One of the first things that you notice as you push off from Lee’s Ferry is the sheer walls that rise up on either side of the Colorado River. You feel like you are being granted a gift by navigating through this deep canyon, and it’s really too much to be able to put into words. As you get a few days into your journey, the canyon walls begin to get more defined and the slot canyons coming into the Colorado River become more pronounced.
Here are my favorite wet and dry hikes from campsites or stops that we did on our trip.
The Thunder River trail is a continuation of the trail after you arrive at the crest of the Deer Creek Waterfall. We staged a raft the night prior so after the hike we would have transportation back to our camp on river left at Deer Creek. After hiking about a mile up the stream past the amazing Deer Creek Waterfall, you will take a spur trail to the right that will climb over 2,000’ of elevation gain to a mesa where the terrain will change drastically. Instead of the lush green area surrounding Deer Creek, it’s now a flat desert wasteland.
After 3-4 miles of relatively flat hiking, you will start to descend towards Tapeats Canyon and reconnect to the Colorado River. As you start your descent, on the left side of the trail is a cascading waterfall that juts out of the side of the cliff wall and plunges over 75’ to the valley below. This was an unexpected treat as none of our crew had read this in any research prior to the hike.
After pausing to take in the spectacular waterfall, we headed down the Tapeats trail on river right towards the Colorado River and back towards our raft. I feel like this was the pinnacle of our trip, however, the trail guide said 7 miles and everyone in our group agreed that it was more like 11-12. Plan accordingly and bring plenty of water and snacks, It’s a hot one out there!
Nautiloid was a relatively short hike and beautiful canyon. The real draw to this canyon is the large, snail-like fossils in the limestone layers about 400 yards up the canyon. After hiking up the canyon you will reach a large flat section at the bottom of the canyon; closely look below your feet, they are hard to spot but are about 12-18 inches long. From this point, you can turn around and have an amazing view of the river as you hike back to your rafts.
Our crew did the National hike at night after we had set up camp, I probably would not recommend this as it’s fairly precarious. However, we had a long day and still wanted to get some hiking in after camp was set up. The sunlight would not cooperate with our schedule, we still showed it who was boss and crushed a great side hike by headlamp.
After about 1 mile of walking on the creek bed, National Canyon starts to become more and more narrower until you see the creek start to cut through different layers. From here it becomes a wet hike as you traverse in the water up the rest of the canyon. From this point it’s as high as you want to go. Our team decided to not become completely soaked and turned around after 40 or 50’ of the wet traverse.
This hike was referred to as a “Death March” but really wasn’t that bad overall; you can easily see the destination from where you beach your rafts. The only thing that is deceiving is that it’s directly above you and appears closer than it really is.
From the Nakoweap overlook, you will have one of the most amazing views of the Colorado River before the confluence of the Little Colorado gives it the brown and murky tint. It’s a sight to behold, and if you look close enough at the construction of the storage areas chiseled into the rocks you can see fingerprints of the indigenous people who inhabited the area.
Havasu was at the top of my list but I didn’t get to fully experience it because we were short on time the day we arrived. Oh well, that’s life I’m afraid, you don’t always get what you want. This just means that I’ll have to come back soon for some new hikes and new experiences!
Havasu was an amazing Turquoise color and the creek itself had more volume than I was expecting. My plan was to hike past Beaver Falls all the way up to Mooney Falls and onto Havasu Falls, however, I had friends waiting at our rafts who did not share my vision and I didn’t want to keep them waiting too long. The furthest I managed to hike before turning around was Beaver Falls which was still an incredible sight to behold.
One of the biggest things that shocked me was how often you had to get completely wet while hiking in the Grand Canyon. Most of these slot canyon hikes demand that you swim or get submerged in some fashion to navigate the trail. This would not have been possible without my Meridian Dry Suit which made wet weather hiking in February seem like no problem at all!