One of the most popular trails in the Vermillion Cliffs area is Buckskin Gulch. At 15 miles uninterrupted, Buckskin Gulch is believed to be the longest slot canyon in the world. Each year, thousands flock to the canyon to see it’s one-of-a-kind rock formations. Perhaps best of all, however, this slot canyon adventure is one that is great for bringing your dog!
About Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwestern United States and may be the longest in the world. Many people do Buckskin Gulch as a very strenuous day hike. With 15 miles uninterrupted and a total length of 21 miles, however, it is often recommended as an overnight backpacking trip. The Bureau of Land Management has a map of the area on their website.
Buckskin Gulch is rated 2B V using the Canyoneering rating system - “2” implies relatively easy scrambling, climbing, or downclimbing, “B” means that there will be standing water with no or light current, and the “V” means that it will take more than a full day.
To hike Buckskin Gulch, you will need to obtain a permit. While day hiking passes are available via self-serve envelope at Wire Pass and White House Trailhead, overnight permits are limited (only 20 per day) and reservations must be made (up to four months in advance). The day permit costs $6 per day per person and an extra $6 per dog per day. The overnight permit costs $5 per day per person and an extra $5 per dog per day.
Safety for you and your dog
The Buckskin Gulch trail is definitely a challenging one. Make sure you and your dog are fit and healthy. Your dog should be well-trained and extremely responsive to your command. In some parts of the canyon there likely will be standing water, so your dog may need to swim. Additionally, the trail has some technical difficulties as well, making that your dog will need to climb up and down steep parts as well. It is strongly advised that you bring rope and harness for large dogs.
On day 1, you and your dog would likely hike 13ish miles from the Wire Pass Trailhead before camping not too far from the Confluence (about .25 mi away). The maple and box elder trees above the streambed mark four great camping spots on each end (two on each). However, there are also many other good camping spots under the trees on the sand above the canyon floor. Camping is also available 1 mile after the Confluence.
You and your dog would then have 7.5 miles remaining for day 2 down White House Trailhead. Know in advance whether or not your dog is comfortable hiking these distances.
Rattlesnakes are also common in Buckskin Gulch - so just be alert of your surroundings at all times to ensure safety for you and your dog. It is advised not to let your dog stick their face or paws into various openings in the rock.
When to hike with your dog
If you are planning to complete the hike with your dog, it is best to plan it for Spring or Autumn. In Summer, temperatures are usually too high for dogs. Flash floods may be a danger when hiking and often occur from June till September. Later in Fall can be ideal, because Buckskin Gulch after a flash flood is a muddy mess where the mud turns into something resembling quicksand. You ideally want a dry canyon for navigability- particularly for your dog who likely won't entirely understand how to navigate the mud.
Conditions will vary day to day, so be sure to inform yourself in advance about the current conditions on the trail.
Other regulations and tips
Dog waste (as well as human waste!) should be carried out of the canyon.
This is a challenging hike, so be sure to prepare well. Pack enough supplies for you and your dog. This includes water (at least 6 liters for you and 6 for your dog per day), pet food, and a first aid kit.
The terrain is rocky and often hot so it is recommended to check the paws of your four-legged friend often. Consider bringing paw protection such as boots or paw wax to ensure the terrain doesn’t hurt your buddy too bad.