When it comes to slot canyon hiking in Utah, there is an endless list of well-known routes. Buckskin Gulch is often overlooked, which is a shame as it offers one of the longest and deepest slot canyon experiences in the region.
Buckskin Gulch is easily accessed from Route 89. The most popular trailhead is the Wire Pass trailhead because it gets you into the deep parts of the canyon quickly and cuts off a few miles of less interesting hiking. The road is fine for most vehicles as long as there hasn’t been much rain – but if there has been rain you don’t want to be in a slot canyon anyway! A day use permit is required ($6 the last time I was there) and you also need a camping permit if you plan to make it a multi-day experience. The number of permits for camping is limited but I have never been turned away.
The route to the confluence of the Paria River is about 13 miles one way and most of that is deep and narrow. It is possible to do the entire thing in one long day and in my opinion it is a better choice than a two-day. Why? The canyon is narrow for a very long way and I find it really cumbersome to carry a bigger pack. Going light with just food, water and emergency supplies makes for a much better experience for me. There isn’t any drinkable water that I know of so carry all you need. However, it is much cooler down there so I don’t usually use nearly as much water as I would for a hike in this region.
The narrows range from about 10 feet down to 2 feet and are unrelenting. If 13 miles one way is a bit much, you can turn around at any time and still get more deep, narrow mileage than just about anywhere else. The canyon is deep so it can be very cool and dark down there. The walls feature endless interesting formations but don’t expect them to be lit up by the sun as in some shallower canyons. If you are one of those people who likes canyon hiking, but breathes a sigh of relief when the walls open and are bathed in light, this may not be your favorite hike. Personally, I like the spooky feel because it makes this walk feel more adventurous than most. The walking is fairly easy with some wet/muddy sections and small pools of surprisingly cold water to negotiate. Near the end there is a tricky section of large boulders that drops 15 to 20 feet. Most of the time you can scramble down pretty easily by picking your way through the boulders, but they do shift from time to time so a short length of rope may not be a bad idea just in case. The confluence with the Paria River is very scenic, but less wide open than you might expect.
Buckskin Gulch is a great hike for those looking for a true outdoor adventure. It just goes on and on so you feel totally isolated from the outside world. If serenity is what you seek, check it out!