Good Western Trail
This trail was improved in the early 20th century by the Sante Fe Railroad as an alternative to the Bright Angel trail. Before this became a trail it had been a route to the river by native Americans and was then partially improved by the early miners of the late 19th century. The reason why the Sante Fe RR decided to improve this trail was because the Bright Angel trail at the time was owned by a private party who charged a toll. The railroad didn't want to pay the toll so instead they put a lot of time and effort into improving the route into a trail. Parts of the incredible job they did can still be seen today. To make this a profitable foray they built a tourist camp by Hermit Creek and would mule tourists down this trail. Sometime in the early 1930's the Park Service acquired the Bright Angel trail and finished construction of the 2 Kaibab trails. The RR then decided to discontinue using the Hermit in favor of the other trails since they were much closer to their RR station.
The Hermit trail is a good choice as the next step of Grand Canyon hiking after completing the Bright Angel and South Kaibab loop. Even though it's not regularly maintained by the Park Service it is in real good shape and easy to follow. At the Hermits end, which is at the intersection with the Tonto trail you have a number of choices for further exploration of the canyon, I'll get to that later. Since this is an easily accessed trail you will encounter a good amount of tourists during the 1st portion of the hike but they will thin out around Hermit Basin and Santa Maria spring. On the bright side of that they don't number in size as they do at the top of the Bright Angel, S. Kaibab or even Grandview TH's. This is probably due to West Rim Drive being closed to private vehicles during tourist season requiring tourists and day hikers to take a shuttle bus to the TH. Those with a backpacking permit are given the access code to open the gate so they can park at the TH, don't forget to press # before entering the code!
Before I get into the trail description I'm going to give you a phrase to memorize and then speak briefly about a couple of the rock layers since I will mention all of the canyon's layers in this trip write up. I do have to say I'm by no means a geologist but I've been learning more from each trip I make. The phrase is; Know The Canyons History Study Rocks Made By Time. Now take the 1st letter in each of those words since they are the same as the 1st letter in the order of rock progression from rim to river and you get this;
Additionally there is one more layer and that's at river level and is called Vishnu Schist. Now what you should know that can help you is that the Supai and Redwall are typically the thickest and hardest levels to penetrate to access the inner canyon and river. Also the Redwall isn't necessarily a red hue but is actually grayish with the red coloring coming from staining from the Supai from up above. Both of these layers make those impressive walls of rock that you see all over the canyon.
The trailhead is located all the way at the end of West Rim Drive at Hermits Rest, you'll see a NPS information board next to the trail. The Hermit trail starts off briefly heading in a SW direction thru the Kaibab layer down a few switchbacks thru pinyon pines and junipers on this very well built trail. You will descend about 100'+ on this stretch into a drainage but just prior to reaching this drainage you change directions and will head NW and then N descending another 300'+ or so to a point. As you go around this point you will then again be heading in a SW direction and will get your 1st good view into the canyon as well as your 1st view into Hermit Basin 800' below, which is where your heading. Along this next stretch it's a gradual descent thru the Toroweap which looks a lot like the Kaibab layer but it is short lived and lasts only about 5-10 minutes. At the end of this minor traverse you will come to the 1st of many switchbacks. These take you down into Hermit Basin while passing thru the Coconino Sandstone level. Near the end of descent into Hermit Basin on your left side you may notice some slabs of Coconino Sandstone lying diagonally on the slope with a short 20' spur trail branching up the slope. If you look closely here there are small fossilized footprints embedded into the slabs!
As you enter Hermit Basin which is wooded with pinyon and juniper, you will be passing into the Hermit Shall level and at 1.5 miles from the TH you'll reach the signed intersection with the Waldron trail. I've haven't been on this trail as of this writing so I can't say what's there. As you reach this intersection turn back and look at what you've just hiked down. My 1st time I hiked out this trail I thought the above referred to point in the Toroweap layer which you will see was where the TH was, it's NOT! After passing the Waldron turn off the trail will change direction heading W and you'll encounter several switchbacks that'll take you down 200'-300' in a 1/4 mile crossing a wash to the Dripping Springs trail intersection. This is a good place to stash water if you plan on hiking out on the Boucher trail to close the Hermit/Tonto/Boucher loop. (The Boucher trail turnoff is 1 mile up the Dripping Springs trail on the other side of Hermit Canyon.) From this intersection you will head north on the Hermit a short distance along the west side of the wash. Although you've had views of the upper reaches of the western side of Hermit Canyon for some time, you haven't had a good look into Hermit Canyon but that will change soon since your at the headwall of it. 1st you have to descend a couple short switchbacks and re-cross the dry wash and enter onto the Supai level.
