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Lee's Ferry River Trail, AZ

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Guide 22 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > Jacob Lake N
3.4 of 5 by 8
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Difficulty 0.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 1.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,135 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1 hour
Interest Historic & Perennial Creek
Backpack No
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
4  2017-05-18 Appalachia
5  2016-10-15
Spencer Trail - Marble Canyon
22  2015-11-09
Jackrabbit Draw to Lee's Ferry
29  2013-09-03 tibber
30  2013-09-03
Drive from Lee's Ferry to Navajo Bridge
16  2012-05-20
Spencer Trail - Marble Canyon
13  2012-05-20
Spencer Trail - Marble Canyon
4  2012-03-27 AZLOT69
Page 1,  2
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Nov, Apr, Oct → Early
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:25pm
1 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
A slice of historic AZ
by PaleoRob

The Lee's Ferry River Trail is an easy way to step back into the historic pioneer past of Arizona. Located at a bend in the Colorado River where Glen Canyon ends and the Grand Canyon begins, Lee's Ferry offered the only reasonable crossing of the Colorado River between Dandy Crossing (near Hite) and below Grand Canyon (though there were occasional crossings in other spots, such as Dominguez and Escalante's "Crossing of the Fathers"). Lee's Ferry gets its name from John Doyle Lee, the first operator of the crossing. Exiled from Utah by Brigham Young for his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of eastern settlers, Lee and his first wife, Emma, came to the "Lonely Dell" where they farmed and scratched out a meager living ferrying the occasional traveler across the Colorado. Among the notables who stopped at Lee's Ferry were J.W. Powell, during his second Colorado trip, and Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon missionary to the Navajos, Piutes, and Hopis. The Ferry was also an important stop along the famed "Honeymoon Trail," by which Mormon couples set to be wed in the St. George temple would make the long trip from their settlements in Northern Arizona along the Little Colorado River.

Lee wasn't the only person to attempt to make money from the vicinity of the Ferry. Charles Spencer was a man with a dream to mine gold out of the Chinle Formation's shales using mechanical separation of the gold from the matrix with a coal-fired steam-powered separator. In order to bring coal for his mining operation, Spencer commissioned a paddle-wheel steamer, the largest boat on the Colorado north of Black Canyon, to bring coal from his mine in Warm Creek, some 25 miles upstream. The transportation of the coal proved to be so inefficient, with the boat needing almost a full load of coal to complete a round trip (and grounding often in the process), and the gold in the Chinle too fine to mechanically extract that when the steam boat (grandiosely named the "Charles H. Spencer") sunk in a few feet of water near the Ferry, the whole operation was abandoned. Other miners too attempted to make their fortune out of the Chinle in the 1950's during the Uranium boom, but the ore was not as concentrated at the Ferry as it was in other places across the Colorado Plateau, and very little ore was every removed before the claims were abandoned. The Ferry, however, continued to operate until the 1920's, when the Navajo Bridge, a few miles downstream, made the ferry crossing obsolete. On the last run of the Ferry, however, it capsized, killing several of its final passengers, as though to underscore the difficulties of crossing the Colorado by ferry.

Now Lee's Ferry serves as a jumping-off point for rafting trips heading into the Grand Canyon. Most days between early spring and late fall trips can be seen preparing at the launch ramp near the trail head. Lee's Ferry is also a common exit point for those who have been hiking the Paria River Canyon, as the Paria surrenders its waters to the Colorado just downstream of the Ferry. Lee's Ferry is also popular with fishermen, with the Glen Canyon section of the river below the dam being Blue Ribbon trout waters.

