First Grand Canyon Hike

5:51 p.m. on July 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Dear folks,

I am planning a 2 man, 2/3 night hike to the Grand Canyon in September. As my name suggests, I do not like occupied places and would like to use a more remote trail. I have not yet decided on the trail I will be choosing. I was looking to do rim to rim, but I was told that it was too crowded that time of the year. I have a multi-part question, and I would like your responses.

But first, my profile. I live and work in California, and I do not have any experience with overnight hiking. Till now all my trips were day hikes because I did not have the resources. I have no idea about the gear requirements other than what a hiking company tells me. I was looking at this for guidance: However, I am reasonably fit. I do not own a car, and bike everywhere I go. I work out at the gym, and go for long rides on my bike on the weekends. So I was looking at a strenuous and challenging trail.

1. As this will be my first trip, is it advisable to do with on our own or let a hiking tour company take us through it for experience? This question is complicated because we will be unfamiliar with our gear, and the geography. But we want to avoid taking a guide, because it seems like they baby you through the whole experience. Between these two what would you recommend? Is there any other alternative?

After this discussion, I would like to discuss trail choices as well. Please humor this newcomer. :) If any of you feel that this discussion is too long for a forum, I will be happy to do it over email.

5:58 p.m. on July 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Just to clarify, when I say on our own, we will do all the research. I found some great books in our local library, and resources on the internet. We will not try to figure it out as we go along.

7:35 p.m. on July 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Sollie (to shorten the name a bit),

Welcome to Trailspace! And thank you very much for being detailed in your experience and goals. We get too many posts that just say "I wanna do a challenging backpack - period". Nothing else. Sometimes they add "This will be my first backpack ever, and I have never camped out". One thing you did leave out is your age (it matters a lot whether you are a 15 yo, 25, 40, 60, or an Old GreyBearded One like me).

Anyway, you have indeed picked a challenging hike. There are a large number of trails in GCNP that have little traffic. The reason is that they are longer/steeper/have limited water supplies - a range of reasons why they are low traffic, most of which mean they are a bit too much of a challenge for a first time backpacker (it's hard enough to judge how much water you have to carry on some of the trails for even experienced backpackers - there was a death this year of someone who misjudged the water requirement on a less popular trail).

Specifics on trails can be given by Gary Palmer, who posts here frequently and lives in Flagstaff, plus has a lot of experience with GCNP (you might call him Our Man in Grand Canyon, or OMIGC).

Since you state that you have done zero overnight trips, plus will be unfamiliar with your gear (or even what to get, since you are relying on a gear list provided by an outfitter), I will be frank and state that this is too big a jump for your first overnight. The gear list is ok, except that it does not tell you what kind of sleeping bag or tent. Since it lists only a day pack, I would guess that they are planning to pack your gear on mule (and maybe have you on muleback as well). You say you plan on a strenuous hike, which means you will use your feet. As a dayhiker, you may already be aware of the absolute vital importance of boots properly fit to you by a trained and experienced boot fitter (you will be doing 20-50 miles, depending on the trail you choose, and there is nothing more devastating than an improperly fit boot, especially when you will have something like 5000 feet of downhill - jamming your toes against the front of an illfitting boot, and 5000 feet of uphill in temperature that (in Sept) range from hot desert at the river to potentially frost at the rim (GC does get frost in Sept sometimes at the rim). As an overnighter, you will have to carry tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cook gear, food, and potentially a lot of water - maybe a gallon each) in your pack - which means a pack of proper capacity and properly fit to you by a trained, experienced pack fitter (fit in a pack is second only to fit in your boots in terms of potential misery if it isn't done right).

So I would suggest you do a couple of short overnights between now and Sept to get familiar with your gear and what you really need to take (and more important, what you can do without and should leave behind).

Using a guide? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. If possible, take a basic backpacking course from one of the colleges in your vicinity (where do you live?). They are pretty inexpensive and can really teach you a lot about backpacking without having to hire a guide to baby you along. Make sure the course includes wilderness first aid, including especially care and prevention of blisters (newbies tend to get humongeous blisters from their ill-fitted boots.

I am sure that lots of people will jump in here. Hopefully, Gary will have some trail suggestions.

10:13 p.m. on July 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill for the OMIGC!

