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South Bass Trail, AZ

Guide 56 Triplogs  4 Topics
  4.4 of 5 
909 56 4
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 7.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,652 feet
Elevation Gain 4,400 feet
Avg Time One Way 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 22.46
Interest Ruins, Historic, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
Dogs not allowed
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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24  2021-05-25
Royal Arch via Point Huitzil
58  2019-04-14
Royal Arch Route
21  2018-05-07
Royal Arch Route
25  2018-04-06 BiFrost
31  2017-03-22
Royal Arch Route
38  2017-03-22
Royal Arch Route
49  2017-03-22
Royal Arch Route
1  2016-11-20 gilbertnathaniel
Page 1,  2,  3,  4,  5
Author azbackpackr
author avatar Guides 27
Routes 438
Photos 5,310
Trips 797 map ( 5,743 miles )
Age 68 Female Gender
Location Flagstaff AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Aug, Jul, Sep → 7 AM
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:35am - 7:37pm
Official Route
14 Alternative

Where are all the Rim to Rimmers?
by azbackpackr

Likely In-Season!
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William W. Bass was the most noteworthy of the early pioneers that came to the rim of Grand Canyon in the 1880s to carve a life and a lifestyle from the wilderness. The contribution of this man to canyon history is difficult to measure. A list of his accomplishments during more than 40 years of living on the rim would fill a book. Among the most notable is the construction of more than 50 miles of inner canyon trail, most of which can still be walked today. The South Bass Trail was the foundation of this far-flung system of pathways, and today it offers modern backpackers a doorway to a fascinating part of Grand Canyon, steeped in the history Bill Bass lived.

Hikers arriving at the beach at the bottom of the South Bass Trail can’t help but notice an old boat chained to the rocks above the high water line. Abandoned by Russell and Tadge in 1915, the Ross Wheeler was built by Bert Loper, the grand old man of Colorado River runners, and named for a murdered friend. Loper died a romantic death in 1949 during a Grand Canyon river trip, suffering a heart attack at age 79 while at the oars of a Colorado River cataract boat. His remains were not recovered until 1975, 26 years after his death.

This trail is easy to follow. My trip was in October of 2007. There are many interesting features in addition to the "usual" gorgeous Grand Canyon scenery! There are cliff dwellings and granaries easily seen from the trail, as well as many relics left behind by William Wallace Bass, who lived at the Canyon with his wife, Ada, and four children for 40 years, until about 1923. William Bass did a bit of mining and prospecting, wrote poetry, built a road to Ash Fork, and took tourists down into the Canyon. At the river, he had stone cabins, the foundations of which are still standing. Across the river, he built another cabin and planted a peach orchard. He built a cable car to cross the river, and also built the North Bass Trail. The cable car was removed some years ago, as were his cabins' remains on the Rim.

The Park Service will not give you a permit to hike down South Bass and float across the river on an air mattress to hike up North Bass Trail. You must do these two trails on separate trips! From our view at Bass Beach, we figured it would be a quick, easy death from drowning in the rapids while experiencing hypothermia from the sub-50 degree water.
( 2014 update: packrafting is allowed, permit required )

Getting set
We camped the first night on the rim, where there are two car campsites with picnic tables. To camp here, you must include it in your permit request! The road to the trailhead is dirt, about 30 miles of it, and requires high clearance AND 4WD. You may not have to shift into 4WD in dry weather, but you will need it if it rains. The road passes through a corner of the Havasupai Reservation. If anyone is manning the gate there, you must pay a fee of ~$25 to cross their land. Often, though, there is no one there. Save your receipt, also, or you may be charged ~$25 on your way out as well! I am told there is a way around this, but I have never found any directions, and the Park Service will not provide those directions to you as they want to be seen as helpful to the tribe.
( 2014 update: the bypass is not legal )

Starting down the trail early in the morning, we were alert to watch for the ancient granaries in the Coconino Formation. All are to your RIGHT as you are going down and are pretty easy to see, but only if you are looking for them. At a place where you pass by remnants of a barbed-wire fence, you are very near to several of them, one behind you up the trail, one directly above you, and one a wee bit further on, also along the same ledge.

We left one gallon of water each on the Esplanade, a large flat area about 2 miles in, so we could camp there on the way back out. We hiked to the river on the first day. When you can see the river follow the many cairns, watch for a massive cairn. From there, it is a short, steep scramble to Bass Beach, where there is a lot of room. An old boat, the Ross Wheeler, built by none other than the grand old man of the river, Bert Loper, was abandoned there in 1915 and remains!

We spent two nights camping at Bass Beach. On our layover day, we hiked back up to the ledge where the big cairn is and followed the river trail downstream about 2 miles to a point where we were directly across from Shinumo Creek. A large waterfall is in the small but deep gorge, the bottom of which can barely be seen from this vantage point. The only way to get over there would be to hitch a ride there and back with a friendly river rafter. The trail we were hiking sort of peters out, but according to our map and guidebook, one could easily make it over to the next side canyon, where Bass had a mine.

We hiked part-way out, up 5 miles, to the Esplanade for our 3rd night below the Rim, to where we had stashed the water. The camp there afforded beautiful views of the gorge. We took a side hike out to Huxley Terrace. We opted not to climb Mt. Huethawali but decided that the south side of it is the easiest route. Our last hiking day, we had only 3 steep miles to hike back to the trailhead.

