Grand Canyon Day 5 – The Epic Buckskin Gulch

It is wrong to group such a standalone classic with the Grand Canyon, but that was the name of our trip, so I’ll have to live with it. Buckskin Gulch is truly the classic slot canyon. I’ve had my eye on it for over a decade. It was extremely exciting to finally do it, and it did not disappoint.

Buckskin Gulch feeds into Paria Canyon, and there are a few ways to hike it. The original plan was to hike down Buckskin from Wire Pass Trailhead to the confluence with Paria, camp one night, then hike out Paria to White House Trailhead. Unfortunately, overnight camping requires a permit, and we did not get one of the only 20 that are issues each day. Wire Pass to White House is 20 miles so we chose to do it all in one day. In the end, we were glad we did not camp as we did not need to, though the slots at night would have been fun. For the less adventurous, hiking in about 2 miles from Wire Pass Trailhead allows you to experience much of the narrow canyon. They are about 45 minutes from Kanab.

Our research indicated there was either no water, or it was not fit for filtering at this time of year. So we loaded up with 6 liters each and food for starting weights of 18 and 19 lbs. This proved to be sufficient, with each of us finishing with about 1 liter – a good safety margin. No special equipment is required. Before sunrise, we parked at White House Trailhead and met our pre-arranged shuttle with local guide Yermo from and headed to Wire Pass. Ten hours later, we emerged at the other end.

The Trail is entirely in Utah, just touching Arizona at the confluence of Buckskin and Paria.

There were only a handful of cars at either trailhead, so I was wondering how many of the 20 permits were being used, and how many people we’d see. There are warning signs about navigating, flashfloods, and how “Emergency Response is not Rapid.” The flashfloods are the greatest concern as there is nowhere to escape, but no rain was anywhere in the forecast. Navigation for Buckskin was not a big issue as there is only one way to go! However, GPS’s struggle in the canyon. Temperatures were perfect so we did not linger, and the canyon quickly narrowed and presented obstacles, one of which had a ladder after about 1 mile. This ladder is securely fastened to prevent it suffering the fate of the previous one, which is about a mile downstream, high above the canyon floor!

We found our first obstacle very soon, but this was negotiable with a bit of limbo.
The ladder. Hope it survives the next flash flood!
We started to experience the classic slot canyon.
After 1.5 miles, Wire Pass canyon joins the main Buckskin. The contrast between the narrow slot and the big open area emphasizes the two extremes.
A few old pictographs remain on the canyon walls.
Once Buckskin narrows again, we find the previous ladder!

After a couple of miles, I realized that the remaining 18 miles were likely to be very similar. I feared I might get bored, but the hike continued to enthrall. Each corner we turned revealed a new formation or lighting, equally thrilling as the first. The challenge was limiting how many photographs to take! We stopped at 5 and 10 miles for water, food, and brief rests. The temperature in the canyon remained cool.

Twisting and turning.
The light was fantastic. One of several logs wedged high in the canyon.
It was a challenge to decide how to take the photos, and then which ones to choose!
Rock holes!
Our first lunch stop at about 5 miles.
Those walls go up a long way! Samuel for scale…
A small bit of sunlight penetrates the canyon.
Great for selfies!
The most difficult climb on the trip. There was an alternative route requiring one to squeeze through a gap in the rocks.
The next lunch stop at about 10 miles.
I don’t think I’d be able to climb out!

About a mile before the confluence, the canyon floor became damp, and turned into clear running water. We saw a lizard and baby tadpoles which suggested the viability of such water for filtering. Someone had mentioned a seepage around here, but I am not sure if it is dependable year-round. There were also several collections of “fallen” tumbleweeds, that had fallen into the canyon!

A bit of water!
We were always able to avoid wading, or even getting our shoes wet.
Tumbleweed that had tumbled too far!
We made a friend.
He can’t scale the walls either. I wonder where he goes during flash floods!

After about 12.5 miles, we reached the confluence with Paria, which happens to be on the Utah/Arizona border. There was a bit of water in Paria, but we had been warned against filtering as it was agricultural run-off. While its green tint was a bit unpleasant, the lack of any life in the water was telling. Unfortunately, this was the end of the slot canyon for us. There was a cool arch on the hike out along Paria, but most of it was a hard slog through mostly-soft sand, racing between shade where possible. We met our only other hikers on this section, a couple with a dog resting in the shade, which might have been for the dog’s paws benefit. As we had previously scoped out the end, we could recognize where we had to leave the canyon to get back to the car (it is not that obvious). We had done it!

The confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon
Looking up Paria Canyon, the water has a suspicious green tint.
A cool arch as the canyon opens up.
Rather than putting on a hat, Samuel ran from shade to shade.
The holes in the cliff reminded Samuel of Star Wars’s Attack of the Clones.
The further the went up Paria, the more it opened up, with less shade and softer sand.
Our car was a welcome site.
There is a nice campground at White House
The sole camper at White House
Amazingly, black cows roam this land. While they are able to find shade, I’d think they’d be roast beef while still alive in this heat!

This was the final trekking adventure of our Grand Canyon / Buckskin Gulch trip, but there was one more cool experience on the way back to the airport.

This page is linked to from my Grand Canyon Buckskin Gulch home page.

Published by Peter Ireland

I am originally from England, and my wife Janet is from Louisiana. When we started Geocaching in 2002, we needed a name, and the Cajunlimeys were created, and that is the name I use for my blog. Even though Janet has no Cajun blood, her cooking is excellent! “Limeys” comes from the nickname for English sailors, who ate limes to prevent scurvy. We live in Houston, Texas, with Bailey and Samuel. We love adventures and want to share the experiences with others. When planning trips, I have found other people’s sites very useful, so I want to give back and add a different perspective.

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