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The Best Hikes of GC - Routes, Loops, Shuttles & Out-n-Backs

823 Triplog Reviews in the GC - Routes, Loops, Shuttles & Out-n-Backs
Most recent of 438 deeper Triplog Reviews
42 mi • 10,500 ft aeg
Cranberry Canyon attempt
Took 4 days to backpack around Deer and Tapeats creeks. We were hoping to return to Indian Hollow via the cranberry route but couldn't find the redwall route before it got very hot. Overall the trail was slow (or NPS mileages were off) but it was very rewarding.

Day 1: Indian Hollow to Deer Creek. There were thunderstorms the previous afternoon and for a couple hours fog was evaporating off the esplanade - what a pretty effect. Potholes were abundant on our hike down and somewhat more limited on the return trip. We didn't have trouble following the old trail along the esplanade to Bill Hall jct although others reported it was difficult.

It was already warm by the time we reached Surprise Valley but we promptly found a big rock with ample shade. We made sure to stay on top of food and electrolytes and still got hot by the time we reached the creek, where we took a long break in the water. The trail to deer creek is slow over boulders and talus, but the rocks are stable. On the way to the campsite we found some flowers which were absolutely swarmed by tarantula hawks. I got excited about the photo opportunity until I noticed a truly giant wasp....

After setting our tents we continued to the patio and the beach. Wow. Possibly my favorite mile in the whole canyon. We debated and decided you'd likely die if you fell off the ledges above the narrows so we made sure to return to camp sober and before dark. As soon as we arrived on the beach a boater walked straight over and offered us beers and trash service - how wonderful! We had enough time for a quick dinner and wade around the falls before heading up to bed.

Day 2: loop through Thunder River/ Tapeats Creek. We started early and were treated to beautiful light once we got over our intial hill - golden beams shining onto the opposite side of the canyon. The trail was easy walking for about a mile and reminded me of Beamer. Some big pontoon boats passed below - that was my first time seeing them and... they're a bit much.

After a quick wade in the river we started up into Tapeats Creek. It got hot fast when we were on the hotter rocks. The trail was a little exposed on both sides of the river, but river left was worse. The Thunder River crossings weren't evident so we made our best guess. We found a nice pool and probably spent a good hour sitting in the river around noon. This paid off later because our hike out to Surprise Valley was cooler than the rest of the day had been. There were also two easy access points to the waterfall and we took advantage to keep cool. Back in Deer Creek we enjoyed dinner at the patio and filtered lots of water (thank goodness for gravity filters) to prepare for our tough next day.

Day 3: Cranberry crack attempt. We got an early start and each carried 7-8L water. Right off the bat we took the hard way up to the ancient lake bed, going over the lower saddle instead of the upper. The lakebed was very cool and the easiest walking of the entire trip. We lost elevation rather than try to sidewalk on the talus below our goal slope. First we headed straight up and lost access to cross the big ravine to climbers right. We descended partway after realizing and found a cairn indicating where to enter the ravine. There was another cairn in the ravine that wasn't visible from the first cairn, so we added one to fill the gap. The scrambling got easier for a little while, although it continued heating up. The nastiest section was talus at the base of the redwall.

Thinking our chute was at climber's left, we climbed to the base of the redwall and used handholds on the cliff to stay secure on this nastiest bit of talus. My friend climbed to the only possible chute we saw and said it was no-go. We'd already decided that was our last ditch and we weren't wasting time in the heat searching for our chute, so we promptly turned around. I think the proper chute was actually slightly to the right above us but I'd accidentally deleted my reference photos, GPX, and notes - ugh! We had a hot, slippy, slow climb back down the talus and were relieved to return to a semblance of flat ground. This time we took the higher saddle to exit the ancient lakebed with much better results. When we reached the trail he proceeded to the patio for a very welcome rest, then down to the beach/ falls again for dinner.

Day 4: Missing the Cranberry route meant we had a long hike out. We hit the trail at 5:15am and worked hard to ascend out of Surprise Valley before the sun hit us. We took a bit more time on the esplanade, finding a few nice shady spots on the slickrock where we couldn't resist breaking. Only the largest/ most sheltered potholes were still full.

I had some nasty hot spots developing (strangely, I never noticed them until I took my shoes off each evening so they got quite bad) and I was quite "over it" by the time we began our final ascent to Indian Hollow. After dumping excess water (my pack was probably now below 15lbs) I got a second wind and was marching along... until the trail routed around a dead tree. The tedium of scrambling 15ft down loose talus just 5 minutes from the trailhead nearly broke me. Once on the rim, I was hardly interested in a last look into the canyon, but that's about normal for me. Happily, I had grilled cheese fixings waiting in my car.
2.11 mi • 632 ft aeg
Cardenas Camp to Unkar View & Hilltop House
On a river trip, starting at Cardenas camp, just upriver from Unkar Rapids, we took a hike to a beautiful overlook of the rapids, and then hiked to Hilltop House. I'd been to this archaeological site before, when backpacking the Escalante Route. It was once somewhat rebuilt by the Park Service, back in the day when they did such work.

As typical for motor raft trips, we then ran a pretty astonishing number of big rapids that day, ending up camping at Hotauta, in the Bass area. It was my first motor trip, and I was amazed we did about 5 days worth of river running in a day. This set us up to stop at Elves Chasm the following day.
23.72 mi • 7,727 ft aeg
Most magical hike of the GC so far! This is the GC spectacular. Seriously, this hike has it all. All the indescribable views, all the adventure, all the giant waterfalls, narrows, springs, wide open esplanade, ALL the fantastic ups, everything wonderful and nothing terrible.