Actually if you like remoteness and want a trip that will be a nice 2/3 day trip, I would suggest the Hermit Trail out on the end of the West Rim road. It goes down to one of the oldest places in the canyon that a miner called William Boucher (pronounced Boo-Shay), a frenchman that used to have a hermitage stone cabin in the late 1800s. Later he built a tourist camp nearby.

The trail starts at a place called Hermits Rest, a little stone building perched on the west south rim overlooking one of the few places on the rim that the Colorado River is visable from the rim. It was built by Mary Jane Colter the lead architect of many of the buildings on the south rim. There is a fireplace inside that has stones and rocks from every layer of the Grand Canyon top to bottom.

Be sure to ride the free shuttle bus out to the trailhaed starting as early as possible as it will be getting hotter as you descend into the canyon. If you can get your permit the day before, take the Sunrise shuttle.

The Hermit Trail goes down to a canyon called Hermit Canyon. It basically ends about a mile from the canyon by that name on the Tonto Trail. The Tonto Trail extends from near Bass Canyon 30 miles farther west all the way over to Tanner Rapids below Desert View in the east. It follows what is called the Tonto Platform

While I am thinking about it, start now to apply for a reservation for this hike ASAP, because as Bill said the Grand Canyon is a busy place all summer. Best time of year to get a permit is at least three months before you will use it. The GC see's about 5 million visitors a year and about 100,000+ seek permits for it every year. I personally like Dec/Jan because that is when the hikers are the least and permits are easiest to get even on standby (waiting at the BCO early each morning, standing in line for someone to not show for their reserved permits) Standby's are first come, first served so if you have to do this you have to be at the BCO before they open waiting with other hopefuls.

So anyway you will go down the Hermit Trail which is a well built sandstone route sometimes following flat angled sandstone slickrock and sometimes the trail is built like cobblestoned pavers along the way. Between the top of the trail and the first side canyon called Hermit Basin is about 2 miles and 1400 feet drop in elevation. See map below. Hermits Rest in right of center in the green area. The trail descends to the lower left from there.

About another half mile to the right at the Basin Jct is another trail split. To the left it goes to Drpping Springs and the Boucher Trail, stay to the right and down into the notch

For first water a good shade, there is a place called Santa Maria Springs down the main canyon trail seen written in blue on this map just left of Hermits Rest. This is a stone shelter with a piped spring outside with potable water. Santa Maria Spring is an old mule/horse station stop from the late 1800s tourist days.

Click on the map(s) below for a larger image and feel free to save the maps for later referance.

From Santa Maria Spring it is about 6 miles down to the Tonto Trail.

Santa Maria Springs is in the lower left area of this map. You'll follow the trail going to the upper right area called the Cathedral Stairs. This is where the trail cuts down thru the Redwall formation and on NW to the Tonto Trail as it descends 1800 feet from Santa Maria Springs.

There is a nice outcrop of rock (sandstone) called Lookout Point about 1/2 way between S.M. Springs and the Cathedral Stairs.

The point where the Hermit Trail meets the Tonto Trail is in the center of this map. Once there take the left and go about2 more miles to Hermit Camp in the first drainage below Lookout Point. This is the campsite for the first night of my recommended hike. Just a few yards away is Hermit Creek which is a perenial creek.

If you get there early in the day, after setting up camp hike down Hermit Creek about a mile to the Colorado River. The rock you'll be passing thru is Vishnu Shist the oldest exposed rock in the world. Estimated at 2.2 billion years old. Black hard rock with pink Zoraster Granite filling its largest cracks.

Hermit Camp is just off this map at the bottom. At the Colorado river you may see rafters and kayakers go by or stop to camp for the night depending on the time of day.

Day 2) Return along the Tonto Trail (the Tonto trail is relatively flat all the way from above the Hrmit Camp to Indian Gardens on the Bright Angel Trail, only dropping a lil as it passes thru the side canyons of Monument, Salt and Horn Creeks) back up to the east and follow it up and around below Cope Point and into Monument Canyon. Here another nice hike can be taken down to the Colorado, Monument Rapids is the only rapids that can be heard from the south rim. It is very noisy up close. Or you can choose to hike on east along the Tonto Trail and make the second camp at Salt Creek. But be sure to get water at Monument as Salt Creek is not always flowing above ground. Sometimes you can go down stream from the campsites and find a spring about a 1/10th of a mile.

