Week Long backpacking, Zion or Grand Canyon? Need Suggestions

Mike Jones

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I am heading out west, landing in Las Vegas and looking to do some backpacking with my friend. Were experienced backpackers and are looking for a good remote week long trip.

Currently I am looking at two hikes, the trans zion hike which I read about here:

http://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/transziontrek.cfm

Or a Grand Canyon trip I read about here:

http://www.backpacker.com/2013-january-grand-canyon-tanner-escalante-grandview-circuit/destinations/17190
What are yalls suggestions? And do you have any other week long hikes in this area I may want to consider?
 

Nick

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Welcome to backcountrypost, Mike! I'm punching up a few suggestions but am curious what season you're planning your trip.
 

Nick

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I can't really comment on The Grand except that it seems like it's loaded with potential for longer trips. Heading out on my first backpacking/canyoneering trip there in April. Downsides: lack of water, pain in the ass permit system, super strenuous.

The trans-Zion trail would be fun, but not much of a wilderness experience and certainly not remote. Probably hard to make it into a week long trip too. I'd imagine something like this would be a reasonable pace:

Night 1: La Verkin Creek
Night 2: Somewhere between Hop Valley and Lava Point
Night 3: West Rim
Night 4: East Rim
Done.

But if you wanted to stick to Zion, you could always top that off with an overnighter down The Narrows or head out to the east side of the park and backpack into The Barracks. You could also break it into smaller trips doing just the best stuff. The West Rim, The Narrows, The Barracks.

Side note: didn't Bo Beck run the entire trans Zion trail in like 14 hours or something? Nuts...

Personally, if I had 7 days to kill backpacking in the southwest, I'd look further west. Escalante or Cedar Mesa. Maybe even a really massive loop of The Maze in Canyonlands. The National Parks are great, but there is more out there that is more conducive to your kind of trip and every bit as good (or better). Forgive me if you're already familiar with these areas. If you want more specific recommendations about any of them, feel free to ask.

Escalante - Quite possibly the best desert backpacking in the southwest, IMO. Lots of water, lots of deep, winding, varnished sandstone canyons. Depending on seasons, there's great choices and from the headwaters near Boulder Mountain all the way down to Lake Powell. Putting together a week long route here would be cake. There are also some good possibilities connecting Capitol Reef National Park into Escalante.

Cedar Mesa - The land of the ancients. Ruins, ruins and more ruins and mile upon mile of prime backpacking terrain. Grand Gulch alone could occupy weeks and be an excellent trip.

Maze Super Loop - I've been eyeballing this route through The Maze that would be quite the adventure and eat up the better part of a week. Start from Spanish Bottom via jet boat and then loop through all of the sections of The Maze. It would be a pretty advanced route, especially with the section through The Fins. But would be a ton of fun.
 

Mike Jones

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Thanks for the reply. I will be going early March. March 9th to 16th and Landing in Las Vegas. I am not to familiar with the places you mentioned in the above post. Could you give me a little more direction on where these places are located? Would they be doable if I land in Las Vegas?

I already have my flight form the east coast to Las Vegas so I need something within a few hour drive form there. Thanks again for your help.
 

Nick

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Ahh, March. That rules out some things, including the trans-Zion trek, West Rim, Narrows etc. Pretty much most of the backpacking in Zion. I'll post more a bit later.
 

Nick

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Okay, so March is not so good for Zion backpacking. With the exception of the 'desert' section of Zion which is short and not really recommended, everything is either at very high elevations and likely snow covered, or in very deep and wet canyons and extremely cold.

So with that said, The Grand Canyon might be a better choice. I think options from the north rim can be limited that time of year and like I said, I don't really have much experience there. Perhaps Jammer , Dan , Kristen M. Caldon Photo and some of the others with GC experience have suggestions though.

