A travel journal
to Grand Canyon by Ben the Grate
Quote: The Grand Canyon is the most-visited natural wonder in the United States. With 5 million visitors per year, how can you find solitude? Hike one of these remote, strenuous, spectacular trails!
Pull up a piece of canyon and sit down, enjoying the view of a dizzying drop from your feet...a vertical mile to the bottom! Frolick in secret waterfalls with no other souls around. Clamber through a canyon so narrow you can touch both walls with your outstretched hands. Explore a river that bursts from a mysterious cave and drops 1200 vertical feet in less than half a mile.
If you're flying to Las Vegas or Flagstaff, you can rent a car to make the trip. If you can't rent a car, or if you are concerned about your safety, several outfitters can do guided treks in the canyon. Try Canyon Dreams. Click here
Few people ever see Thunder River because the drive to the trailhead is so remote, and the hike is a minimum of 20 miles roundtrip, more if you see other spectacular sights in the area. You should take a minimum of 4 days to do this hike, preferably more.
There are two trailheads for Thunder River, the Thunder River trailhead, and the Bill Hall trailhead. Less experienced packers should use the Thunder River trailhead, as it is less steep. Starting from Thunder River trailhead, it is 15 miles to Thunder Cave where the river emerges. Starting from Bill Hall it is only 10 miles to Thunder Cave, however the trail is much steeper and more challenging.
From Thunder Cave, it is another 3 miles to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. You will descend 3,400 feet, and then climb those feet again on your way out. NOT a walk in the park.
I highly recommend making this a full-week trip and combining the Deer Creek trail, as well, which leads you to lovely waterfalls and deep narrow canyons filled with lovely swimming holes. Doing a circuit would make the roundtrip mileage near 50. This magnificent trek requires route-finding skills, strong hikers, and plenty of advance planning.
The hiking season at Thunder River is VERY short, due to heavy snowfall in winter and extreme temperatures in summer. May, June, September, and October are the only realistic months in which to hike. May might not be feasible, either, if the snow melts late, creating impassable muddy roads and miserable trails.
Hiking Thunder River requires a permit from the National Park Service. You can download and print the permit request form at this link:
Rangers carefully scrutinize applicants to make sure you are experienced enough to do this hike.
If you feel like you are out of your league but still want to see these amazing sights, you may hire a guide company to take you. A list of Park Service-approved guides can be found at:
I always recommend Canyon Dreams. Do not expect guided hikes to be cheap! They take care of everything for you, even the permit applications.
Thunder River is a rarely seen part of our country's most famous National Park, and the few that endure the harships to see it are forever glad they did. 80% of people who venture into Thunder River country return!
Will you be one of them?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 28, 2002
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Starting from the Thunder River trailhead, the trail descends sharply into the canyon and reaches the Surprise Valley in about 10 miles. Just after descending below the Redwall(a huge red cliff, you'll know it when you see it) watch for a small cairn about 1/4 mile into the valley. Turn right at the cairn for Deer Spring. Stay west at the next major trail junction.
Within a few miles you will come to the top of an unclimbable waterfall and you will hear Deer Spring below you about 100 feet. The trail curves off to the north and descends into the canyon. At the bottom, take a quick peek in the alove to your left at the waterfall formed by Deer Spring. Beautiful!
The main trail turns right and eventually crosses the creek. Then you enter the part of the canyon called "The Narrows" and it is really beautiful here! You can camp anywhere in this area.
The trail through the Narrows is not easy to negotiate with a backpack, so unless you are through-hiking to Tapeats Creek and Thunder River, leave your pack at your campsite. The trail crosses narrow ledges HIGH above the creek and sometimes you will be on your hands and knees!
The trail eventually spits you out about two hundred feet above the Colorado River in the heart of the Grand Canyon and switchbacks down to the river. Turn left and head upriver to the spectacular Deer Creek Falls!
It is not easy to continue upstream to Tapeats Creek and the Thunder River trail. There is no trail, and cross-country hacking is required. It is easier to pack back out of Deer Creek Canyon and then head across the Surprise Valley to Thunder River. However, I've heard of people leaving Thunder River trailhead, hiking down Thunder and Tapeats Creeks to the Colorado, over to Deer Creek, up the canyon, and back to the trailhead in 4 days, so it must be possible!
Deer Creek Canyon
Thunder River Trailhead
Grand Canyon, Arizona
There was a time when Cheyava Falls existed only in legend. Only a handful of white men had ever seen the huge waterfall, and no one else believed that there was a major waterfall in the desert canyon. A few intrepid explorers set out to map the falls and explore the cave, and the expedition was beset by mishap and horror. Today, a trip to the falls is made much easier by major trails which take you to within 5 miles of the base of the falls.
This is definitely a seasonal hike, as the falls only flow in early spring after snowmelt on the North Rim. Some seasons have such a small amount of snowfall that the falls never run. Contact the park service in January or February to see if the falls are expected to flow before you plan a trip just to see them. Under any circumstance, do not expect Niagara. The falls are enchanting in all stages from roaring torrent to diamond-drops of water which dance off the cliff and float gently to the base, barely dampening your hair if you stand beneath.
To access the falls, descend into the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail (9.8 miles), or the South Kaibab Trail (6.9 miles). From Phantom Ranch, where you can camp, the Clear Creek Trail begins about 1/2 mile north of the ranch. Follow the Clear Creek trail all the way to the campground at its end, a distance of 9 miles.
Cheyava Falls is located up the northeast arm of Clear Creek, and there is no official trail. You scramble through the creek bed, if the water is low enough, or bushwack upcanyon if it is too high. It takes an entire day to clamber the 4-5 miles from the campground to the falls and back.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Attraction | "Elves' Chasm"
The South Bass trailhead is 29 miles along dirt roads from the Grand Canyon Village, and takes 2 hours to negotiate. Backcountry rangers can give you directions.
This trek is very complicated and challenging. The route requires 1 rappell, so you must have a rope, harness, and descender with you. You must consult with park personnel, who will be invaluable on helping you plan a route.
This said, quite a few people have accomplished the trek, and I've seen photos of portly ladies who have made the trip. Preparation, stamina, and a good attitude go very far.
Elves' Chasm is a narrow canyon filled with waterfalls and swimming holes. Steep climbs up and around each waterfall lead to more waterfalls and more swimming holes. It is truly a magical place.
For more detailed descriptions of the trek, visit the following links:
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 28, 2002
Royal Arch Route
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Ben the Grate