Hermit Camp to Cedar Spring map above. Cedar Spring is just a seep where water trickles down a stone slope and usually is not easity retreived.

Cedar Spring to Horn Creek map above. Salt Canyon is in the middle of the map. It is not possible to walk down this canyon to the Colorado River. This is camp two.

Day 3) Continue along the Tonto east around Dana Butte and into Horn Creek. Do not drink the water of Horn Creek as it drains the old aspestos/uranium mine above on the south rim. But do hike down the canyo to where its right/east fork comes in and follow it a short way to see a boulder that rolled from above and plugs the canyon. Also look for Big Horn Sheep in this canyon early in the mornings and later in the afternoons.

After Horn continue on towards the east and Indian Gardens.

Horn Creek to Indian Gardens map. It is getting really flat now in this section to Indian Gardens (I.G.). You will see a side trail going out to Plateau Point. You can either do it now or wait till you set up camp three at I.G. I would recommend it aftr camp and matbe dinner. It is about 1.5 miles on way out and at Plateau Point you can look about 1300 feet straight down to the Colorado River below. You can also see one of the only three bridges that cross the Colorado River between Lee's Ferry and Lake Mead on opposite ends of the GC. It is called the silver bridge as it is made of steel and aluminum. The other bridge that crosses down here is a old black steel bridge the miners built in the late 1800s to get across the river about a 1/2 mile upstream.

On this map of the canyon you can see Bright Angel Camp, Phantom Ranch and the two bridge for hikers and mule riders to go across the Colorado on the right side of the topo.

Day 4) Continued below...

From Indian Gardens it is 5.5 miles up to the South Rim with a 2600 foot hike up. Along the way every 1.5 miles is a resthouse with shade and a water tap of fresh drinking water.

Not many places in the canyon in September are going to be empty of people, but you will find many sections of the Tonto people-less. April to October is the busiest season/time of year. Late October to March the canyon has about 1/4 the amount of dayhikers and backpackers. The Hermit and the Bright Angel will have the most dayhikers on them. Regardless of the heat and lack of water many people hike all the way to the bottom without thinking of how hard it will be to hike out again.

On can get reservations to stay overnight in motelroom like bungaloos at Phantom Ranch as well as share hostel dorm room bunks there too. But these fill faster than the campgrounds.

I hopeI have given you some idea of where to hike in the canyon. There is also sometimes les people going down the Tanner Trail near the East entrance at Desert View. The trail starts at a place called Lipon Point.

But between horse/mule riders, dayhikers and overnight backpackers the canyon will seem crowded.

1:53 a.m. on July 20, 2010 (EDT)
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I am still to go through your responses in detail. But I would like to thank you both for your detailed responses.

Yup, I left out my age. I am 26 year old. I live in the Bay Area, in San Mateo, if you are familiar with the place.

Later tonight I will look at responses and compare it to the rather ratty trail map I have.

6:25 a.m. on July 20, 2010 (EDT)
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..So anyway you will go down the Hermit Trail which is a well built sandstone route...

And very steep! About the well built part; when I went down this trail in the early 1980s, the park service said the trail had received minimal maintenance since the 1940s; the conditions we saw backed that description. Some portions or the trail were completely obliterated from rock slides, while other sections were so steep we slid down on our boots. It was so rugged one member of our group, an "older" house mate of mine, broke his ankle on a misstep, about a mile from the Tonto Plateau. Fatigue had much to do with his accident, he was trying to hang with me and a friend of mine, both ten years his junior, and both in the best condition of our lives, preparing for a mountaineering trip to Peru. Nevertheless the trail was in about the most rustic condition I have ever seen of a marked and signed trail.

Apparently, Gary, the park service decided since then to make a considerable effort, and bring the trail up to your description; otherwise there could be no way you and I are describing the same trail. But I digress.

I would suggest, Saurabh, you heed Bill’s advice and choose something more manageable for the first half dozen outings, perhaps limiting these trip to weekend jaunts. Pick up some skills, and you’ll enjoy the GC much more. If you are adamant about hiking in the canyon lands there are plenty of great beginner venues with great scenery too. I’ll defer to the newly anointed OMIGC (hey web site admin, is it possible to add this honorarium to Gary’s handle?) for his list of recommended beginner trips.

