Historic North Bass Trail and Shinumo Amphitheater, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13172A, Backpacking


  • Backpack through a remote area with exquisite views
  • Enjoy waterfalls, swimming holes, and Colorado River beaches


  • Good camaraderie and adventure
  • All meals and cooking equipment
  • Permits and guidance on trails


DatesSep 21–28, 2013
Difficulty5 (out of 5)
StaffVincent Jones

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Trip Overview

The Trip

A backcountry permit cannot be applied for until May 1, 2013 because of Grand Canyon National Park rules. The dates may have to be changed or the trip altered to obtain the needed permit. The permit will be obtained by June 1st, and the dates and itinerary solidified.

John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River in 1869 led prospectors, railroad men, and promoters (like William Bass) to dream of ways to turn the wonders of the Grand Canyon into personal fortunes. Yet not until after World War II did tourists and hikers begin to seek out the area's beauty and solitude. Harvey Butchart and his family came to Flagstaff during the postwar period to teach mathematics at Northern Arizona University. Intrepid backcountry hikers like us are indebted to him for the 40 years he spent exploring and writing about the backcountry of this fabulous place in his free time.

The Bass Trail is named for William Wallace Bass, who developed the trail around 1887 to take tourists to the beautiful, yet remote North Rim. James White, a prospector and friend of Bass, was the first to use the route up the Shinumo and White creeks to the North Rim. Tourists from the 1800s would enjoy a two- or three-week pack trip with Bass down the South Bass Trail, crossing the Colorado on a cable ferry and then taking the Shinumo Trail up to Powell Plateau and Point Sublime. The trail down White and Shinumo creeks is not much different today than it was when White and Bass developed the route over a hundred years ago. The North Bass Trail is unlike any other in the Grand Canyon. From Muav Saddle down White Creek to the Shinumo, the area feels like its own wilderness, different from and yet still part of the greater Grand Canyon.

The geology of the Grand Canyon is appreciated around the world, but the area we will visit is particularly rich. In addition to all the usual layers, from Kaibab limestone to the Tapeats sandstone, we will be able to clearly see the layers of the Unkar Group; Dox Sandstone, Shinumo Quartzite, Hakati Shale and Bass Limestone. Also well represented in this area are the oldest rocks in the Canyon the Vishnu, Brahma and Rama Schists and Gneiss, about 1.8 billion years old and covering a third of our planet's history. Our route on the North Bass Trail follows a major fault in the Canyon, the Muav Fault, which helped produce the many gorges, springs, and waterfalls in the area. There is an incredibly rich and diverse range of plants and animals in the Canyon because of the many ecological niches that exist in the Canyon, from the Canadian life zone on the North Rim to the Great Basin to the Sonoran and Mohave deserts that converge in the Inner Canyon.

Five million people visit the South Rim each year; yet only 60,000 make it into the 1.2 million acres of backcountry. Our trip is eight days long so we can have time to relax and enjoy this vast and magnificent wilderness even though we will still have some long days. The weather is usually dry this time of year, but rain is possible. Usually warm during the day (80s F) and cooler at night (60s F), the weather could be ideal. However, canyon weather can vary significantly, and be hotter, colder, and wetter than expected.


Day 1: Beginning at 7:30 a.m., we will caravan from Jacob Lake to Swamp Point -- a two and a half hour, 25-mile drive on some rutted and rocky roads that does require high-clearance vehicles. After a brief trailhead talk, we'll start the hike into the Canyon, heading to Mauv Saddle.  We will cache water at Mauv saddle.  At Mauv Saddle we will ascend back up onto Powell Plateau.  Once on the Plateau we will hike along the Powell Plateau Trail until we find an overloop to observe the scenic Grand Canyon below and enjoy a spectacular sunset.

Day 2: We will leave our Powell Plateau campsite and head back to the Mauv Saddle to pick up our water cache.  Continuing our hike we will follow White Creek, along the Supai and down the Redwall Descent. After descending 3,500 feet in approximately six miles, we will arrive at our camp, which is next to White Creek near a small waterfall.

