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BULLEThiking archive
Scenic Drives Archive Photo
Vaseys Paradise, named after a botanist who traveled with explorer John Wesley Powell, rewards weary hikers with a lush cascade of water and ferns..

© Elias Butler

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Arizona Hiking Guide Book

Our newest book, Arizona Highways Hiking Guide, is now available and features 52 of Arizona's best day hikes for winter, spring, summer and fall.

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or visit our online store.

South Canyon
If you want to escape the 5 million people on the South Rim, this small corner of the Grand Canyon offers some incredible scenery.

By Steven Wesley

there's never a sherpa around when you need one. And right now, I think I need one. I'm standing at the head of South Canyon Trail, and I'm looking at a route that drops away steeply.

The first mile of this trail in the eastern part of Grand Canyon National Park is the most difficult — it descends 1,060 feet down a talus slope that ends at South Canyon's stream bottom. At that point, the hiking gets a little easier. The trail zigzags across the streambed, which requires quite a bit of rock-hopping. By the time you're done, it'll feel like 2 miles have been stretched to 6.5 — as if the Park Service deposited the trail into a low-yield savings account and is now trying to live off the interest.

After reaching the streambed, continue down the canyon about 3 miles until you reach the top of the Redwall limestone. Here, the path will lead you up and around the Redwall narrows on the north side of the canyon. The hike concludes with a final steep descent from the top of the Redwall limestone to the Colorado River.

I'm pretty tired when I finally reach the water. I knew the trail was going to be difficult, but I also knew that this small corner of the Canyon offers some incredible scenery.

I work as a Grand Canyon river guide, and I think this is one of the most beautiful and historically interesting sections on the entire Colorado River. Vaseys Paradise, a fern-shrouded waterfall, bursts from the Redwall limestone a few hundred feet downriver. Maybe that's why ancestral Puebloans used South Canyon from a.d. 1050 to 1150. By the way, petroglyphs and a few ruins on the rock ledge above the river also can be explored.

After a lengthy nap, I bait my fishing pole and wade into the large eddy that circulates in front of South Canyon. A hot frying pan, butter, lemon and herbs await. Turns out, I'm not the only one trying to catch his dinner this evening. In the cool air, hundreds of violet-green swallows and stealthlike bats swoop and swirl through the air, catching insects.

Like a lot of trails in the Grand Canyon, this one isn't for novice hikers, but if you can handle 6.5 miles of challenging terrain, a fishing pole, and birds whirling through the air, then South Canyon is right up your alley.

Trail Guideclick to expand

Map of Area

6.5 miles one way.
Elevation Change: 2,500 feet.
Difficulty: Strenuous.
Payoff: A quiet trail in the eastern part of Grand Canyon National Park.
Location: 67 miles south and west of Page.
Getting There: From Flagstaff, drive north on U.S. Route 89 for 61 miles to
U.S. Route 89A at Bitter Springs. Turn onto U.S. 89A and drive to House Rock Valley Road (Forest Service Road 8910) at Mile Marker 559 and turn left (south). Follow this road south approximately 18 miles to Forest Service Road 632 and turn left (east). Drive 1.5 miles, and as you approach the buffalo ranch, just short of the ranch fence, turn right and drive 1 mile to the South Canyon trailhead.
Warning: The streambed through which you'll be hiking is prone to flash flooding, especially during monsoon season. The best time to do this hike is mid-April to mid-June or mid-September to early November.
Travel Advisory: Permits are required for overnight camping.
Additional Information: 928-638-7864.

Leave No Trace Ethics:
  • Plan ahead and be prepared.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Respect wildlife and minimize impact.
  • Be considerate of others.
  • >> Back to Hiking Archive

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