Salt-Beamer-Escalante Trek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13176A, Backpacking


  • Hike in seldom-seen areas with breathtaking views
  • View historic cultural sites
  • Enjoy spectacular Grand Canyon


  • Wonderful camaraderie and adventure
  • All meals and cooking equipment
  • Permits, experienced guides, and trailhead transport


DatesOct 6–12, 2013
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBarry Morenz

This trip has already run. Here are a few others you may enjoy:

To search our full lineup by destination, date, activity, or price, please visit our Advanced Search page. Or give us a call at 415-977-5522 to find the trip that's right for you.

Trip Overview

The Trip

Applications for backcountry permits are not accepted until June 1st, 2013 because of Grand Canyon National Park rules; therefore, the dates and/or itinerary may be adjusted based on availability, but will be confirmed by mid-June.

The Salt Trail on the Navajo Reservation is our route into the Grand Canyon and is an ancient one used by the Hopis, Navajos, Prehistoric Puebloans, and prospectors. Combining the Salt Trail with the Beamer, Escalante, and Hance trails, our days will be spent enjoying seldom-seen views of spectacular scenery unparalleled in the world. The confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers in Marble Canyon and the towering 4,000-foot cliffs of the Palisades of the Desert are dramatic backdrops for our hike.

The Grand Canyon has been inhabited for about 13,000 years, and tools, figurines, petroglyphs, pictographs, baskets, pithouses, and other archaeological artifacts have been found sprinkled throughout the area. Archaeologists estimate that there are 50,000 archaeological sites distributed throughout the Canyon and prehistoric ruins can be seen along our route. Prospectors in the 19th century used some of them to build their own shelters.

Ben Beamer prospected and farmed along the banks of the Colorado, leaving behind his namesake trail, which we will use. Other prospectors such as George McCormick, who had a mine at Palisades Creek, and Seth Tanner, who had a trail named after him in the area that we will intersect, spent their lives trying to strike it rich in the Canyon in the late 19th century. Our journey along the river will take us on the Escalante route, named after an 18th-century Spanish explorer, Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, who was more interested in converting Hopi souls than in the vast canyons of the area. At the end of our trip we will ascend the New Hance Trail, named after John Hance, who built a small tourist ranch on the South Rim. He was known as a consummate raconteur, telling his guests fabulous tales as he guided them down his trail in the late 19th century.

While the geology of the entire Grand Canyon is revered, the formations in the areas we visit are particularly rich. In addition to the colorful horizontal layers from Kaibab limestone to the Tapeats sandstone, we will be able to clearly see the layers of the Unkar Group: Cardenas Lava, Dox Sandstone, Shinumo Quartzite, Hakati Shale and Bass Limestone; and the Galeros Formation of the Chuar Group and the Nankoweap Formation. There are some ancient fossils called stromatolites that can be easily seen along our route; they are 1.2 billion years old and were once mats of blue-green algae that converted the earth's atmosphere to an oxygen-rich one. Life as we know it would not exist today without these special algae. Toward the end of our journey, we will also see the oldest rocks in the Canyon, the 1.7-billion-year-old Vishnu schist.

Even though we will have some long days, our trip is paced so we will have time to relax and enjoy this vast and magnificent wilderness. The weather is usually dry this time of year so rain should not be a problem. Usually warm during the day (80s) and cooler at night (50s), the weather could be ideal. Yet canyon weather can vary significantly and be hotter, colder, or wetter than expected. 


Day 1: We will gather early at Cameron Trading Post to meet a shuttle that will take us to the start of the Salt Trail on the Navajo Reservation where our trip begins. We'll hike about six miles and 2,600 feet down the challenging Salt Trail, which is more of a route than a clearly marked trail. We may dry-camp tonight on a bench high above the Salt Creek or next to the Little Colorado River, depending upon our progress.

Day 2: Seldom-visited historic sites and wonderful aquamarine water with several small travertine falls highlight today's six- to seven-mile hike, with 200 feet of descent. We start with a one-mile hike along the north side of Little Colorado River to our only river crossing during the week. Flows this time of year are low and the waters should be no more than waist deep. After the crossing we continue hiking another five miles along the south side of the Little Colorado to the Colorado River. From there we continue another half-mile along the Beamer Trail to a lovely camp right on the Colorado.

Day 3: Our hike today is along the Beamer Trail to Palisade Creek. This is a wonderful walk above the river for three to four hours, winding in and out of deep bays and then returning to precipices above the river. The views downriver are spectacular. We will be facing the North Rim, taking in gorgeous views of Chuar and Temple Buttes, and Lava and Carbon Canyons. We then descend to beach level at Palisade Creek and continue our hike for another hour or two to a beach camp next to the Colorado. Today we hike about seven miles and have about 1,500 feet of climbing and 1,900 feet of descending.

Day 4: Our journey continues downstream -- sometimes climbing but always returning to the Colorado. After about one to two hours, we pass the intersection with the Tanner Trail and leave the Beamer Trail behind to start on the Escalante Route toward Red Canyon. We continue hiking for another one to two hours to Cardenas Creek. Here we have to climb 1,200 feet to avoid a huge cliff that blocks access downstream to Escalante Canyon, but the amazing views more than make up for the effort. We also visit a hilltop ruin along the way. Camp is great at the mouth of Escalante Canyon along the Colorado. Our hike today is almost 11 miles, with a gain of about 1,200 feet and a loss of about 1,500 feet.

Day 5: Today is a shorter day as we will have a pleasant and beautiful hike of about two hours through 75 Mile Canyon, and then to Papago Canyon where we will enjoy a peaceful camp next to the Colorado. We will spend the afternoon exploring Papago Canyon, which is a surprising gem of a side canyon. Our hike today with packs is about two miles, with a descent of about 300 feet.

Day 6: This morning we follow the last mile of the Escalante route to Red Canyon, so named because of the bright red Hakati Shale. We confront another cliff obstacle that requires that we steeply ascend 300 feet, then descend a cairned, steep route for 400 feet to get back to the river. Our climb provides for some wonderful views downriver. At Red Canyon we will pause at the thundering Hance Rapids and drop our packs. Picking up the Tonto Trail we will dayhike about five miles (each way), ascending 1,200 feet, on good trail through Mineral Canyon. From there we'll continue to a spectacular overlook into Hance Canyon and down the Colorado, where we will enjoy lunch. In the afternoon, we return to our packs and hike 1.5 miles up Red Canyon and climb 600 feet on the New Hance Trail to our camp near some springs.

Day 7: On our last day, we'll have a steep ascent -- but also stunning vistas -- as we follow the historic Hance Trail up 4,000 feet over four miles to reach the rim and our cars. Hopefully we will all be able to share a well-deserved lunch at Cameron Trading Post. Don't plan on departing the Canyon before 3 p.m.



Getting There

At 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, we'll meet at the Backcountry Visitor Center on the South Rim for a trip briefing and commissary distribution. The leaders will be staying at the nearby Maswik Lodge. After you are approved by the leader, 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. Regular flights are available to Phoenix and Flagstaff, and ground shuttles are available from either city to Grand Canyon Village:

Alternatively, fly into Las Vegas and then schedule a flight to the Tusayan airport just south of the Park entrance. Car-sharing is strongly encouraged.  

Accommodations and Food

Our first trip meal will be lunch on Sunday, October 6 and the last meal will be breakfast on Saturday, October 12. Trip meals will include some meat, but vegetarians can be accommodated. Trip participants share in meal preparation and clean up, and will be pre-assigned in pairs to work with the leaders. 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, and everyone will likely be more than satisfied.

Trip Difficulty

We cover approximately 40 miles with packs and have more than 10,000 feet of elevation change, considering our descent into the Canyon and our hike back out. In between there is plenty more minor up and down hiking that will keep our heart rates up. Our average daily distance is roughly six to seven miles. We will also do several miles of day hiking without packs. The hiking is surprisingly varied, with stretches of easy flat hiking alternating with steep ascents or descents. The trip is on trails, but some are not well maintained, while others are excellent. All backpack trips are physically challenging and Grand Canyon backpack trips can be especially demanding with dramatic elevation changes, exposure to the sun, and potentially hot conditions.

Equipment and Clothing

Pots, stoves, eating utensils, and Sierra cups are provided. 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. Carrying as light a load as possible will make the trip much easier and more pleasant. The leaders will assist everyone in keeping their pack weight to a maximum of 45 lbs. A specific equipment list will be sent to all participants.



  • The following USGS 7.5-minute series maps will cover our route; Desert View, Cape Solitude, Cape Royal, Grandview Point, and Salt Trail Canyon. Maps can be purchased from Map Express 800-627-0039 or


  • Ranney, Wayne, Carving Grand Canyon, 2nd ed. Grand Canyon Association, 2012. 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.
  • Thayer, Dave, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Fossils. Grand Canyon Association, 2009. A lovely primer about the history of life embedded in the Canyon rocks.
  • Huisinga, Ann, Lori Makarick and Kate Watters, River and Desert Plants of the Grand Canyon. Mountain Press Publishing, 2006. An excellent field guide to many of the common plants of the Canyon.
  • Talayesva, Don, Leo W. Simmons and Robert V. Hine, The Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian. 1963. A classic about one Hopi man and the annual Salt Trail journey to gather sacred salt.



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.



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. The opportunity to see the Canyon through the experience of others carries a lot of meaning. 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.

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Try Another Trip

By Date