DAY 1: Bill Hall TH to Deer Creek Camp AX7 (~8 hours, 8.7 miles, 634 ft aeg)
We camped up near the Bill Hall TH Saturday evening and started hiking around 7:30 am Sunday. Got all warmed up hiking the little bit of up to Monument Point before heading down down down...and then some more down. The views the entire hike down this section through the Kaibab, Toroweap, and Coconino Sandstone Formations are majestic. There are a couple of areas we had to sit & scooch or drop a bag down but nothing of any difficulty. It is pretty slow moving over the first couple of miles though. We reached the Thunder River Trail connection around 9:30 am and a couple of people in our group stashed water for the hike back out. From this point, the hike down is less steep and fairly smooth moving across the Esplanade. The Esplanade is an alien world and I love everything about it. Some of the people in our group were starting to get pretty warm hiking across the Esplanade; the rest of us were just in awe of the wild rock sculptures. We stashed water in the rock pockets just above the Redwall decent, chatted with a Park Ranger and showed him our permit, and headed down around 11:30 am. We were all feeling the heat now. The hike down the Supai and Redwall Formations to Surprise Valley is really hot mid-day, even in the cool Spring months. And it's A LOT, even going down. But the views are fantastic and that helps to ease the physical part. The fork in the trail (right to Deer Creek, left to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek) is marked by a couple of tall sticks haha. No formal sign or anything so keep an eye out. At the intersection, we headed west on the Deer Creek Trail. This is where it began to feel like the trail would never end & the sun/heat was sucking the energy out of me. I got a boost of energy as we started to descend toward Deer Creek buuuuut slowly realized there was still a long way to go. There's a sketchy turn in the descent and a sketchy crossing of scree but the narrow turn is super short and the scree is stable. AND this is right around the point where Deer Spring is visible. Finally FINALLY beautiful cold water! We played in the spring for a while, climbed up behind the waterfall, got refreshed and cooled down. There were rafters at the spring who had hiked up from the river and they looked much less rough than we did. We left the spring and just a few hundred feet down reached Deer Creek. A few from our group were hanging out under the big beautiful Cottonwood tree just as the trail meets Deer Creek. We all trudged the final half mile to the campground in a daze. Everything looked like a paradise after the hot long miles we had just come from. We got to Deer Creek camp (AX7) around 3:30 pm and found our perfect shady spots to set up camp.

DAY 2: Deer Creek Camp to Deer Creek Falls and Back (~2 hours hiking time, 1.5 miles, 500 ft aeg)
After a peaceful and beautiful night's sleep in the canyon, we woke up Monday and packed day packs to head down to Deer Creek Falls and the Colorado River. Whatever we were feeling from the day before, the Deer Creek Narrows awakened something special in every one of us. This is a sacred place. I felt like I was moving through a place where words lost meaning and people were instantly calmed and quiet. The narrows feel enormous but there are a handful of tight squeezes as you move closer to the river. A small daypack was fine but I would not want to carry a backpacking pack through the tight parts. There were groups of rafters moving through the Narrows as we headed down and everyone was kind and friendly. At the end of the Narrows you walk out of the canyon and get a spectacular view of the Colorado River...and 50 rafts on either side. Woah. It's a strange feeling to go from quiet & solitude to a bustling city of rafting trips. After a few switchbacks and a steep drop down along the trail...the great ginormous Deer Creek Falls in all its glory. We hung out at the falls (most of our group jumped in!) for about an hour before the people thinned out & the rafts left & we had the place to ourselves. What a treat! The GC is amazing. There are entire perfect worlds tucked away in her canyons. Deer Creek Falls and the Narrows are definitely one of the most magical canyon worlds. We hiked back up to camp & got ready for our early start the next day. Oh and hikers who came in late saw the pink rattler up near the toilet! We tried to find them but weren't as lucky.

DAY 3: Deer Creek Camp AX7 to Upper Tapeats Camp AW7 (~6 hours, 5.5 miles, 1,400 ft aeg)
Got up early to beat the heat & started hiking around 4:30 am. About a half mile in the trail splits & we stayed left to take the high route. We hiked a few miles of the river trail in darkness but it was straightforward to navigate. As soon as the sky started to fill with light the views of the Colorado River were unbelievable. We came to the "climb" at the mouth of Bonita Creek around 7 am and it is not bad at all coming from the Deer Creek side. Most of our group scrambled up with no problem. I passed my bag up & someone threw a handline down to me but I didn't need it. Honestly, it looked like a totally different story looking down from the top so I'm happy we got to climb up instead of down. We got to Tapeats Creek, took a break, and headed up and up and up and up. It felt like the up was never-ending. The trail along Tapeats Creek definitely had the most sketchy sections of trail (narrow trail with steep drops) and there were many of these sections. Those actually didn't bother me even though I'm afraid of heights but they bothered others in our group who are good climbers so go figure. The hike up Tapeats Creek has the most insanely incredible views of the entire trip the ENTIRE hike up! Maybe I was too obsessed with the views to notice how sketchy the trail was. We got to Upper Tapeats campsite (AW7) around 10:30 am and basically plopped down in the creek & sat there forever to cool down. There is not much shade during the day at the Upper Tapeats camp but luckily the water is right there & is nice & cold. We explored the little moss-covered waterfalls upstream and explored the rock ledges above our camp where my friend found a sleepy rattlesnake. One person in our group had bad blisters and another was feeling very anxious about the heat so we decided to only stay one night out of our planned two nights at Upper Tapeats. It was for the best since a group the same size as ours came to camp and wanted to stay at the site we were already set up at. We decided to hike to Thunder Spring in the morning and hang out there all day until evening when the sun would be blocked.

