I rafted the Grand Canyon from October 6-21, 2016 from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek at mile 223. I didn’t understand that there would be so much hiking and we explored at least one canyon every day. Over the years, rafters, native groups and others have explored every side canyon and often built wonderful trails or discovered bypass routes around waterfalls. Hiking was a great addition to the trip.
I didn’t miss any opportunity to hike. I like to walk alone, and usually ventured out on my own to explore without the distractions of others. When others caught up, I again walked ahead or returned, again in my own peace and solitude. There were few strong hikers, so I was able to do my own thing.
Traditionally, all directions on river and canyon hikes are given as moving downstream. I will continue this for the Colorado River, but, as all the hikes originate from the river, I will give directions as if walking upstream. Hikes I didn’t do are marked with an *. I have included them for completeness sake. I used the excellent book “Grand Canyon River Hikes” by Tyler Williams as my information source but have heavily excerpted his descriptions.
1. SPENCER TRAIL*. Mile .7 – river right.
This is a cairned trail that leads to the top of the cliffs (and the Paria Plateau) high above Lees Ferry.
Walk upstream through the parking lot and onto the river trail. 400 yards from the ramp are cairns that mark the zigzagging route uphill. There is no exposure. Views from the top are stupendous.
2. SOAP CREEK*. Mile 11.2 – river right.
This is a popular first night’s camp. There are two camping areas here, one above and one below the rapid.
From the river, boulder hop and scramble for 15 minutes up the creek to narrows like Marble Gorge. 2-3 hours gets one to the rim near the community of the Cliff Dwellers.
3. RIDER CANYON*. Mile 16.8 – river right.
To hike Rider, park above House Rock Rapid as the large surging eddy below the rapid is hard to catch for large rafts. A camp is below the rapid.
The lower end of the narrows is in the Grand Canyon Super Group of rocks. .5 miles up is a chock stone bypassed by a 5.1 climb on the right. Then the canyon opens up.
A cairned route goes through broken chunks of Kaibab Limestone at the rim 2 miles from the river. One is now in House Rock Valley with views of the Vermillion Cliffs. 6-8 hours return.
4. NORTH CANYON. Mile 20.5 – river right
This is the first “classic” GC hike.
From the river, bypass a fall at .3 mile on right. Most end at a pool backed by trickling water and a slide (that looks like a vagina). Can swim the pool, climb the slide and continue 200 yards to a vertical 40’ wall .6 miles from the river.
5. SILVER GROTTO*. Mile 29.1 – river left
In Shinumo Creek, this challenging hike/climb starts with a short 5.0, 10-foot high climb on the left side. It is only 40m to narrows with difficult swimming and climbing. Move 1: slide down smooth limestone (set rope here for return). Then swim, scramble up a water slide and swim or momentum circle across the wall. Then swim and slither up a 5.7 route on the left. It is then a 4th class scramble to enter an open amphitheater backed by a pool and a 20’ slide – the end of the line for even gnarly climbers at .3 miles.
6. SOUTH CANYON*. Mile 31.5 – river right
This is a 15-minute easy hike in nice Redwall narrows – lovely, dark and deep. Start 200 yards upstream from the mouth of the canyon. The chokestones get bigger and climbing becomes more difficult to get through the Redwall. When the canyon opens, boulder hop through the lower Supai. At the junction with a major side canyon, a cairned route leads up the left ledges bypassing a fall. Rejoin the creekbed to the junction of South and Bedrock Canyon (Bedrock has nice Supai narrows with 2 waterfalls and 5th class climbs).
7. NAUTILOID CANYON*. Mile 34.8 – river left
Nautiloids were ancient Paleozoic squid-like creatures with tapered external shells and that propelled themselves by pumping water. To see fossil remains, start with a 4th class scramble up some limestone on upstream side. In the canyon bottom, see ribbed fish fossils and crinoid stems in grey limestone. Especially visible when wet. This is a shady place with a huge limestone dryfall at the back.
