If you are up for a strenuous, long-distance hike through the North Rim (as most North Rim trails are bound to be), the South Canyon Trail should be right up your alley. A primitive trail, the South Canyon runs along Marble Canyon’s longest tributary gorge straight to the Colorado River, entailing a thrilling rim-to-river route, if you’re up for the risk. At 6.5 miles (10.4 km) through challenging terrain, the South Canyon Route is preferred by rafting parties who frequently camp out by the river.
Although it’s possible to hike the South Canyon route in a single day, just like any rim-to-river trails, it is best experienced as a two or three day hike. As a primitive trail, the six to eight hours it takes to descend it are filled with challenge even for seasoned hikers.
This trail is one of the less popular primitive route options, which makes for a terrible research experience, but an amazing hiking scene- the rare Grand Canyon occasion of isolation. To use a bit of trail comparison, the South Canyon Route of the North Rim is much like the South Kaibab on the South Rim- exposed to full sunlight almost the entire way through. Let’s just say that sunscreen and hydration are especially important if you undertake this route- everything about it is a challenge.
Since the trail is unmaintained (except for a few bits improved by hikers), finding the path can be difficult in places, so navigation skills are highly recommended- getting lost on a primitive trail- a waterless and shadeless primitive trail- can be deadly. That being said, those that enjoy boulder hopping and climbing are in for their specialty- a rocky descent. Although the trail will most definitely be fun, it can be dangerous at the points where ledges are narrow.
This is a rim-to-river trail that requires a couple of days to complete and therefore, hiking below the rim. Make sure you have a backcountry permit. Hikers are free to explore the trail year-round, but it will be difficult (and possibly impossible) following a heavy rainfall when the dirt roads become more like mud slides (not to mention slick rocks).
There are a few pretty good tips for making your hike a little bit easier if you are traveling along the South Canyon Trail for the very first time.
- Try to use the cairns as a guide; following them will help you stay on a safer path.
- Do not carry an oversized pack. There is a great deal of climbing, jumping, and complicated navigation involved, so your pack should be reasonably sized.
- Stay alert! Between the oversize boulders, sagebrush, tamarisks, you will need to remain vigilant and keep an eye out. The potential for injury can be reduced with the proper mindset.
- The South Canyon Trail can be an exhilarating rush for the right hiker. While we don’t encourage “hiking for the glory”, not only is the South Canyon Route a challenging hike, it is also one that very few Grand Canyon hikers have completed. So if you’re an experienced hiker and plan thoroughly, completing this trail may very well be an accomplishment to be proud of.