DAY 4: Upper Tapeats Camp AW7 to the Esplanade (~4.5 hours, 3.4 miles, 3,160 ft aeg)
Got started around 10:30 am and hiked one hour (0.7 miles and around 1000 ft elevation gain) to reach Thunder Spring. And that's where we stayed until 5 pm. :sweat: Thunder River Falls is like a magical fairyland if fairies were into death metal. There are beautiful moss-covered pockets and crystal clear water and it is LOUD. It was a fun relaxing place to spend the day. We all made some food & filled up with cold water and headed on up to Surprise Valley with the sun blocked the whole way up. Surprise Valley was lovely in this light and seemed more lovely and interesting on this side compared with the Deer Creek side. We powered up the Redwall (which surprisingly felt much better going up vs going down - probably because of the lack of direct sun) and made it to the top and to the Esplanade just as it got dark (around 7:10 pm). The rest of our group got to the top and we found our water cache in the rock pockets where we had left it. At that point, it was 8:30 pm & dark dark. Hiking the Esplanade in the dark was too difficult so we decided to sleep on the rocks (not disturbing the cryptobiotic soil) and hike out in the morning. It was a crazy windy night but we were happy to have one big "up" behind us and a great view of the stars above.

DAY 5: Esplanade to Bill Hall TH (~4 hours, 4.6 miles, 2,025 ft aeg)
Morning Esplanade! I sure love this place. Started hiking at 7 am and reached the Thunder River Trail connection and the second stash of water an hour & 20 minutes later. Now for the real fun part. Those final 2.25 miles were a struggle and a half. But I just kept up my little train that could - slow & steady choo choo. We saw a number of groups heading down as we went up. It's funny, everyone wants to chat heading down but the feeling is not mutual going up. We took a break in the cave and kept going for the final push to the top. Made it to Monument Point at 10:30 am and what a relief! It did not feel like 3 1/2 hours...more like 10. Epic epic everything.