8. SADDLE CANYON. Mile 47 – river right
Start up a dry, initially steep climb, then traverse high above the creek for great views back to the delta and river. Drop down to the creek ensconced in giant Redwall cliffs. Hackberry and box elder and woodhouse toads are in the canyon. Enter the Muav Limestone narrows with a tiny creek. A 5th class boulder move is required to ascend a moss backed 30-foot waterfall. 3 hours return.
9. NANKOWEAP CREEK*. Mile 52-53 – river right
This is an easy 4 hour round trip hike to springs along the Butte Fault. The hike is flat for a few miles through a nice canyon with flowing water. Walk up the creekbed, bypassing a few boulder-choked sections. The canyon never gets really narrow due to the same Redwall and Muav ledges. A springs at 2.5 miles has marshy areas with oaks and cottonwoods. At the Butte Fault, it opens into a broad valley.
10. NANKOWEAP GRANARIES. Mile 52.6 – river right
This short but steep hike ascends a well-built trail. Many large rocks have been moved to form great steps. The trail ends at 4 granaries at the base of the Redwall. One was damaged by the local natives but has been repaired. This is one of the GC “classic” hikes, famous for its photogenic downstream view of the Colorado in Marble Canyon. Granaries were used to store beans and squash seeds for next years crop.
There is a shorter, flat hike from the river to a ruin on the delta of the creek.
11. LITTLE COLORADO RIVER*. Mile 61.3 – river left
The Little Colorado is only 50 miles long originating from a springs with a normal flow of 200 cfs. This spring is Sipapu, part of the creation myth of the Hopi. The water is rich in dissolved calcium carbonate producing a rich turquoise colour and travertine ledges. Whenever there is rain and flooding in the headwaters, the water turns a chocolate brown, and few hike.
Walk on the sidewalks of Tapeats Sandstone on the left side for 200 yards, then follow a trail to a swimming hole at .4 miles. The water is temperate. There are trails on both sides for a few miles but they eventually fade and walking is difficult through the tamarisk.
12. CARBON-LAVA LOOP. Mile 64.5-65.5 – river right.
This 2-hour loop hike starts at the mouth of Carbon Creek and goes up a boulder strewn creek bed with a short 4th class scramble around a fall. At .7 mile, climb a rockslide on the left to a ‘pass’ with a lovely rock bench. Turn left 90° into a pretty Tapeats narrows. It is a great walk .5 miles up canyon to the Butte Fault (a wide valley here) and Tapeats Sandstone bent vertically. 25,000 feet of sediment was removed here
Cross over into the Chuar Valley with great colours and into Lava Creek. Walk down to the river just above the Lava-Chuar Rapid.
The guides made this happening without us having to walk the 1 mile back upstream to the rafts. The three youngsters rowed 3 boats down to Lava Creek, hiked the loop in reverse and then brought the other 3 rafts down.
13. TANNER TRAIL*. MILE 68.5 – river left
This is the first commonly used trail down to the river from the south rim. A steep, 7.6 miles to the rim, it’s a good route for those who must leave the canyon before Phantom Ranch. There is a good campground at the river.
There is an early junction with the Beamer Trail that goes north along the river to the Little Colorado. The Tanner makes a long ascending traverse up the western slopes of Tanner Canyon. The higher you go, the better the view so if day hiking, the turn around point is arbitrary. It is a steep climb through the Redwall, flattens and then contours across two big bowls below Carderas and Escalente Buttes before 2 steep miles to the rim.
14. CLEAR CREEK*. Mile 84.1 – river right
At the river there is a 3rd class scramble up shist then an easy creek bed. It is 1 hour to a lovely waterfall and back. The stream is clear in a shist gorge. Bypass the waterfall to the right.
The Clear Creek Trail is a nice backpacking trail at 4.5 miles on the Tonto Plateau that is 9 miles to the Phantom Ranch.
15. SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL. Mile 87.5 – river right.
It is 6.3 miles from the Kaibab Suspension Bridge to the South Rim. It gains 380 feet more than the Bright Angel Trail finishing at 7,200’ above sea level. It is shorter, steeper, less crowded, exposed to full sun, has wide open views, is dry and provides excellent views from the lip of the inner gorge.
