Southern Utah is known for its vast array of magnificent desert hikes, but no trek is comparable to the journey through Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch. With walls towering hundreds of feet into the sky and rippling shades of red sandstone dancing in the warm sun, you will find yourself audibly gasping at the unbelievable beauty around every corner. Buckskin Gulch proudly holds the title of being the longest slot canyon in the world, but it might also be the most spectacular. If you are in southern Utah and looking for an epic day hike, the trek from Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch cannot be beat!

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!


rippling orange walls of Buckskin Gulch, one of the best Utah slot canyons

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About Buckskin Gulch

Commonly considered the “longest slot canyon in the world”, Buckskin Gulch stretches roughly 16 miles in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in southern Utah near Kanab. Reaching up to 400 feet tall, Buckskin Gulch is also the deepest slot canyon in the southwest and is definitely on par with (if not better than) the more famous (and crowded) Antelope Canyon.

Beyond the amazing scenery, hiking through Buckskin Gulch is also an incredible experience for the fun obstacles that make it unique – rock scrambles, narrow sections, and wading through ankle to thigh deep water (sometimes chest deep in one section if hiking through to Paria Canyon). If you are in southern Utah and want to spend an awesome day exploring one of the world’s most spectacular slot canyons, then Buckskin Gulch is for you!

Buckskin Gulch is easily one of the best hikes in southern Utah and our all time favorite of the great hikes near Kanab!

How to get to Buckskin Gulch

There are several different routes to get into Buckskin Gulch that allow you to explore different sections of slot canyon 

  • Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch (trailhead: Wire Pass Trailhead): most direct route into Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass to bypass the northwestern section of Buckskin Gulch. It’s about 3.4 miles round trip to the Wire Pass – Buckskin Gulch confluence.
  • Buckskin Gulch Trail (trailhead: Buckskin Trailhead): Puts you immediately into Buckskin Gulch at the northwestern-most end. From the trailhead, it’s about 8 miles round trip to the Wire Pass confluence. Note that this route is less popular because it’s a longer hike to reach the most spectacular sections of Buckskin Gulch. 
  • Paria Canyon to Buckskin Gulch (trailhead: White House Trailhead): To see the opposite end of Buckskin Gulch, you can hike from the White House Trailhead through Paria Canyon. It’s about 7 miles from the trailhead through Paria Canyon to reach the Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon confluence. 
  • Wire Pass to White House Trailhead: (trailhead: Wire Pass Trailhead) This is a popular 21 mile one-way backpacking route (requiring two cars or a shuttle) that allows you to see most of Buckskin Gulch and the northern section of Paria Canyon. It could also be done as a very challenging day hike. 

In this article, we will focus on the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch route option, since that is the most direct access to Buckskin Gulch and the most popular day hike option. 

Buckskin Gulch Trail Map

If you are thoroughly confused now, check out the map below to visualize all the different routes and ways to access Buckskin Gulch.

Overview | Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

Hike Stats (via Wire Pass)

  • Location | Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area
  • Hiking distance | 5.6 miles (plus option to continue further into Buckskin Gulch)
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Total time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 9
  • Difficulty | moderate
  • Fees | Day use permit required, $6 per person
  • Trailhead| Wire Pass Trailhead, located about 9 miles down House Rock Valley Road, which gets muddy if it has recently rained. 4WD drive and high clearance are recommended, although it’s typically doable with 2WD.

Find this hike on AllTrails: Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.

How difficult is Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch?

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch is a moderate trail, but offers the option to continue farther into the canyon for a more challenging hike. Wire Pass is more narrow than most of Buckskin Gulch and requires a few scrambles and climbing up/down a wooden ladder to pass a large drop. You can also bypass Wire Pass all together via a steep bypass trail (but honestly, we found going through Wire Pass to be easier, despite a few minor obstacles)

Highlights

  • One of the most beautiful slot canyons in Utah, if not the world
  • The majority of the hike is inside the slot canyon (unlike many slot canyon hikes which require a long hike for a short payoff)
  •  Ability to escape the crowds the farther you go into Buckskin Gulch
  • Chance to explore 2 slot canyons!

Lowlights

  • Mucky, smelly water and horse poop in the canyon
  • Deep sand makes the going slow
  • Narrow sections can feel rather claustrophobic 
  • Gets crowded through Wire Pass and near the Buckskin Gulch confluence

Modifications to the hike

Wire Pass to the Buckskin Gulch confluence and back is a 3.4 mile round trip hike. Once you reach Buckskin Gulch, you can continue up to 12 miles (one way) through the remainder of the canyon, which means you could theoretically hike up to 27.4 miles. Obviously, that’d be too far to go in one day, but the point is you can really make the hike as short or long as you would like.