Seriously, I want to live here. Or visit all the time. It's all hard. And usually hot. And pretty darn real. And I think people probably come out changed. These places will be a part of me forever. They are that special and I'm grateful to get to visit.
42 mi • 5,000 ft aeg
It had been 11 years since my brother John had flown out from Michigan to bag Whitney and Langley on a 46 mile loop in California's High Sierra. It kicked my :pk: , but we were due for another trip.
I had eliminated the Royal Arch Loop from my solo Bucket List due to the rappel, but John and I had done some climbing together so it seemed like a good choice.
I had hoped that the closure of the reservation would be over by our permit date, but it was not the case.
Some people have posted that they drove to the trailhead anyway, but those roads are officially closed.
We started on Sunday, knocking off the first easy seven to the dry trailhead for the night. We carried 64 oz for the evening and morning, and cached 32 for the way out.
Day 2 was a monster - our goal was Royal Arch where we knew we would have good water. 14 miles of progressively more difficult trail then route. I've done over 200 miles of trails in the canyon, along with the Utah Flats and Escalante Routes, and this was easily equal to all of the hard parts of them put together. I had never even taken my pack off for an obstacle, and I took it off at least 6 times. We arrived at the Arch at 9:30 pm.
The next morning we talked and decided that a recovery and rehydration day would be a smart choice, and that returning the way we came would make more sense after the loss of a hiking day. This allowed us to spend an entire day at the Arch, kicking back and enjoying the slowly changing light on it's towering architecture.
The gentle sound of running water, the slight echo off the stone walls, and an ever-changing chorus of frogs serenaded us through the day. Bliss.
This plan allowed us two days to cover the 14 mile return to the rim, and we stopped about halfway after replenishing our water at one of the good, clear pools found in the Royal Arch East drainage. John found some Mountain Lion tracks in the sand, and now that we were out of the narrow canyon we had a nice view of the moonless night stars. It's probably been at least 10 years since I have seen the Milky Way - I usually plan my trips for the Full Moon.
We arrived at the rim camp right on schedule, finding a Toyota Tacoma in the parking area that was not there when we arrived, but had not seen anyone on the trial the whole time. Odd.
I had time to wander a bit, and found a nice open view of the canyon about 200 yards west of the trailhead, where we watched the sunset on our last night.
The hike back to the truck was punctuated by free-roaming horses who we kept spooking up the trail. You could feel the vibration of their gallop in the Earth -a wonderful, slightly scary sensation.
I hope the Forest Service opens and improves the "road". I understand the right of the tribes to not allow access to cross their land, but now that an alternative illegal route is developing they might as well make the best of it. As it stands, the road requires high clearance and 4WD is recommended.
We had an InReach Mini, but it did not work almost anywhere in Royal Arch canyon. We had some luck at the ledge pour off below the Arch, but even that was hit or miss. Apparently you need a big piece of sky above you.
Royal Arch is spectacular. It's location deep in a canyon makes it both grand and intimate. The work required to get there was substantial, but experiences like these rarely come easy.
57.8 mi • 12,000 ft aeg
GC Waterfalls Trek
Intro
Sumi, who organized our great 2019 GC trip, snagged these permits last year and the memory of hard parts of that last trip had dimmed enough that I jumped at the chance.
Participants were Sumi, her son Aidan, Rebecca and Katherine. We’ve hiked some 14ers with Rebecca in CO over the years. Katherine lives in Grand Canyon Village and one of her photos has been on the National Parks Pass. I wish I could have posted her photos instead of mine.
Day 1 – South Kaibab through Phantom Ranch, Clear Creek Trail to Sumner Wash
Despite snow the day before, it was clear and warm from the start. The shuttle was crowded with dayhikers, but the trail much less so. We had it pretty much to ourselves after O’Neill Butte. The only exception was mule station at the Tip-off. Somewhat before we had passed a freshly euthanized, tarp-covered mule and the wranglers were grim and tense.
Another train passed as we crossed the Black Bridge in the blazing sun. After napping at the trail junction while the rest caught up, we hung out in the shade at Phantom Ranch to wait out the heat. We eventually cooked dinner there to haul less weight back up to the Tonto.
The climb up the other side was a slog. Fortunately, the late afternoon views were a welcome distraction. I was asleep for the night about 45 minutes after reaching Sumner Wash.
Day 2 – Sumner Wash to Clear Creek
This was a shorter day in theory, but warm. The classic Tonto in-and-out and up-and-down in bright sun would have been tough if not for a few well-placed shady spots behind boulders. The descent into Clear Creek on the red scree slope was relentless, too, so the riparian campsites at the end were a big relief.
We set up tents under quickly gathering clouds and light rain commenced just as we finished. We all napped until it was over and started on dinner. Around that time, we met the only other party there, a family from Colorado with young kids returning from a day hike. A bit more rain fell and I was asleep before dark.
Day 3 – Dayhike to Cheyava Falls
The first and last miles each way were poky, scratchy bushwhacks with a handful of stream crossings. The route in between was more trail-ish with some classic filtered sunlight views. Cheyava Falls itself wasn’t running but, another quite impressive falls was running nearby and we stopped for a nice lunch.
Back at Clear Creek, everyone collected water, a bit less tired than the previous nights. We learned at dinner that nobody was looking forward to climbing back up the scree slope onto the Tonto. Once again, I was asleep before dark.
Day 4 – Clear Creek to Phantom Ranch
We knew the sun would shine early on the climb out, so Rebecca and Katherine left at the crack of dawn, with me in the middle a bit later. I put my head down and powered out as fast as possible. I got out quick, but the heat was already building on the Tonto. I pushed hard to Sumner Wash, which was pretty well baked by then. It was a slog from there down to the Ranch.
I dumped my pack at the nearest picnic table and saw Katherine and Rebecca drinking lemonade and eating potato chips in the shade. It was cheating, but I committed a similar retail transaction (twice) before Sumi and Aidan trudged in.
The thermometer read 87F by then. The Ranch was jammed with ultrarunners on the final leg of their Saturday rim-to-rim-to-rim, and they were suffering. One of them was Katherine’s husband, whose appearance was a total surprise. We lolled a couple more hours in the shade and changed venue to the campground. I waded in the creek, ate dinner, and was asleep again before dark.
Day 5 – Dayhike to Ribbon Falls
Rebecca and Catherine left before the crack of dawn again to beat the crowds to the falls. Sumi opted for a rest day, so Aidan and I followed them at a departure time more normal for someone 23 years old. However, we also followed at a 23-year old pace, reaching the crossing to Ribbon Falls (where our buddies had recently started waiting) in an hour and 50 minutes, .
We crossed easily and spent at least three hours enjoying the splendor of this cool oasis. Amazingly, only a few other groups stopped by in that time and none stayed long.
The trip back in wet boots was slower and much hotter, but there was a treat to look forward to. Many months ago, Sumi had scored dinner reservations at the canteen. Not only was it real food, it was food we didn’t have to carry. It was a lot of food, though. Except for Aidan, we could hardly finish it. I guess riding mules gives you bigger appetite.
We waddled back to the campground and watched the stars turn to clouds. I reluctantly pulled my tent out of the stuff sack, but only used it as a blanket during a few minutes of rain.
Day 6 – Out
Rebecca and Katherine unsurprisingly left at the crack of dawn. I was next, with Sumi and Aidan a way behind. I allowed myself one long glance at the distant rim. The sky was clear and bright from very early and I thought of nothing but getting out as fast as possible. It was bright but still cool when the Devil’s Corkscrew rose to slow me down. I pressed on to Indian Garden for my first break. A downhill mule ride arrived at the same time and blocked me from the water, and an uphill ride did the same. I guess backpackers go last here. I battled the squirrels constantly while trying to snack. One even hissed at me when I flung it off my leg with a hiking pole.
I broke further only near the 3 Mile and 1 ½ Mile Rest Houses, which were increasingly clogged with dayhikers. They weren’t much impediment and not the yahoos I remembered, though many lacked enough water, perhaps ignoring the many signs about the water being off. As the ascent wore on, it brought cooler air that kept me going. I emerged still quite mobile after 5:30 of hiking time (1:30 of breaks).

Sumi and Aidan topped out ninety minutes later and before long we were enjoying end-of-the-trip burgers at Yavapai Tavern. It wasn’t quite the pre-pandemic El Tovar feast after our Confluence/Escalante trip, but it was mighty satisfying. I was asleep not long after dark.
Coda
After the others left, I lingered the next morning on the Rim, walking from Kolb Studio to Mather Point and back. My constant hill workouts really paid off, since I didn’t have even a hint of soreness, although I was moving slower than usual. Unfortunately, it was time to go back to real life.

Wildflowers
A few each in flower: yuccas, globemallows, sego lilies, paintbrush, primrose, prickly pear
26.46 mi • 8,135 ft aeg
Escalante Route-ish
This trip was a condensed 3 day/2 night trip along the Escalante Route. We entered the canyon on the Tanner Trail, took the Escalante Route west and then exited the canyon on the New Hance Trail.
Superstition Wilderness Loop Hike
Superstition Wilderness Loop Hike

Day 1:

With a slightly late start, we left Lipan Point and headed down the Tanner Trail at 10:00 AM. The weather was clear and sunny with temps in the 40's. The first mile of the trail was covered with ice and snow that made traction a necessity. This was my first time using Black Diamond's Blitz spikes (fore-foot only) and they performed well. Our pace was slowed by the ice and we managed to cover just a single mile within the first hour. After that the ice gave way to a great trail that descended into the canyon. Camp was set at Tanner beach, where the Colorado was running a beautiful blue-green shade. There is a pit toilet there as well as several dispersed areas for single tents. Total mileage for the day was 8 with a descent of 5070'.

