One of the truly classic hiking trails in the United States, let alone the world, Buckskin Gulch swerves through a subterranean paradise for the senses. Attempt this visually-arresting walk as a day trip, or walk the entire 20 miles over the course of four days.
Located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (near Kanab, Utah) and Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona), Buckskin Gulch trails takes hikers through the veritable layer cake of the Colorado Plateau's geographical wonderment. It is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest and offers obstacles like rock jams, pools, quicksand, and the potential for flash floods. Yet a day hike option via Wire Pass Trail is moderately easy, and should be a must-do tour on any hiker's list.
Note: there are multiple trailheads that provide access to Buckskin Gulch. Wire Pass Trailhead offers the most direct access for a day hike. This is not to be confused with the Buckskin Trailhead, which follows a wash for several miles before intersecting with Wire Pass Trail and then the confluence with the Paria River.
What Makes it Great
Access the day hike from Wire Pass Trail, a short tributary to Buckskin Gulch and the most scenic and direct way into the classic narrows — it’s an ideal alternative to the multiday backpacking trip. You will plunge right into the Buckskin squeeze, where the canyon is rarely more than 10 feet wide and the corridor can be hundreds of feet deep.
With stone so deep it’s a challenge to see blue skies in places, this hike will be something that you remember forever. Via the Wire Pass trailhead, the hike is simple, walkable, and pleasant. Depending on the time of year, cold knee-deep pools of water or large swaths of mud will persist along the hike and must be forded. There are also a few areas that need to be ascended/descended that are easily manageable, but might make the faint of heart consider turning around; these are climbable sections that are only a few feet at the drop.
After you leave the trailhead, you’ll follow a wash to the entrance of the canyon at 1.3 miles in. The sandstone walls will confine and open up several times as you traverse to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch at 1.75 miles. There is a petroglyph at the base of the large alcove on the right. You can continue up Buckskin Gulch for as long as time will allow. If you love taking pictures, be sure to buffer lots of extra time on your trip for photography — you will need it, as this is one of the most photogenic tours you can take in Utah.
What You’ll Remember
The dramatic, picturesque Navajo sandstone illuminated by indirect sunlight, thereby bringing out the quintessential hues of red rock country; how the curves of the rock have been smoothed by thousands of flash floods over time; the towering walls that, at certain points during the hike, lovingly squeeze in on you.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone with a bucket list of the best hikes in America or anyone who will soon make a bucket list of the best hikes in America. For more challenging routes, check out the rappel-heavy Middle Route to Buckskin Gulch or the longer Paria Movie Set to Buckskin Gulch.
GPS Coordinates, Parking and Regulations
GPS Coordinates for Wire Pass Trailhead
Park at the Wire Pass trailhead and follow the trail to Wire Pass. Permits are required for day hiking ($6) and overnight backpacking ($5). These can be obtained online or in the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab. Day hike permits can be also obtained at the trailhead. There is a limited number of overnight permits available per day, and these can sell out up to months in advance. Dogs are allowed, but there is a $5 fee per dog. Find nearby hotels in Escalante where pets are welcome.
Do this hike from April to June or September to October; during July and August, the chances for flash floods increase. All slot canyons are inherently dangerous for flash floods potential, so check the forecast before you hike — and the length of this hike requires plenty of preparation and supplies.