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The Buckskin Gulch, a canyon in southern Utah, is one of the main tributaries of the Paria River, which is itself a minor tributary of the Colorado River. It is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and may very well be the longest in the world. As such it is one of the premier destinations for slot canyon hikers, and receives a high amount of foot traffic.
At over 13 miles (21 km) in length it is often visited in conjunction with the longer Paria Canyon, although some prefer to make a long day trip out of the hike. With a distance of 20 miles (32 km), hiking this canyon in one day is possible but not easy. Wire Pass, a short tributary to the Buckskin, is an ideal alternative for a short day hike that still takes hikers through the narrow, curving features that are the hallmark of slot canyons.
Buckskin Gulch is reached via US Highway 89 or U.S. Highway 89A, and is approximately half way between the towns of Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. There is a ranger station right near the bridge over the intermittently flowing Paria River, and the dirt road to the Gulch is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the station. You then go 8.4 miles (13.5 km) down the dirt road to the jump-off point. The Wire Pass entrance shares the same trailhead, Wire Pass Trailhead, with the equally spectacular Coyote Buttes, home to The Wave, a famous sandstone rock formation.
Permits are required by law for both day hiking and overnight backpacking in the Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area. Permits can be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management office online. Only twenty overnight permits per day are allowed and group sizes are limited to ten persons. The overnight fee is $5.00 per person per day while day use permits are $6.00 per person per day. There is also a $5 fee per dog, per day. Due to the popularity of the canyon, permits typically sell out several months in advance. Campfires are prohibited and human waste cannot be buried and must be packed out in order to preserve the pristine condition of the area. Buckskin Gulch lies within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area of the Bureau of Land Management.
Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch generally do not require rappelling equipment, but there may be a few pour-offs or the necessity to wade in ankle- to chest-high water and/or mud. Hiking Buckskin Gulch is extremely challenging. Be prepared with extra clothes to wear for warmth after wading through cold, stagnant pools of water, rather than depending on campfires, which are prohibited in this confined environment. Additionally, the lack of sun-light in the canyon can make it much colder than the surrounding exposed desert. At one point along the route, there is a 15-foot (4.6 m) drop-off that usually has rope, but it is a good idea to bring at least 30 feet (9.1 m) of rope to navigate some of the pour-offs. Also along the route, small areas of quicksand can be found.
Slot canyons are particularly dangerous due to the risk of flash floods. Storms more than 50 miles (80 km) away can send 100-foot-high (30 m) walls of water down the narrow canyons, and hikers have been killed in such events. Hikers should check conditions carefully and not rely on seeing the sky to judge the weather. If there is even a slight chance of rain, do not enter slot canyons.
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