From the moment you set foot on the South Bass Trail, you’ll thank yourself for making a non-traditional decision, Grand Canyon-wise, at least. Once you learn about the unmaintained trails, it’s hard to keep off of t hem. For those who have traveled its path during a snowfall, there are few sights lovelier. The trailhead is in a remote area (as it should be, given its primitive status) that is well worth the journey.
Starting off as a meager animal path, the South Bass Trail evolved into one of the most magnificent trails the Grand Canyon has seen. The infrastructure involved a cable and platform structure that connected the South Bass Trail to the North Bass Trail, thus creating one of the first rim-to-rim routes attempted at the Grand Canyon. Known as the Shinumu Trail in its entirety, this rail system is no longer existent, however- while not as thrilling as the original crossing- the modern method is still very adventurous if you enjoy boat rides.
Both the South Bass Trail and the North Bass Trail were named after William Wallace Bass, whose trail work included more than 50 miles (80 km) worth of trail paths. Even now, we can see remnants of the past in the granaries that still exist along the South Bass trail. Although Bass started out using these trails for mining purposes, he eventually realized the potential of nature tourism and refocused his projects to facilitate camping and hiking.
This primitive trail is not for beginners, as it is not maintained by the park and can be extremely physically challenging given the lack of water or emergency sites along the trail. As always, hydration is vital, and along the South Bass, you won’t find water until you reach the river, 7.8 miles (12.5 km) from the rim, 4,400 ft (1341 m) below. Along with enough water to get you to the main source, you’ll want to bring along a filter- drinking untreated water is not recommended.
This trail is littered with rocks and it is very steep, but barely a few steps in, you’ll find why the scramble and climbs are very worth it. The Colorado Plateau mixes sunlight artfully, beautifully reflecting copper and bright orange shades across the famous Coconino Sandstone.
While much of the original trail has been rerouted due to the shapeshifting nature of the Grand Canyon, the trail is perhaps one of the most adventurous and enjoyable trails you’ll find- also, it is one of the least undertaken, rewarding those who do hike it with the ever-welcome sense of privacy.
Note: Getting to the trailhead can be an adventure in itself as you’ll pass both Forrest and Reservation roads with little to no markings and expected to pay an entrance fee ($25) in order to cross the Havasupai Reservation gate. Heading toward the South Rim entrance on Highway 64, turn left on FS 328 and drive approximately 30 miles (40 km) to get to the trailhead. The Forrest Service road will be unpaved and you will cross both the Havasupai Reservation gate and rural National Park roads.