As soon as you have seen enough, are feeling tired, or are running out of time, just start heading back towards Wire Pass.

Hiking through Buckskin Gulch in southern Utah

When is the best time to hike Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch?

The best time to hike Buckskin Gulch is during the spring (March through May) or fall (September through November). Summer (June through August) is the most dangerous time to hike Buckskin Gulch due to higher likelihood of flash foods, which can be deadly.

Will there be water in Buckskin Gulch?

Regardless of when you hike, there will almost certainly be water in the canyon. Exactly how deep the water is depends on time of year and recent weather conditions. 

From Wire Pass, it’s possible to hike about a mile into Buckskin Gulch without getting wet, again depending on the water levels. We’d recommend being prepared for ankle- to knee-deep water if hiking out and back from Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch. Pack a pair of water shoes or hiking sandals to change into just in case. 

How dangerous is Buckskin Gulch?

While best known as the longest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch also frequently makes its way onto lists of the “most dangerous” hikes in America, due to the potentially deadly flash flood risk. On average, Buckskin Gulch experiences 8 flash floods during the summer months and the surging water can swell to 20 feet high in a matter of minutes. Inside Buckskin Gulch, you can see remnants of previous flash floods (logs lodged 15-20 feet above) that suddenly make the flash flood danger feel very real. 

What makes this canyon so dangerous is the prolonged exposure to flash flood risk, as the 12 mile section between the Wire Pass confluence and Paria Canyon confluence rarely exceeds 10 feet in width and offers no escape route. Once you’re in the canyon, there is no way out but forward or backward! Despite the dangerous conditions, no hikers have died in Buckskin Gulch, although some have become trapped. 

All of that is to say, you should always check the weather forecast before setting off on a hike through Buckskin Gulch. Do not enter the canyon if there is rain, snow or thunderstorms in the forecast – your safety is your responsibility. You can also check with a park ranger before you go (especially if you are backpacking).

Permits for Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

A $6 per person day use permit is required to hike in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area, which includes both Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. Dogs are permitted, but also require a $6 per dog day-use permit. You must display your printed pass or permit number on your vehicle’s dashboard at the trailhead and sign in at the hiker log book.

Make sure to purchase your pass ahead of time as there is not reliable service at the trailhead and permits must be purchased online.  

Buckskin Gulch backpacking trip

If you are looking to backpack, we highly recommend the Wire Pass to White House Trailhead route, as it allows you to see most of Buckskin Gulch and some of the most beautiful sections of Paria Canyon – a truly incredible experience!

If you want to backpack through Buckskin Gulch and Paria canyon from Wire Pass to White House trailhead, you will need an overnight backpacking permit. Permits are released on the first of the month, 3 months in advance of the month of your trip. Note that only 20 permits are granted per day, and permits typically sell out shortly after being released, so make sure you are prepared in advance to snag one. 

Where to stay near Wire Pass Trailhead

  • Stateline Campground: The Stateline Campground is located less than 2 miles from the trailhead on House Rock Valley Road. There are 7 first-come-first-serve spots available. 
  • Dispersed Camping: Dispersed camping is permitted on House Rock Valley Road, although good spots can be bit hard to come by. 
  • Kanab, UT: The small town of Kanab, Utah is located an hour west from the Wire Pass Trailhead. 
  • Page, AZ: Page, Arizona is also about a 1 hour drive east from the trailhead.

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch packing list

Below are a few items we recommend making sure you pack for the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike in addition to your usual hiking gear:

  • Water shoes or sandals | Great to have to change into for the water sections if you want to avoid water-logged boots and soggy socks!
  • Neoprene socks | Incredibly useful if hiking in the spring or fall to keep your feet warm in the water – the water will be cold!
  • Warmer layers | If hiking during the spring or fall, it may feel very warm in the sun as you start the hike, but you can expect the canyon to be 10 degrees cooler due to lack of sunlight. It can be quite chilly inside the canyon in the mornings
exploring Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike details

In the section below, we’ll detail each part of the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike so you know what to expect.

Our experience

We have explored both the eastern and western ends of Buckskin Gulch, missing a few miles in between. Our first visit to Buckskin Gulch was a short detour up the canyon as part of a 40-mile backpacking trip through Paria Canyon from White House Trailhead to Lee’s Ferry. Although we only saw a small portion of the full canyon, Buckskin Gulch was one of the highlights of the trip and we were dying to explore more!

