Buckskin Gulch accessed via The Wire Pass Trailhead
Day Hike: Permit Required
If you choose to do this hike without a guide service the first thing you need to do is get your permit online and check the weather to ensure no flash flooding is predicted in the area above Buckskin Wash. The watershed that empties into this canyon is massive, making this hike one of the top 10 deadliest on Earth. It can rain below Bryce Canyon and hours later, under clear skies, Buckskin Gulch hit with a wall of water and debris. Once enter Buckskin, there is no readily accessible exit or high spot to wait it out.
These services provide transportation, expert knowledge of area history and geology as well as lunch and (usually) wilderness emergency training. Guide services also take care of the required permitting.
Use the above provided coordinates to get to the Wire Pass trailhead. This is found 30 minutes down House Rock Road. This is a very rough, dirt road that is often washed out in areas and incredibly muddy and inaccessible after rain. Make sure to check with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for road report information. There is an alternate route if the Highway 89 access is not recommended. For the sake of keeping this short… I am not going into detail on that route. And as always… pack plenty of water.
Now that we have all the safety and road conditions covered…. The hike: From the Wirepass Trailhead, cross the road and enter Wirepass Wash. Heading downstream (east). Continue this direction, ignoring the sign directing hikers toward the “Wave.” The Wave is a permitted area that is heavily monitored by BLM. Any access without a permit carries a hefty fine in the thousands.
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At 1.3 miles, sandstone walls begin to close in; giving you a taste of what is to come. These walls open up again as you continue to the confluence with Buckskin. A wooden ladder, regularly replaced by volunteers after flooding, presents your first obstacle. Simply and safely lower yourself down and continue on. The walls at this point remain tall and stunning. At the confluence, canyon walls narrow and rise hundreds of feet above you. This point is 1.75n miles from the trailhead. Make sure to look for the Wire Pass petroglyphs at the base of the large alcove on the right. Sadly, vandalism and ignorance has occurred here, marring the magic of 2,000 year old art. Please remember to leave no trace. Not even a muddy handprint That is also considered graffiti and is punishable by fines and/or jail time. Our canyons are being carved and scarred by the selfish acts of visitors.
As you enter Buckskin, turn right. You are officially in the world’s longest and tallest slot canyon. And embarking on one of the Top 10 Deadliest Hikes on Earth (due to flash flood risks). Just right of the confluence you will notice large slabs and chunks of rock that have fractured from the canyon walls. Time, erosion and intense temperature changes created these boulder fields. This route to the right is longer and offers the most dramatic slot experience. In many cases there are pools of water that require wading or swimming. Under these conditions hiking boots will get muddy and your clothes wet. In the event of water, a hike to the left offers a wonderful slot canyon experience as well.
Depending on the time of day, the walls begin illuminating and glow in hues of gold and orange. This magical light showcases the wind and water-carved slot; a perfect opportunity for some spectacular photography. Remember to look up and always watch your step. The canyon floor is extremely uneven and cobbled with the remnants of river rock pushed in by eons of flash flooding.
A little over 3 miles from the confluence is a giant log jam; wedged by water between the canyon walls above. This is a great spot to turn back. Or continue another half mile to the boulder field. These rocks have broken off or washed in from above. Some have been pushed down the wash by the massive forces of erosion. Here is where I usually turn back; making a full day of hiking. Continuing on from here means you need an overnight permit and reading, in detail, the overnight hiking recommendations and instructions. Hiking to the boulder patch and backtracking will take about 6 hours; depending on your speed and the condition of the canyon. Most people do not go this far in and find an hour past the confluence is plenty for the day. Please keep track of the time, the distance and ensure you are drinking adequate water. It is not uncommon to experience heat exhaustion in slot canyons. People tend to drink less when hiking in shaded areas. Remember your body is still exerting itself and requires hydration; even in the shade. In summer months the interior of the canyon can reach temps in the 90’s. If using walking sticks.. Ensure you are using rubber tips. Metal tips scar the rocks and violate the Leave No Trace rule.
Written by Shelly Wayne
Local guide / Photographer