Day 3: This morning we will continue our journey down White Creek. After about three miles we leave White Creek and hike along the Bright Angel Shale. We will enjoy some spectacular views along the historic alignment of The North Bass Trail as we descend to Shinumo Creek and hike to a great swimming hole at an elevation of about 2,800'. We will make camp in this area after approximately six miles of hiking and a 1,600' descent.

Day 4: Our hike today will take us down the Shinumo to Burro Canyon where we will drop our packs. We will hike up this interesting side canyon to a dryfall and then return to our packs and continue down the Shinumo to the top of an impressive waterfall that biologically isolates the Shinumo from the Colorado. Later we will take a plunge in the inviting pool at the bottom of the falls. We will continue along a cairned route along a bench about 100' above the Colorado as we hike upriver to a lovely beach camp on the Colorado at 2,200'. With packs we will have hiked about four miles, descended about 1,000', and ascended about 400'.

Day 5: Leaving camp early, we will explore Hotauta Canyon without our packs. Then picking up our packs, we will follow the historic alignment of the Bass Trail. The trail will take us up to a fine Colorado River overlook and then back down to Shinumo Creek. By early afternoon we will get to the mouth of White Creek and a lovely shaded camp among some cottonwoods. With packs, we will have hiked about four miles and descended about 400' and ascended about 1,000'.

Day 6: This will be a layover day.  After a leisurely breakfast we will pack our daypacks and secure our other gear in camp. Shortly after leaving camp on our optional day hike, the Canyon's basement rocks of black Vishnu schist will tower over us as we make our way up the Shinumo Gorge to a great waterfall and swimming hole. From here we will continue up creek, either along the Shinumo or Flint creek.  Our traveling will be slow as we go against the current.  After lunch and cooling off in one of the many swimming holes we will reverse tracks and make our way back to our camp for the night at the cottonwoods. Without packs we will have hiked 5 to 8 miles and had very little elevation change.

Day 7: Today we start our Grand Canyon exit as we retrace our path along the Shimuno Creek to White Creek and on to our second night’s campsite along White Creek next to a small waterfall.

Day 8: Arising early we will follow White Creek and make the Redwall Ascent along the Supai to Mauv Saddle, where we made our water cache nearly a week ago. Here we will begin our final ascent to Swamp Point and our vehicles.  Our packs will be light and we will ascend 3,500’, covering about 6 miles.

Note: The exact itinerary for the trip may vary from what is described above depending on the weather, water availability, permit availability, and the strength and preferences of the group.



Getting There

Our meeting point, Jacob Lake Inn, is located at the intersection of AZ 89A and AZ 67. From Las Vegas, Nevada it is about 225 miles (4.5 hours driving time) and from Phoenix, AZ it is about 310 miles (5.5 hours driving time). On the morning our trip begins, we will caravan together to Swamp Point. We will drive on good dirt road for about 25 miles until the last 5 to 10 miles, where the road becomes more rutted and rocky.  This caravan to the trailhead will require high-clearance vehicles. It will take us about two and a half hours to drive to Swamp Point and the trailhead.  At the end of our trip we will caravan back to Jacob Lake Inn. Please do not plan on leaving Jacob Lake Inn until about 2 p.m. on our last day.

Accommodations and Food

The accommodations are your own tent/shelter and sleeping bag. For specific equipment recommendations see the "Equipment" section below. We'll spend all of our nights in the backcountry.

Our first trip meal will be lunch on day one and the last meal will be breakfast on the final day.  You need to bring a wide-mouthed cup and spoon for your personal use. Bring enough water containers to carry seven liters of water. We provide all other cooking equipment. Trip participants share in meal preparation and clean-up. We will try to share lunch at Jacob Lake Lodge at the end of the trip (not included in trip price).

Trip meals will include some meat.  We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied, but also want to keep our packs as light as possible. We try to make the food appetizing, but fairly simple to make. From our past feedback, everyone will likely be more than satisfied.

