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Buckskin Gulch / Paria River Semi-Loop - Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Summary: This classic hike begins at the Wire Pass trailhead following Buckskin Gulch to its junction with the Paria River, then heading up-river to the White House Trailhead. Along the way you will hike through the longest, and one of the most scenic, slot canyons in the world (Buckskin Gulch). A car shuttle is required to complete this hike. There is one drop-off within the canyon. Though a rope is usually fixed in place at this spot, you should not count on it. Carry a 40 foot rope or length of webbing just in case. Please be aware that the difficulty of the hike can vary with the time of year  due to varying water levels and that the conditions in the canyon can change with each rainstorm. Wading is almost certainly required in sections of Buckskin Gulch, and often deep mud is encountered. The depth of the water and frequency of the pools will depend upon recent weather conditions. Flash floods are a very real danger at all times of the year. Obtain an accurate weather forecast prior to entering the canyon. A permit is required to hike or camp in the area; they are available for $5 per person per day, from the BLM at: https://www.blm.gov/az/paria/index.cfm?usearea=PC
or, if the web site is down, by calling: (435) 644-4600

A car shuttle may be arranged through the following individuals / businesses:

  • Betty Price - (928) 355-2252

  • Back Country Adventures - (928) 608-0860

  • Canyon Country Outback Tours - Wally Thomson (888) 783-3807, (435) 644-3807

  • Catalina Martinez: (928) 355-2295

  • Paria Outpost - Susan and Stephen Dodson, PO Box 410075, Big Water, UT 84741, (928) 691-1047

Rules, Rules and more Rules:

  • Advance permits are required for overnight use. There is a limit on overnight use in the canyon to 20 persons per day.

  • Day use permits are available via self-serve envelopes at each trailhead. There are no visitor use limits for day use.

  • Day users must display the permit on their vehicle windshield. Overnight users must display the permit on the outside of their backpack, and on the dashboard of their vehicle.

  • Campfires are prohibited.

  • Dogs are allowed. They must be kept under control at all times.

  • Human waste bags will be provided free of charge at the Paria Ranger Station, Kanab Field Office and Arizona Strip District Office. Their use is not mandatory, but helps to preserve the pristine canyon environment.

  • Use existing campsites at least 200 feet from a water source.

  • No camping on or adjacent to any archaeological site.

  • Wrather Canyon is closed to camping.

  • Group size cannot exceed ten.

  • All trash must be packed out, including toilet paper and human waste bags.

  • Use of public land for business or financial gain requires a special permit.

  • Wilderness is closed to motorized and mechanized vehicles and equipment.

Directions: White House Trailhead (Car Spot): From Highway 89 between Kanab and Page (30 miles west of Page), head south at the Paria Ranger station located between mile markers 20-21. Follow the dirt road for 2 miles to the car park and camping area at the end (camping is $5 per campsite per night).
Wire Pass Trailhead (Start of the hike):
From Highway 89 between Kanab and Page (34 miles west of Page), head south on House Valley Rock Road which lies between mile markers 25-26 (closer to 26) just west of the curve in the road and guard rail. Drive south on this well graded dirt road to the Wire Pass Trailhead (it's about 8 miles from Highway 89, you can't miss the big trail sign).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - if roads are dry
Navigation: Easy
Length: 21 miles, 14 miles from the Wire Pass Trailhead to the confluence with the Paria River, then 7 miles up the Paria River to the White House Trailhead
Date Hiked: June 2007
Weather Conditions: Sunny and Hot
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the Wire Pass Trailhead, walk across the road, past the trail sign to the dry wash on the other side. Turn left and follow the trail down the wide wash, then through a stile as it travels through red-rock, pinyon pine country. After 15 minutes, you will come to a sign pointing down the wash for Buckskin Gulch. A trail on the right leads steeply up a slope heading towards The Wave. Stay in the wash, which soon enters the narrow slot of Wire Pass. A short hike through this slot will bring you to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch. There is a small petroglyph panel on the smooth wall on the right as you enter the confluence. Turn right and head down Buckskin Gulch. The narrows begin almost immediately as you head down canyon. Walking conditions in the canyon can vary from dry, slogging sand, to slippery mud, to loose rocks to cold pools and wading. There is little in the way of noticeable elevation change throughout the hike. Buckskin features beautiful sculpted narrows throughout its length. The color of the canyon will vary from gray, to gold to orange and red depending on the depth, and amount of light reaching into the canyon. Because the canyon is so deep, much of the time you will be hiking in shade. After several hours of hiking, you will reach a point where there is a break in the cliffs on canyon left which is often marked with a cairn. This is where the middle route enters and it is possible to climb out of the canyon. There is a small petroglyph panel high on the wall on the left just downstream from the entry point. Below this point, the canyon widens somewhat and becomes more shallow. As you continue down stream, the walls of the canyon slowly deepen and eventually close in to form narrows once again. Eventually you will arrive at a drop off formed by some large boulders. There is often a rope fixed around a log that will allow you to perform a 15 foot climb to the bottom. There are also some moki steps and a climbing route just to the left of the log. Lower your pack down this obstacle and have the more experienced climbers assist the other members of your group down. Continuing down canyon, water soon appears underfoot and soon thereafter you will arrive at the confluence with the Paria River. There are campsites on benches in Buckskin Gulch just up-canyon from the Paria. There is also another decent campsite a short distance down the Paria on the left. Watch where you step, the area around the confluence has been heavily impacted by inconsiderate hikers. Humanure and used toilet paper abound. Most people obtain water from the Paria at the confluence, but the quality is dubious. There are springs down-canyon in the Paria (most on the right hand side), but you may have to walk quite a ways to find one if conditions have been dry. When ready, begin hiking up the Paria River. The Paria is relatively wide compared with Buckskin, but is quite scenic. As you head up-canyon you will soon arrive at Slide Rock, a huge boulder that has fallen into the canyon forming an arch. After about an hour of hiking, the canyon walls diminish and the river becomes a wide floodplain. Continue up-canyon, avoiding deep sand which slows your progress. After some hiking, keep an eye on the right hand bank for a fence line. Soon after the fence is identified a trail leads from the river up to the White House Trailhead and your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author has hiked in this area on numerous occasions. Most recently I hiked down Buckskin to the confluence with the Paria River in 6.5 hours and set up camp, then day hiked 2.5 hours down the Paria and back for an 11.5 hour day. The next day I hiked out to the White House Trailhead in 3 hours.
Maps: None
Books: Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Hiking and Exploring the Paria River - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.

Some typical views in Buckskin Gulch