The Buckskin Gulch is rated as one of the most lethal hikes in the US – it’s the longest uninterrupted slot canyon in the world. It runs for 11 miles and in parts is so narrow your shoulders touch the sides. Any hint of rain and you should absolutely not start hiking – the logs and debris you see wedged in between the rocks 50 metres above your head are more than sufficient evidence of the power of the flash floods that torrent through these walls.
My ‘top five global day hike’ list is getting reshuffled again, as this is a must do! Some people overnight in the canyon (permits required and available in advance online), but it is a relatively easy 16 mile day hike if you leave your car at White House campground (the end of the hike) and organise a shuttle to the start at wire pass (most operators in Kanab will do this for you). A permit is required for day use but can be bought at the trail head.
Better would be to leave your car at wire pass, hike the canyon in one direction the first day, camp at White House and walk back to your car the next day (requires two day permits). It may sound bonkers to walk the same trail twice but it genuinely looks different coming in the other direction and the light changes how the rock looks constantly throughout the day
We were mesmerised by the light on the walls and the fact that the canyon looked different as we turned every corner. Like much of this region it is hard to do justice to the landscape with the camera, so you really need to come see for yourself. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in the world (for those of you who have been to Petra in Jordan, it is just like the canyon leading up to the treasury BUT instead of only running for 100m it goes for miles, has no tourists and is redder, so yup, I have never seen anything close to this in my life!)
The walk is pretty easy for most of the trail. In the early section from wire psd there is a 2m drop that you need to navigate down by wedging your back against the wall. In later sections, including the notorious ‘cesspools’, you may need to get up to chest deep in stinky mud (really stinky sewage smelling mud, hence the name). None of this is difficult, but go prepared. The only other people we saw in the gulch we met at one of the stinky water areas where everyone was clubbing together to gather big rocks and throw them in the water so we could have some stepping stones.
There is also no water in the gulch or at wire pass trail head, so pack accordingly.
Side note – getting to the wave
If you are coming to the area it is worth trying to get a permit to visit Coyote Buttes North a.k.a ‘the wave’. You can apply online three months in advance, and the odds are about 1/300 for the ten permits available. Another ten permits are available for walk ins at the visitor centre in Kanab the day before, where your odds are better (depending on the season but we were 1/90). The process is fair and easy, you turn up to the ranger station between 8.30-9.00 to complete an application and they run a lottery (using the old fashion wooden bingo balls in the cage) to see who gets to go. We sacrificed getting to do the whole buckskin gulch in a day to try and get permits and were unsuccessful, but it was worth it to give it a shot. Several people were there for their 5th or 6th lotteries, and apparently the record is a German couple who attended 38 consecutive lotteries before being successful. What the hell you would do in Kanab for 38 days is beyond me….
We did contemplate trying to find our way their without a permit but a) part of me respects the Parks decision to limit visitors to protect the area, and they run a fair process and b) part of me didn’t want to be busted by the Rangers and pay the $1500 fine
We stayed in Kanab as a base to visit the buckskin. We had booked the cheapo sun n sand, but the dodgy owner claimed to have lost our reservation. So we ended up sleeping in a basement room at the barber shop motel for $78 per night as all other options were $250 per night. Kanab has plenty of accommodation but is wildly overpriced and touristy! If you have a tent you can camp anywhere on BLM land for free provided you are 500 feet from a road.
Everyone in Kanab recommends Escobars for Mexican food. I don’t think any of them have been to Mexico – worst and blandest Mexican I have ever eaten! I don’t think this is the fault of the Mexican owners, more a problem of them catering to local taste buds. Instead go and eat at Rocking V cafe where the bison steak and key lime pie are stonkingly good
Visited September 2016