Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Buckskin Gulch & Paria River Canyon Hike, AZ

Lafayette, CO - I finally made it through all my Buckskin Gulch photos! Granted, I took a ton of photos for 4 days of hiking. However, on top of that, I also recently upgraded to Photoshop CS4. Between trying to figure out what the heck I am doing, and playing with all the new bells and whistles, my processing speed has noticeably dropped. That said, I'm pretty happy with some of the results. Although, I'm probably still over-processing quite a bit. But enough of that, let's talk about Buckskin.

On September 29th, 2009 a rental car full of friends pulled up to The Bean in Page, Arizona. Suwei and I were reorganizing the truck and packing for the weekend. Being well into my 4th cup of coffee, I was probably making more of a mess than actually accomplishing anything. We had just struck out two days in a row, trying to get permits to see the Wave again, so we had a day to kill before starting our hike. I tried to explain to folks, that what we were planning to see down in Buckskin Gulch, blows the doors off the Wave any day.

I had hiked through Buckskin Gulch back in 2002 with Shosh, a good friend who loves the desert. Since that time I had been wanting to do the full hike through the gulch and down the Paria River all the way to Lee's ferry. Suwei probably got tired of hearing me go on and on about it, and put together this trip.  As always, she did a ton of research and put together a fantastic plan.  I have posted it here for anyone interested planning a trip of their own:

Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon Canyoneering/Backpacking Trip, Sept 29-Oct 4, 2009

This is a trip I've wanted to do for years: Buckskin Gulch to the Paria River and then follow the river down to Lee's Ferry (near Page), AZ. Buckskin Gulch from what I read is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the United States (though in this trip we are doing only 12 of 21 miles of it). Anyways, if you haven't heard of it, just try googling Buckskin Gulch and you'll see tons of pics.

A quick note...I've read that Buckskin Gulch requires basic canyoneering skills. "Experienced hikers, those that have experience canyoneering, and rock climbers will have no problems." In particular there are 2 spots that require scrambling. I plan to bring a rope to help lower packs and aid in going down but if you are scared of heights or don't feel comfortable doing a little class 3 scrambling, this may not be the trip for you.

I currently have a permit for 6 but have checked and 5 more slots are available. Maximum group size is 10 though for a single applicant.

Suwei, Karl & Eng-Shien Hiking in Buckskin Gulch

Quick Stats
Total Distance: 43 miles, not incl. some side trips sans pack
Number of Days: 5
Average Mileage per Day: 8.6 miles

Quick Links
Jennifer in Buckskin Gulch
Day 1: Tuesday, Sept 29
  • Noon: Meet at Glen NRA, Lee's Ferry Ranger Station parking area.
  • Take hired shuttle to Wire Pass Trailhead.
  • If I can get walk-in permits for The Wave, then we'll do the 6-mile round-trip day hike out there. What is The Wave? Check it out:
  • Camp at Wire Pass Trailhead for the night.
Day 2: Wednesday, Sept 30
Start: Wire Pass Trailhead
Trail: Buckskin Gulch
End: Middle Trail Exit to the North Rim
Distance: ~7 miles
  • 2 miles: Entrance to Buckskin Gulch
  • 7 miles: Petroglyphs and a 100-ft scramble up the Middle Trail to the North Rim
Notes: No water available on the trail for this first day. Near the confluence of the Buckskin and Paria are springs (day 2), but it is recommended that you bring a gallon of water/per day/per person; so that would be 2 gallons of water to start.

First Day in Buckskin Gulch
Day 3: Thursday, Oct 1
Start: Middle Trail Exit
Trail: Buckskin Gulch
End: Confluence of Buckskin Gulch & the Paria River
Distance: 6-7 miles not incl. an optional 1.5 mile detour to Slide Arch
  • 3 miles: Large log and boulder-jam; next 2 miles to the Paria River are suppose to be the most stunning of the trail
  • 5 miles: Confluence with the Paria River
  • Slide Arch: 3/4 miles north from the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon; "The much photographed landmark is actually a huge rockfall which formed a bridge over the river."
  • Camping: 1-2 miles south of the confluence
Notes: The first possible available water source is at the camping areas, a spring 1 mile south of the confluence and another 2 miles south of the confluence.

Second Day in Buckskin Gulch
Day 4: Friday, Oct 2
Start: 1-2 miles south of the confluence of Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon
Trail: Paria River End: Confluence of Wrather Canyon and Paria Canyon
Distance: 10-11 miles
  • 1-2 miles: Wall Spring
  • 5-6 miles: Big Spring
  • 7-8 miles: Short slot canyon named The Hole and the remains of Adams Pump (no longer working)
  • 10-11 miles: Wrather Canyon
Notes: The water from the spring can be filtered/treated for drinking. The water from the Paria River can also be filtered but is very silty. Probably better for jumping in and cooling off.

