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Buckskin Gulch et al.

(This is a belated report about a trip from last June -- with a special nod to Gary for tipping me off about BG).

When my older daughter came form Norway to visit for the last two weeks in June, we decided to show her some of the desert'n'canyon areas that are so different from Norway (and Vermont), even though we had already done a similar loop in April. I lined up permits for the Zion Narrows, but before we left we found out they were closed because the river was still high even in late June. So we did an overnighter on the East Rim, came back down via Echo Canyon, camped frontcountry for a night, then my older daughter and I took an early morning speed hike up Angel's Landing before we headed on to Bryce. There we watched a full moon rise and had a good long day hike amongst the hoodoos. Then we headed off for the BLMs Whitehouse Rock campground on the Paria to get in position for Buckskin Gulch.

It was hot enough for us when we got there, and it looked to be just as hot the next day. We were too late to get overnight permits so had to do it as a 20-mile day hike. We contacted a local outfitter (that's him, not me, on the right below) for a ride to the Wire Pass trailhead so we could just hike through back to Whitehouse, where we left our little Prius.

The morning was cloudy so the day didn't heat up too fast. There's some open dry wash before it drops off into Wire Pass, a narrow slot tributary to the Buckskin -- this variant cuts off about 4 miles of the upper Buckskin which my sources said isn't all that exciting. But Wire Pass provides a great intro:


From where Wire Pass joins the Buckskin there's about 12 miles of continuous slot with only one escape route about halfway through -- you definitely don't want it to rain in the area or upstream towards Bryce while you're in there. It was dry and mostly sandy except for one last muddy pool and maybe a few mud patches when we went through.


It's pretty lifeless down there for long stretches. The width and depth and sculpturing vary quite a bit so even though it's a bit relentless it changes enough to keep it interesting. Here's an overhanging passage:

Some good sculpturing:

A deep, straight section:


Finally some green relief in a more open section:

(I'm having some trouble uploading images, so I'll finish later. Meanwhile, there's a full gallery including some pics from Zion, Bryce, and the GC here.)

Just saw that I posted the same picture twice... oops! Here's the deep straight section:

The "crux" was a boulder pile with a rope left to help you get down over it. It also turned out to be possible to go under, but I guess that way is sometimes blocked.

Otherwise the going was mostly flat and sandy, so the miles were pretty easy. Here's one of my favorite pics:


As we neared the confluence with the Paria we started seeing water seeping out of the sand on the canyon bottom. Things open up quiet a bit at the confluence, and the walls are probably a couple hundred feet high. I would love to have taken a right turn at the point and finish the 4-5 day hike down the Paria, but you have to line up permits months in advance. So we headed upstream, alternating wading through the few inches of muddy water with walking on sand and gravel bars.


We exited the narrows and things gradually opened up over the last four miles. Finally Whitehouse Rock hove into sight.

I think it took us a bit over 10 hours to do the 20 miles. I would love to have slowed it down a bit or better yet stayed the night down there, but as it was we wanted to be sure we were out before dark. It turned out not to be too hellaciously hot, but we were of course pretty sweaty and there's no water, never mind showers, at Whitehouse, and the river is too muddy to get you any cleaner so it was a pretty sticky night. But worth it.

Then we went to the North Rim, camped at a USFS campground on the entrance road, and took a day hike down to Cottonwood and back, with a two or three hour siesta in the afternoon to stay out of the worst of the heat. I think we all felt a little frustrated at being forced into more of a tourist mode for lack of backcountry permits, but these are exceptionally beautiful places and so that was the trade-off for us.

One reason I haven't posted this one sooner is that we finished up our stay in CA soon thereafter and hit the road agin, for a mostly car-camping tour around CA with friends from Trondheim -- we managed an overnighter in the Sierra, a two-nighter at Point Reyes, but also found ourselves in the City of Yosemite on a July weekend. Pretty insane, but I got permission to take a couple solo flyers that allowed me to leave the crowds down below. Eventually we drove our trusty Prius coast-to-coast all the way to Boston, where we sold it and flew back to Norway. Phew!

