A stunning adventure through one of the longest slot canyons in the world.
Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass to the White House Trailhead
MAP: Trails Illustrated
PERMITS: required: $6 per person for day hiking, payable via an envelope kiosk at the trailhead. Apply here for overnight permits.
DESIGNATION: BLM and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
BEST SEASONS: spring, early summer, fall
DISTANCE: 21 miles
WATER: none but the silty Paria River – carry plenty
ELEVATION: Wire Pass ~4800, White House Trailhead ~4300
ACCESS: dirt road – most vehicles are generally okay
DRIVING: This hike requires two vehicles or a shuttle, beginning at “Wire Pass” and ending at “White House Campground.” Both of these phrases in quotations register via Google Maps. See more details below.
ROUTE: Narrow slot canyon – heed the warnings below!
HIKING DIRECTIONS: Hike for 1.7 miles down the sandy wash of Wire Pass and into its slot canyon to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch. Turn right into Buckskin Gulch and follow the narrow canyon for approximately 12 miles to its confluence with the wet, flowing Paria River. Turn left and follow the Paria River upstream for 7 miles to White House Campground, which will be on your right.
GUIDEBOOK: Hiking and Exploring the Paria River
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 southern Utah. 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 a local weather report and ensure that there’s virtually zero risk of rain. The months of July and August are especially dangerous – monsoons thunderstorms occur in southern Utah at this time of year with little to no warning.
Slot canyons provide a unique environment that can change dramatically with each passing season. The floor of Buckskin Gulch can be dry and sandy one day, yet provide multiple sections of deep mud and water only a week later.
This hike has at least two sections where boulder jams are known to present a significant obstacle. In most cases these are navigable with some basic climbing skills, but conditions can change at any time. Backpackers should bring a rope for lowering packs, and day hikers may find rope to be useful as a hand line.
The Paria River is not a true slot like Buckskin, but you are sure to get wet feet – walking in water for a significant length of time. If you do this as a long day hike, the Paria meets you as an upstream slog at the end of an exhausting day. Plan accordingly!
The general rule when traversing slot canyons is to be aware that you may be presented with an impassable obstacle at any time. Always be prepared to turn around if necessary, never jump from an obstacle, and be sure you’re capable of climbing back up any obstacle that you descend.
There’s surprising little to no record of any deaths occurring in Buckskin Gulch as a result of a flash flood. Most deaths in the area are the result of falls and heat stroke from hikers visiting the nearby Wave formation.
There have been, however, many deaths as a result of flash floods through similar slot canyons throughout Utah – be aware of the risk!
Buckskin Gulch has two main entrance points – the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead and Wire Pass Trailhead. Wire Pass is the most common access, as Buckskin Gulch Trailhead adds an additional 3 miles of less-stunning hiking.
About halfway through the canyon, the steep and obscure Middle Route is the only access in addition to the official trailheads. This is considered for emergency use only, as this steep scramble impractically brings you out into the middle of nowhere.
Buckskin Gulch empties into the Paria River, so one-way travel exits up the river to its main access at White House Trailhead. Those looking for a longer adventure can continue (with a coveted backpacking permit) down the Paria River to Lees Ferry.
This guide focuses on entering Buckskin Gulch via Wire Pass and exiting via the Paria River at White House Campground, a distance of 21 miles.
To continue down the Paria River from Buckskin Gulch (not discussed in this post) is a journey that totals 45+ miles, accessible only through a competitive permit system.
Casual visitors can hike in from Wire Pass or Buckskin Gulch TH with a simple day-use permit at the trailhead. You can hike as far into the canyons as you dare. Keep an eye on the clock, and simply turn around and return the way you came.
Buckskin Gulch TH to Wire Pass TH may seem like a nice loop for a day hike, but nearly half of this 9-mile day would be spent walking the road between trailheads (4 miles). Better to explore deeper into the canyon one-way via Wire Pass.
For strong hikers capable of knocking out over 20 miles in a day, I highly recommend doing the entirety to White House as a day hike, with a second vehicle (car spot) or shuttle.
Not only will you avoid carrying overnight gear, but you can circumvent the competitive permit process with a simple day-use permit at the trailhead. Wag bags are required for packing your poop out of these canyons, so day-hiking increases your chance of avoiding this process, too!
The 21 miles going in Wire Pass and out White House Trailhead are often done as a wonderful overnight backpacking adventure. You can even stretch it into two nights and take some time to explore downstream in the Paria River.