In the Area
Other hikes you can do from this trailhead include Royal Arch Route, Esplanade Trail, and Tonto loop trips going east on the Tonto to Boucher or Hermit, or west on the Tonto to its end. The problem is there is no perennial water except at the river. There are pools here and there, but in the fall, most of them were dry. Springtime would be best for these other routes, but be sure to carry enough water to tide you over.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-01-27 azbackpackr
  • Grand Canyon Use Area Boundaries - Dynamic Map

Grand Canyon NPS Details
Hike: A well-defined descending traverse gets hikers through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations. The trail passes an old fence and follows the rim of the Coconino a short distance north before starting down rocky switchbacks to the Esplanade platform at the top of the Supai Formation. The Royal Arch Route leaves the South Bass Trail and starts west where the trail comes to the Esplanade, the junction marked with a large cairn. Stay right at this intersection and follow the South Bass Trail north across the terrace east of Mount Huethawali. The route traverses near the Supai rim for about a mile to a steep break that allows passage to the slopes below.

Dropping below the Esplanade, the trail rounds a promontory and descends Supai ledges south toward the bed of Bass Canyon. Once established in the drainage the route follows the bottom of Bass Canyon through the Redwall. The path leaves the drainage and descends most of the Tonto Group rocks via the slopes east of and above the bed of Bass Canyon, eventually returning to the bottom of the canyon just above the Tonto Trail junction. The Tonto Trail is marked by large cairns. Below Tonto Trail the South Bass Trail continues down Bass Canyon, crossing and re-crossing the drainage as it winds around various obstructions. This section can be confusing, but the trail stays as close to the bed of the canyon as the terrain allows, so any disorientation shouldn’t last long.

An impassable rock fall blocks access to the river at the mouth of Bass Canyon. Watch where the trail leaves the bed of the drainage, going west a short distance to a large cairn marking a shortcut that allows passage down a rocky ravine to the river below. The ravine route can be tedious and this shortcut may be bypassed by continuing another couple minutes west until a gentler path descends to the river opposite a historic fire place.

Water Sources: The Colorado River is the only reliable water source. The river is often sediment laden and can be difficult to purify. Water can occasionally be found during or immediately after wet weather in potholes in the bed of Bass Canyon below the Tonto Trail or in sandstone pockets on the Esplanade.

Campsites: The Bass Canyon Use Area (BQ9) allows “at-large” camping. Serviceable sites can be found on the Esplanade, the Tonto Platform, and the beach at the Colorado River.

Notes: There are several other trails located in and near Bass Canyon. Shortcuts to the Tonto Trail continuing west toward Copper Canyon ascend the slopes from points low in the drainage. The trail that heads west out of the bottom of Bass Canyon continues downstream beyond the routes to the river and after a couple miles comes directly across from the mouth of Shinumo Creek. A short scramble allows access to the river. In route downstream watch for the site of a cable crossing that linked the North and South Bass Trails. This historic crossing created the first rim-to-rim trail system. The cable is gone, but these and other sites north of the river attest to the remarkable physical energy Bill Bass brought to his various projects in this lovely part of the Grand Canyon.

Segments to Consider:
Rim (6646 ft) toEsplanade Trail Junction (5400 ft)1.7 mi
Esplanade Trail Junction (5400 ft) towestbound Tonto Junction (3200 ft)4.2 mi
Westbound Tonto Junction (3200 ft) toeastbound Tonto Junction (3150 ft)0.1 mi
Eastbound Tonto Junction (3150 ft) toColorado River (2250 ft)1.8 mi
South Bass trailhead (6646 ft) toColorado River (2250 ft)7.8 mi

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
Strictly 4x4

To South Bass Trailhead
The South Bass trailhead is located in a remote area about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village. Primary access via the Kaibab National Forest on Forest Road (FR) 328. This unpaved byway is not shown accurately on most topo maps, so a road map of the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest will be useful. FR 328 is rough and rocky and sections can become impassable during wet weather. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, and a 4WD might be required if the road is muddy. Driving to the South Bass trailhead can offer almost as much adventure as the hike.

Normal access to FR 328 is via Rowe Well Road from Grand Canyon Village. The park kennel is the best landmark. Rowe Well Road goes from the west end of the Village to the kennel and continues south to the park boundary. This road can be difficult to locate, so inquiring locally might save time. FR 328 can also be accessed from Highway 64 south of the park. Turn west at the last intersection before entering the park or obtain directions at the Tusayan District Ranger Station.

Drive Rowe Well Road about three miles south to the park boundary. A sign announces entry to Kaibab National Forest. Stay left (southeast) at the first fork, cross the railroad tracks and continue another mile to the intersection with FR 28. Turn right (west) on FR 328 toward Pasture Wash and the South Bass Trail. Drive about 16 miles to a gate that marks the entry to the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the end of FR 328. The Havasupai Tribe charges a fee (usually $25) to cross their land and occasionally post a tribal member at the gate to collect. This station is not staffed full-time, and if nobody seems to be in evidence simply pass through the gate and continue about 1.7 miles to a four-way intersection. The road degenerates markedly at this junction. Turn right (northeast) toward Pasture Wash, follow the road about 1.9 miles to the Forest Service boundary fence. Continue another half a mile to the park boundary fence and cattle guard. Please help keep cows out of the park by closing this gate after passing through. Keep driving north to the ruins of the old Pasture Wash Ranger Station. This outpost has not been staffed for many years and no assistance is available. Maintain the northerly heading for 3.6 rutted, rocky miles to rim. Be forewarned: The road north of the four-way intersection can be rendered impassible by deep mud during periods of heavy rain or snowmelt.

Note: Havasupai Reservation is a sovereign nation, cross at your own risk.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 253 mi - about 4 hours 34 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 358 mi - about 6 hours 4 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 106 mi - about 2 hours 24 mins
90+° 8am - 6pm kills
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