Tours - http://www.vermilioncliffs.net/guided-tours/tours-of-buckskin-gulch-paria-canyon-vermilion-cliffs-national-monument
- Wildland Trekking https://www.wildlandtrekking.com/paria-canyon/paria-buckskin.html
- Seeking Treasure Adventures - https://www.seekingtreasureadventures.com/buckskin-gulch
Camping is the only realistic option once in the canyons.
Page and Kanab offer good accommodation, restaurants and services, and are superb bases from which to begin a walk through the canyon. Other towns further afield have lodges, hotels and stores.
A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
Other things to do in the area
Endless. Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and endless more.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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