Once in the Supai you will start your 3 mile traverse along the eastern side of Hermit Canyon. You won't descend too much along this part, maybe 1000' or so with much of that coming along 2 stretches. The 1st of those 2 is pretty much right off the bat as you drop about 150'in a 1/4 - 1/2 mile down to Santa Maria spring and a rest house. During this stretch you will be able to see at times the rest house and locked stone outhouses below it as well as down into Hermit canyon. Once at the rest house go inside and enjoy the shade (it's cold in winter) or check out the spring. Basically the spring is a pipe coming out of the hillside feeding into a trough and even though I haven't seen it dry is unreliable. This rest house was built by the RR and they had a corral in the small flat area just below the rest house. It may be hard to believe but when you look across Hermit Canyon to the western wall the Boucher trail runs along it several 100' above you! Once you continue along after the rest house you will probably not encounter any more tourists. The pinyons and junipers you saw earlier on will now become less in number and size and give way to more desert type vegetation.
The trip along the Supai is uneventful and heads in a NE direction until about 2 miles past the rest house. You will change to a NW direction and come to the 1st of 2 saddles (if you can call them that) here and this is where the 2nd substantial descent thru the Supai is located. The descent is only 300' or so and will take you to the 2nd saddle called Lookout Point. Both of these saddles provide great resting spots since they allow you to get off the shelf you've been walking on and not that you haven't had great views by now but here your view of the canyon will really start to open up. Take out your topo here and see what G.C. landmarks you can identify, if your like me you won't remember any of the names anyway. I sure wished they named them after dead presidents, states or something easier. The trail will then head to the NE again after the 2nd saddle but prior to leaving Lookout Point you can look NE and see how some of the trail ahead goes. The last point on the Supai level to the NE you can see in the near distance is Breezy Point and that's going to be your last turn before you arrive to the top of the Redwall descent at Cathedral stairs. In back of that you'll see part of a long descending trail and that's also part of the Hermit trail.
Once you resume hiking you'll soon be able to see a foundation way below you, actually it's a corral. That is the area of Hermit Camp which I'll get to more later. As you approach Breezy Point and have traveled along the Supai since the rest house you will have encountered 3-4 rock slides total that have obscured small portions of the trail. I've read from other sources that these can be a problem, I found only 1 to be a small problem route finding and that was on the way up. If you get a little off track in these sections just stop and look for the trail further ahead, remember that this portion of the hike descends gradually except where I've mentioned and stays on the obvious eastern wall of Hermit Canyon. The rock fall I had a small problem with was when the trail starts to turn a little to the NW just prior to Breezy Point and was more from detour trails in that area. As you round Breezy Point and again head in a NE direction you will only have 2-3 minutes of hiking left until you reach the top of Cathedral Stairs. At the top of the stairs you'll be treated with the best view of the inner gorge and views to the east than at any other point on this trail thru a saddle of a rock called Cope Butte.
The Cathedral Stairs are a rapid series of about 25 switchbacks that drop you 400'-500' pretty quickly thru the Redwall. These are in great shape and well constructed but there is a bit of loose rock and that will be with you the rest of the way down to the Tonto JCT. Once at the bottom of the stairs you'll begin the descent of that long switchback thru the Muav layer that you have seen earlier on the west side and below Cope Butte. As I said earlier it will be a rocky and miserable descent and at the end of this long switchback there will be more but shorter switchbacks. What makes them so bad is the nature of these switchbacks they add 10-15 minutes to the hike in my opinion then a direct plunge to the Tonto would. Finally you'll arrive at the Tonto JCT and if curious from the top of the stairs to the JCT it's about 1 mile and a 1250' drop.You'll be in the Bright Angel Shale at the Tonto. When hiking out this trail I would recommend an early start so you can make the climb to the top of the Redwall in the shade since the Bright Angel shale bakes you when the sun is out and offers no shade.
You have several choices on where to go from here, I've been lucky and done them all. You can go east on the Tonto 15-20 miles to Indian Gardens from this JCT or head west on the Tonto. If you head west you'll come to a well defined trail junction in - mile and the trail that goes down obviously gets you into Hermit Creek, from here it's 1.5 miles to the river. If you stay on Tonto west in - mile you'll come to the corral you saw from way up above. I don't think many people realize this or are to tired but there's a trail in the back of the corral that leads UP and that takes you to what is left of the ghost town of Hermit Camp. There are ruins up there and worth checking out. Believe it or not they used to drive a Model T around here! The Model T was brought down via the aerial tramway that was built from Pima point, piece by piece. Continuing west on the Tonto past the corral in 1/8 mile you will come to the designated Hermit Camp use area. It's nice and you're tucked a little above Hermit Creek in the Tapeats layer. For those really adventurous you can hike up Hermit Creek 2-3 miles, bushwhacking as you go. I went up that way on a tamarisk removal volunteer trip so those trees you see cut down are part of my handiwork :-) There are a number of small waterfalls and pools up the creek worth lounging around. The last option is head west further on the Tonto to Boucher Creek. If you do the last option I recommend hiking up Boucher rather than down!
