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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

North Canyon Trail, AZ

no permit
141 12 0
Guide 12 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > North Rim
4.3 of 5 by 6
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 7.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,102 feet
Elevation Gain 2,616 feet
Avg Time One Way 3-4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 16.22
Interest Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes & Connecting
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
4  2019-09-01 ShatteredArm
15  2018-08-05
East Rim - North Canyon Loop
8  2018-05-26
Canyons and Cockscombs loop
30  2018-04-15
Grand Canyon River Running
65  2016-04-09
Grand Canyon River Running
11  2011-06-04 coollikeacoatimu
8  2010-06-26 VVebb
Author VVebb
author avatar Guides 3
Routes 4
Photos 18
Trips 23 map ( 150 miles )
Age 35 Male Gender
Location Flagstaff, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Aug, Jul, Sep → Early
Seasons   Late Spring to Late Autumn
Sun  6:16am - 6:25pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Alone in the North
by VVebb

Likely In-Season!
This hike begins at the base of the East Rim of the Kaibab Plateau, about 7 miles (as the crow or California Condor flies) west of the Colorado River. When you reach the rim, you can see many miles of surrounding countryside, including an elevated view of the Grand Canyon. The vast majority of the trail is in the Saddle Mountain Wilderness. This trail receives very little use, as evidenced by the thick overgrowth of oak and other trees in the middle one-third of the trail. I gave this hike a route-finding rating of 3.0, which could change for the better if somebody came through with a machete, or change for the worse if the trees continue to grow and choke the trail further. However, you're in a canyon, so it would be really hard to actually get "lost."

The 20-mile stretch of dirt road leading up to the trialhead is open to camping. Due to the remoteness of the trailhead and the benefit of getting an early start during the summer, you may want to camp somewhere along this stretch, and start hiking the next morning.

As described here, this hike begins at the base of the East Rim of the Kaibab Plateau. You could also start on the East Rim and hike down; however, the perennial water is only in the upper section of the canyon, so a top-to-bottom hike would require you to carry a lot more water. Setting up a shuttle would require a ton of driving, so I don't recommend it. You could do this as a day hike, but as long as you made the long drive out to the trailhead, you might as well make it a two-day backpacking trip. The perennial water in the upper reaches is pretty reliable, as evidenced by reliance on North Canyon Creek as a stronghold for a genetically-unadulterated population of endangered Apache trout. (See here for a description of recent enhancements of the trout's habitat.) In June 2010, the lower extent of the water was about 5 miles up from the trailhead. Bring a water purification mechanism; the creek water is abundant and tasty.

As you leave the trailhead, you immediately drop into a wash, which is the lower extent of North Canyon. The wash is vegetated with high desert flora, but junipers line the canyon's edges. This part of the trail heats up very quickly, which is why an early start is recommended. The first major landmark is a large alcove containing a good amount of Indian rock art. (Petroglyphs? Pictographs? I can't remember which.)

After a mile or two, the high desert flora gives way to bigger vegetation (which is a mixed blessing because it offers shade, but was VERY overgrown as of June 2010). A couple miles later, the thick vegetation opens up into ponderosa pine forest. The pines eventually give way to mixed conifer forest. Somewhere near the transformation from pine forest to mixed conifer forest, you'll reach (1) the lower extent of the perennial creek and (2) the junction with Trail #7, which goes about 1.5 miles up to the East Rim Viewpoint, although not necessarily in that order.

Assuming that you're doing this as a backpacking trip, there are two logical options for camping: (1) camp in the canyon near the creek -- taking care to honor Forest Service regulations regarding minimum campsite distance from the creek -- or (2) hike up to the East Rim and camp up on the top. I recommend that you set up camp in the canyon near the creek, grab a flashlight, hike up to the East Rim, enjoy the changing colors of the countryside as the sun sets, and then hike back down to camp in twilight. Notably, the East Rim faces east, so sunset will probably pale in comparison to the sunrise.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

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

2011-01-18 VVebb

    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    North Canyon Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Started out at the East Rim viewpoint/AZT parking area. Toilets and a short paved path to the rim. A couple very serene miles on the AZT until it crosses North Canyon trail.

    The descent starts easy, trail seems in good condition, so I was hopeful. Once I hit a set of steep switchbacks down the Coconino, the trail started getting choked by brambles, vines, and all sorts of unfriendly plants.

    When I got below the springs, some stinging nettles joined the fray. Shorts were a bad idea, I suppose.

    Hit the creek crossing (allegedly there is a footbridge? I must've missed it) and it was still flowing... But in the quarter mile between the crossing and the East Rim junction, the flow abruptly stopped.

    I headed down canyon another mile and a half or so, everything was dry but there is still a lot of nice vegetation.

    Went back up East Rim, which contains one of the steepest half miles I've found in AZ. It was a bear, and got really overgrown. It was nice and shaded until the top of the Coconino, which helped a bit.