Escalante is in the northeast end of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here:
https://maps.google.com/maps?q=37.5...1.172028&spn=0.610215,0.606308&num=1&t=p&z=11

And here are some backpacking trip reports from the Escalante area:

http://backcountrypost.com/forum/index.php?threads/coyote-gulch-loop.65/
http://backcountrypost.com/forum/index.php?threads/first-time-to-coyote-gulch.302/
http://backcountrypost.com/forum/index.php?threads/fortymile-willow-gulch-loop.133/
http://backcountrypost.com/forum/index.php?threads/little-death-hollow-wolverine-loop.698/
http://backcountrypost.com/forum/index.php?threads/death-hollow-the-boulder-mail-trail.558/


Depending on where on the grand you're driving to, it might not be any further from Vegas. Or it might add a couple hours. Google says it takes a little under 5 hours. compared to 4.25 to the south rim of the Grand. http://goo.gl/maps/PL3XX

Weather in March can swing quite a bit, but most of the stuff on Hole in the Rock Road, especially further down it would be great. Coyote Gulch is a classic and can be extended in some pretty interesting ways.

Cedar Mesa is probably further than you want to go, http://goo.gl/maps/BhWwM. Same for Canyonlands, http://goo.gl/maps/ZOvMP.
 

Jammer

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I concur that Trans-Zion is likely not a good choice unless you like quite a bit of snow. And as Nick said, it would be hard to fill a week there. I did it in 4 nights in May 2009 and hit most of the side hikes and still had quite a bit of time to kill. It's odd too in the sense that at the mid-point of the hike is where you are likely to see HUNDREDS of people (Angel's Landing and in Zion Canyon.) BTW -- I think the record for this route is now under 9hrs!

I think the south rim of the Grand should provide you with the best options -- though there might still be snow at the rim. Later in March though it begins to get very popular there so you may want try to reserve a permit just to be safe. Hance in particular has become very popular.

Escalante/Canyonlands/Cedar Mesa could all be great --- or could all be really cold. March is so very unpredictable.

- Jamal
 

Mike Jones

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I have been doing some research and plotted out a 50 mile hike through the grand canyon. I uploaded it here for you look over:

http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=2022920&code=73061d1ba020cb6aad69989c5eeea259

I am not very familiar with the area, and would like to know what you all think of this possible trip. I planned it out by looking at the grand canyon hike above I posted in the original post and then tweaked it a little. If I land Saturday night in Vegas and start out Sunday, and have to make a flight out on Saturday morning, do you think this is doable? And do you think it would be a good hike for someone from the east coast who is excited to see as much as they can?
 

Jammer

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That looks like a pretty good route -- much of it is along the Tonto formation which makes for fairly easy hiking, but it can get monotonous after a while. IMHO I'd want more time down by the river or in side canyons.

Also, plan your exit very carefully re: water. If you are coming up the S. Kaibab I don't think there is any along the way up so you will need to stock up the day before.

As far as what is doable -- we probably need to know a little more about your experience before giving sound advice. Sounds like if you don't do any other sight-seeing you will have 4 full days and 2 half days to hike. That's makes that route definitely doable -- but not really easy and there is a tendency to underestimate the Canyon the first time out. Also, doing the route in that direction means there are no alternate routes out. If you did it in reverse you could bail at Grandview or Hance if needed.

-Jamal
 

Mike Jones

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That looks like a pretty good route -- much of it is along the Tonto formation which makes for fairly easy hiking, but it can get monotonous after a while. IMHO I'd want more time down by the river or in side canyons.

Also, plan your exit very carefully re: water. If you are coming up the S. Kaibab I don't think there is any along the way up so you will need to stock up the day before.

As far as what is doable -- we probably need to know a little more about your experience before giving sound advice. Sounds like if you don't do any other sight-seeing you will have 4 full days and 2 half days to hike. That's makes that route definitely doable -- but not really easy and there is a tendency to underestimate the Canyon the first time out. Also, doing the route in that direction means there are no alternate routes out. If you did it in reverse you could bail at Grandview or Hance if needed.

-Jamal

I have never hiked the canyon before but I am in pretty good shape. I am a senior at the United States Naval Academy and will be commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the Marine corps in about 80ish days, so I am no stranger to moving with a heavy pack on either.

As for the hike getting a little monotonous would I have a more fun hike doing something like the coyote gultch? I loved looking at all those trip reports Nick posted, looks amazing! My one question with those hikes is I am not familiar with the area, and looking on google earth it does not show any trails. If this is true backcountry, where can I look to get an idea of how to hike that area. None of the attached reports in Nicks post have maps and I am not familiar enough with the area to go off those written directions.
 

