Water, in any of its forms, always attracts the hiker to a trail and the Grand Canyon, for all its scenic diversity, is no exception. For years, tourists have flocked to the Havasu Valley to gain access to the Havasupai Reservation and its wealth of waterfalls. The park itself however, offers a variety of creeks, springs and rivers, along maintained and unmaintained trails alike.
One such trail is Thunder River, located along Indian Hollow on the Northern Rim and what a wonder it is! The shortest river in the world, Thunder River, is also one of the most interesting. Born of a series of springs and flowing into a creek, it is a geological wonder.
Other than providing an adventuresome primitive terrain, Thunder River Trail is home to three beautifully scenic water sources: Thunder River, Tapeats Creek, and Deer Creek. As a bonus, hikers also have access to the Colorado River and countless potholes scattered throughout the Esplanade (depending on the season, these may or may not contain water).
No hiking destination worth seeing comes cheaply- physically speaking. Accessing the trailhead alone can be challenging, even for experienced hikers. Since trailhead access is unreliable at different times of the year, make sure to consult the Fredonia Forest Service field office before your departure. Also keep in mind that there are two trailheads: One starting along Bill Hall Trail (for hikers hoping to reach the Upper Tapeats Campground in one day) or the original trailhead at Indian Hollow.
Like many trails before it, the Thunder River Trail was constructed with hopes of finding gold along the Colorado River. Today, the trail appeals to adventure hikers who seek a challenging route with the promise of scenic rewards. That being said, visitors must understand that this trail is extremely rigorous. Especially across the Esplanade, the terrain can be dangerous for unexperienced hikers.
South along this area, drainages and slick rock, coupled with the steepness of the path promote accidents. As a precaution, always keep the cairns marking the route in sight- this will provide small goal-points to be reached with caution. The canyon view at the end of this section is rewarding, however you’ll also be able to see the next section of rigorous hiking, starting with the series of switchbacks making their way all the way to Surprise Valley.
At the floor of Surprise Valley, which is infamously hot during the spring and summer months, you’ll find a fork in the path pointing you in either of two directions, both promising the cool salvation of water: Thunder River (and Tapeats Creek) or Deer Creek. If you head east toward Thunder River, you’ll cross some hilly terrain before reaching the river and a quarter of a mile from there, you’ll find the Upper Tapeats Campground. Those headed toward Deer Creek will find rocky terrain coupled with loose gravel and an exposed path. Once you reach the creek, you’ll be near both the campground, The Patio, and The Narrows. West from the Narrows lies the Colorado River.
At 15 miles/ 24 km long (from the Indian Hollow Trailhead), and replete with scenic opportunities, the Thunder River Trail has come a long way from its pioneer days when even the park’s own superintendent had failed to explore the region. Since the early 1980s however, the maintenance of the Tapeats and Deer Creek sections of the trail have made the trail safe to traverse and hikers from all over the world have responded with eagerness. Today, hikers must apply for their permits months and months in advance making this trail one of the most coveted ones in the park.
While the Tapeats and Deer Creek sections have been maintained, much of the region remains unexplored. Its rich history of native habitants means that artifacts pertinent to the park’s past may remain undiscovered. In order to continue this veneration of the land, it is imperative that hikers do not disturb these artifacts and petroglyphs that may be found along the way.