Day Hiking Buckskin Gulch – Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, about half-way between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona, Buckskin Gulch is a spectacular and unique hike that winds through one of the deepest and longest slot canyons in the world. This area is most famously known for The Wave, which is almost impossible to get permits for. It’s also close to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. If you’re planning a trip here, we recommend seeing all three as they are literally within an hour of each other.

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The BLM does not limit the number of day-use access passes (unlike the 20 person overnight limit), which makes this a great option for those who want to see the gulch, but were unable to get an overnight permit. You do still need to get a day-use permit and leave it in your car. Permits can be purchased via self-serve envelope stations at the trailhead or on Recreation.gov. Permits cost $6 per person and $6 per dog. Passes such as Interagency, Senior, or Access Passes are not accepted for discounts.

You can day hike Buckskin Gulch from one of the five points of entry. Wire Pass Trailhead, Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, White House Trailhead, Middle Passage, and Lee’s Ferry Trailhead. Go as far as you like and return the way you went in.

Our top recommendation is an out-and-back hike from Wire Pass Trailhead into Buckskin Gulch. From the trailhead you’ll hike 1.7 miles to reach Buckskin Gulch, then explore the gulch as far as you like and turn around when you’re ready.

Our second choice and the one we did on this trip is from Buckskin Gulch Trailhead. From the trailhead you follow the wash walking along cow paths/trails for about 4.5 miles to the intersection with the Wire Pass Trail. The first three miles or so are just walking in and along the wash then you enter the beginnings of Buckskin Gulch where the walls of the slot canyon are still fairly low compared to the main canyon ahead.

Know your limitations, carry plenty of water for the entire day, pay close attention to the time, and turn back with plenty of energy to reach your car. Ambitious and fit hikers can still explore a good portion of Buckskin Gulch this way.

 

Social Media and Covid-19 Effects on the Hike

Buckskin Gulch has fallen victim to the social media trends that are causing so many beautiful places to be ruined and overwhelmed by tourists. This destination went from being a place you could visit with no one else being there to now having a never ending stream of “hikers” crawling all over the area. The solitude and amazement I first felt when coming here is completely gone and I was very sad to see what it has become.

Unfortunately with Covid-19 ongoing Antelope Canyon is closed until further notice. In my opinion this along with the social media effect has put huge pressure on Buckskin Gulch as a hiking destination.

Our trip on April 6, 2021, was met with shock when we got to the Wire Pass Trailhead to find nearly 100 cars parked in the parking lot. My previous five trips to Buckskin Gulch and The Wave I’ve never seen more than a dozen cars in the Wire Pass parking lot, and never encountered many people on the trails. This trip was totally different!

Getting There

The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass Trailheads are along House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road between Kanab and Page that connects Highway 89 and Highway 89A. House Rock Valley Road is considered passable with a car in dry weather, but a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended in wet weather. In dry weather, drivers should expect wash boarded and rutted sections and a lot of loose gravel and dust. A high-clearance vehicle would be best on the rough terrain although we passed a Tesla and a BMW on this trip.


Our Trip

We planned on hiking Buckskin Gulch from the Wire Pass Trailhead and were shocked to arrive there to find a new parking lot completely filled with cars. Probably close to 100 of them and more arriving behind us. Many people were milling about trying to figure out how to use the self pay kiosk. The old parking lot was under construction and by the looks of it they are going to double the amount of parking spaces.

We managed to find a spot to park and I went to pay for our permit. I got to the self pay kiosk and grabbed a yellow permit. But it wasn’t an envelope like I was used to seeing. It was just a single slip of card stock. Then I saw a sign with a QR code to scan that I guess you were supposed to pay on Recreation.gov. But in true government fashion, they don’t understand there is no cell service in the middle of nowhere. At least not for me. I guess that’s why everyone was milling around.

