Nankoweap Trail is the product of John W. Powell’s fascination with Grand Canyon geology. Initially known as the Horse Thief Trail for reasons explained in the title, Powell was determined to improve Nankoweap Trail for nature tourism and preservation.
A highly primitive trail, Nankoweap Trail is the North Rim’s second main rim-to-river trail and perhaps one of the most difficult routes to hike on the Grand Canyon. Waterless, devoid of assistance, and consistently hazardous, this is a trail fit for experienced hikers only. While physically challenging and dangerous, Nankoweap Trail offers spectacular views and the most isolating experience of any of the trails on the Northern Rim.
As opposed to most trails, this one will take you two days to descend, which means you’ll need a backcountry permit to camp below the rim. The unofficial campsites for Nankoweap Trail hikers are Marion Point and Tilted Mesa.
The Nankoweap trailhead can be found along Forest Road 610, approximately 5 miles (8 km) north of the entrance station on the North Rim. Once you get to the parking lot at Forest Road 8910, you’ll hike uphill before starting the descent that marks the beginning of the trial. For the first mile, you’ll have the company of a creek to your right until you reach the Supai Formation.
Once you reach the Supai Formation, the trail starts to descend again along the Esplanade Sandstone via steep and lengthy switchbacks. Remember that only experienced hikers are encouraged to proceed along this trail. This section alone can be fatal for an inexperienced hiker, especially one afraid of heights. Extremely narrow and covered in loose gravel, this descent requires focus and caution.
Once you reach Marion Point, the trail begins to undulate toward the Tilted Mesa. From here, the going is downhill through the Supai Formation until the Redwall comes into view along witht he Nankoweap Canyons.
Prepare for a steep descent following Nankoweap Creek and be aware that this is a potential camping site (just beware flash floods). If you decide to move on, you’ll be hiking across the Tilted Mesa, through the Tapeats, and toward a ravine caught between the Nankoweap and Black Cardenas Formations.
To get to the Colorado River, simply follow the Nankoweap Creek after reaching the campsites and beware once again, the dangers of the trail.
Nankoweap Trail is considered the most dangerous trail on the Grand Canyon, and considering that deaths have occurred along the safest of routes, hikers must really take these precautions into consideration. While there is water available along the trail, getting to the source requires miles and miles of challenging hiking and purification systems. It is wise to carry an ample amount of water to drink between refills.