Trip Difficulty

We cover approximately 40 miles with packs on this trip and have over 12,000 feet of elevation change, considering our descent into the Canyon and our hike back out. In between there is plenty more up and down hiking that will keep our heart rates up. Our average daily distance is about five miles, but a large portion of it is off-trail. We will also do about 15 to 20 miles of day hiking without packs during the week. This is in addition to the 40 miles with packs, but all the day hiking is optional. The hiking is surprisingly varied, with stretches of hiking on good trails alternating with extremely challenging off trail hiking.  The difficult portions of this trip include off-trail hiking back and forth across the Shinumo all day in water shoes.  There are also long portions of the trip that require bushwhacking through very dense brush. The most demanding part of the trip for most will likely be bushwhacking through extremely dense brush as we often ascend scree fields at a 60 degree incline. All backpack trips are physically demanding and Grand Canyon backpack trips can be especially demanding with dramatic elevation changes, unstable footing, exposure to the sun, and potentially hot conditions. This trip is rated 5 (strenuous). 

Equipment and Clothing

We bring all the pots, stoves, and food. We will distribute about 12-14 lbs. of group food and gear (commissary gear) for each participant to carry at the beginning of the trip.  Bring enough water containers to carry seven liters of water.

Because of the trip difficulty, the trip will be safer and easier if participants keep their pack weight to the minimum; your total personal gear weight must be light.  We won't let anyone bring a heavy pack. You need to get your pack and personal gear weight between 15- 20 pounds (this desired weight does not include your water or group commissary gear). At the beginning of the trip your total pack weight -- including personal gear, commissary gear, and three liters of water -- should weigh approximately 40 lbs.  We will weigh your pack at the trailhead. If your pack is overweight, you will need to remove unnecessary items -- this is not negotiable.

We will send a complete equipment list to registered participants. If you have questions about how to reduce weight, or are planning on purchasing new equipment for this trip, please don't hesitate to contact the leader. It is recommended that you buy ultralight gear. 



  • The following USGS 7.5 minute series maps will cover our route; King Arthur Castle and Havasupai Point. Maps can be purchased from Map Express 800-627-0039 or http://mapexp.com/.


  • Ranney, Wayne, Carving Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association, 2005. Read about how the Grand Canyon may have come into existence.
  • Osborne, Sophie A. H., Condors in Canyon Country: The Return of the California Condor to the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, 2008. An epic attempt to save a great bird.
  • Childs, Craig, House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest. Back Bay Books, 2008. A non-fiction cultural adventure about the Anasazi.
  • Price, L. Greer, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Geology. Grand Canyon Association, 1999. An accessible book with plenty of illustrations and photos about Grand Canyon geology.
  • Anderson, Michael F., Living at the Edge. Grand Canyon Association, 1998. About the colorful people who explored and settled in the Grand Canyon.
  • Houk, Rose, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Ecology. Grand Canyon Association, 1996. A brief primer on the complex web of life in the Canyon.
  • Coder, Christopher M., An Introduction to Grand Canyon Prehistory. Grand Canyon Association, 2006. A short overview of the early people of the Grand Canyon area.



There are numerous conservation issues regarding the Grand Canyon; the introduction of condors, noise from sightseeing aircraft, air quality over the park, uranium mining near the Park, control of the Colorado River by the Glen Canyon Dam and visitor management including backcountry use. The biggest issue though is water use in the West by burgeoning cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson. These cities largely depend on the Colorado River for their water and are running it dry.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Grand Canyon National Park.



Vince Jones has been enjoying the splendors and adventure of the Southwest since 2001. He's led several trips in the Southwest, including trips from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Thunder River, Deer Creek, and Kanab Canyon. The Escalante River Basin in The Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah is another favorite of his. Although Vince lives in Florida, he is a desert rat at heart. While he enjoys the physical demands of a backpack trip, he finds the beauty and tranquility of the wilderness and the camaraderie with other trip members especially rewarding.


Bill Jones has lived in Phoenix, Arizona for about 20 years. His backpacking experience began more than 35 years ago as he and his brother explored many portions of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking in the Southwest is a true pleasure to him, especially on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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