The Paria River Canyon
Day 5: Saturday, Oct 3
Start: Confluence of Wrather Canyon and Paria Canyon
Trail: Paria River to Highwater Trail
End: 1 mile down the Highwater Trail
Distance: ~8 miles not incl. a side trip to Wrather Arch
  • Side trip up Wrather Cranyon to the base of Wrather Arch and a view down the canyon
  • 2 miles: Shower Springs
  • 5 miles: Last Springs
  • 7 miles: Highwater Trail
  • 8 miles: Highwater Trail turns back toward Paria River and there is stand of Cottonwood trees to camp underneath
Notes: Last Springs at mile 5 for the day is the last spring water source.
Day 6: Sunday, Oct 4
Start: 1 mile down the Highwater Trail
Trail: Highwater Trail
End: Lee's Ferry, Glen NRA
Distance: ~10 miles (early start as there is no shade for these last 10 miles!)
  • 1 mile: View of Echo Peaks
  • 2 miles: Trail drops back down to the Paria River bed
  • 9.5 miles: Preserved John D. Lee homestead

Last Day out to Lee's Ferry
  • The closest major airport is Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff to Lee's Ferry, Glen NRA, is almost 3 hrs according to Google maps. The next one is Las Vegas, at 5.5 hrs.
  • The Wave requires a permit. 20 permits/day, half of which are walk-in and the remainder can be obtained online beforehand. Online permits are obtained via a lottery system which needs to be entered 4 months in advance. Least to say, I didn't apply in time for the lottery. The 10 walk-in permits are available 24 hrs in advance. So I am going to try to get to the Paria Ranger Station Tuesday morning to try to get permits. I am limited to a group of 6 people.
  • In either case, I would suggest flying out Monday evening after work, stay the night in whatever town you fly to, and then get up early and drive to Lee's Ferry. Trying to fly, rent a car, drive to Lee's Ferry and shuttle to Wire Pass Trailhead starting on Wednesday, might mean no Wave for you.
  • If you are not interested in going to The Wave, then you can show up later. I will give you the numbers for the shuttle services and let you work out the details. Just be bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to start hiking at Wire Pass by 8am Wednesday morning.
  • The last day is 10 miles and I would like to get an early start: ~7am. Therefore I'm hoping to be at our cars no later than 1pm. That would give you enough time to catch a flight out that night.
  • Average temperatures for the week of Sept 21-27, 2008 (from Max - 86 F, Mean - 74 F, Low - 62 F
  • Of course, we'll be checking the weather reports beforehand. If there is a chance for rain in the region, especially upstream, we will have to postpone or cancel this trip.

Our group Finishes up at the Lonely Dell Ranch near Lee's Ferry
We only made a few small changes to this itinerary.
  1. As I mentioned above, we were unable to get permits to see the Wave. Instead, we took a short hike to Horseshoe Bend and then spent the afternoon swimming in Lake Powell.
  2. On our 3rd day of hiking we overshot the last spring and ended up hiking further than we expected.  We felt at the time that the published distances were a little over exaggerated.  In any case we were hiking much further and faster than planned.  So, on the 4th day of hiking, day 5 on the itinerary, we found it quite easy to make it all the way out to Lee's Ferry, completing the hike a day early.
Both Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River Canyon are mind blowingly beautiful.  If you ever get the chance to do this hike, take it!  As I said before I took tons and tons of photos.  There are about 85 of them in the slide show.  And although my camera was acting a little wonky down there, I was very happy with how many of the shots turned out.  Much, much better than in 2002 when I was still using my film camera and had no idea what I was doing.
Click the link below for the slide show:
Buckskin Gulch & Paria River Canyon Hike, AZ
And here are some links to other slide shows of the same trip:
Eng-Shien's: Buckskin Gulch Suwei's: 2009-09-30 CA to Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon Arturo's: Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon


Unknown said...

wow great photos!

Sarah said...

Thanks for the very detailed itinerary and logistical advice. My friends and I have been looking forward to doing this hike and your blog post has really helped with our planning.

Sarah said...

Quick Question: Did you leave your rental car at Lee's Ferry and pay for it to sit there, all those days that you were hiking? Is there any better option than paying for a rental car to sit at Lee's Ferry for 4 -5 days while we hike to it?

We're coming from California and will probably fly into Flagstaff, then drive to Lee's Ferry. But, I'm wondering if there is some type of shuttle that can take us to/from Page, AZ or some other area, so we don't have to rent a car and pay for it all the days that it will be sitting at Lee's Ferry while we hike.

Thanks for your help!

Suwei said...

