2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

Life List: Buckskin Gulch, Utah/Arizona

Yes, all wilderness is sacred. But this mystically beautiful slot canyon is holier than most.

by: Jonathan Dorn

Photo by Jonathan Dorn
Photo by Jonathan Dorn

In a serpentine hallway so narrow I can touch both sides, the March morning is cool and still; only the singsong trill of canyon wrens breaks the silence. A dusty sunbeam has somehow angled between the undulating 400-foot sandstone walls to reach the sandy canyon floor. The rays illuminate stone warped into psychedelic waves by eons of liquid erosion, the rock layered with burgundy, scarlet, and burnt-orange streaks.

At this moment, I decide that Buckskin Gulch is the coolest place I’ve ever been. And that’s saying a lot: In 10 years as editor of BACKPACKER, I’ve hiked on seven continents and ogled countless natural phenomena. I’m glad my two daughters, ages 13 and 15, are here to share this 12-mile journey through the canyon, whose unusual dimensions radiate an intimate immensity I’ve only felt in places like Chartres Cathedral.

Buckskin, North America’s longest, deepest slot, is the first leg of our 48-mile trek that will dovetail into also-extraordinary Paria Canyon and end at Lees Ferry. Days two to four in Paria increase in grandeur and solitude; we’ll see zero hikers there. Credit the BLM’s daily quota (20 people total across four trailheads), the route’s limited water (the Paria River is too silty to filter, so hikers must rely on a half-dozen springs), and our timing (we’re ahead of the April/May high season).

For today, though, Buckskin is our holy place. There’s even religious art of a sort: Ancient pictographs decorate the redrock every few miles, faded symbols from past pilgrims. And just as they do in Notre Dame, visitors here talk in reverent whispers—if they speak at all. When we finally reach camp at the Paria/Buckskin confluence, after 13 hours of gaping and photographing, one word finally spills out: amen.

Trip Planner
Do it
Stage cars at Wire Pass (free camping, no water) and Lees Ferry (pay camping, water) or book a shuttle ($175; Plan on 4-5 hours of driving, half on washboard dirt.

Spring and fall (see flood chart above)

(435) 688-3200;

Reserve 3 months in advance (e.g. Jan. 1 for April trips; $5 pp/day).

Trip data 



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
PTB time is upon us, agree?
Posted On: Aug 23, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
The Political Arena
At what age did you come back....
Posted On: Aug 23, 2014
Submitted By: Ecocentric
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions