Jewels of the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14036A, Backpack


  • Hike among endless and exquisite views
  • Enjoy abundant wildflowers
  • See unsurpassed geology


  • Good camaraderie and adventure
  • All meals and cooking equipment
  • Expert guidance and permits


DatesApr 6–12, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBarry Morenz

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Trip Overview

The Trip

A backcountry permit cannot be applied for until December 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 about mid-December, and the dates and itinerary will be solidified at that time.

About 13,000 years ago, humans made their first impressions in the Grand Canyon area. The first Europeans, García López de Cárdenas and his men, first glimpsed the Canyon from the South Rim in 1540. 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 began 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 from the train depot at Williams or Ash Fork. 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. We will use the historic South Bass Trail as our entrance into the Canyon. Turning east at the Tonto platform, about 1,500’ above the Colorado, we’ll use the Tonto Trail as we snake our way through numerous side canyons named for different jewels. The Tonto Trail was never built by anyone, but has been in use for probably thousands of years, as the easily eroded Bright Angel Shale created a relatively flat bench, which Native Americans used to traverse the inner Canyon. We’ll eventually come to Boucher Canyon, named after Louis Boucher from Quebec, Canada, who came to the Canyon in the late 1800s to prospect. He built the Silver Bell Trail to Dripping Springs, from the South Rim, where he also built a cabin. Then he extended the trail through Long Canyon (renamed Boucher Canyon) to the Colorado. He established a copper mine and several cabins and maintained a garden and orchard about a mile from the Colorado. Our exit from the Canyon will be along the trail Boucher built, which was eventually named in his honor.

The geology of the Grand Canyon is appreciated around the world. Our journey will take us through the young Kaibab limestone (~250 million years old), Toroweap, Hermit Shale, Supai Group, Redwall Limestone, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale, Tapeats sandstone all the way to the ancient Vishnu Schist (~1.8 billion years old). These rock formations cover a third of our planet’s history. The formation of the Grand Canyon is still not completely understood, but likely involved headward erosion, a dramatic stream capture of an ancient Little Colorado (flowing in the opposite direction), catastrophic spillover, karst collapse, and other geologic forces. Although six million years is often cited as the age of the Canyon, there are still some geologists who think the Canyon might be as old as 70 million years.

The weather is usually dry this time of year, but rain and even snow is possible. Usually warm during the day (80s) and cooler at night (60s), the weather could be ideal. However, Canyon weather can vary significantly, and be hotter, colder, windier, and wetter than expected.


Day 1: We will meet early at the Backcountry Visitor Center for a shuttle that will take us to the S. Bass trailhead. The drive will take about two hours. After a short trailhead talk, we will start down the S. Bass Trail. If time allows, we will pause on the Esplanade for a pleasant off-trail hike without packs on the Grand Scenic Divide to enjoy some splendid views. We will then continue down the S. Bass Trail all the way to the Colorado, where we will camp for our first night. We will cover about seven miles with packs and descend about 4,500’.

Day 2: Retracing our steps up the S. Bass Trail to the Tonto Trail, we will head east to Serpentine, our first jewel side canyon. From Serpentine we cross Emerald and Quartz Canyons before arriving at Ruby Canyon and our camp for the night. If time and energy allow, we might look for the route to the Colorado that exists from Ruby. Today we will hike about eight miles with pack and will ascend about 1,500’.

Day 3: After traversing Jade and Jasper canyons, we will arrive at Turquoise Canyon, where we will likely have lunch. Time permitting, we might explore down Turquoise, looking for some big pools to cool off in. We will then continue our journey to Sapphire Canyon, where we will camp for the night. Today we hike about nine miles with packs along the undulating Tonto Trail, neither gaining nor losing much elevation.

Day 4: After hiking across Agate Canyon, we will arrive at Slate Canyon by midday, where we will camp for the night. This morning’s hike will be about six miles, continuing along the Tonto. In the afternoon, we will hike without packs down Slate Canyon, venturing deep into the oldest rocks in the canyon, the Vishnu Schist. There is a great rapid where Slate meets the Colorado that we can enjoy before returning to camp.

Day 5: This morning, we hike about five to six miles into Topaz Canyon and then to Boucher Canyon, setting up camp either at the Colorado or at Boucher’s old camp. We’ll enjoy a leisurely afternoon in this lovely area, watching the timeless Colorado go by.

Day 6: Today we will have a gorgeous, but challenging, hike up the Boucher Trail. We will be carrying at least six quarts of water as we will have a dry camp tonight, although we will have less commissary food and equipment since we are near the end of our hike. We will be ascending about 3,000’ over six miles to Yuma Point, where we will camp for the night. Yuma Point has some of the most spectacular views in the Canyon.

Day 7: This morning we continue hiking up the Boucher Trail, where we will enjoy great views for a couple of miles and get to a place where we pause and drop our packs. From there, we will take a day hike of about a mile to one of the lovely oases in the Canyon called Dripping Springs, where Boucher built his first cabin. Returning to our packs, we will continue up the Boucher Trail, eventually connecting with the Hermit Trail, which will take us to Hermit Rest and the end of our journey. We will take the park shuttle back to the backcountry office and our cars, arriving around noon. Today we have hiked about six miles with packs, ascending about 2,000’.

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

We will meet at the Backcountry Visitor Center on the South Rim at 5:00 p.m. on the day before our trip for a trip briefing and to distribute commissary. The leaders will be staying at the Maswik Lodge. Make your lodging reservations promptly as this is a popular time of year at the Canyon: Grand Canyon National Park is about 75 miles from Flagstaff or 180 miles from Phoenix, AZ. Regular flights are available to either Phoenix or Flagstaff and ground shuttles are available from either city to Grand Canyon Village:

Accommodations and Food

Our first trip meal will be lunch on our first day and the last meal will be breakfast on our final day in the Canyon. Trip meals will include some meat, but vegetarians can be accommodated. Trip participants share in meal preparation and clean up. 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, we know that everyone will likely be more than satisfied. At the end of our trip, we hope everyone will be able to share a well-deserved lunch at a local restaurant.

Trip Difficulty

We cover approximately 45 miles with packs and have to descend and ascend 5,000’ to get into the Canyon and back out. And in between there is plenty of more minor up and down hiking that will keep our heart rates up. Our average daily distance is about 6-7 miles on good trail. We will also do about 10 to 15 miles of day hiking without packs during the week. This is in addition to the 45 miles with packs, but all the day hiking is optional. Most of the hiking is straightforward, but there is arduous hiking as well. All backpack trips are physically demanding and Grand Canyon backpack trips can be especially demanding because of dramatic elevation changes, unstable footing, exposure to the sun, and potentially hot conditions. This trip is rated moderate to strenuous (4) and is probably in the middle of the moderate to moderately strenuous ratings. This hike is really more of a 3.5 level of difficulty hike than a full 4.

Equipment and Clothing

We bring all the pots, stoves, and food. We will distribute about 12-14 lbs. of group food and gear for each participant to carry at the beginning of the trip. Group water will be purified with Micropur chlorine tablets or boiling. We will distribute Micropur tablets to participants for purification of personal drinking water. Bring enough water containers to carry six quarts of water. We will work with everyone to pack light. The trip will be safer and easier if everyone keeps his/her pack weight to the minimum.

A specific equipment list will be sent later after you have signed up for the trip.



  • The following USGS 7.5 minute series maps will cover our route; Havasupai Point, Piute Point and Grand Canyon, AZ.


  • Ranney, Wayne, Carving Grand CanyonGrand Canyon Association, 2012. Read about how the Grand Canyon may have come into existence.
  • Davis, Wade, River Notes: A Natural & Human History of the Colorado, Island Press, 2012. This is an excellent summary of how the once mighty and majestic Colorado become the dammed and highly regulated river that it is today.
  • Osborne, Sophie A. H., Condors in Canyon Country: The Return of the California Condor to the Grand Canyon RegionGrand 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 or Ancestral Puebloan.
  • 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 pioneering people of European descent who first 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.
  • Huisinga, Ann, Lori Makarick and Kate Watters, River and Desert Plants of the Grand Canyon, Mountain Press Publishing, 2006. A great reference for the common shrubs, trees, and flowers of the Inner Canyon.


The Grand Canyon Association is a great resource with many books of interest. Please visit


There are numerous conservation issues regarding the Grand Canyon: the introduction of condors, noise from sightseeing aircraft, air quality over the park, uranium mining threats, control of the Colorado River by the Glen Canyon Dam, and visitor management (including backcountry use). However, the biggest issue 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. The Southwest is in the grips of a 15-year drought and water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell are roughly 50% of capacity and are at historic lows since they filled decades ago. In response, the Federal Government will begin cutting 10% of the water allotments in October of 2013 to the seven states that receive water from the Colorado, including Arizona.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

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



Barry Morenz has lived in Tucson for over 30 years and loves to travel in the nearby mountains and canyons, as well as throughout the American West. He has led Sierra Club trips for many years, and travels regularly to the Caribbean where he enjoys the varied cultures, Mayan history and magnificent coral reefs of the region. A lifelong student, Barry enjoys studying the natural and cultural history of the areas he visits, and experiencing with others the wild and historically significant places of the world. The camaraderie of sharing adventure travel with other Sierra Club trip members is especially rewarding, as it provides a way to educate people about the need to protect these fragile corners of our planet and leave an environmentally sound legacy for generations to come.

Assistant Leader:

Stephen Csiszar has backpacked in Michigan, California, North Carolina, and the desert Southwest, with Grand Canyon a traditional favorite. He has also traveled through England, Europe, Greece, and Egypt. A student of nature, he enjoys sharing his interest in astronomy and geology as well as the arts. Stephen lives near Pinehurst, North Carolina. Stephen is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

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