Grand Canyon NP, Royal Arch Route


Mar 11, 2022
Hello everyone,
So this is a trip I did back in January 2014. Since I'm new to, I thought I'd use this as good practice for teaching myself how to post trip reports on this forum. I did this trip during an especially dry winter in 2014 where the south rim hadn't received significant snow yet at the time of the hike (as you'll see in pictures). Thus, I suspect that the water sources I found and will describe are fairly reliable and present during most dry years - even now.

This part of the canyon is gorgeous. It has a remoteness to it that most other south rim trails lack, while still having a fairly well cairned trail to follow. However, the NPS trail description for this route is spot on - there are about a 'million ways for you to sprain an ankle or worse' on this trip. Lots of class 2 scrambling, a fair amount of slightly exposed class 3 scrambling, and of course the rappel down to Toltec beach. Even if travelling with someone, I highly recommend bringing a sat phone/emergency beacon for this route - it can be 2+ days to get back to the trailhead, then a very long walk back to the village if your car gets stuck. In fact the crux of the trip may have been getting my car to the trailhead. When I drove Pasture Wash, there were 2+ft deep ruts in many places - falling into them while driving would have ended my trip quick. I suspect that the road is not much better even now, esp. in winter after the summer monsoons.

After getting my permit in the morning (I applied for and picked up my permit on the spot - backcountry use areas are more available in January), I ended up reaching the South Bass Trailhead in the afternoon and made a dry camp down on Darwin Plateau. Mt Huethawali from my campsite looked stunning:
Grand Canyon 008 (2).JPG

The next day was long, challenging, and completely dry until I reached Aztec Amphitheater. It was an easy walk along Drummond Plateau, but there was one long difficult section of trail as you rounded Toltec Point - lots of gullies, talus, and loose footing. There was a spring uphill from the trail here, but in January it was completely frozen over. Still, I managed to snap this awesome picture of Explorers Monument:
Grand Canyon 015resize.JPG

After you round Montezuma Point, the trail drops into a shallow wash which you follow into Royal Arch gorge. After about a half mile of walking along the bottom of the wash, keep an eye out for a small pothole in the middle of the wash nestled between some large boulders at about the 4500 ft contour. The pothole was only about 1ft wide, but several feet deep and full of water when I was there. Unlike other potholes I came across in this wash, this one wasn't frozen because it was so deep. Since it is somewhat shaded as well, I suspect it holds water when other potholes run dry. I thankfully found this water source just as it was getting dark, so I quickly set up camp right there for the night.

The next day I continued down the wash. Past my camp, the wash opens up a bit. I found a few more shallow water potholes that were beginning to defrost in the morning sun. I suggest tanking up here as it was several hours of difficult hiking before I ran into my next water source in the gorge. Right before you reach the main gorge, there is a huge drop-off that you have to negotiate.

The NPS guide describe two ways to bypass this drop. I strongly recommend following the route that goes downcanyon right of this pouroff. You have to negotiate some class 2+ downclimbs through the Supai cliff bands on the right side. The downcanyon left bypass was not visible from the pouroff, however from a vantage point further down canyon it looked pretty sketchy and dangerous - again, twisting or breaking your ankle here would be really bad.

The NPS route description led me to believe that there would be plenty of water in the main Royal Arch gorge, but this was not the case for me during this dry winter. I found only one accessible water source - about half-way down the gorge before the exit to Toltec beach. Thankfully, it is right on the cairned route, kind of under this large boulder that you climb down. Again, unlike other potholes in the gorge that I passed that were out in the open, this one was more shaded, so I suspect it keeps water longer. I camped about 40 min past this water source near where the route exits the gorge towards the direction of the rappel and Toltec beach:
Grand Canyon 031resize.JPG

As you can see, the main gorge is beautiful but rocky (this picture captures probably the most sand and one of the few camping spots that I saw in the gorge). Expect lots of class 2 and some class 3 scrambling down house size boulders in the middle of the gorge. I had to break out the 60 ft of rappel rope several times for lowering my pack.

The exit out of the gorge was well marked on my trip with two huge cairns. Expect more class 3 scrambling as you negotiate the steep exit. Unfortunately I didn't completely top off my water jugs at that single source in the gorge, so the next day I was pretty much out of water after breakfast. Thus by the time I got to the rappel (sorry, no picture), I was parched. The rappel is marked on the topo map as '20 ft'. However, what's not evident on the map is that the 20 ft rappel is located about 3/4 of the way down this 100 ft cliff that you have to navigate to via some moderately exposed class 2+ downclimbs and ledges (well cairned). Pretty exciting, especially with a large heavy pack on! The anchor is several interconnecting potholes or huecos in the cliff face that you can thread with webbing - bomber.