The Buckskin was for me personally my pick of all the little trips we took while we were in CA. There are higher res versions of these and many more pics in this gallery. Enjoy!

Great stuff BigRed! Thanks for sharing!

Thanks Patman. I really enjoyed your GC report form a while ago (probably should have said so at the time) and was very impressed by your marathon day/night/day. Perseverance furthers!

Great way for a family to spend time together, BigRed.  I appreciated the example of effective trip planning and execution, and the reminder of how global our community has become!  Thanks for thinking of us with your very nicely done photos.

Great report and shots BigRed, Great area!  Also loved the "Planking" shots in the gallery!  Very Funny :D

I need to add this area to my Bucket list.


Stunning scenery!

Awesome, beautiful photos... Thanks for sharing BR...

You got some really great shots of those sandstone slots. I've never been out there. Sometime, a friend and I plan to get one of the crazy cheap flights to Las Vegas to go do some canyoneering in the surrounding areas. 

Thanks for sharing. 

If you get to Vegas, consider a stopover in Valley of Fire State Park. It's <1 to maybe 1.5 hour drive from Vegas, has a couple of nice little campgrounds and lots of cool redrock formations to play around in.

We took a sunset hike from the campground up a nearby ridge to get a bird's-eye-view.


If you're thinking about doing Buckskin or any of the dozens of other slots, get a hold of Michael Kelsey's Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, now out in a new edition (and it's more technical companion volume if you like ropes and wet suits). I've done some serious drooling over that one, but lesson #1 is that you have to have 4WD to get to most of these places, and it might be good to have a decent mountain bike along to close some of the loops, as Aron Ralston was planning to do before he was dealt a losing hand (so to speak). I could easily spending a couple of months or longer just tooling around and exploring some of these places -- the guidebook will also get you to other cool rock formations and also Indian ruins and petroglyphs. Oh, and here's a useful web site on slot canyons (part of a more extended web sites on hiking etc. in the western states) if you're not ready to buy the book.

For the Buckskin/Paria, there is a cheap but useful little "triptych" with simple linear maps, available at the BLM station but you can probably also order a copy. I see now Kelsey also has a book dedicated to just the Paria, end-to-end. Here's where you can look into getting permits for overnight and longer trips (seems to be pretty competitive).

Again, I want to pass on my thanks to Gary for alerting me to this with a trip report he posted some time ago. I was vaguely aware of slot canyons before that, but seeing Gary's photos got me fired up, and having the name of at least one slot gave me a handle so I could find out more about them.


Buckskin and the middle Paria are very nice canyons. I have done both a few times since 1999. I did a loop down Buckskin from Wire Pass to the Confluence then back up the Paria to Hwy 89a.

Did you do the lil rappel in lower Buckskin just above the confluence? First time I did it I was a lil scared, even tho its only about 10-15 feet untill I did it I was worried. Once I did it it was so fun I did it again. Did you see the Moki steps cut into the sandstone nearby?

Some year i would like to do the Lee's Ferry to 89a or all the way up 75 miles to Bryce Canyon/Tropic.

My wife read about the rappel and worried about whether she could do it. Turns out you could easily go under the boulders. But it's certainly no big deal -- I took the rope, my daughters did it both ways.

Missed the Moki steps but found some petroglyphs at the Wire Pass confluence.

The whole Paria would be sweet -- if it doesn't rain.

Thanks for the great info, BigRed. I'm not sure when we'll be able to do the trip, especially since he's now a new dad, but I will definitely file that info to look into more. Every bit of insider, first hand experience info is a huge help when planning a trip! 


Worse months for rain are July and August. Some people have even done it in winter when the pools a iced over. I have done in in June and October. I have done both just the Buckskin down and back in June and down the Buckskin to the Confluence and up the Paria to the road then biked back to a friends vehicle  at Wirepass. (We left our bikes at the Whitehouse Campground (near the Paria entrance off 89a) prior to driving to the Wirepass Trailhead.

I was just through there on Thursday and the road was in good shape....even while it was pouring rain and soaked. In the morning Buckskin Wash was flowing good and high clearance was required to cross....but on the way back out it was just a trickle again.

November 29, 2020
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