Why are hikers dying in Buckskin Gulch?

May 25, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: May 26, 2023, 1:33 pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- The National Weather Service is warning national park visitors of possible flash ...

Buckskin Gulch, located in Kane County, has been the site of four fatalities in recent weeks due to flash floods. Photo credit: Steven Law

KANE COUNTY, Utah — Southern Utah has plenty of outdoor adventures for those seeking to get away from everyday life. However, Buckskin Gulch is viewed as a must-do hike, according to TikTok. And while Buckskin Gulch is being built up as a popular hike — it’s also where several hikers have been reported missing or even found dead recently and historically.

So why is Buckskin Gulch so dangerous?

Kane County Sheriff Tracy Glover joined Dave & Dujanovic to discuss what hikers need to know before heading out, and the dangers of this particular slot canyon.

“This has been a difficult few weeks for us here in Kane County dealing with these issues,” Glover said. “It is a beautiful part of the country, a beautiful part of the world. But it can turn deadly in the wrong conditions.”

What has taken place at Buckskin Gulch

“I know you have all sorts of visitors from around the world coming specifically for this hike,” host Dave Noriega said. “What do you say to them and what makes it so dangerous right now?”

Glover says Kane County received a decent amount of snow in the lower desert country — which he says is kind of rare. 

Then in March, Glover says the area received some rainfall that caused some runoff from that snow. He says hypothermic conditions from the rain and snow along with flood conditions contributed to the deaths of two individuals.

He says the most recent incident was a case of two hikers in the slot canyons getting caught in flash flooding from a thunderstorm. The bodies of the two men were found roughly 10 miles downstream.

“So, the force of that water carried them the full length of that canyon,” he said. “Which is pretty amazing.”

Glover also says there were boulder jams and rock jams along the path, and there was enough water to carry them through those obstacles.

The size of Buckskin Gulch

“The full Buckskin Gulch is like 26 miles long,” Glover said. “The actual hike is typically about just a little less than 20 miles because they enter at Wire Path, typically.”

At some spots in the canyon, Glover says you can see water and debris 20 to 30 feet high.

“So, the water can certainly get that deep,” he said.

Glover says in a fatal incident in March water was likely eight feet deep. In the most recent incident, water levels were at 10-15 feet, he says.

Don’t assume you’re safe if you see blue skies

Even though the skies are blue overhead, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from flash flooding,” host Debbie Dujanovic said. “Because it could be raining miles away and that’s where the flash flood starts.”

“That is often the case,” Glover said. “The thunderstorms may be 30-40 miles away at the heads of these drainages.”

Glover offers some advice for those who are planning a trip to the Buckskin Gulch.

“Just closely watch the weather,” he said. “Call your guides, outfitters and officials, elected officials, and public officials that have a good sense of what’s going on in the area. No amount of homework is too much when you’re going into dangerous conditions like that.”

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Why are hikers dying in Buckskin Gulch?