History: Much pioneer period history of northern Arizona revolves around various schemes of development designed to promote and capitalize on the indescribable but undeniable magic of the Grand Canyon. The Hermit Creek basin was the scene of one of the most aggressive of these improvement efforts. Initiated by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1911, this program involved much development on the rim and also included the construction of what was, at the time, a state of the art rim-to-river trail. The Hermit Trail was built to serve a luxury campsite near Hermit Creek. Hermit Camp predated Phantom Ranch by 10 years, and in its heyday was complete with a tramway from the rim, a functional automobile for transportation within the facility, and a Fred Harvey chef. Operations ceased in 1930, but for two decades Hermit Camp was the last word in gracious tourism below the rim. As is always the case at Grand Canyon, time and erosion have taken a heavy toll. The old Hermit Trail is today a mere shadow of its former self, but for experienced, knowledgeable canyon backpackers the walk offers a direct link to the excitement and romance of the early days at Grand Canyon.
The "hermit" of the Hermit Creek basin was Louis D. Boucher who lived in the area for 20 years. Boucher built the Boucher Trail (west of the Hermit Trail) and seasonal residences at Dripping Springs and near Boucher Creek. Labeled a hermit because he lived alone, Boucher was in fact socially active within the South Rim community.
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.
Grand Canyon NPS Reports The upper section of the Hermit Trail is steep and sustained, dropping almost 2000 vertical feet in the first 2.5 miles. Passage through the Kaibab and Coconino Formations is via well defined switchbacks. Most of the Hermit Trail was originally surfaced with large hand-fitted rock slabs that created a smooth walking surface. Ongoing erosion has claimed much of this remarkable labor-intensive paving, but a few isolated fragments survive, especially in the Coconino. Fossilized animal tracks in the Coconino Sandstone have been noted in many locations, but were first studied in detail along the Hermit Trail. A few of these fossilized lizard-like tracks can be seen by observant hikers in the lower half of the Coconino.
Pass the Waldron Trail junction at the bottom of the Coconino and the Dripping Springs Trail near the top of the Supai Formation (taking the right fork at both junctions) and drop into the Hermit Creek gorge. Santa Maria Spring is not considered permanent, but there is usually a trickle of water and the masonry shelter offers welcome shade.
Between Santa Maria Spring and Cathedral Stairs the Hermit Trail is characterized by long traverses connected by short, sharp descents. The trail runs across an angle of repose slope, crossing high gradient drainages at roughly perpendicular intersections. As the result, the Supai section of the Hermit Trail has been badly damaged by the same erosional forces that shaped the larger canyon. Hikers must scramble across chaotic jumbles of rocks washed down or fallen from above every time the trail crosses a gully. It is possible to loose the trail entirely where breakdown has covered the original route so pay attention at these crossings. The most dramatic detour up and around a deteriorated area comes at the bottom of the Supai just above Cathedral Stairs. The uncertain footing as well as the impression of exposure presented here has caused inexperienced canyon walkers to conclude that they are engaged in a truly hazardous enterprise.
The descent becomes unrelenting at Cathedral Stairs. An endless series of rocky switchbacks eventually leads hikers through the Redwall cliff and down the talus below Cope Butte to the intersection with the Tonto Trail. The Tonto Trail is an important transcanyon route that allows access in both directions, east to Monument Creek, west to Hermit Creek. Turn left (west) and follow the Tonto Trail about a mile to the Hermit Creek campsite. Be sure to walk downstream a short distance during your stay at Hermit Creek. The little Tapeats gorge is a real gem.
The Hermit Trail continues another 1.5 miles beyond the established campsite at Hermit Creek to the Colorado River and Hermit Rapids. Follow your nose down the bed of Hermit Creek or take the cut-off from the Tonto Trail that drops to the drainage bottom below the campsite. A little of the original trail construction shows in the Vishnu Formation, but today the lower section of this once impressive trail is mostly a little foot path winding quietly through riparian vegetation to the shoreline. Hermit Rapids is a big one, well worth the trip if time and energy allows.
Water Sources: Santa Maria Spring, 2.5 miles below the rim usually offers a trickle of water, but it is not considered permanent, so don't bet your life on it. Hermit Creek is a permanent water source that flows all the way to the Colorado River. All water sources require purification.
Campsites: The only legal places to camp within the Hermit Creek drainage are the designated campsites at Hermit Creek (BM7) and Hermit Rapids (BM8).
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.