Day 2:

This was our longest day of the trip and the goal was to hike the entirety of the Escalante Route down to Hance Rapids. Weather was slightly cloudy which helped keep things relatively cool throughout the long stretches of sun exposure. The first 3 miles of trail meander near the Colorado before turning south and heading higher in elevation. Around this point the trail splits into a high route and a low route. I'd recommend taking the high route to check out the ruins of a stone building on top of the hill that overlooks Unkar Creek Rapids. Shortly thereafter the trail skirts the edge of a ~600' cliff with amazing views of the Colorado.
From this point on the main climb of the day started. We hiked up along a red ridge before cresting over and dropping down to Escalante Creek. This is a great spot to take lunch, but don't be tempted by the immediate access to the Colorado. Once you reach the river, hang a left (down stream) and you'll find Escalante Beach. It's a beautiful crescent-shaped beach that we only noticed once we had continued hiking and the trail climbed back up the canyon wall. Next time, I guess. We were soon greeted with the mouth of 75 Mile Canyon and a breath taking view down to the floor below. From here the trail skirted the eastern rim until we reached a point at the end where we could safely drop into the slot canyon. Being surrounded by narrow and towering walls was a nice change of pace after spending the morning in the expanse of the main canyon. Once we exited 75 Mile we were back in the pattern of dropping down to the river, and climbing up from the river.
The next big feature of the day was the Papago Wall. After dropping down to the river again (surprise!) we were a little disappointed by the wall's diminutive size. Reports that we had read, and videos that we had watched, all hyped up the climb up the Papago Wall, but it was a quick and easy task for everyone in the group. The Papago Slide, however, lived up to the hype and was a nice descent to navigate down to our camp at Hance Rapids. Like Tanner Beach, there were several small sites hidden amongst the vegetation as well as one large one. I really enjoyed pitching my tent on a soft and sandy surface compared to the rough patches I've become used to here in Arizona. Total mileage for the day was 12.4 with a climb of 2798' and a descent of 2548'.

Day 3:

Our final day of the trip was the shortest with regards to miles, but the toughest when it came to elevation gained. The New Hance Trail starts in the wash of Red Canyon before heading up the canyon wall at roughly mile 1.5. Save yourself some time and head straight to the wash from camp rather than trying to bushwack your way to the trail like we did. This was a long grind of a hike but the ever-changing views kept me motivated. I've never hiked on another stretch of trail that had such vivid colors from the rocks, sand, canyon walls, and vegetation. The trail was very easy to follow until roughly the 3 mile/5000' point and then it became more of a route where I relied on cairns and footprints to guide me. Most of the final stretch is up the higher reaches of Red Canyon where you come close to hitting the saddle before turning south and switchbacking up the final ~1000' to the edge of the rim. Traction was needed for the last ~1/8 of a mile. When we left Lipan Point on Friday morning Sunday's forecast was calling for a 60% chance of rain in the canyon and snow on the rim. Much to our surprise and satisfaction this was completely wrong and we were able to hike out on a clear and sunny morning. Total mileage for the day was 6 with a climb of 4734'.
35 mi • 8,000 ft aeg
This is probably my new favorite Canyon hike. I've hiked almost all the South Rim established trails, and this one really stands out for beauty and adventure.

I went with my 19-year-old son and my good friend Sam.

It snowed a couple inches in Tusayan the night before we started, and the temperatures were in the teens when we drove to the trailhead. I might have canceled at this point, but this was the third time that I've had a permit (first time canceled for weather, second for illness), so we went for it anyway. The weather was supposed to clear up after a day or two. I was concerned about getting to the trailhead, but now that I've driven to the South Bass trailhead in the rain and in the snow, I can report that snow was easier.

Day One: Trailhead to the head of the first arm of the Royal Arch drainage. This day was easy walking. Hiking on the Esplanade is unusual, and it's great to hike at this level.

We camped on the large shelf just before the trail descends into the drainage. Overnight it started raining, about 2 am. I lay in my sleeping bag for a couple of hours until the rain slowed, then got up to pee. Turning on my headlamp and unzipping the tent fly, I found that it had been snowing, not raining. At least 2" of accumulation already. I got back in the bag and lay awake until dawn, wondering what we should do. Things looked better in the light and the snow started melting almost right away.

Day Two: Royal Arch drainage to Toltec Beach.

We didn't get started until 10 am because I let the other guys sleep, given our rather sleepless night, and then morning preparations were slowed by the snow. We were all packed up and ready to go when another storm rolled through and we got sleeted on for another 20 minutes. When it cleared, we stood around for another 15 minutes trying to decide what to do: go back to the trailhead (how much snow was up there now, could we get out?); wait a day to see if the weather cleared (which we didn't have time for); or go ahead and take a chance that we'd get rained on all day. We could see that the snow cover was gone about a mile down the drainage, so we ended up going forward.

Descending the drainage through the Supai layer was a lot easier than I expected. Lots of long sections of walking on flat rocks, punctuated by boulder fields and detours around pour offs. We used the right-hand bypass around the biggest pour off instead of the "Ledge of Death" to the left.

