The first explorers of this place were anything butordinary. They were strident, gritty,and resourceful. This trail is one ofthe hardest on the NPS map of the Grand Canyon. The ones who found this and opened it have created an accessibility tothis National Treasure that adds value to the park. Their hard work and failures were all worthit, because today, park visitors can find a trailhead and start walking. Howlucky we are.
Had you been looking for a perfectly coiffed ranger and aVisitor Center with postage stamps and picturecards, keep looking. I did thishike in a day, solo, both of which are not recommended. Bear in mind, the nature of the canyon is as much challenge as you want. The NPS has been gracious enough to maintainthis as a hiking trail, and we should enjoy it reasonably. I include tips inthis trip report to make this hike easier, if you aren’t ready to commit to a12,000 feet of vertical change over 26 miles in a day. A few things to keep in mind, this is not asummer vacation destination. This partof the canyon is facing South, and is exposed to the sun all day is dust androck, with no vegetation to cool the air, and in going down into the canyon youare committed. Disclaimer: Expect temperature extremes, steep sections withtechnical challenges like loose rock, and some exposure. Be prepared, and don’t go beyond yourlimits. One way to do this is to walk slowlyto avoid overheating. That would make ita 2-3 day hike. Do bring plenty of waterand wear layers. OK, that being said, this part of the canyon is incredible. Pictures do not do it justice.
For if you find yourself at the top, you will want to go to the bottom, so awesome is the view. The river goes through layer of Paleolithic rock, making mesas, buttes, and monuments of all kinds. Each layer is a different color, mineral mix, formed in its own way, and some of it highly resistant to erosion. Some places are memorable enough to have been given names, like the Tilted Mesa and Marion Point, and others are just part of a larger backdrop. There was a debate raging back in the day, as to name the canyon the Big Canyon, or the Grand Canyon. Well, upon rafting it, Powell decided it was to be Grand.
The view changes with every step, beginning with the Rim,the Esplanade Sandstone, a wall of dark red sandstone 200 meters thick. Thetrail follows the rim of this epic wall for five miles, around several points,including Marion Point, and onto the Tilted Mesa, and then descends 4000 feeton a bright yellow shale layer to the Nankoweap, and then follows the creek tothe Colorado River. The only shade is atthe very bottom, along the creek.
Its one of the most challenging trails for distance,technical challenge and for elevation gain. The elevation gain is done one alayer of shale that is loose, rocky, and there is no guaranteed footing. I did the RT in 18 hours, and then went backthe next day and hiked the upper rim to catch the views. I found it a littlerushed to do it in a day. I started thehike at 8 am, and got to the river by 4pm. I ascended the canyon and gained the rim at dusk, and had to wait awhile for the moon to come out before I could find the Esplanade path. Once I was on that path, it was not that hardto find my way back. I wouldn’t do analpine start on this trail, because the views are commanding, and doing them inthe dark defeats the purpose. The descent from the Upper Rim to the Mesa beginsat mile 7 or 8, and this is a very steep and technical descent, which would beprohibitively difficult with a large pack. It would be easier to camp on the upper rim, and descend with a daypack. If planning on camping at theColorado river, hiking poles are recommended.
I used the map provided by the Visitors Center. It is enough. Today, GPS and maps makes the Grand Canyon very accessible. Like most big nature parks, the first guy that goes through is a real hero. John Wesley Powell made the first measurements of the Canyon with barometers, a compass, chronometer a sextant and thermometers, all required for taking waypoints when navigating with the stars.The Canyon weaves, and it very rarely goes strait. It seems the only way it is strait is whereit descends. Powell’s group took altitude points every mile along the 400 miles of the river. To take such exact measurements during a trip is quite a feat.
At the time of this writing, 89A out of Page, AZ is impassable at mile 35 heading south. To get to the trailhead, head towards Kolib, UT and use access 1 or 2.
Access #1: From the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center go east on US 89A, a paved road, about 20 miles to between milepost 559 and 560 to FR 8910 (House Rock Wildlife Area). Turn right and go 23.5 miles to where FR 8910 forks and take the right fork and go another 4 miles to the trailhead. Note: this is nearly 30 miles on unpaved road. It is 2WD accessible, watch for washouts. Hike approximately 1 mile on the South Canyon Trail #31 to get to the junction of Trail #57. This is accessible year round.
Access #2: From the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center go south on AZ 67, a paved road, for 27.5 miles (0.6 miles beyond DeMotte park Campground entrance). Turn left onto FR 611. Approximately 1.4 miles turn right onto FR 610 and go 12.3 miles to the end of the road and the trailhead. FR 610 and FR 611 are both suitable for passenger cars. This is closed for the winter.
Know the overall length. Know your limits. Know how fast you are walking, and how many hours it will take.
Be comfortable with what you’re asking of yourself. If its an 18 hour day, or a multi-day backpacking trip on technical trails. Know how to limit your exposure, and carry the essentials.
Deciding to a quick one day trip might simpler than a multi-day trek. If you are not limited by time, spending a day on the canyon floor would be well worth it. However, hiking with a full backpack on thedescent route would be challenging. Apair of hiking sticks would be very helpful. I did it starting at 8 am, and made it back to the Supai formation at dusk. I walked the last upper rim in the moonlight. Due to the technical nature of this hike, I would advise against doing an alpine start without knowing the terrain.