Grand Canyon trails for the less touristy hiker

View from Tanner Trail (Source: Debbie Hendricks)
View from Tanner Trail (Source: Debbie Hendricks)(Debbie Hendricks)

GRAND CANYON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Grand Canyon National Park is a hiker’s dream. This second most visited National Park has approximately 400 miles of trail with a depth of 1 mile from rim to river at the deepest part of the canyon.

However, only 30 miles of trail see over 75 percent of usage via the South and North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails. This means there are still several hundred miles of trail that get very little foot traffic.

Of course, there are reasons for this. Once you venture off the main or “corridor” trails, water and shade is scarce (which is not ideal during the summer months), ice is more likely to be present during the winter months, trails are narrower, steeper in parts, unmaintained and remote.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trail for most experienced Grand Canyon hikers, or maybe the novice hiker looking just for a short, but potentially challenging hike, without the crowds.

Debbie Hendricks with Just Roughin’ It explains three South Rim trails that are listed from “easiest” to most challenging which typically correlates to least populated.

For the purpose of this article, the hikes listed will be for day trips; however, all of these trails are used to access some choice camping areas as long as you have obtained the proper backcountry permit for overnight usage.

Hermit Trail – Moderately strenuous

Hermit Trail Santa Fe Railroad (Source: Debbie Hendricks)
Hermit Trail Santa Fe Railroad (Source: Debbie Hendricks)(Debbie Hendricks)

This trail is the closest to Grand Canyon Village and only accessible by the Red Shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest. While Hermit Trail is an alternative for the canyon hiker looking to get away from the fray, that was not the intent when the Santa Fe Railroad developed the area as an alternative to the Bright Angel trail in 1911. The trail allowed tourist access to Hermit Camp, about 3,700 ft below the rim. Anyone backpacking in the area will see the remnants of the century old camp left behind.

This 9.7 miles trail has a 4,340 foot elevation change from the Rim to River with a few choice turn-a-round points (all mileage is one way).

· Waldron Basin – 1.5 miles; 1,240 ft change in elevation from Hermit’s Rest

· Santa Maria Spring – 2.5 miles; 1,680 ft change in elevation from Hermit’s Rest

· Dripping Spring – 3.5 miles; 1,040 ft change in elevation from Hermit’s Rest

Hermit Trail (Source: Debbie Hendricks)
Hermit Trail (Source: Debbie Hendricks)(Debbie Hendricks)

Water, restrooms and food concessions are available at the trailhead.

Grandview Trail - Strenuous

Built in 1893 for access to the copper mines on Horseshoe Mesa, this trail is steep, rocky and exposed. But if you can handle all that, the views are A-maze-ing! Aptly named Grandview, you will not have to hike to far below the rim to take in some jaw-dropping views. Most hikers will go the distance, hiking to Horseshoe Mesa. But don’t let the 3 miles one-way fool you. You are also dropping 2,600 ft in elevation from the trailhead.

Once you arrive at Horseshoe Mesa, you will see remnants of its copper mining past at the turn of the 20th century, plus access to Cave of the Domes; the ONLY cave in Grand Canyon National Park accessible to the general public. But you will have to find it as there are no trail signs to follow.

Cave of the Domes (Source: Debbie Hendricks)
Cave of the Domes (Source: Debbie Hendricks)(Debbie Hendricks)

Grandview Trail is accessible from Grandview Point along Desert View Drive (Route 64) 12 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. There are bathrooms, and ample parking but no water at the trailhead.

Tanner Trail – Very strenuous

Like many trails in Grand Canyon, the Tanner Trail was used by Native peoples as a natural route from the south rim to the river and has been in constant use since the late 1800s. It has been used to access mining claims, stealing horses (it used to be known as the Horsethief route) and now - hiking. Since there are few natural obstructions to view the Colorado River, your line of sight to the floor of the canyon are like none other. However, the rewards gained from hiking this trail come with hard work.

The Tanner Trail is one of the most difficult in Grand Canyon with steep, narrow and unmaintained trails. Plus with an overall lack of other people around you, the solitude can be daunting for many hikers. This is an adventure for experienced canyon hikers that are seeking an escape from tourists.

· Tanner Canyon Saddle - 1.7 miles one-way; 1,700 ft change in elevation from Lipan Point

· Desert Overlook – 3.5 miles on-way; 1,740 ft change in elevation from Lipan Point

Access the trail from Lipan Point on Desert View Drive (Route 64) about 1 mile west of Desert View Tower from the eastern park entrance; or, 23 miles east on Route 64 from Grand Canyon Village. The trailhead has parking only – no water or bathrooms.

Before hiking, know your limits, research the area and make sure the hike you choose is right for you.

When hiking Grand Canyon, be aware that there can be ice and snow on the trails during the winter months and extreme heat during the summer months.

Check out Just Roughin It for the latest seminars on hiking the Grand Canyon!