The hike itself is fairly easy, though occasionally buggy during warmer months. From the gravel parking area, walk across the chained-off bus parking area towards some old buildings. This is where buses arrive to pick up passengers from float trips coming down the Colorado from the dam. The old buildings are the remains of a fort, built to protect the Ferry from a band of Navajos who were marauding through the area, though the ferry itself was never attacked. After the buildings, the trail becomes easy to follow, with a few signs to point you in the correct direction in spots where it seem ambiguous. The trail passes by an old steam boiler with an interpretive sign nearby - the remains of Spencer's gold extractor. There is also a picture of Robert Stanton's party eating at Lee's Ferry Fort on Christmas. Stanton was scouting a railroad route through the Colorado River Corridor, a trip that would ultimately end in tragedy not long after leaving Lee's Ferry. Further along, the trail divides, with the Spencer Trail taking off towards the left. There is a sign at the divide to keep right. Not long after this, if you look down towards the river, you can see the boiler and sunken remains of the ill-fated "Charles H. Spencer" still sitting in the river where it sank.

The trail continues winding down along the river, crossing over a few small gullys, until it reaches a broad, flat area with a few dead cottonwood trees, and the remains of some small buildings. These are the old Ferry buildings, where patrons and operators would wait for customers or for the ferry to return. On the ground in a few places around this area are sections of very large cables - the remains of the Ferry's guide cable. Across the river can be seen the remains of the old trail that originally led away from the Ferry on the south side of the river. The trail can be followed a little ways further upstream, but eventually comes to an end against a sheer cliff. Turn around, and make your way back to the parking area. There are restrooms and water available there.

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2007-03-04 PaleoRob
    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
    Lee's Ferry River Trail
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    This ended up being a very cool final stop and hike of our eight days on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The hike got pretty good reviews from the quick research I did at Jacob's Lake and even though I knew it would be a little warm for the pups, we went for it, as it was a short one, we would have the benefit of a little shade and we had a nice river to cool down in after.

    The trail is listed as rugged and not maintained, but I thought there were several signs of some great trail condition and actually found it to be in pretty good shape for its route up the sheer cliff face. The views from the top make the hike worth it, as do the views of the Colorado towards Lee's Ferry, as one climbs. Jackie was a little winded going up, but the dogs and myself did just fine. After some pictures on the top, we headed back down at a more brisk pace to get the pups to water faster. They thoroughly enjoyed their dip in the Colorado and even I partook, having not showered in over a week. I am a little intrigued by this area and think there could definitely be some opportunities for further exploration during the cooler months.
    Lee's Ferry River Trail
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    Drive from Lee's Ferry to Navajo Bridge
    After our River Trail hike and on our way home from our N Rim excursion, we decided we would have to stop to shoot some of the scenery and there is a lot to see. It was nice to take the time to get out and take it all in. There was also some interpretive signs along the way so that always makes it more interesting to know what you're looking at.

    It was warm but fortunately there was a bit of a breeze. There is some hiking canyons along here but we wouldn't be able to tackle any of that today. They had just freshly paved the road too. We also stopped at the bridges and did our R2R. We spent some time in the gift shop and dropped a few dollars mostly buying informational material. Did you know the Navajo Bridge is one of only seven crossings for the 750 miles of the Colorado River?

    I highly recommend stopping alongside the road on your drive to or from Lee's Ferry. We sure had a great time. Here is the video from that drive:
    and the video of our R2R on the bridge:
    Lee's Ferry River Trail
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    Ambika didn't know I had never been to Lee's Ferry so it was put on our agenda :wrt: before heading back to Phoenix from our ABC camp/hike at the N Rim. They are paving the road all the way. We had to wait before the bridge that goes over the Paria for a pilot car to finally get to the Lee's Ferry site.

    It was a warm out but we weren't going far. It had such beautiful surroundings :DANCE: with the chinle formations and the Colorado River along with some old buildings and equipment. We checked out all the cool things, enjoyed the reflections of the hills in the River and the activity of the fishermen and boaters.

    On the way back we saw one of Kelly's buddies cousin Chuck peering at us from a rock. So we obliged and took a picture and a movie. Later on down the trail we saw a fisherman make a catch of a rainbow trout so we took a picture and a movie of that too. Back at the river launch area we saw a couple dogs playing in the water and a couple small boats getting ready for launch.