I decided to take two of the yellow permit cards and use one for the window of the Jeep and the other to fold my money into and slip it into the kiosk like how the envelopes work. But the longer we stayed in the parking lot the more I was dreading hiking with so many people around. We decided to go back up House Rock Valley Road to the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead since we only saw one car there on the way in. As we were leaving the Wire Pass parking lot cars were starting to line the roadway.

Arriving at the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead there were now a half dozen cars parked. We parked and actually found the envelopes I was expecting to find at Wire Pass Trailhead. I filled one out put in our $24, $6 each for Lisa and me, and $6 for each of our two dogs. I slipped the sealed envelope into the kiosk slot and away we went.

The dogs were excited to be off leash and heading down the trail ahead of us. We started along a path then weaved in and out of the wash running toward Buckskin Gulch. The scenery is beautiful in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, red, yellow and orange sandstone mountains and cliffs line either side of the trail down canyon. An ever-changing view around each corner.


We hiked for about two hours when we first came into Buckskin Gulch. The walls are fairly low at first rising maybe twenty or so feet. It stays this way until the junction with the Wire Pass Trail. At the junction you’ll see a large rock alcove. Be sure to look at the wall to your right for a series of petroglyphs that show the ancient rock art of the cultures that came before.

This is where we ran into the majority of others hiking in the canyon. I was glad that we hadn’t hiked from Wire Pass. There were so many people in the canyon that it just wasn’t fun. It was beautiful non-the-less but all the people in the area made it harder to enjoy the journey.

From the Wire Pass Trail Junction we followed the trail to the left into the main canyon of Buckskin Gulch. This is where the walls are really amazing. They climb about 100 feet into the sky and are about 10 or so feet apart giving that true slot feeling. We spent another hour hiking into the depths of the slot canyon, amazed by its beauty. The trail in the canyon is sand and boulders with water and mud in places. Sierra and Ruby loved playing in the muddy water while we hiked the gulch. Another bath in their immediate future when we get back to the RV.

After three hours of hiking we decided to turn around and head back the way we came. All in all we hiked for just about 6 hours. It was a beautiful day (with the exceptions of all the people) we got some good exercise saw some amazing sights, and the dogs loved running, chasing lizards, playing in the muddy water, and hiking with us.

 

Take Plenty Of Water And Snacks

There are no potable water sources along the trail, so you should always remember to carry enough water and drinks to get you through what can be a hot, dry hike. We saw one guy trying to fill one of his two empty water bottles from some water dripping out of the rocks. He had a long way back to the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead with no water.

Depending on how long you intend to continue into the canyon, you should also take along a lunch, as well as salty snacks such as nuts and pretzels to maintain your energy level.

Warning! Flash Floods Occur Here! They Can Kill You!

A wall of raging water and debris can come rushing down the narrows of Buckskin Gulch when there’s heavy rain in the area. Yes, Buckskin Gulch is deadly. If there is a chance of rain in the forecast, don’t do it. Closely monitor the weather report. If the sky above you is clear, this doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily safe. Storms occurring many miles away can still cause a flash flood in your area! For these reasons, it is imperative to check the local weather report and ensure that there’s virtually zero risk of rain.

The months of July and August are especially dangerous with monsoon thunderstorms occurring in southern Utah at this time of year with little to no warning. Plus if it has recently rained there will be large areas of standing water in the canyon.

If you don’t think the water gets high in this canyon check out the picture of the log wedged between the walls 20 feet up!

Conclusion

A beautiful and fairly easily accessible slot canyon Buckskin Gulch is more popular than ever. While it’s not the same as my previous trips there it is still an amazing place to visit. Sadly as beautiful as it could be it’s impossible to enjoy the serenity or awe-inspiring qualities of this canyon when they’re packed with so many people. I still recommend checking it out for yourself. Get an early start to avoid some of the crowds. Take lots of pictures and see the amazing scenery.

What interesting places have you been to and can recommend? We’re always looking for neat out-of-the-way places to put on our list of must sees. Thank you for reading our article. If you have any comments or questions we’d love to hear from you below.

 

 

 

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