advice Grand Canyon backpacking Spring 2020

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montanaclimber

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Dec 9, 2018
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Hello! I'm wanting to check out the Grand Canyon possibly this spring, end of March or April (?) with the plan of backpacking 2 nights.

I'm reaching out to anyone who can recommend any favorite routes: I'm looking for a trip that's big on views of layers of the canyon, and ideally wanting to camp on a sandy beach near the river at some point (does that exist?). I'm in very good shape but would prefer no extreme technical canyoneering.

As far as obtaining a backcountry permit, is it easy to secure what you want? Or is there generally lots of alternatives and really any trip in the GC would be great?

Any tips from your experiences appreciated to help me plan!
 

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LarryBoy

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The corridor trails generally get booked up pretty early, but there are plenty of places that are off the beaten path that are pretty easy to get a permit for. If you're looking to camp by the river, your best bet is something on the east side of the park - the Tanner or New Hance trails come to mind. Those are connected by the Escalante Route, which has a couple Class III scrambles but otherwise is basically a normal trail. Make sure you pay attention to the permit opening dates - I think it's December 1 for trips in April, if I'm not mistaken, and get your application faxed in ASAP so you have first pick.

If you exceed certain mileage thresholds or go off-trail, they may send you an "are you sure" followup form where you have to prove competence based on your hiking experience, yadda yadda.
 

Janice

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Dec 5, 2017
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We had a MAGICAL trip in the canyon last April 23-26. The wildflowers (cacti and other) were spectacular! The first day, we went down Hermit Trail, which is accessed from the last stop on the park shuttle along the rim road west of the main park area, and stayed that night at Granite Rapids. It's a long way down for one day, and I did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure it was do-able. (We have 55-year-old knees.) They had us do the "are you sure" form that @LarryBoy mentions. It was fabulous staying next to the rapids, hearing that rushing water and seeing the rafters the next morning. The second day was a very short hike - we just went back up to Monument Creek and stayed there, so we had lots of time to rest and explore. The frog sounds at Monument Creek that night were incredible! The third day was a long but terrific day on the Tonto Trail, going all the way across to Indian Garden. After setting up that afternoon, we went to Plateau Point and enjoyed that. The final fourth day, we went up Bright Angel Trail, which was so much more crowded than the other trails and no wildflowers. It happened to be super hot on the days we were down low in the canyon, so on our 3rd day we started at 4:00am to beat the heat and did the first hour with headlamps. That was really beautiful and fun, then we got to watch the gradual lightening as the morning progressed.

If you only have 2 nights, you can skip staying at Monument Creek and just stay down by the river the first night and then Indian Garden, Salt Creek, or Horn Creek the second night (although there's no water available at Salt or Horn). You'll have long hiking days, but maybe that's ok for you.

You definitely want to submit your permit request by December 1. For ours, I provided several itinerary options and didn't get what I asked for, but they worked with me to get something that would work, and we absolutely loved what we ended up with.

Feel free to get back in touch if you're interested in this route and have questions.
 

Bob

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Mar 3, 2013
Messages
2,304
Kanab Creek, very few people, not much trail ....... Deer creek, thunder river, more people, trail. North rim ... Snow in early spring
 

montanaclimber

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Dec 9, 2018
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4
We had a MAGICAL trip in the canyon last April 23-26. The wildflowers (cacti and other) were spectacular! The first day, we went down Hermit Trail, which is accessed from the last stop on the park shuttle along the rim road west of the main park area, and stayed that night at Granite Rapids. It's a long way down for one day, and I did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure it was do-able. (We have 55-year-old knees.) They had us do the "are you sure" form that @LarryBoy mentions. It was fabulous staying next to the rapids, hearing that rushing water and seeing the rafters the next morning. The second day was a very short hike - we just went back up to Monument Creek and stayed there, so we had lots of time to rest and explore. The frog sounds at Monument Creek that night were incredible! The third day was a long but terrific day on the Tonto Trail, going all the way across to Indian Garden. After setting up that afternoon, we went to Plateau Point and enjoyed that. The final fourth day, we went up Bright Angel Trail, which was so much more crowded than the other trails and no wildflowers. It happened to be super hot on the days we were down low in the canyon, so on our 3rd day we started at 4:00am to beat the heat and did the first hour with headlamps. That was really beautiful and fun, then we got to watch the gradual lightening as the morning progressed.

If you only have 2 nights, you can skip staying at Monument Creek and just stay down by the river the first night and then Indian Garden, Salt Creek, or Horn Creek the second night (although there's no water available at Salt or Horn). You'll have long hiking days, but maybe that's ok for you.

You definitely want to submit your permit request by December 1. For ours, I provided several itinerary options and didn't get what I asked for, but they worked with me to get something that would work, and we absolutely loved what we ended up with.