The going got a little slower in the main Royal Arch drainage as it descended through the Redwall. More boulder jumbles.

We got to Royal Arch by midafternoon. The canyon is really pretty in this area, and the arch itself is a lot more massive than I expected. You need humans in the photos to get the right perspective. We pumped water for the first time, from the creek under the arch, though we had seen plenty of tinajas with water along the way.

We decided to try to make it to the Tonto Shelf past the Arch for camping, but walking on this section of trail was so fast that we made it to the rappel by 5:15. The rappel was scarier than any of us expected -- there's not much room on top to maneuver, and there's a lot of exposure below the landing ledge at the bottom. I had brought a rope along and webbing to tie up into a harness, as the Park Service recommends, so everything went smoothly. My son went down first, then we lowered the packs. As we lowered my pack over the edge, my steel water bottle slipped out a side pocket and fell; it didn't stop at the lower ledge, but bounced and kept going down the shear slope below. Eventually the threaded plastic top popped off with a loud bang, and water pinwheeled out as the bottle bounced into oblivion. My son said "That's what's going to happen to you when you fall!" I love him too.

We had no more rain or snow this day, and it was warm down at the river. We made it to the beach at 6 pm-ish. Camping at Toltec Beach was great.

Day 3: Elves Chasm, then Toltec Beach to somewhere on the Tonto

In the morning we spent almost 3 hours on the Elves Chasm side trip. That is a rough trail. We filled up with water at Elves Chasm. The Colorado was full of dirt, and the water in the puddles in Toltec drainage looked suspect, so this seemed like the best option.

We started off in early afternoon headed upstream from Toltec Beach. The going was slow and tough where the trail runs close to the river, especially since we were loaded down with water for a dry camp that evening. Some of the rocks that you have to climb over are so sharp that it hurts to put your hand on them. The trail got better as it climbed away from the river, and the ascent through Garnett Canyon was really nice.

Walking on the Tonto was easy, and quite a relief after the last 1-1/2 days of rough trail. We made it to within a mile or so of Copper Canyon before camping on the Tonto Shelf.

The sky was perfectly blue on this day without a single cloud. The only bummer was that my son's ankle started hurting, so he was hobbling by day's end. He probably hurt it sometime on the second day with all of the jumping down from rocks in the drainage. He's not nearly as cautious as us old guys.

Day 4: from somewhere on the Tonto to the trail junction on the Esplanade

We hiked the rest of the Tonto in the morning and arrived at the South Bass shortly after noon. We planned to either descend to Bass Beach for the night or climb to the Esplanade for the night, depending upon the water situation. We found water puddles in the drainage below the junction, so we filtered water and headed up the hill.

It was windy and colder by the time we got to the Esplanade about 5:30-ish. It was getting cloudy and looked like it could rain, but we decided to camp anyway rather than climbing out because my son's ankle was really causing him pain. He had been hiking mostly on one leg since midway through the day before.

We made it all almost all the way through the night without precipitation, but it started snowing at 4:45. We waited until it started to get light at 6:15 to assess the situation, at which time there was over an inch of snow on the ground and it was plain that this was not just a passing storm.

Day 5: Esplanade junction to trailhead

We packed up everything in the snow and headed for the rim. Luckily the trail was easy to follow at this point, even in the snow, and we made it out by 8 am. There was only 3 inches or so of snow on the ground at the trailhead.

Driving out from the trailhead was easier than I feared. We had no problems with my 4x4 Sequoia. Again, the snow was better for driving than was the mud on a South Bass trip several years before.
15 mi • 4,500 ft aeg
We started our day camped around 9K ft on the Kaibab Plateau. We would pack up our camp and then drive to the North Kaibab Trailhead. We scored a parking spot on the road roughly a quarter mile back & started hiking a few minutes before 8am.

Our hike started with the Ken Patrick Trail. The going is relatively easy as you work your way through the forest. I found myself out of breath and remembered we’re hiking above 8K ft. We set a steady pace and headed for the start of the Old Bright Angel Trail. We arrived at the sign and took a short break to fuel up and apply sun screen. It was then go time!

The Old Bright Angel Trail starts off with a steep descent and then you have to push through an overgrown section. This initial section was a bit confusing but we had a GPS Route preloaded and this kept us on track. After pushing through the brush the route is mostly obvious as it drops into the Canyon. It’s a mix of heavy brush and a lot of downed trees to navigate over. The views are spectacular! We set a modest pace and worked our way down. Most of this was shaded as its east facing and it was still early so the sun was not overhead yet. We continued down and it’s rugged with steep switchbacks through the Coconino & then easy going for a bit. We arrived in the creek bottom and took a much needed break.

After our break we continued to the top of the Redwall. From here the route stays high on the right as it traverses its way down canyon. The footing is poor as its loose & off camber. We carefully worked our way down as we got closer to the bed of Bright Angel Creek. Along this stretch we crossed the top of a solid waterfall coming off a side drainage. Soon after we arrived at Bright Angel Creek & took another break. This area was very confusing as we weren’t sure if you follow the creek or climb back up in hopes of finding the trail. We would split up and got lucky & found the trail about 100ft above the creek. This section was rocky & off camber but relatively straightforward. We kept at it and could see the North Kaibab Trail straight ahead. A few minutes later our route turned to the left and headed south. We stayed high and followed the trail. There’s a route but sections are in poor shape. It’s steep with poor footing but we got through fine. A few minutes later we arrived at the bridge by the Manzanita Rest House where we took an extended lunch and soaked our feet in the frigid Bright Angel Creek.