16. NORTH KAIBAB TRAIL. Mile 88 – river right.
Ascends 14 miles and 7,000 feet to the North Rim. Goes up Bright Angel Canyon by the Phantom Ranch.
17. BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL. Mile 87.8 – river right.
9.8 miles long and 5,000 vertical feet to the South Rim, it is the most heavily used trail in the Grand Canyon. From the Phantom Ranch, cross the silver foot bridge, walk downstream one mile to Pipe Creek, climb 3 miles and 1,300’ to Indian Gardens (water, benches, ranger station). It is 5 miles to the rim and Grand Canyon Village.
18. TRINITY CANYON. Mile 92, river right
This hike is not in Grand Canyon River Hikes. I woke up early to hike into this pretty canyon with running water present after the canyon opens up. Beautiful formations of Zoraster Granite in the Vishnu Shist.
19. HERMIT CREEK*. Mile 94.9, river right
Hike up the creek bed along a stream to reach the Tapeats Sandstone and shade in 1 mile. Climb the bench and enter a backpackers campground at 1.3 miles. 10 more minutes walking gives expansive views of the Tonto Platform from above the inner gorge.
20. NORTH BASS TRAIL*. Mile 108.2, river right
An easy 2.5 miles from the river. Climb north to a pass 650’ above the river and great views in 30 minutes. Then go down to Shinumo Creek, walk along the creek crossing several times (difficult or even impossible in high water). Reach Bass Camp (in early 1900s, William Bass guided hunters and mined asbestos and copper. In 2 more miles is White Canyon, a trickle with lovely narrows. Or continue up Shinumo Creek to Flint Creek or Modred Abyss or 12 miles to the rim.
21. SOUTH BASS TRAIL*. Mile 107.8, river left
From the old metal boat (abandoned in 1915) at river, follow steep cairned trail to top of river gorge and meet a trail parallel to river, turn left and walk upstream about 1 mile to creek bed of Bass Canyon. Follow this for a few miles by passing several falls. The turn around point is arbitrary as the farther you go, the better the views. 8 miles to rim.
22. SHINUMO CREEK. Mile 108.2 or 108.5, river right.
This is an easy wade upstream to a waterfall 75 yards from the river.
From Bass Camp, travel downstream over a 200’ ridge to a Y at 100’ above the creek. Right goes upsteam gradually descending over .3 miles. Left drops straight down a 4th class rockface and then another 10’ jump into a pool or a 5.5 boulder down climb into a pool behind the falls. This is not possible in April or May because of high water.
23. ELVES CANYON. Mile 116.5, river left
This is a steep, boulder-choked canyon with easy scrambling and boulder hopping up the creek on the left side. Passing two smaller waterfalls, it is 45 minutes to a big 60’ cascade falling through fern fringed boulders. Climb behind the falls onto two possible jumping areas into the deep pool.
Can pass this on the left and then six climbs, all on creek left, some 5th class, others 3rd with big exposure until the canyon boxes out at 100’ trickling waterfall .4 mile from the river.
24. BLACKTAIL CANYON. Mile 126, river right
Hike 20 minutes of easy, dry walking through Tapeats Sandstone. It has a good demonstration of the Great Nonconformity.
25. STONE CREEK. Mile 132.6, river right
Take the trail to the first waterfall at the head of a box canyon. A good trail bypasses this waterfall on the right. Walk on an intermittent trail or in creek by second fall to third fall with 3 cascades. There are many pools bypassed on trail on right. The canyon closes in and eventually boxes out at base of the Redwall at lovely ribbon waterfall sluicing down a mosey slide between narrow canyon walls. 3-4 hours to upper falls and back.
