The Crazy Side of Buckskin Gulch: The Cesspools
For those of you looking for the ultimate Microadventure in northern Arizona or southern Utah, Buckskin Gulch is the place to go. For me, it is an area that I have taken people countless times, especially when my visiting friends want to “experience the southwest and all its glory.
First Off, What’s up with Buckskin Gulch?
The famous Buckskin Gulch slot canyon hike is known throughout the world as a go-to place for slot canyon hiking. Nestled on the border of southern Utah and northern Arizona, the trailhead lays about an hour from Page, Arizona to the east and an hour from Kanab, Utah to the west.
At over 45 miles in length, it is known to be the longest slot canyon in the world. It holds many amazing features including miles and miles of twisting pink, purple, and orange slot canyons. It is an absolute adventure and should be near the top of your southwest hiking “bucket list.”
A massive opening in a slot canyon within Buckskin Gulch.
As described in detail from the Outdoor Project, Buckskin Gulch goes for nearly 15 miles of uninterrupted slot canyons before it meets the Paria River in an area called “The Confluence.” At that point, most hikers do one of two things:
- Continue on towards the confluence of the Paria River and the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry: 28 miles
- Exit Buckskin to the north to the White House campground: 7.3 miles
Either way, most individuals stay overnight at “The Confluence before continuing on with one of the two options mentioned. Any overnight at “The Confluence” (or Buckskin for that matter) requires an overnight permit– which is fairly easy to obtain through the BLM. But hiking through the entirety of Buckskin Gulch is not the focus of this post- it’s the famous “Cesspools” area within it.
Sometimes you have to dive right in! Photo of Jori from The Outdoor Vegan.
The Cesspools? Sounds…well…scary and dirty. Well, you’re right! It is a specific area within Buckskin Gulch where the slot canyon dips down and fills up with pools of water. Because of the sand within Buckskin Gulch and the general lack of disturbance, the pools of water remain totally still without ripples with dark brown color that you cannot see through. The depth of the pools fluctuates due to the amount of rain from recent storms. The more recent the rainstorm, the deeper the pools will be. Expect the pools to be a few inches deep on the shallow end and nearly four feet deep at the deepest.
The Cesspools are the most intense and mentally challenge portion of Buckskin Gulch, by far!
What Makes the Cesspools so Intense?
While the hiking itself in the Cesspools is not too strenuous, you will experience mental gymnastics during the duration of the area. The deep and dark pools are intimidating to cross- you really have no idea how deep they are…you just have to get in and cross. In addition, you are crossing the pools while you’re in the slot canyon. It’s dark in a lot of places and the canyon walls are close, making the experience even more intense. It’s a Microadventure for sure!
If getting spooked while hiking isn’t your thing, turn around beforehand or check out other areas around the area including the nearby Toadstool Hoodoos trail.
I’m In! How do I Get There?
If you’re planning on going to Buckskin Gulch’s Cesspools, prepare to become a master at “rock hopping.” Photo of Kirsten from CustomCare Nutrition.
From Kanab, Utah, travel east on US-89A for just over 38 miles. Near a curve in the highway, you will see a turnoff on the right, that is House Rock Valley Road. Travel south on that road for just over 8 miles. You will see the Wire Pass Trailhead to your right. From Page, Arizona travel west on US-89A for just over 34 miles. House Rock Valley Road will be on your left.
From the Wire Pass trailhead, you will hike 1.5 miles to the junction of Buckskin Gulch, make a right there and then keep hiking until you get to the Cesspools a good 3 or 4 miles afterward.
While the map before can give you some guidance, well absolutely recommend a GPS for this hike.
What Should I Bring?
The water is always cold- even in the summer. Obviously you are going to get wet so wearing a dry suit is not too absurd. You can rent dry suits in Kanab and Page if needed. If nothing else, quick-drying clothes with extra socks are essential at a minimum. Because of the deeper pools, bringing along a dry bag for electronics is a real life-saving, especially if you’re a shorter person. Bringing along a headlamp is also a good idea- the canyon doesn’t receive a lot of sunlight and chances are, you’re in for a long day in the canyon.
How Long Should I Expect to be Out There?
Before you even head out, it is crucial that you check with BLM for the risk of rain in the area. The area is prone to flash floods and there is no quick escape in the case of one coming down the slot canyon.
Most individuals who hike the Cesspools do an out-and-back in one long day. If you go that route, hit the trail early and turn around by noon in order to have plenty of time to exit the canyon during daylight.
Door-to-door, expect an 8-hour day.
If you plan to stay overnight at “The Confluence,” the beginning of Wire Pass to “The Confluence is just over 15 miles that can be hiked in just over 8 hours.
The Cesspools within Buckskin Gulch is one of the best Microadventures in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Be prepared for an intense but incredible experience as you descend into slot canyon country and cross pool-after-pool of cold, deep water.