After our break it was time for the slog up the North Kaibab Trail. It’s been about three years since I’ve hiked this trail and I was pleasantly surprised to see the trail conditions are top notch! No wonder so many people like to trail run it. We set a steady pace & headed up & we got lucky with some clouds that provided pockets of shade. The going went well & we encountered more people as we ascended. The climb up the Supai took some work and the Coconino was hardy as well. I took a break near the top of the Coconino & then continued up. I was delighted to arrive back on the rim and the end of the hike. We would load up and then headed north and camped near Jacob Lake & returned to Phoenix the next day.

The Old Bright Angel Trail was a joy to hike. It’s not easy but is worth the effort. I would recommend having a GPS Route loaded. This saved time & effort. All in all it was a great holiday weekend getaway and I’m already thinking about the next trip to the Grand Canyon! It never gets old!
35 mi • 0 ft aeg
We entered the Canyon on 5/25 via Point Huitzil and exited via Royal Arch Route and South Bass on 5/29. There are road routes to get to South Bass TH that are perfectly legit that stay off tribal and private land. I have the track we followed to get to South Bass TH and linked it to this triplog. It was circuitous and added an additional 90 minutes of drive time. We ran into two other groups that said there is a road that skirts the Havasupai fence line at the locked gate that stays off private and tribal land and was a quicker route to connect with pasture wash road. Both routes require high clearance 4x4. This is where I get annoyed with the park service as the backcountry rangers were adamant there is no road access to get to South Bass TH and we would need to park at the gate and hike an extra 7 miles!!! But I digress.

This was the most focused I have ever been on a backpack. I lost track of the numerous points along this trip where not being sure footed or sure handed for the scrambles risked death or serious injury. I was out of my comfort zone for a good amount of time on this trip, but had two solid people with me that helped calm my nerves.

We saved time coming down Point Huitzil, but I would never recommend that route for anyone with a fear of heights. There is a lot of exposure on this route...but then again that is pretty much the norm for Royal Arch route as well. A lot of intermittent parts of this route that leave little room for error. The route posted by Bifrost was a huge help and spot on.

There was water just below where Point Huitzil meets Royal Arch route in the tinaja's which is pretty amazing considering the dry winter and lack of measurable precipitation the last few months so I would feel pretty confident there is water here year round other then maybe end of June before the monsoons hit. Might dry up...but IDK the holes were pretty deep and seemed like they would last. Trying to figure out how to add that location to the water report for this hike. The frogs loved them!!! And some of the nastiest water I've ever drank. Tasted like dirty aquarium water. But it's the best you're gonna get this time of year so when in Rome. I hiked in enough water (3 liters plus two 12 ounce Gatorade bottles and my emergency 10 ounce water pouch I drank) to make it to the spring at Royal Arch...well almost...as we ran out maybe a quarter mile before we got to the spring. So my recommendation is to bring four liters and five if coming in South Bass this time of year to avoid the frog water. Or just plan on drinking frog water.

From the river I hiked up 4.5 liters. I used that as my bladder water which got me within a few hundred yards of the South Bass TH on the hike out before I ran out. The frog water was our overnight camp for the hike out and I cooked and dropped orange flavored electrolyte tablets into my nalogen bottle to make it more palatable in an effort to save as much of the river water as possible to drink while hiking.

Absolutely loved Royal Arch!!! Spent the second day and night there to relax and recover from the hike down and had the place all to ourselves enjoying the pools under the arch. I would stay there over Toltec beach this time of year since it's so hot at the river. It's a bummer no camping at Elves' Chasm, but would just as soon not have to drag my gear beyond Toltec beach as the route to Elves chasm has some exposure as well. Tried to get a private raft group to hitch us a ride to Elves, but no luck...but did score three beers. :) .

I don't climb much, but being on belay my partners were able to pull out the slack as I made my moves so I could rest and didn't have too much trouble climbing up the rappel. The trickiest part is the beginning and then as you climb the hand and footholds get better. The young kid (32) with us didn't even harness and just used the rope to climb up and down so it just depends on your comfort, skill level, and physical abilities. I'm a 50 year old man who hates heights with kids and a wife and can't make moves like I could 20 years ago so I'm all about being locked in.

We decided to go back up Royal Arch and avoid the death trap we felt the Tonto could give us with the heat and water reports stating no water until South Bass Beach. We started hiking as soon as there was enough light to see without headlamps day's 2-5 to avoid the heat. On our way out when we got to the redwall climb it was getting hot and knowing there was little shade at the water holes for our camp we bedded down for six hours under an alcove until the redwall had shade then made our way up and through the rabbit hole to get above the big dryfall.

All in all a stellar trip, but would be better I'm guessing to hit this one earlier in the spring or in the fall to avoid the heat and have better opportunities for some decent drinking water, but the water sure felt good to jump in!!!
Here's a link to a video of this madness. Enjoy the 20 seconds of frogs chirping in the darkness. [ youtube video ]
86.7 mi • 28,282 ft aeg
Butte Fault Loop
Disclaimer: This is not a very good route, and I do not recommend it. It is of course incredibly scenic and geologically (and historically) fascinating, but there are long sections of unpleasant hiking due scratchy brush and lots of loose, sharp rocks. I like hiking off trail as much as the next guy, and have done a lot of it in the desert and elsewhere, but this is non-terrific. IMO, this route if for Grand Canyon aficionados only. Also, there are long distances between reliable water sources. Buzz & I are strong, experienced hikers, and were able to camp at water every night. Others may have to dry camp at times. As always, YMMV.

The GPS track to this trip is attached. It is also available here: https://caltopo.com/m/78G3
These are from Buzz's Strava https://www.strava.com/athletes/184882, edited somewhat to remove GPS errors and such. You can also view more photos on there.