26. THUNDER RIVER. Mile 133.7, river right
It is about 5 hours to Thunder River Springs and back. It is a wet hike with 3 crossings of Tapeats Creek by the easiest and standard route. It can be dangerous and even impossible to cross if flow is higher than base levels. If start on the left side of the creek, it is possible to get to Thunder River with dry feet but it is very hot and a much worse trail – but would be necessary if high water in the creek.
This hike is a Grand Canyon “classic”. From the river, start on the right, downstream side of the creek and soon cross it to the left side. Climb a steep, rocky gully 200 feet and then contour on a Tapeats ledge returning to the creek. Cross again to a scrambly trail on the right side. Below where Thunder River joins Tapeats Creek, cross the creek again and climb 1000 vertical feet in a mile to the roaring springs.
A huge volume of water pours out of a cave at the joint of the Redwall and Muav Limestone strata (the cave extends 1,000’ into the cliff). It cascades down a cliff and then falls over several huge drops to the valley below.
The trail continues past the springs to Surprise Valley and on to Deer Creek or to the North Rim. This requires a boat shuttle.
27. GRANITE NARROWS. Mile 132.5-136.7, river left
From the Owl Eyes Campsite, walk downstream into the narrows. With water shoes and minimal scrambling, it is possible to stay on the beach almost all the way. Or walk above all the low cliffs on a sandy trail. Continue past the narrow constriction (76’ wide and the entire canyon’s narrowest point). The deepest pool in the river (100 feet) is just before the constriction point entering the narrows. Reach a viewpoint with a good view down the entire 1.5-mile long gorge. This viewpoint may only be at about 15-20% of the length of the gorge.
There is a large stack of old wood high above the constriction point, most likely from the 1983 flood.
The rapid at the beginning of the gorge is very dangerous at high water. One gets swept against alternate walls with little chance at control.
28. DEER CREEK. Mile 136.1, river right
Deer Creek Falls is a 100 foot cascade that falls into a pool at river level. A short trail goes to the base of the falls and loops back through the creek.
To go to the Patio, cross the creek to the downstream side of Deer Creek Falls and immediately access a steep trail that switchbacks up to a river overlook at the top of the falls. Upstream from the falls, Deer Creek runs perfectly down the middle of a rock amphitheater. The trail winds along a ledge high above the spectacular twisting Deer Creek narrows – a incised gorge in the Tapeats Sandstone. A fall would be lethal. The narrow relent as you arrive at the Patio, wide soothing sidewalks of Tapeats Sandstone – one of the Grand Canyon’s most beautiful places and a “classic’ GC hike. You are sure to share the space with a variety of backpackers and trail runners.
Upstream is a backpackers campsite and many cottonwoods for shade. After .3 miles, take a spur trail to a waterfall and the “Throne Room”, an arc of man-made rock thrones adjacent to the spring. To continue, the trail fords the creek .5 mile from the Patio, climbs uphill to the east heading for Surprise Valley, Thunder River and Tapeats Creek.
29. KANAB CREEK*. Mile 143.4, river right
This is a massive drainage starting in the hills above the town of Kanab, 50 miles away. There is a lifetime of hiking in this one drainage.
From the river, it is 2-3 hours to get to the “overhanging curve”, a giant overhang of Muav Limestone approximately 2 miles up and a nice turn around point. Walking along the bottom stream, pools and cascades is the quintessential GC experience. Redwall cliffs are higher and more sheer here than anywhere else in the entire canyon. Sights get more spectacular the farther one gets from the river. There is no trail.
30. MATKATAMIBA*. Mile 148, river left. (Matkat)
This is one of the most visited canyons in GC. Parking is difficult in the busy summer. Pull over at the spring upstream on river right to scout the landing zone.
50 yards from the mouth, detour out of the narrowing canyon bottom by scrambling up onto narrow ledges. Narrow serpentine walls of Muav Limestone encase the small stream. The ledges lead to the patio, a wonderful limestone amphitheater of broad polished ledges at the head of the narrows.
For some fun, return to the river via the narrows. Chimney between the walls and try to keep yur feet dry, but most will wade a least once.
By climbing, there are routes to the Esplanade.