On our second visit to Buckskin Gulch, we hiked from Wire Pass and continued several miles into the canyon. Both sections we’ve explored were absolutely amazing, and we’re not sure we can decide which end is more beautiful!

Someday we’ll make it back to complete the full length of Buckskin Gulch, from Wire Pass to White House trailhead!

Getting to the trailhead

The Wire Pass Trailhead is located 8.5 miles down House Rock Valley Road, a bumpy dirt road that is generally well-maintained. In dry conditions, you could make it to the trailhead with a low clearance 2WD vehicle. However, be aware that House Rock Valley Road becomes a total mud pit following rain or melting snow, and may be impassable even with 4WD. 

We have had two very different experiences with this road. The first time we attempted the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch hike, the area had experienced an unusual amount of snowfall which was starting to melt. We made it a couple miles down the road before completely losing traction (in our AWD Subaru Forester) and barely managing to turn around without getting stuck (seriously, by some miracle!). 

The next time we attempted the hike was just a couple weeks later, and we had no trouble accessing the trailhead. The road was dry, packed down and the drive was uneventful. 

Be wary of House Rock Road if it has rained or snowed recently, and don’t attempt the hike if there is precipitation in the forecast, as you could get stuck either on the road or in the canyon due to a flash flood. You can always call the BLM to check recent road conditions if you have any doubts. Rangers typically report on conditions every couple days. 

Parking

There is a massive parking lot at the Wire Pass Trailhead (this is also the parking area for the famous “Wave” in Coyote Buttes North). There were plenty of parking spots when we started the hike at 8:00am and ended the hike at 1:00pm on a Saturday morning in early April, so you generally shouldn’t have trouble finding parking.

Starting the hike

The hike starts out through a dry wash with no shade. Slowly, the rolling petrified stone hills started to build up around you. 

Wire Pass Slot Canyon

At 1.4 miles into the hike, you come upon Wire Pass Slot Canyon. Wire Pass gets very narrow (down to roughly 2 feet wide in spots) and requires a few fun obstacles to get through.

The first obstacle is a log lodged about 3 feet high, that you will need to either climb over or crawl under.

Next, you will come upon a 10 – 15 foot drop, with a wooden ladder propped up to help you down. The ladder feels pretty sturdy and shouldn’t give you too much trouble unless you have a crippling fear of heights. 

Wire Pass – Buckskin Gulch Confluence

After exiting Wire Pass Slot Canyon, you will reach the Buckskin Gulch Confluence in less than a quarter mile. From here, you can either turn left or right to enter Buckskin Gulch. For the most stunning views, we’d recommend heading to the right. 

Tip: Just before the Buckskin Gulch confluence, there are a set of petroglyphs carved into the right hand side of the canyon wall – be sure to keep an eye out! Please remember to be respectful and leave no trace – do not graffiti or carve into the wall or otherwise deface these ancient artifacts!

Exploring Buckskin Gulch

Almost immediately upon entering Buckskin Gulch, the canyon narrows and the walls get taller and taller. The sun lights up the top of the orange ripples, creating a stunning ombre effect as it fades deeper into the canyon. There is beauty around every corner in Buckskin Gulch!

For the first few minutes, you can probably manage to avoid getting your feet wet. Eventually you’ll reach a spot where you can no longer cross the water using stepping stones, and you’ll have to get your feet wet!

If you are using AllTrails, the “trail” ends about 1 mile into Buckskin Gulch from the confluence when the canyon starts to open up a bit. However, you can continue as far as you would like (up to 12 miles!) and turn back whenever you feel satisfied. After passing through the slightly wider section, the canyon narrows again. 

Return hike

Once you’ve gotten your fill of exploring Buckskin Gulch, turn around and head back the way you came. Be sure to keep a lookout for the Wire Pass Buckskin Gulch confluence – the canyon opens up just before the turn, so it should be tough to miss!

exploring Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

Other hikes nearby

Below are a few other great hikes nearby in southern Utah:

  • Toadstool Hoodoos | An easy hike in Grand Staircase Escalante to explore one of Utah’s strangest landscapes.
  • Moqui Caverns | A quick hike to man made sand caves carved out of a cliff. 
  • The Nautilus | A unique wave-shaped formation accessible with short hike.
  • Coyote Buttes South | Colorful swirling rock and some of the Southwest’s most unique landscapes.
  • Paria Canyon | A stunning 40-mile canyon stretching from southern Utah into northern Arizona.
  • Red Hollow Canyon: A smaller, less-visited slot canyon near Orderville, Utah

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

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