    I'd definitely like to check out the rest of the canyon, maybe as a point-to-point.
    North Canyon Trail
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This is my third Colorado River rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Wade and I did the same trip two years ago in 2014--a 12-day hiking-intensive rafting trip with Hatch River Expeditions. I love this trip! Wade gave this to me for my 62nd birthday. This time; however, I went alone. Wade did not want to go as he's "Been there, Done that!" I was quite worried about the weather as it was supposed to rain the majority of the time based on weather reports at Phantom Ranch. God was looking out for us as the weather was perfect! We traveled from Lee's Ferry all the way to Whitmore Wash, 188 miles down the Colorado River taking in both the Upper and Lower Canyon. These motor rigs are 35' in length and 16' wide powered by a 30-horsepower, four-stroke motor. They have two tubes on the sides with you can ride in rapids if you want a great thrill! There were only 9 passengers and three crew on the upper canyon trip. Four hiked out at the Bright Angel Trail near Phantom Ranch leaving only 5 of us to go the full 12 days. 24 people hiked down from the South Rim to meet the boats at Pipe Creek for the next 6 days. If you've never done this trip, I highly recommend saving your $$ for this trip of a life time. It's not cheap, but worth every penny if you are adventurous, love to hike fairly difficult hikes and don't mind camping on the beach every night. You'll get to HATE SAND! But, heck, it's only sand. I will write more about his trip when I edit this triplog later. Some of the hikes that I can't find links to on HAZ include Saddle Canyon, the confluence of the Little Colorado River, Miner's Camp (North Bass Trail.) I'm doing my best to keep my "being" below the rim. I'm just not ready for real life yet, but it is nice to have a hot shower!
    North Canyon Trail
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Hiked from the Colorado River up North Canyon. A small amount of technical climbing required towards the end of the hike, but almost everyone in the group made it with the help of our intrepid river guides who all climb like mountain goats. The reward was a picturesque waterfall I dubbed the Georgia O’Keefe Fall for its somewhat suggestive shape. Hiked this back in 2012 on my first Colorado raft trip, but it was nice to return.
    North Canyon Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    My girlfriend and I hiked this trail in May 2011. I had previously done trail work on the North Canyon Trail in 2010, including building a new rock wall and switchback right above North Canyon Spring.

    We left Flagstaff around four PM and were planning on camping at the trailhead before starting out the next morning. Bring a map of the area because the roads are not well marked and we got a bit lost before finding the right turn-off. The area was completely abandoned our entire trip. We started hiking around 9 the next morning and the first few miles were really hot. We stopped to enjoy the petroglyphs, easy to find as the alcove in the cliff is surrounded by a barb wire fence and spotted a Western Tanager during our lunch break. As we climbed up the wash the plant-life changed from high desert scrub to Ponderosa Pines, with some Douglas Fir in a few wet and shady spots. Right around the junction with the East Rim Viewpoint trail we encountered the creek. Trail crews have done maintenance on the trail, clearing away the dense thickets of maple, so it was easy going besides the heat. We found a nice campsite about a half mile beneath the spring. We continued hiking without our packs up past the spring. The area is beautiful with mixed conifers and scattered aspens. The water tastes great, we treated it but I tried some without treatment and had no problems.

    While we didn't hike all the way to the top, if you were to you'd soon meet another trail junction about a mile up from the spring that heads along the rim to the East Rim Viewpoint. Continuing on North Canyon Trail will bring you to the Arizona Trail and a number of beautiful alpine meadows.

    The hike to our campsite took about five hours, but our hike out the next morning only took two. We were back in Flagstaff by three in the afternoon. I love this hike and this secluded little corner of Arizona. Truly a great wilderness experience and plenty of opportunities to do more backpacking that includes more trails. The area is remote so leave a detailed itinerary with someone in case you get stuck.
    North Canyon Trail
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    When I was planning this trip late last spring, I called the USFS office that manages the area for information. The ranger said that she hadn't been out there recently, and would actually be interested in me reporting back on the trail conditions. Before I wrote this hike description, a Google search for "north canyon trail kaibab" returned multiple websites with one-paragraph descriptions of the hike, many of which seemed to be copy-and-pasted from the USFS website. There was no detailed nor up-to-date information available anywhere on the internet. Between the time that I did the hike and the time that I got around to writing this description (7 months later), the AZGFD did a habitat-enhancement project on the creek to benefit the population of endangered Apache trout that lives there. (There is a news article regarding this project hyperlinked in the hike description.) I'm unsure whether they did any trail maintenance while they were in there. The article says they brought supplies in on horseback, so I'd be really curious to know whether they rode the horses down from the rim on the switchbacks, or up the canyon and through its dense foliage.

    This hike is very remote and relaxing. It's the only place I've ever been where you can walk up to an endangered species in the wild and see it from 5-10 feet away. (However, I should mention that the little fishies are quick to notice humans and dart into their hiding places, so be sneaky as you approach the creek if you want to see one.) This hike isn't going to get five-star ratings because it doesn't have any outstanding landmarks (other than the endangered trout, some Indian rock art, and an elevated view of the Grand Canyon ~7-10 miles away), but it was definitely enjoyable.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    As mentioned above, this hike can be done from bottom-to-top or top-to-bottom. The hike description above and these directions both assume starting from the bottom.

    From Flagstaff, take Hwy 89 north for 108 miles to Hwy 89A. Turn left/west onto Hwy 89A. Take Hwy 89A west for 35.8 miles to Buffalo Ranch Rd./FR-8910, which is *not* especially well-marked. (As you look left/south, you'll see the back side of a stop sign, and a cattle guard just past that, and a BLM info kiosk just past that.) Turn left/south onto Buffalo Ranch Rd/FR-8910. Take Buffalo Ranch Rd/FR-8910 south for 17.0 miles to FR-631/FR-220. Take FR-631/FR-220 for 3.5 miles, where it ends at the North Canyon Trail / Trail #4 trailhead. The final 20 miles of this drive is dirt, most of which is "washboarded" but otherwise good.

    Here is a simplified USFS map showing various access points to the Saddle Mountain Wilderness:
    page created by VVebb on Jan 18 2011 9:03 pm
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