31. 150 MILE CANYON*. Mile 149.7, river right
This is the canyon at Upset Rapid. The short scramble is not much of a hike but as many sto to scout the rapid, you might as well check out the canyon.
150 yards from the river is a chokestone, bypassed by a rugged scramble on the left. On next level is a second choke stone bypassed by a 5th class climb on the right. The third choke stone is overhanging and stops even good climbers. Relax and enjoy the Muav Limestone narrows.
32. HAVASU. Mile 156.8, river left
Havasu is a huge drainage that often floods. This is such a popular hike in the summer that it is called “Havazoo”. The large creek has turquoise-blue water spilling over travertine ledges and inviting pools.
It is 3 ½ miles to Beaver Falls and few river hikers go past as a Havasu Tribal hiking permit is required. It is 6 miles to Mooney Falls and a long, difficult day. It is 8 miles to the twin Havasu Falls and the village of Supai. There are good trails and multiple crossings of the river.
Before Beaver Creek enters on the right, look for cairns leading up the steep ledges to a trail high above Havasu Creek and good views of the actual Beaver Falls. Return and continue along the creek to a large swimming pool.
33. NATIONAL CANYON*. Mile 166.4, river left
It is .5 miles to the lower narrows on flat ledges and creek gravels. If little time, scramble up the creek bed to see the narrows.
To bypass the narrows, follow the route on the right at the mouth of the narrows. The first move is 5th class with little exposure and continues as 4th class along ledges that lead back to the creek bed. Walk on limestone shelves and wade through pools for .4 milies to two choke stones that require 5th class bouldering. Huge boulders fill the widening creek bed and the water disappears. It stays the same until above the Redwall. Most people turn around at the big choke stones, 2 hours one way.
Can hike out to the rim with few difficulties.
34. FERN GLEN CANYON. Mile 168, river right
The GC is spectacular here with gigantic cliffs of Muav and Redwall Limestone that are present from Havasu to Fern Glen.
From the river, it is 5 minutes to converging limestone walls. At head of narrows is emerald pool and boulder and a 4th class scramble up the water slide. The right wall is draped in maidenhair ferns and travertine. Scramble around a second fall up ledges and a good trail that bypasses on the left. Scramble around a pool with luxuriant growth. A travertine fall at .5 mile prevents further progress.
35. MOHAWK*. Mile 171.5, river left
Mohawk has wide set canyon walls, is dry and has no shade nearer the river but after 20 minutes, water emerges out of gravels and bedrock replaces alluvium. Boulder hop and scramble up ledges with many seeps. Reach a travertine springs with cattails, willows and ferns amid rocky shelves. This is a good turn around point. Upstream the canyon is boulder choked, narrows and then opens. 1¾ miles to springs and back.
36. VULCANS THRONE/LAVA FALLS*. Mile 179, river right
Lava Falls Trail: From the boat tie-up spot for scouting the rapid on the right, walk upstream for 150 yards to cairns. Climb initially up a steep rocky loose gully and then a stable, creosote covered hillside. Just below the rim, the trail switchbacks through the basalt rim and tops out at a dirt road about 1 ½ hours from the river. Expansive sage brush country.
Vulcans Throne. Continue the slow plod, one step forward and one half back on the soft cinders. The first summit is false and an easy ridge leads to the true summit 3.5 miles and 3400’ from the river. 7-10 hours return. There are great views of the Arizona Strip, Kaibab Plateau and the vast western Grand Canyon. Very rewarding. This is the hottest place on earth in the summer.
27. PARASHANT CANYON*. Mile 198.5, river right
This is a huge drainage with a history of large floods and a relatively flat creek bed hike. There is no instant beauty but a place to explore. The narrows are about 1 mile from the river. Beautiful Redwall narrows are 7 miles up.
28. 202 CANYON*. Mile 202, river right
A 10-minute hike to pictographs under an overhang. There are two small scrambles in the creek bed.
29. FALL CANYON*. Mile 211.5, river right
This is a an obscure part of GC too far from Diamond Creek to serve as a good last night’s camp and below most of the attractions. Fall is quiet and seldom visited.