It is good to research, but as you probably already noticed, personal preferences and experience of the authors presents a confusing tangle of alternative options, not to mention some advice is inherently contradictory. Thus there is nothing like putting some miles on the boots to gain the skills and confidence that work for you. One last thing: If you choose to forego a guide service, or hosted hikes such as those organized by the Sierra Club, etc, seriously consider doing your first few outings with someone who is well experienced in back packing.

8:00 p.m. on July 20, 2010 (EDT)
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Most of the trails in the canyon are steep. The Bright Angel and the South Kaibab are okay as these are the ones the mules riders take. Hermit,Boucher,Red Canyon, Grandview and the Tanner are some of the steepest. They begin okay but get rougher as you descend.

Of course coming back up is completely different. The hike from river to rim on the south side climbs about 5000 feet. On the B.A. this is done over 6 1/2 miles. The South Kaibab climbs it in about 7 miles. Red Canyon is one of the steepest trails in the canyon, I don't think it has changed much since the miners who built it for their mules.

For more information and up to date water and trail conditions check out the yahoo egroups site Grand_Canyon_Hikers. That group has been around since the mid 90s and there are very many knowledgable members on it. Ask and question or search their archives for more information.

Another group there is this one below...

6:21 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Hello Gary and Ed,

You are probably right about GC being too big a challenge for the first time around. So I joined a local adventure club for a few weekend jaunts and day hikes locally. It seems like its too late for any backpacking classes as the Summer session of classes is already over. But they promised to instruct me as we go along.

Gary, thank you so much for the trails, I was looking at the map, and it seems like this trail is a great way to explore the Canyon. But there has been a change in the plan, it seems like we will be doing the 3 day 2 night trip. The other person has to travel from the East Coast and will not be able to start a day early. How can I modify the trail for a 3day trip?



6:35 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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My first thought was to keep the basic structure of your trail and maybe cut down on some of the sightseeing hikes (Day 2 sadly). Does that sound do-able?

9:06 p.m. on July 21, 2010 (EDT)
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Just do the same route but go to Hermit camp the first night, then to Indian Gardens the second night and out the third day. I am not sure about distance but its like 30 miles from the head of the Hermit trail down into the canyon, over the Tonto to Indian Gardens and out the Bright Angel.

The hardest part may be the hike out from I.G. to the B.A. Trailhead. The hike down to Hermit camp should take about 4 hours tops. Then on the second day across the Tonto Trail is relatively flat except the short side canyon in and outs.

Look for dinosaur tracks on the way down in the tilted sandstone, they are small dinosaurs, one is a turtle like reptile, one is like an alligator and one is a bird-like reptile. They are in the area where the trail is made of sandstone like bricks or cobblestone.

I did the entire Hermit to Tonto to Indian Gardens and out in one long day back in September of 1999. I started at sunrise at 8 am on the Hermit and by 7:30 was in Indian Gardens, just in time to lead four boaters who had left their rafting tour early to hike out. I led them by flashlight all the way to the South Rim. It took longer with them but we got out about 11 pm.

One this topo, the first day will be down to Hermits Camp on the left side. Day two will be across the Tonto to where the trail-line goes straight up the BA. It is a relatively easy second days hike across the Tonto, just be sure to get as early as start as possible.

First day hike down to above where it says Hermit Camp on this map go left on dotted line to camp in canyon.

Second days hike is from just left of Cope Butte to where it says Campground on right. The light red squares on this map are one mile wide

Third day in canyon is the hike out from Campground to the rim. 4.5 miles with a water stop station (resthouse) every 1.5 miles. Piped in drinkable without filtering water. Early morning to about 11 am will be in the shade if you start at sunrise. Beautiful sunrise colors across the canyon to the east and north.

11:20 p.m. on July 22, 2010 (EDT)
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Thank you.

Permit application sent, old hiking boots (Timberland Flume Boot) dusted off, and backpacking books borrowed. I am ready to go to Grand Canyon. :) I will post any additional questions and eventually my experiences on this thread.

1:19 p.m. on July 23, 2010 (EDT)
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As I think I said its going to be very hot. May still be in the low 100s, tho it will most likely rain alot too. Tempertures at the Colorado are on any given day the same as they are in Pheonix the same day. Tho you will not get to the colorado unlss you dayhike down from Hermits camp the first day after setting up camp. Be sure to use a good waterproof tent fly and use it just in case.

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