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Thunder River Trail, AZ

Guide 41 Triplogs  2 Topics
  4.6 of 5 
1.1k 41 2
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 13 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,220 feet
Elevation Gain -4,260 feet
Kokopelli Seeds 20.1
Backpack Yes & Connecting
Dogs not allowed
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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24  2021-04-16 sdudzinski
30  2019-11-09
Bill Hall Trail
16  2018-09-30
Bill Hall Trail
4  2018-09-29 friendofThunderg
34  2018-09-19
Bill Hall Trail
5  2017-11-22
Indian Hollow Esplanade Tom Foolery
13  2017-10-10
Ghost Rock GCNP
8  2016-10-28
Deer Creek - Tapeats - Thunder River Loop
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5
Author HAZ_Hikebot
author avatar Guides 16,841
Routes 17,031
Photos 24
Trips 1 map ( 6 miles )
Age 24 Male Gender
Location TrailDEX, HAZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Feb, Apr → Early
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  5:36am - 7:36pm
Official Route
8 Alternative

Grand Slam
by HAZ_Hikebot

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Data for this page reflects the original route via the Indian Hollow Trailhead. Hikers originally accessed Thunder River, Tapeats Creek, and Deer Creek via the trail from Indian Hollow. Still, the Bill Hall Trail east of Monument Point offers a 2.5-mile shortcut and, as a result, has become the primary trailhead. Check out the Bill Hall Trail for details and access information.

It's a short hike to the rim. The trail quickly descends through the Coconino layer. Soon it levels out on the Esplanade and heads east to the Bill Hall junction.

From the junction, it generally heads south across the Esplanade. The trail crosses expansive slickrock sections as it works around several small drainages, so hikers need to be alert for cairns that mark the route ahead. Try to locate the next cairn before the last one is lost from view. About 2.5 miles of reasonably flat walking brings hikers to the southern edge of the Esplanade, a fantastic canyon view, and the top of a series of steep switchbacks through the Supai and Redwall Formations to the floor of Surprise Valley. The descent is long and rough, and the southern exposure makes the entire area infamously hot. Avoid hiking in Surprise Valley after 10 a.m. during warm weather. A large cairn marks a fork in the trail - east (left) to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek, west (right) to Deer Creek.

The trail to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek winds east across the floor of Surprise Valley, crossing shallow drainages and low hills for about a mile before dropping down steep switchbacks to Thunder River. After so many hot, dry miles, the cascades of Thunder River seem almost too good to be true, and the place demands a stop for rest and relaxation. The designated Upper Tapeats campsite (AW7) is about 1/4 mile below the confluence of Thunder River and Tapeats Creek on the west side of the creek. Hikers headed for the Colorado River can cross to the east side of the creek either just below the campsite or about 1/2 mile down canyon and continue approximately two miles to a second creek crossing back to the west side. A short rope may come in handy to lower packs at a little downclimb (8 feet) above the lower crossing. Spring snowmelt or heavy rain may make creek crossings impossible. During periods of high water, hikers must use a narrow trail that stays west of the creek to the river. This trail is strenuous and exposed, requiring detours up and around steep talus, and should only be used as a last resort, but when Tapeats Creek is in flood, it may be the only option. The trail stays west of the creek below the lower crossing, eventually leading down a talus slope to the Colorado River at the mouth of Tapeats Creek and the designated Lower Tapeats campsite (AW8). Decent spots can be found on either side of the creek.

Go west at the trail junction in Surprise Valley to reach Deer Creek, perhaps the most beautiful side canyon of all. The trail becomes rockier and eroded as it descends into the unnamed arm of Deer Creek containing Deer Spring. Deer Spring is a beautiful place to stop, enjoy the water, and smell the proverbial roses. The trail follows the drainage down toward the river, passing the designated Deer Creek campsite (AX7) west of the stream en route. Deer Creek enters the narrows about half a mile above the river. Carved from the hard, resistant Tapeats Formation, the narrows are, in a word, enchanting; Grand Canyon at its finest. The climax of a visit to Deer Creek comes at the end where lovely Deer Creek Falls plunges into the Colorado River.

A rough, informal trail near the river between Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek has created the possibility of a loop hike from Surprise Valley. At the mouth of Tapeats Creek, start downriver near the shoreline to the first outcropping of the dark, granite-like Vishnu Formation and follow the cairned route up and across the slopes about 100 feet above the river. Traverse at this level to the steep and precarious descent to the mouth of Bonita Creek and stay near the shoreline for the next 3/4 mile to the end of the beaches. Cairns lead up and away from the river to a narrow bench at the top of the Tapeats Formation. Follow the top of the Tapeats downcanyon around several small drainages, cross the saddle east of Deer Creek, and descend to the bed of Deer Creek near the designated campsite.

Bill Hall was a seasonal park ranger on the North Rim, killed in the line of duty (automobile accident) in 1979.

Water Sources
Thunder River, Tapeats Creek, Deer Creek, and the Colorado River are permanent water sources. During or immediately after wet weather, temporary pools might be found in potholes along the Esplanade. Many hikers choose to cache water on the Esplanade or Surprise Valley for the return trip. Caches should be dated, hidden from view, and carried out at the end of the hike.

At-large camping is permitted in the Esplanade (AY9) and Surprise Valley (AM9) Use Areas. Camping is limited to the designated campsites in the Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek Use Areas. The designated campsite at Deer Creek (AX7) accommodates two groups per night. Upper Tapeats (AW7) campsite accommodates a maximum of three groups per night, and Lower Tapeats (AW8) takes two. River trips often stop at Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek, so hikers should be prepared to encounter large groups of river runners in the general vicinity.

Segments to Consider
Indian Hollow TH (6250 ft)toBill Hall Trail Junction (5400 ft)5.0 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toThunder River / Bill Hall Trail Junction, AY9 (5400 ft)2.5 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toSurprise Valley, AM9 (3600 ft)7.0 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toUpper Tapeats Camp, AW7 (2400 ft)9.5 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toLower Tapeats, AW8 at Colorado River (1950 ft)11.5 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toDeer Creek Campsite, AX7 ft)9.5 mi
Monument Point TH (7200 ft)toDeer Creek Falls and Colorado River (1950 ft)10.5 mi

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a difficult hike. It would be insane to attempt this entire hike without prior experience hiking.

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2008-03-15 HAZ_Hikebot
  • Grand Canyon Use Area Boundaries - Dynamic Map

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Permit $$

Grand Canyon National Park
Details for each are occasionaly below numerous alerts
Entrance Fee
Overnight/Backpacking Permits
Grand Canyon Use Areas Map
Rim-to-Rim and Extended Day Hike/Run

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To Indian Hollow Trailhead
Jumping off point is Forest Road (FR) 22 located off of Highway 89A, just few miles east of the small town
of Fredonia, AZ. From FR 22 you will be turning onto FR 425. If you are heading to Indian Hollow and the
Thunder River trailhead, then turn onto FR 232 (this road ends at the trailhead). If you are heading for Bill
Hall trailhead, then continue further down FR 425 until you come to FR 292. FR 292 turns into FR 292A
and ends at the Bill Hall trailhead. Alternate access to FR 22 is from Demotte Park off of Highway 67.
During the winter and early spring deep snow and mud on the North Rim might close access roads and
cut off vehicle access to the trailheads.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 349 mi - about 7 hours 22 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 454 mi - about 8 hours 52 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 203 mi - about 5 hours 14 mins
90+° 8am - 6pm kills
Avoid Heat Illness - stay cool
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