The bottom has many table-sized boulders and occasional green moss. Bright Angel Shale often forms the creekbed. Bypass the first fall on the right. The second major fall is a 200’ drop in the Redwall, 1 ½ hours and back.
30. 220 MILE CANYON*. Mile 220, river right
This is one of three popular last minute camps for take out at Diamond Creek.
Start walking in smooth conglomerate bedrock in the creek bed. This granite gives way to Tapeats and a 25 foot fall 1 mile from the river. A 4th class scramble up the face of the fall or an easier route on the right bypasses the fall. This is the standard turn around 40 minutes return. Above the Tapeats, the canyon opens and climbs into the Bright Angel Shale and ends in big Redwall amphitheaters.
31. DIAMOND PEAK*. Mile 223.5, river left
The normal routine for take-out day is to get to Diamond Creek, load the trucks and get the hell out of there. But this is a cool hike to say good-bye to the big ditch. It is 4-6 hours to the summit return and great views of Lake Mead.
At the river, start at the head of 224 Mile Rapid, and walk up the dry creek bed for .4 miles. Go right at the fork, the first drainage entering 224 Canyon. Climb the gulch 1,000 vertical feet up to the saddle to the east of Diamond Peak. There are great views of the river to the north and Diamond Creek to the south.
Follow the rout through steep broken Redwall on the east face, none 4th class. Two summits connected by a narrow ridge with big exposure on the west side. The south summit is higher at 3512 feet. The river is 2,000 feet below at 1,335 feet. This difference represents the entire drop of the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek.
THROUGH HIKING THE GRAND CANYON
1976. Kenton Grua, a 25-year-old river guide walked the entire south side of the river from Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs over 37 days. This was 65 years after both the South and North Poles had finally been reached, and 23 years after Mount Everest was first summited. No one is sure of the exact distance Grua covered, but with the countless bays, he probably walked more than 700 miles. He never publicized his feat.
1976-2015. Fewer than two dozen people had walked the length by stringing together a chain of separate hikes along the length of the canyon, known as “sectional thru-hikes”.
Only 8 people had completed a continuous thru-hike of the GC until 2015, fewer than the number who had stood on the moon (12). In 2015, Rick Rudow and Chris Atwoood finished a 57-day thru-hike on the north side becoming the 9th and 10th.
National Park river Permits Office: 1-800-959-9164 or visit nps.gov/grca/. Up-to-date information on both commercial and non-commercial trips, camping information, Park Service regulations and safety requirements.
Hualapai Tribe: 928-769-2219 or 1-800-622-4409. For information on river trips between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead and Tribal land fees.
Havasupai Tribe: 928-448-2121. For boaters wishing to hike upstream beyond Beaver Falls on tribal lands at Havasu, you must have a permit.
Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau by Michael Kelsey. For great descriptions of all the hikes from the rim, refer to this, the bible on hiking on the Colorado Plateau. Here is the index for GC hikes:
Little Colorado Gorge – Upper Trails/Routes, Lower Trails/Routes page 346-353
South Canyon and Vasey’s Paradise p. 354-57
Nankoweap and Saddle Mountain trails p.358-59
North Kaibab Trail/Ribbon Falls p.360
North Bass Trail p. 362
Thunder River, Tapeats and Deer Creek p.364
Western GC and Arizona Strip p. 370-71
Hack, Sowats, Jumpup, Kwagunt, Kanab Creek p. 372-77
Tuckyp, 150 Mile, Lava Falls, Toroweap Pt p.378-81
Parashant and Whitmore Canyon Trails p.382-83
Spring, Indian, Surprise, Burnt Canyons p.384-77
Havasu Canyon, Havasupai Nation p,390-91
South Bass and Royal Arch Canyon Loop hike p.392-95
Boucher, Hermit, Bright Angel, South Kaibab p.396-97
Grandview and New Hance Trails p.398-99
Tanner and Beamer Trails 400-01