The river was a sight for sore eyes. Toltec Beach made an excellent, warm camp. At this point in the canyon, the Tapeats is right at river level - I took this cool pic near Toltec beach;
Grand Canyon 034resize.JPG

From Toltec it was about a two day hike back to the car via the Tonto and South Bass trails. Be sure to tank up on water here - the next reliable water that I found was on the South Bass trail at the Colorado river. You will likely see water in or near Garnett canyon, but it is super briny and undrinkable. Don't make the mistake I did, which was to contaminate half my water supply with this undrinkable briny stuff! Happy trails!

Grand Canyon 044resize.JPG
Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
Bob The New Grand Canyon Trip Planning 1
F Grand Canyon hermits rest to granite rapids to bright angel Trip Planning 10
dennisrodman A week in the Grand Canyon / Boucher / Hermit / Tonto Trail Trip Planning 4
futurafree Grand Canyon norovirus General Discussion 6
TrailScot Dripping Canyon to Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa, Utah - March 2022 Hiking & Camping 7
Kerrie at Thru We Go Grand Canyon Backpack/Packraft Loop at New Hance Backpacking 11
H Access to Grand Gulch via Water Canyon Trip Planning 2
westy Grand Canyon-Parashant NM, Parashant canyon Hiking & Camping 4
marquis20 Day 1: Grand Teton Wilderness and Black Canyon of the Yellowstone - June 2021 Backpacking 0
westy Grand Canyon-Parashant Trip Planning 2
Rockskipper Application Period Open For 2023 Private River Trips Through Grand Canyon National Park General Discussion 0
TrailScot Step Canyon access to Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa Trip Planning 7
stretch Grand Canyon Loop: Thunder River -> Tapeats -> Kanab -> Sowats Backpacking 22
balzaccom Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Backpacking 2
kansas Good map of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument? Trip Planning 5
J Grand Canyon NP Backpack Pt. 2 Deer Cyn explore-->Esplanade-->Indian Hollow Tr. April 18-23, 2021 Backpacking 10
J Grand Canyon NP Backpack Pt. 1 Thunder River Tr.-->Esplanade-->Tapeats-->Deer. April 18-23, 2021 Backpacking 13
Nick Running the Grand Canyon in a Tule Raft General Discussion 2
D Grand Canyon Ideas Trip Planning 9
Bob Grand Canyon North Rim wildfire Trip Planning 4
gnwatts Grand Canyon by canoe On The Water 2
westy Cave Canyon, Grand Canyon west Hiking & Camping 5
montanaclimber advice Grand Canyon backpacking Spring 2020 Trip Planning 16
D New dams proposed for Little Colorado River/Grand Canyon General Discussion 2
Ross Permit places available for a Cape Solitude/Comanche Pt Grand Canyon backpack (+Canaan Mountain) Meet Up (Members Only) 0
fossana Deer Creek out-and-back (Grand Canyon NP) Hiking & Camping 5
fossana New Hance - Tonto - Grandview loop (Grand Canyon NP) Hiking & Camping 5
G Grand Canyon hiking - need a ride Trip Planning 0
G Grand Canyon backpacking - need ride Backpacking 0
3 Grand Canyon Traverse - Map? Trip Planning 0
woodmaker_58 Grand canyon in February Trip Planning 4
woodmaker_58 grand canyon Trip Planning 2
stevecochranephotography Bright Angel Trail.. Grand Canyon, Arizona Hiking & Camping 1
N Grand Canyon and southern Utah in late November Trip Planning 3
Scott Chandler Finally Into the Grand Canyon Hiking & Camping 9
ramblinman New push for Uranium Mining near Grand Canyon General Discussion 3
cmgz Tuckup to Stairway -Grand Canyon Backpacking 5
A Escalante Route - Grand Canyon in late May 2017 Trip Planning 4
Wanderlust073 Grand Canyon in Winter - Hermit Trail to Bright Angel Backpacking 8
D Grand Canyon Escalade Project - ACT NOW General Discussion 12
Sandro Invite Grand Canyon, Utah Flats & Little Colorado, October Meet Up (Members Only) 7
b.stark A Grand Adventure-Grand Canyon 2016 Backpacking 7
Jon Carbaugh Grand Teton NP, Granite Canyon, Marion Lake Backpacking 12
IntrepidXJ Grand Gulch: Pollys Canyon to Collins Canyon Backpacking 1
Curt Grand Canyon --Tanner - Escalante Route - East Tonto - Grandview Backpacking 21
ram Grand Canyon River Trip.... March 8th-24th 2016 Canyoneering 12
Mike Jones 1 Week Grand Canyon trip Backpacking 2
cmgz Grand Canyon-Bill Hall Trail to Thunder River and Deer Creek Backpacking 6
ram Bypass My A** ....Tanner Wash, Grand Canyon 2-20-09 Canyoneering 4
woodmaker_58 Grand Canyon Camping in May Trip Planning 3

Similar threads

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.