Feel free to get back in touch if you're interested in this route and have questions.
We had a MAGICAL trip in the canyon last April 23-26. The wildflowers (cacti and other) were spectacular! The first day, we went down Hermit Trail, which is accessed from the last stop on the park shuttle along the rim road west of the main park area, and stayed that night at Granite Rapids. It's a long way down for one day, and I did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure it was do-able. (We have 55-year-old knees.) They had us do the "are you sure" form that @LarryBoy mentions. It was fabulous staying next to the rapids, hearing that rushing water and seeing the rafters the next morning. The second day was a very short hike - we just went back up to Monument Creek and stayed there, so we had lots of time to rest and explore. The frog sounds at Monument Creek that night were incredible! The third day was a long but terrific day on the Tonto Trail, going all the way across to Indian Garden. After setting up that afternoon, we went to Plateau Point and enjoyed that. The final fourth day, we went up Bright Angel Trail, which was so much more crowded than the other trails and no wildflowers. It happened to be super hot on the days we were down low in the canyon, so on our 3rd day we started at 4:00am to beat the heat and did the first hour with headlamps. That was really beautiful and fun, then we got to watch the gradual lightening as the morning progressed.

If you only have 2 nights, you can skip staying at Monument Creek and just stay down by the river the first night and then Indian Garden, Salt Creek, or Horn Creek the second night (although there's no water available at Salt or Horn). You'll have long hiking days, but maybe that's ok for you.

You definitely want to submit your permit request by December 1. For ours, I provided several itinerary options and didn't get what I asked for, but they worked with me to get something that would work, and we absolutely loved what we ended up with.

Feel free to get back in touch if you're interested in this route and have questions.
Janice, did you feel like you had enough solitude on this route? It sounds absolutely amazing! Are campsites pretty spread out between people or do you get neighbors?
 

Janice

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Dec 5, 2017
Messages
188
Janice, did you feel like you had enough solitude on this route? It sounds absolutely amazing! Are campsites pretty spread out between people or do you get neighbors?
I felt we had enough solitude on the route until Indian Garden. There is NO solitude at Indian Garden. There are many people camping there, as well as day hikers. We knew ahead of time it would be like this and were mentally prepared for a very different experience there than the other places we camped. I had been worried about how I would do hiking out of the canyon (fortunately had no trouble) and was willing to have the crowd at Indian Garden so that our mileage on the last day would be as low as possible. If you want to avoid Indian Garden, you would have solitude (or close to it) at Horn Creek, which is 2.5 miles from Indian Garden, but unfortunately you can't drink the water at Horn Creek due to radioactivity and there aren't reliable water sources near Horn Creek. So if you're able to carry a lot of water and don't mind limiting water use that night, try for Horn Creek instead.

Here's our campsite at Indian Garden.There are others nearby.
IMG_7182.jpg


2) At Monument Creek, there were nearby campsites that were filled up, so we didn't have complete solitude there, but it didn't feel crowded to me.

3) At Granite Rapids, there's a large, sandy beach upstream from the rapids where a group of rafters were camped, but we were a bit away from there. Instead, we were closer to the rapids, and no one else was camped there. I loved it!

This is where we camped at Granite Rapids. The large, sandy beach isn't visible in this picture, but it's kind of near the greenest tree in the middle of the picture.
IMG_6832.jpg


Granite Rapids!
IMG_6815.jpg
 

Janice

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Dec 5, 2017
Messages
188
Another thought - if you only have 2 nights and want to avoid Indian Garden and the crowds along Bright Angel Trail, you could go down Hermit and stay at Hermit Rapids and/or Granite Rapids and/or Monument Creek for the two nights, explore out and back along the Tonto Trail with the extra time you'd have in your middle day, and then go back up Hermit on your last day. Here are some photos along the Tonto Trail to whet your appetite!

Views while hiking along the Tonto Trail
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Early morning along the Tonto Trail
IMG_7028.jpg


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IMG_7004.jpg


Fabulous granite deep in the canyon - along Monument Creek
IMG_6953.jpg


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The Monument at the top of Monument Creek
IMG_6760.jpg
 

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Curt

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Feb 1, 2014
Messages
359
My first backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon was down the Tanner Trail and then along the Beamer Trail. I highly recommend this as it would give you everything you want. The views along the Tanner trail are world class almost the whole way. There is a big flat spot just below Cardenas Butte just before the trail descends the the Red Wall that we camped at and I've made a point of camping there every time I've gone on that trail. Best views ever at that spot. It's about half way down and a dry camp but worth it. I'm attaching some photos to give you an idea of what it looks like there. I've only camped there a few times but have never had to share it with anyone else. When you get to the River I don't recommend camping at Tanner Rapids. There have been a lot of people there every time I've been there. It's pretty overgrown with Tamarisk and I get the sense that rodents and ravens are a big problem there due to all the people. Instead head east along the Beamer trail. The first part goes along the cliffs above the River. A lot of fall exposure there. Not sure why they ran the trail there. We went higher and there's a nice plateau with no exposure at all. Eventually the Beamer goes back down to the River and follows it for a couple miles. There's an abundance of camping opportunities all along the couple of miles that the trail runs along the River and you probably won't hardly see anyone else once you get on the Beamer. At Palisades Creek the trail climbs back up above the River. There are some excellent views from up there. It's a long slog from Palisades Creek to the Little Colorado River. If you've only got a couple nights I don't think I'd try for the Little Colorado. Gotta say that it's a long climb back out along the Tanner. The last mile is a killer. Really steep.