Nick

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As for the hike getting a little monotonous would I have a more fun hike doing something like the coyote gultch? I loved looking at all those trip reports Nick posted, looks amazing! My one question with those hikes is I am not familiar with the area, and looking on google earth it does not show any trails. If this is true backcountry, where can I look to get an idea of how to hike that area. None of the attached reports in Nicks post have maps and I am not familiar enough with the area to go off those written directions.

Monotonous is exactly what I thought when I saw your itinerary. I know for me at least, I would prefer something more like Coyote Gulch. It's a very popular destination with relatively easy route finding. Depending on where you choose to enter and exit the canyon the difficulties may be increased. An out and back from Hurricane Wash would probably be the most straight forward. Good resources for hiking in Escalante:

Canyons of the Escalante Trail Illustrated Map
Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante by Ron Adkison

The trailhead for Hurricane Wash is 30 or so miles down Hole in the Rock road out of the town of Escalante, UT. Under most conditions it's doable in a regular car but an SUV would certainly be nice. Navigation to and from there is easy. You just go down the canyon then turn around and go back out the way you came. There are a handful of other entrance opportunities, most of them are more interesting and involve loops and/or point to points but require more advanced navigation skills and likely a high clearance vehicle (stock rental SUV is fine). The loop option is excellent:


View larger map.
I took my sweet time on that and spent three nights. It could be extended by going up the river once you get to the Escalante and exploring into Steven's Canyon/Arch.

Happy to provide more info if you're focusing in on that. The interactive topo map here on BCP is also quite helpful for exploring things:

http://backcountrypost.com/map
 

Mike Jones

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Thanks for the help. This is such a hard decision, I only have time for one trip and don't know when the next time I will be out there...

How would the hike you posted in your last post be in March? Also I am having trouble figuring out those random points you have that don't follow the canyon.
 

Nick

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What is a good map I can by of that escalante region?

Canyons of the Escalante Trail Illustrated Map

Thanks for the help. This is such a hard decision, I only have time for one trip and don't know when the next time I will be out there...

How would the hike you posted in your last post be in March? Also I am having trouble figuring out those random points you have that don't follow the canyon.


Like Jammer said, March can be awesome or awful. It's a really unpredictable month in terms of weather in the southwest. Most of the possibilities will still be in winter mode. Trees won't have greened up much, nights will be cold. Not sure about the random points you speak of. Click on any of them and explains what it is there for. The only ones not in the canyon are the trailheads and one on the way into Hurricane Wash from the water tank.
 

Mike Jones

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I just mapped out a hike through the escalante. Can you all who are familiar check out the route and let me know what you think. My main concerns are:

1) how is the distance for a 4 day hike + 2 half day at the start and end.
2) Will I be able to enter and exit all the canyons I enter and exit around those locations?
3) Will the last stretch be a bit boring?

Thanks for all your help guys, I am getting more excited about my trip everyday and I still have not decided on a route yet!!

here is my mapped out route:

http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=2024197&code=61c182a6a6ddfd727f71808a5b977c0e
 

Jen

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Is that 36 miles total? I'm not familiar with the area like nick and the others are, but if i had six nights and four full days that i wanted to be out i'd probably go a bit further. or bring some really excellent books and a deck of cards...
 

Mike Jones

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I can add more distance easily. Also do you all think it is better to go south like I did at the escalante or should I go north to the other canyons?
 

Jammer

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Your distance should be ok. But, you won't be able to go across the top of the mesa exactly like you have plotted. It looks flat on a map, but there is actually quite a bit of 20-40' topography out there that will limit your navigation. That last stretch could be fairly boring, but Sunset Arch is out there so you could track it down.

Also -- you will likely be in and out of a lot of ankle to knee-deep water, so plan according.

FYI -- if you really want to make a loop out of this, at the bottom of Coyote Gulch one can go north up to that next big canyon and ext and work your way back. There's an established route for this -- but I haven't done it. Maybe others have experience with this route.

- Jamal
 
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