I read whatever trip reports I could find for this route and studied it carefully to come up with a track to load into Gaia on my phone. This turned out pretty well. We did find some of the route descriptions to be confusing and sometimes just wrong. So maybe our GPS track will help future hikers.

April is the best time to do this hike due to good weather, long days, and not too much snow on the North Rim. Unfortunately, the North Rim is mostly inaccessible in April. We simply added a bit of on-trail hiking by starting at the South Rim and making a lollipop loop. There are certainly other, shorter ways to do this, such as by starting at the Nankoweep TH and ending on the South Rim, which of course would require a shuttle. We figured a little extra hiking was simpler than dealing with logistics.

We didn’t want to camp on the North Rim, which would have been at least 15 degrees colder than anywhere else on the route, so we took a short first day and hiked the South and North Kaibab trails ~14 miles to Cottonwood CG.

Leaving camp at 6am on Day 2 was the last time we saw any people for over 3 full days. We decided to go up the Old Bright Angel trail, since neither of us had done it, and it seemed more in character with the route we were doing. Though easy to follow, Old BA is very overgrown in many sections and kind of a thrash. Buzz commented that in 5 years it will no longer be a viable route due to the brush. Though I think ~ 3 miles shorter I believe it took longer to go this way than just following the main trail. There was some post-holing on the Ken Patrick Trail, and we just did a short bush-whack up to the main paved road on the North Rim. Hiking on the closed paved road was of course fast and pleasant. We were relying on finding water at Neal Spring, which is on the USGS map, but it turns out the spring does not exist in real life. Which left us facing a very long stretch with no water, since we had not carried extra water up from Bright Angel Creek. Fortunately the weather was very cool (40s) and we found patches of snow that we could eat to sustain us passably well. Going down Nankoweep Trail the ephemeral spring near Marion Point was bone dry. Having made a really dumb route finding error earlier in the day which cost us over 90 minutes, we finally reached Nankoweep Creek ~ 90 minutes after dark. About 24 miles for the day, mostly on trail.

On Day 3 we hiked ~16 miles (all off trail) to upper Lava Creek. The only water between Nanko and Lava was in Kwagunt Creek. We carried plenty out of Kwagunt, but the day was cool enough and we didn’t have a problem. Route finding is easy – you’re just following along the obvious fault – and there were no technical difficulties. There don’t seem to be great (or any) established camp sites in upper Lava, but we found a very reasonable spot.

The hike from Lava Creek to Juno Saddle is definitely the technical crux of this route. It is brushy, steep, loose and I’d say dangerous. We started by heading up Lava Creek past the source spring. There is a large Tapeats abutment on the south side of the Lava Creek. We went just past the abutment and found an easy (though very brushy & steep) route up through the Tapeats. From there we continued up a bit and then descended into the main creek just below the junction of the 2 major arms of this drainage. We then turned up the (hiker) left drainage. Everyone says don’t miss this drainage, but it is obvious. The trouble begins after this point. You are not going all the way to the head of this drainage. Instead, at some point you will turn right and head up the slope out of the drainage, which is very steep, loose and overgrown. We turned out of the drainage at around 5200’, heading for the right side of an obvious tower (which turns out to be more of a fin). This was a lousy route, but I don’t know if there is a better one. About 100 vertical feet lower than where we left the drainage there is an obvious chute entering from the right. I would think that would be a better route, but since the route description we were following didn’t say “take the obvious chute at 5100 feet” we didn’t go that way. Anyway, we just kept thrashing our way up and eventually found ourselves on top of the Redwall and had an easier walk over to the saddle at 6012’. Descending Unkar was straightforward. At 4700’ there’s a cairn marking where you have to exit the drainage hiker left to bypass a dryfall. Going up the southwest arm of Unkar you will bypass a similar dryfall by climbing out of the drainage hiker left. The ascent up this arm of Unkar is straightforward with a lot of boulder hopping/scrambling but no route finding issues. The descent from the Redwall saddle into Vishnu is also obvious. Just head down (steep & loose!) into the drainage. After several hundred vertical feet you will encounter a huge dryfall, and you can scoot out right on Muav benches for a ways until you can find an extremely loose and annoying (SHARP rocks!) descent into the north arm of Vishnu. Just awful but mercifully short. From there we walked down Vishnu, through the lovely narrows to a nice campsite at a huge undercut just after the small, steep side drainage where you want to leave Vishnu for the next section. There was water at this spot, but it was relatively stagnant. Our Day 3 was about 12 miles, and we arrived at camp pretty early.

We got up early anticipating a long last day. There was a little scramble leaving Vishnu via the side drainage just above the undercut camp spot. Following the drainage up, then aim to go pretty far left to get around the Muav layer. You can try to find a more direct route through, but probably like us you will just wish you had headed left in the first place. From above the Muav just angle right to an obvious break in the Redwall (which seems to be a fault) just north of Hall Butte. From the saddle you follow the top of the Redwall layer mostly north for quite a long way (2 miles?) There are vague signs of past use. The climb down through the Redwall from the saddle between Angels Gate and Wotans Throne is the steepest, most exposed climbing we encountered, but the rock is relatively solid. Continuing down the drainage toward the east arm of Clear Creek, you must leave the drainage (heading west) just above a huge dryfall in the Tapeats layer and after a short way find a use trail down into the drainage, where you will encounter running water. I think it may have taken us 6 hours to hike the 7 miles from Vishnu to Clear Creek CG. From there we just motored out, happy to be on excellent trails finally. Capping a ~23 mile day, we reached the South Kaibab TH at 7:30pm, just before headlamps would have been needed, and just in time for the last shuttle bus.
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