You can apply for a permit 5 months before the date you want to go. I recommend doing that. I've never had any trouble getting a permit when I've done that. Probably the hardest part of this is finding a parking place at Lipan Point on the day of the hike. You can leave a car there as long as you have a backcountry permit and leave a copy in the window. If I remember right, they give some instructions on that on the permit. Let me know if you would like a map locating that spot below Cardenas Butte.

View along the Tanner below Lipan Point.
GC 2016 - Day 1 - 2.jpg



Evening view from the recommended camp site below Cardenas Butte.
GC 2016 - Day 1 - 6.jpg


Morning view from the same spot
GC 2016 - Day 2 - 1.jpg


Another Tanner Trail view down below the Red Wall.
GC 2016 - Day 2 - 3.jpg
 
Last edited:

fossana

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Joined
Jan 11, 2018
Messages
346
I did New Hance > Grandview as a daytrip during spring break season and there were few people on it. You can bike shuttle the road part. I would second Kanab Creek Wilderness for solitude and no permit hassle. Keep an eye on road conditions if you opt for that since the roads were snowed in or impassible with deep mud pits into late spring of this year.

In contrast, the last few miles of
Deer Creek to the river were a zoo with the rafting crowd and I wouldn't go again; maybe your timing will be better.
 

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Janice

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Dec 5, 2017
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I have no input but just wanted to say that those photos are excellent @Janice and @Curt. Now I want to go backpacking down there!
I have to say that backpacking in the Canyon made me feel much more awed and inspired by its special beauty than I had previously felt doing dayhikes on previous trips. Sleeping down in it made a huge difference in my appreciation for this magical place!
 

montanaclimber

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Dec 9, 2018
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Hey all! Original poster here. So I easily got a permit! I loved all the ideas you all gave me and had variations of all of them in my choices on the permit application.

We will be staying the first night at Hermit Creek, then at large camping on the Boucher somewhere, then back up! Any tips or suggestions about this route will be greatly accepted! This will be happening the end of March.
Thanks again!
 

Janice

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Joined
Dec 5, 2017
Messages
188
Hey all! Original poster here. So I easily got a permit! I loved all the ideas you all gave me and had variations of all of them in my choices on the permit application.

We will be staying the first night at Hermit Creek, then at large camping on the Boucher somewhere, then back up! Any tips or suggestions about this route will be greatly accepted! This will be happening the end of March.
Thanks again!
Wonderful - so glad you got a permit! Since we didn't camp at Hermit Creek, I can't give any tips about that, other than to urge you to go down to the river at Hermit Rapids the first afternoon/evening or the second morning before you head to the Bucher. Here's a photo I took of Hermit Rapids from above when we were on the Tonto Trail heading east (toward Monument Creek - away from the direction you'll be going).
IMG_6737.jpg


One trail note that might be worth remembering: When you're on the Hermit Trail, you can see a few fossilized tracks in somewhat flat stone on the left as you're going down. Here are the notes we used to find it (https://www.birdandhike.com/Hike/GRCA/Hermit_Tr/_Hermit_Tr.htm):
"From the trailhead..., the trail switchbacks quickly down through the Kaibab Limestone. This part of the trail is steep and rocky, but there are lots of fossils (e.g., brachiopods, corals, and sponges) and some wonderful views along the trail. The vegetation is pinyon-juniper forest, so there is a fair bit of shade along the trail. Below the Kaibab Limestone, the trail passes the Toroweap Formation and comes to the Coconino Sandstone. There are some nice sandstone walls here, but the trail passes through a broken down and slabby section. In the lower part of the Coconino Sandstone, about an hour (1.1 miles) below the trailhead and just above the bottom of the canyon, there are some interesting fossilized reptile tracks in the sandstone slabs adjacent to the trail... There are several kinds of tracks here. The fossils are on a long, straight section of trail that is "paved" with sandstone cobbles. Please don't climb the slabs or walk on the fossils because you will cause them to erode more quickly. The best fossils are adjacent to the trail, so you don't need to leave the trail to see the best tracks. Just below the fossil tracks, the trail drops into the Hermit Shale at Waldron Basin, a fairly broad, open, and well-vegetated basin in the bottom of Hermit Canyon..."

Here are a few of my not-great photos of the tracks:
IMG_6567.jpg


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IMG_6565.jpg


I hope you have a great time on the trip!
 

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