No need to pre-purchase a day permit — buy it there — and explore this spectacular family-friendly hike in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.
After 2 months in Covid-19 quarantine, which resulted in our three week Italian vacay getting canceled, our family was itching to for an adventure.
Luckily, we have some great family friends who were also up for an adventure. We hastily rented a houseboat for 4 days on Lake Powell. However, four days was not going to be enough for this adventuring family, plus we were heading into some of my favorite terrain in the United States. We had never visited Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, which is less than an hour from Lake Powell. We set out a day early so we could explore.
The famous “Wave” area of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument requires a coveted permit that can be reserved online, but are usually reserved months out. Fortunately, day passes for Wire Pass can be purchased on location at the trailhead of the hike.
Where to stay: Kanab, UT or Page, AZ
Kanab is a small, but quaint town in Utah. It is about 45 minutes from Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. We stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites — no complaints.
Getting to the Wire Pass trailhead:
From Kanab, we headed east on US-89 towards the northwest corner of Vermilion Cliffs NM. It is about 35 minutes from Kanab to House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road that runs north/south on the west side of Vermilion Cliffs NM.
Four wheel drive is recommended for House Rock Valley Road, but, in dry conditions, it should be traversable in a normal car if you know how to drive carefully — it won’t be for the faint at heart, especially if you don’t have high clearance. Expect to travel slowly along this road.
It is 8.4 miles from US-89 to the Wire Pass trailhead, which took us about 20–25 minutes.
The parking lot is easy to spot on the west side of the road.
Before you hike:
You will pay for the day use permit at the stand in the parking lot before you hike. There is also a pit toilet in the parking lot — take advantage of it, there are no restrooms on the hike.
We were a bit worried because we had all of our gear in our car, but many other cars had camping gear and it put us at ease.
Take lots of water. It is hot and dry, even in May.
Check the weather. If there is even the slightest chance of rain in the area, it may cause a deadly flash flood. Avoid these slot canyons if there is any flash flood danger! Flash floods typically occur between July and September.
Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch trail: 1.7mi one way
The trailhead is easily accessible from the parking lot. You will walk about a mile in the wash until it becomes a slot. Before the first slot, you will hopefully see the cairns to your right. You will want to take the trail to the right that takes you up and around the first slot section because, in the first slot, there is a 10’ drop that is extremely dangerous to attempt to scale up or down. We left a giant stone arrow that will hopefully still be there when you go — otherwise keep your eyes open for cairns or ask people what they did. We felt safely socially distanced from other hikers, but there were enough friendly helpers to steer us in the right direction.
At the end of Wire Pass, at the confluence of Buckskin Gulch, there is a giant arch on the right hand side. Just beyond that are 800 year old petroglyphs — they are about waist height and all along the wall from the arch to the corner! Be sure to enjoy those.
The world’s longest slot canyon! Our family members are all huge slot canyon fans and Buckskin Gulch did not disappoint. From Wire Pass, we turned right into Buckskin Gulch. The walls of the canyon are so tall and their undulating shapes make you wonder what beauty awaits you around the next corner. We had so much fun exploring each turn that we had wandered about 2 miles down the canyon before we decided to stop for a quick snack and head back.
Buckskin Gulch is over 20 miles long, so you can go for as long as you’d like, just make sure you save enough energy to retrace your steps back to the parking lot.