Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon

Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon, Arizona, hiker

Looking into the Tapeats Creek canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon.

At the beginning of November, Claudia and I were excited to go on a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, which neither of us has seen before. It was a great introduction to walk down all the way down into the heart of it, and WOW, we were impressed!

Our loop route took us down from Monument Point on the North Rim, down the Bill Hall Trail, over the Esplanade, across Surprise Valley, down into Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, up the Deer Creek Trail, then back up to the top again. All in all, more then 5,000 feet of elevation drop, and then back up again! Along the way we saw some of the most incredible sights, springs, and waterfalls we’ve ever seen in the desert.

Deer Creek, waterfall, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Deer Creek Waterfall : Prints Available

The spectacular waterfall of Deer Creek that pours out right near the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Below are more photos of a few of the many highlights along the trek!

Hiking along the Tapeats Trail towards the Colorado River.
Hiking along the Tapeats Trail towards the Colorado River.

We got a late start on the first day and our hurried 4,000 vertical foot descent into Tapeats Creek before nightfall more or less wrecked my quad muscles, and left me sore as hell for the remainder of the trip. Next time I hike into the Grand Canyon I will be sure to start earlier, take my time, and rest my legs along the way.

Anyhow, the views were absolutely spectacular during pretty much the entire trek and helped me forget my aching legs.

Hiking along the Colorado River.
Hiking along the Colorado River.

There’s an unmarked trail along the Colorado River that connects Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek, allowing for a nice loop trek. Near the river we met some people who were in the midst of a rafting trip through the Grand; they certainly seemed quite mellow and relaxed after 15 days on the river. I realized more than ever that rafting through there would be the trip of a lifetime!

Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona, cactus

Colorado River Cactus : Prints Available

A pleasant desert scene along the Colorado River in the bottom of the Grand Canyon near Deer Creek.

Deer Spring, Grand Canyon, Arizona, abstract, waterfall

Deer Spring Waterfall : Prints Available

A waterfall pours out of the sandstone walls at Deer Spring.

Waterfall and sandstone – a rare combination!

Deer Spring, Grand Canyon, Arizona, abstract, waterfall

Deer Spring Waterfall Moment : Prints Available

A fast shutter speed captures the waterfall that pours out from Deer Spring.

On our third and final day, after a night at the Deer Creek campsite, we took showers in the Deer Spring waterfall and chilled out in the “thrones” for a few hours [you’ll know what these are if you’ve been there!] before reluctantly shouldering our packs again to continue the 5,000 vertical foot slog back up to the North Rim.

Hiking out of Deer Creek.
Hiking out of Deer Creek.

Even in November the afternoon sun was quite hot, and we made sure to fill up with extra water for the long dry hike up. There’s simply no way you could do this trail in the summer, unless you’re a real masochist.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Esplanade, sunset, Monument Point

Esplanade Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset in the Grand Canyon, as seen from the Esplanade below Monument Point - November.

Because of our late morning start and our relaxed delay at Deer Springs, the sun set while we were on the Esplanade about 2/3 of the way up. No matter, we just hiked the rest in the twilight and eventually in the dark via headlamp. Probably that was better anyways, rather than doing the whole thing in the afternoon heat.

All in all, this was an instant-classic trek – one the best desert hikes I’ve yet done. We were deeply impressed with the Grand Canyon, to say the least. One regret was that we couldn’t stay longer (because of limited permit availability); I could have easily spent four nights down in there instead of just two. With two nights it felt like we were hiking most of the time and not relaxing as much as I’d have preferred. In any case, I’m sure we’ll be back again.

6 thoughts on “Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon

  1. It’s neat to see your take on these places, Jack. I’ve been in there a lot via the river, but not since my photography became competent, alas. Thunder River may well be my pick for coolest place I’ve ever been, and Deer Creek is not far behind. I’d love to do it as a backpack someday!

  2. Looks like an amazing trip, I keep telling myself that I need to do something like this, but that whole “what goes down must come up”- thing, is daunting to say the least. It seems to be a perfect stop if you are on your way to CA, from here its also such a long drive. Seeing some images from the trip makes it all look worth it — leg pain or not!

    1. Hey Paul, interestingly my legs were fine on the way up – in fact I felt BETTER going up! I guess I’m geared for the mountains, and my legs didn’t adapt well to descending so far before getting warmed up first.

      What’s so great about hiking in the Grand is that when you’re in there everything is so huge that it almost feels like you’re in the mountains! I definitely want to return… maybe in the spring.

  3. More absolutely stunning photographs, Jack! Having hiked the canyon back in 1986 I know how you feel climbing back out. I was hit by a desert thunderstorm which brought me the closest I’ve ever been to severe hypothermia. And you managed to make all these great photos!!

  4. Doggone, you guys are leaving no trail unhiked! Nice job in The Grand and awesome imagery as always – I’m really liking the Esplanade and the stopped waterfall.

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