The New Hance Trail is known as one of the three most difficult trails (not routes) in the Grand Canyon (the other two are the North Bass and Nankoweap). Because of this, it is also one of the least used trails on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s still a beautiful trail and worth doing.
This trail has a bad reputation as being very steep and difficult, but my four year old did it with no problems, so it’s not that bad. The trail is only seven miles to the Colorado River making it the second shortest trail on the South Rim. There are several scrambling sections along the trail.
Scrambing along the New Hance Trail.
The trail was built by the colorful character, John Hance. His original trail (the “Old Hance Trail”) was built in 1883, but it was washed out fifteen years later and thus the New Hance Trail was constructed. The trail was originally constructed to access asbestos near the river, but John soon learned that guiding tourist became more profitable than mining.
This is a section of the rugged Hance Trail as it cuts through the Coconino Sandstone.
Unfortunately, there is no parking at the trailhead. The trailhead is along the East Rim (Desert View) Drive 4.8 miles east of the Grandview Point turnoff and 1.0 miles west of the Moran Point turnoff.
Most people park at Moran Point and walk to the trailhead, but there is also a gated road to the west of the trailhead (maybe 0.5 miles?) and on the south side that you can also park at. In November 2006, the park service allowed one or two cars to park just east of the trailhead and on the south side of the highway, but I don’t know if this is always the case. The trailhead is marked by several no parking signs.
From the trailhead, walk the path (old road) to the north and to the rim. The trail immediately plunges into the canyon.
Some of the views near the upper part of the Hance Trail.
For those familiar with the geology and rock layers, these will be used for identification and reference location. The trail is steep with a rough and sometimes loose grade through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations and later the Coconino section is perhaps a bit steeper. When the route reaches a saddle and the character of the trail changes a bit.
After the Coronado Butte saddle and in the Supai there are several falls that must be downclimbed, but they are all short.
Once you reach the big Redwall cliff (the Redwall Limestone forms the highest cliff in the Grand Canyon), you will traverse right (east) along the top of the Redwall. While the trail is not so steep it is tedious and perhaps more strenuous.
After close to a mile, keep your eyes peeled for the break in the Redwall and for stone cairns. Once you find the trail through the Redwall, descend the very steep and long slope to the bottom. This is the steepest and roughest part of the trail.
The top of the Redwall and what is the crux of the route.
The trail descends through the Muav Limestone and becomes less steep. After this, the trail goes down through several colorful formations and rock layers before finally reaching the floor of Red Canyon which usually has a nice flow of water.
The trail mostly fades away here, but just follow Red Canyon to the Colorado River. The route is mostly easy with a few boulder obstacles. There are some nice campsites at the river.
Hance Rapids at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and at the end of the New Hance trail. The Tonto Trail begins here.
The once way distance is just over seven miles and the trail descends 4400 feet, plus some ups and downs. Two days is recommended for the round trip.
Once at the river, there are several route possibilities for the return. The first option is to return the same way. You can also head east along the river and the “Escalante Route” to the Tanner Trail. You can also head west along the Tonto Trail to the Grandview Trail.
Late October, November, late March, and April are the best times of year to go.
Don’t try this trail in summer as it is hot and open and could be deadly. In winter the upper end of the trail can be icy. The ideal time to hike is in the late fall but before snow is present on the trail. In dry winter weather the trail can be pleasant, but bring crampons or yak tracks in case. Spring is nice too, but after April the trail can be very hot.
The bottom of the Grand Canyon in late November when the weather is ideal.
A good pair of boots is needed.