The best (and only truly comfortable) places to camp in Buckskin Gulch are in its lower reaches, not too far from its confluence with the Paria River. Here the canyon opens up, and benches form on both sides that make for some nice campsites.
Advance permits are required for backpacking, and the process can be considerably competitive. Reservations are done through the BLM on this page. Permits are released no more than four months in advance, and must be picked up in person at the Kanab Field Office or Paria Contact Station prior to your hike. Here’s some regulations that you should be aware of:
- You must pack out your toilet paper and your poop! Human waste bags are given to you for free when you pick up your permit in Kanab or at the Paria Contact Station.
- Dogs are allowed, but you must pack out their poop too!
- No campfires
- No camping near archaeological sites
- Group size is limited to 10.
Wire Pass and White House Trailhead/Campground are both located south of Route 89 on separate dirt roads between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ.
To travel directly between the two trailheads is a distance of 15.4 miles.
Wire Pass Trailhead
To get to Wire Pass, you’ll turn south on House Rock Road. This road is located between mile markers 25 and 26, near a big curve of Highway 89. House Rock Road is 38 miles east of Kanab and 34 miles west of Page.
Continue south on the dirt House Rock Road for 8.4 miles to Wire Pass Trailhead.
Buckskin Gulch Trailhead is located first, 4.5 miles south of 89 on House Rock Road.
The nearby Stateline Campground is 10.5 miles south of the highway on House Rock Road. The campground has 7 free, first come, first served sites with picnic tables, fire pits, and a pit toilet. No water is available here, but this is a great place to set up for an early morning start.
White House Trailhead
The road to White House Trailhead (and campgournd) is south of Route 89, signed as the location of the Paria Contact Station. The road is between mile markers 20 and 21. This turn is also 30 miles west of Page, AZ and 43 miles east of Kanab, UT.
Continue south on the gravel road for 2 miles to reach the White House Trailhead and Campground.
White House Campground has 5 first come, first served campsites available. Sites have picnic tables, tent pads, and fire pits. A fee is required.
Drinking water is available year-round in the parking area of the seasonal Paria Contact Station.
When to Go
Spring and Fall are generally best, but June is often one of the driest, hottest months of the year with the longest daylight and least likelihood of flash floods.
In order of personal preference I like June, May, September, October, April, and November. March can have decent weather too, but a higher likelihood of poor road conditions.
It’s certainly possible to go in the winter months – December, January, and February, but the roads can be snowy and in terrible shape. The narrow canyons would be absolutely frigid with little to no sunlight…. but hey, you’re sure to have an “experience!”
July and August are suicide, rolling the dice with your life. This is flash flood season!
Here’s some listing of local services that can help you out with a shuttle.
Some sources recommend taking a 40 foot length of rope to be sure of passage through the boulder jams. Some sort of rope is especially critical for backpackers to lower packs. Personally I think a 30 foot length of webbing should suffice.
Remember that your feet are going to get wet, so plan your footwear accordingly. I like low-top trail runners for this sort of terrain, but whatever works for you is best.
Backpackers will be happy to have an extra pair of socks.
Very little sunlight penetrates long sections of Buckskin Gulch, so be prepared for conditions that can be significantly chillier than you’ll find in the surrounding terrain.
Carry all the water you’ll need. The Paria River is silty and very poor for drinking, even with a filter and time to settle. Big Springs has good water, but it’s located 5 miles down the Paria from the Buckskin/Paria confluence.
See my Ultimate Gear List for more recommendations.
My Trip Notes and Photos
I day-hiked from Wire Pass to White House Campground with friends David and Ashley on September 28, 2011. David and I were new to these canyons, but Ashley had made a couple visits in the past and was eager to go through here in a single day.
We had two vehicles to do our own car spot and shuttle. Everything went great, spending the night of September 27th at the Stateline Campground, staged for an early start on the 28th.
I knew Buckskin Gulch was sure to be scenic and wonderful, but to this day I’m still impressed with the set of photos I was able to take away from the day. I stayed behind my companions to get them in my shots for scale, and came away with some great stuff. They didn’t seem to mind the constant clicking of my camera shutter in the otherwise silent canyon behind them, either.
Please enjoy viewing the photos!
first steps down Wire Pass
We soon got into some pools of mud in Wire Pass (see photo in the guide above), but in the scheme of things it wasn’t very bad at all. I don’t think we had to do any more wading until the Paria River.
The Paria River
Not long after we reached the landmark of the River, I surprised my companions with a six pack of beer I’d had hidden in my backpack.
It was a great day of hiking!