Buckskin Gulch, Utah – 2012

Did you ever see the movie 127 Hours about this guy Aron Ralston and his hiking trip, accident and subsequent rescue in a narrow canyon in Southern Utah. He was hiking in what’s called a slot canyon. Slot canyons are deep and narrow canyons carved by water flowing through sandstone or limestone. Southern Utah is the home of some of the longest, deepest slot canyons in the US, possibly in the world. One of the most spectacular ones is called Buckskin Gulch. I did a two day hike of the Buckskin Gulch in October 2012. Fortunately my hike had a much better outcome than Aron Ralston’s and I made it out safely in one piece.


Buckskin Gulch is located Southern Utah, halfway between the towns of Kanab, UT and Page, AZ. The gulch is approximately 21 km long and runs from House Rock Valley Road to the Paria River confluence, just on the Arizona border. Most hikers shorten it by a few kilometers by entering via Wire Pass, a small and narrow tributary, and hike downstream from there. At its narrowest the canyon is only shoulder-wide, but it widens as you move downstream towards the Paria. From the Paria River confluence you can either exit north to the Paria Ranger Station, or continue southeast down to Lee’s Ferry at the Colorado River.

Buckskin Gulch in green. View in a larger map.

My hike started out from the Paria Ranger Station where I obtained my hiking permit and left my car. From there I hitched a ride to the junction of Highway 89 and House Rock Valley Road and hiked 13 km (8 miles) down to Wire Pass Trailhead where I camped for the night.
The next day I hiked through Wire Pass, crossed the Cesspools, passed a couple of rattle snakes, and finally set up camp a couple of hundred meters before the confluence with the Paria River.
On day three I hiked down to the confluence, broke off and hiked up along the Paria River to the White House Campground and back to the Paria Ranger Station.

Here’s from crossing the Cesspools.

Buckskin Gulch is located in the desert and can, at least in theory, be hiked any time of the year. Keep in mind though that slot canyons are subject to sudden flash floods. Never hike when rainfall is expected overhead or in the watershed area, or when melt water can be expected from the nearby mountains.
The surrounding dessert may be scorching hot, but the canyon floor rarely sees any sunlight and is usually mild to downright cold. Be sure to bring warm clothes.
Although you’re hiking in a riverbed good clean water is hard to find, at least in the Buckskin Gulch section. Most of the water has a lot of silt in it and should only be used in case of emergency. Trying to filter it will most likely just ruin your filter. Carry in all the water you need.

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