Hike: Wire Pass Narrows
Location: Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Trailhead: South of Kanab off State Route 89, on the Utah/Arizona border eight miles down House Rock Valley Road
Distance: Roughly three miles round trip
Cost: $6 day pass
The Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area is most famous for The Wave, a rock formation that requires a much sought-after permit to see. It is an envied notch in the belt so to speak, but if you only focus on The Wave, you can miss out on the rest of the spectacular landscape.
The Wire Pass Narrows is one of my favorite hikes in the area because it is a relatively short but spectacular hike that offers the chance to go through a non-technical slot canyon. The hike starts at the Wire Pass Trailhead on House Rock Valley Road. House Rock Valley Road is easy to miss when driving on State Route 89, so keep your eye out for it on your right. It is also a dirt road and impassable in some spots after heavy rainfall, so check in with the BLM for road conditions and take a four-wheel drive vehicle. The road can be driven in cars and non-four-wheel drive vehicles contingent on weather, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The Wire Pass Narrows starts in a dried-out stream bed. It doesn’t seem all that spectacular until you see the opening of the narrows, roughly three-quarters of a mile into the hike. It looks like something out of “The Arabian Nights” that quite possibly could require one to say “open sesame” to get in. Luckily, the canyon opening does not close once you enter.
If timed right, the walls glow and create dramatic shadows in the sometimes only 3-feet-wide slot. You may see wildlife, and if you are lucky, you may even spy a California condor. You will also get the chance to observe the work of water through the canyon as lodged trees and other debris can be seen stuck in it up above your head in spots.
This is not a hard hike, but there is some scrambling and down-climbing in spots. It is a relatively flat and easy hike and can be done with children, which makes it a great first experience for introducing them to slot canyons. The hike dead ends at Buckskin Gulch. There are petroglyphs on the walls to your right as you exit the narrows, and the spot is a great place for a snack or lunch. You can either turn back the way you came, or you can do a loop and hike out Buckskin Gulch (you will need two vehicles to do this).
Because this is a relatively short hike, it leaves time to explore more of the area. This remote and unspoiled 280,000-acre monument is a geologic treasure containing a variety of diverse landscapes with elevations ranging from 3,100 to 7,100 feet, so take advantage of it while you are there.
To get the most bang for your buck, get a permit and camp out. Trust me, once you see the Wire Pass Narrows, you are going to want to see more. Furthermore, the solitude, stillness, and night sky in the Paria-Vermillion Wilderness area make for a spectacular evening. Whether you do a day hike or camp for an extended stay, this area offers you a true backcountry experience. For more information on the area, including camp sites, permits, and safety precautions, visit the BLM website.