    Surprisingly, when you launch from there you get a quick exposure to some rapids. I imagine that is rather exhilarating if you're on a boat for the first time. We went back to the car and headed on out where a pilot car seemed to be just waiting for us. The drive out was fabulous with views of the cliffs. We made a few stops along the way. The first was at the nice campsite where we had a view of the river as some of the boaters made their way down the rapids : rambo : (yep, got a movie and pictures but from quite a distance). We took plenty of pictures and as were driving, I stuck my camera out the window to film the beautiful rock hillsides.

    We finished our trip off with an R2R2R ;) . We once again saw the boaters as they crossed beneath the bridges in the muddy Colorado. Prefer the blue water for pictures but it's still quite the area. We spent some time at the gift store before heading to Cameron and home.

    Video 1: The River Trail -
    Video 2: Drive from Lee's Ferry incl video of some rafters, along the Vermillion Cliffs and stops along the way to 89a -
    Video 3: Navajo Bridge Walk -
    Lee's Ferry River Trail
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    One last beautiful hike with the crew before heading home. For Nick and I, this was the end of a 4-day hiking spree that had included hiking from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon straight through to the Utah border.

    The start of the hike is a bit historical, seeing some old buildings and the boilder from a century ago that was used to help in the operation of trying to find gold at Lee's Ferry.

    We hiked to the top and then went a bit beyond that. There is a very weak/sparsely cairned trail on top toward Horseshoe Mesa; I had a track for it (on the HAZ site called "Spencer Trail to the Steps"), and we followed it partway out to another lookout spot to get some shots of another horseshoe.

    The rock layers are so fragile up there that it was easy to crack and break them by walking on them. Some of the rock overhangs that we took photos from we were careful with as well, for fear that they would just break off entirely.

    Nick and I blazed down, ahead of everyone else, and then hung out at a dock on the edge of the Colorado River...water was nice and cool :)

    By the way, if you go, be prepared for a $15/car fee coming in...
    Lee's Ferry River Trail
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    After a restful night sleep with an AZT completed, we decided to hit up this little gem. At a little over 5 miles round trip, how tough could it be? Heck we just completed an 800 plus mile trail and a 40 mile weekend.

    This one gets you heart pumpin' climbing more than 1500' in 1.5 miles. The views get better the higher you get until you get to the top. Once on top we took a NW track to a high point to check out the 360 views and catch my breath.

    We sent Bird Dog Denny out to the North to try and find a good view of a horseshoe bend in the Colorado. Methodically he worked his way down the slope, howling like a beagle, he did not disappoint.

    The place we found has a 2 or 3 foot cairn wrapped around a survey marker and a 4' tall stick. If you find this spot and make your way towards the ledge to get the FULL view, make sure not to make your way out to the last rock. Nick noticed that this was a 6" thick slab that jutted out over the edge. :o Not real safe and 1400' almost straight down.

    We all took our pictures, soaked in the INCREDIBLE views and made our way back to the car.

    Joe really thought that he might run into Serina with all the rafting going on, but even with his frequent calls out, there was no response. (Smart Girl, if she was there)

    A short Video from the top

    This hikes quickly moved into my top 5! Joe put it best

    World Class!

    Permit $$

    Glen Canyon Recreation Area National Park
    Glen Canyon Entrance Fee - 1-7 Day Vehicle Pass - $25

    Boat fees additional, follow provided NPS link above.

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Flagstaff, travel north on US89. Upon reaching the junction of US89/US89A at Bitter Springs, turn left onto US89A. Follow US89A north, and turn right after crossing Navajo Bridge, at sign pointing towards Lee's Ferry. A few miles down is a self-serve fee station for entrance. Follow this road down to the boat ramp (there are signs at junctions). Park in the gravel parking lot just past the boat ramp, and follow directions above. There is a campground at Lee's Ferry, and lodging nearby at Marble Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Cliff Dwellers.
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