Hello Sarah,

Karl actually posted the old itinerary/plan. We made a few changes...we did the car shuttle ourselves since we had 8 people on the trip. The hired shuttle charges per person and it was more cost effective with 8 people to rent a car and use our truck for the shuttle. However, I think with less people the hired shuttle may make more sense.

Also we ended up doing the backpacking trip in 4 days. Actually 3.5 days since we ended up starting after 12pm on the first day. I would suggest that you start earlier on the first day as it took us longer to do 8 miles than we thought it had rained the week before and so there were chest-deep mud pools to wade through.

On the other hand, the actual mileage between the confluence and Lee's Ferry seemed less than what is stated in the maps and websites. On the 4th day according to the map we supposedly went something like 16 miles but it was in reality more like 10 miles.

So hired shuttles services...check out these websites for services and their phone numbers:
4. Ask the Paria Ranger Station for a list of active shuttle services: 435-688-3331

Also try to get a permit to the Wave. It's well worth it! Hope this helps. Have fun!


Sarah said...

Suwei -

Thank you so much for all the information! It's extremely helpful. My friends and I are planning to go during the first week of May, and I'm very excited.

The only other question I have at this point -- are there any good resources online with suggested packing lists? I will be doing more research to figure out everything that I need to bring, but any guidelines/tips or packing lists would be very helpful.

Thanks again!


Suwei said...


Sorry for the late reply. We've been a little busy as you can see from the latest entry in the blog.

The BLM has packing list recommendations for canyon/desert hikes here:

Also I found these tips here basic but good: Especially like the section on shoes.

In the Gulch itself you maybe wading through cesspools (disgusting pools of mud) and in Paria Canyon you may choose just to walk in the river itself so good "water" shoes are nice. Now what qualifies as good water shoes varies...I used Chacos with wool socks (no ankle support). Karl and my brother just used their hiking shoes (Montrail Hardrocks) and got them wet (after the trip the shoes got thrown in the trash). Another person on the trip actually had canyoneering shoes with Stealth rubber on the bottom for grip and neoprene on top for warmth. Another person wore Tevas which completely delaminated on the 2nd day of the trip. I have read the following:

"On Paria water - It turned out it is not unheard of for the Paria water to dissolve shoe glue. Some folks had been advised to carry spare shoes, which they did. A ranger who walks the Paria's 38 miles twice a year gets skin rash during each trip. We did get some white spots and a light rash, too. It is probably the water contents, some minerals I would assume that cause such troubles. Well, it depends on the shoes as well - whether they are old or new, and also on the specific shoe brand. My old vasque boots behaved and showed no change at the end of the trip."

Just note that whatever shoes you bring you will get them completely soaked. And that you might want to bring a backup pair of shoes (in case one completely fails or to have a dry pair in camp).

In addition to those items suggested above, I would also suggest hiking poles (at least one pole). In general I have found that poles really help my knees/ankles when hiking through wet stuff but for Buckskin Gulch in particular, I found them useful to determine the shallowest path through the cesspools (chest deep was the deepest that I wanted to go into the murky pools of cess!).

This may not be necessary for you. I would call the Paria Ranger Station prior to leaving home for conditions in Buckskin Gulch. For us, we called and found out it had rained heavily the week before so there was a lot of water in the Gulch. On the other hand, the first time Karl did this trip, many years before, the Gulch was dry. Anyways, get a condition report will give you an idea of what extras you might need to bring.

Along these same lines, if it is wet in the Gulch it is going to be cold. We thought desert hike and therefore, hot weather. But in the Gulch itself very little light makes it down. One of the ladies on the trip almost went hypothermic on the first day. So extra warm, dry clothes is key.

Lastly, all of us ended up with this painful burning and rashy sensation/pain on the skin of our legs (as that quote earlier hinted and also stated in this thread: Something like the alkaline in the water seeps into the micro cracks of your skin. This mineral dries and irritates your skin so that you feel like you have a really bad and painful sunburn on the back of your calves. We treated it by using the only thing we had...sunscreen. I wish we had noticed earlier and applied sunscreen on our calves the minute we started the hike to prevent the alkaline from seeping in, in the first place! As suggested in the links, vaseline would probably have worked better.

Regardless, after we got to Page we all bought lotion and applied it to our legs. A few days later our skin was back to normal.

Sorry to make a short story, long! Well I hope this helps.


Sarah said...


Thank you again for all the great information. This is really helpful --- especially knowing in advance about the rash! We'll definitely bring some lotion or vaseline or something to try to prevent it.

Thank you so much for your help. :)


Gerry said...

The links under Quick Links - Random websites are incorrect (404 error). They should be:

Trail Guide & Maps for Paria Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Coyote Buttes

Buckskin Gulch

Somehowlost said...

Thank you Gerry! I haven't checked those links in ages. I hope I got them all fixed.