Secrets of Kanab Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14168A, Backpack


  • Hike to exquisite views in remote areas of the Grand Canyon
  • Enjoy waterfalls, swimming holes, and deep narrow canyons
  • Explore Showerbath Springs, Scotty’s Hollow, and Whispering Falls


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


DatesSep 27–Oct 4, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffBarry Morenz

Trip Overview

The Trip

Note: Applications for backcountry permits in the Grand Canyon will not be confirmed until the middle of May. As a result, the itinerary and dates for this trip could change.

Kanab Canyon is a Grand Canyon treasure. Our journey will take us through some of the most spectacular country in the world. Remote and infrequently traveled, our route will take us to Scotty's Hollow, Showerbath Springs, and Whispering Falls, which are secret oases in this rugged country. If we are lucky we might spot one of the recently introduced condors or a desert bighorn along the way. Kanab is relatively narrow with walls more than 1,000 feet high. As a result as we journey down this hauntingly beautiful gorge we will enjoy considerable shade. With sufficient endurance and strength, our journey may ultimately take us to the Colorado River and the sunny depths of the Canyon. As we retrace part of our route up Kanab, we will turn up Indian Hollow from Jumpup Canyon. Indian Hollow is a slot canyon here with some possibly deep pools that will be fun and refreshing to negotiate. Making our way to the Esplanade we will stroll along its broad red shelf of rock and hopefully reach the top of Racetrack Knoll, where we take in stunning 360-degree views of this isolated corner of the Grand Canyon.

Some of our days will be challenging and long, but we will take time to 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 (about 85 degrees) and cooler at night (about 65 degrees), the weather can be ideal. On the Esplanade at more than 5,000 feet, the weather will be a little cooler but not cold. Because of the warmth, we can keep our clothing to a minimum and have relatively light packs, although Canyon weather can vary significantly and be windier, hotter, colder, or wetter than expected.

John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River in 1869 led prospectors, railroad men, and promoters 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. He discovered the joys and challenges of the Grand Canyon and for the next 40 years spent much of his free time exploring the backcountry of this fabulous place.

The North Rim is a vast area that relatively few people visit. About five million people visit the South Rim each year and only 60,000 of them make it into the 1.2-million acres of backcountry. Far fewer people visit the North Rim or venture into its backcountry. Thus, the North Rim, which is about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, offers greater opportunities for our group to enjoy the solitude and special quiet of the Canyon.


Day 1: We will meet early in front of Jacob Lake Lodge to caravan two hours to the trailhead near Sowats Point at about 6,200 feet. After a brief trailhead talk we will hike on a fairly good trail down to the Esplanade at 5,400 feet and then cross the broad expanse of the Esplanade, until we get to Sowat’s Canyon. From there we'll have an easy hike for less than a mile to Mountain Sheep Spring (3,700 feet), where we will spend the night. Today’s hike is about five miles on mostly good trails with a descent of 2,500 feet. If we have the time and energy, there is an optional five- to six-mile loop day hike that we could do from camp that would be fun.

Day 2: From this point on we will have mostly rugged hiking until we leave the Esplanade on our last day. Today we hike less than a mile to Jumpup Canyon, which we follow four miles to the junction with Kanab Canyon. We will continue to make our way down-canyon from the Kanab-Jumpup junction for four more miles, running into permanent flowing water along the way. We will camp on a sandy bench just before Showerbath Spring and a great swimming hole. Today we hike eight to nine miles and lose about 800 feet of elevation.

Day 3: Getting an early start, we hike about one mile to Scotty’s Hollow, where we will drop our packs. Taking our time without packs, we will explore Scotty’s Hollow, which will have some refreshing pools to cross. We will hike about a mile up Scotty’s Hollow. After lunch we will return to our packs and continue our journey down Kanab for about another mile to a lovely bench, where we will make camp for the night about 300 feet lower than where we started.

Day 4: A layover day will permit us to start early on our exciting day hike. This morning, our journey continues for three miles down Kanab, until we reach the junction with the side canyon to Whispering Falls. From there, we will hike about a half mile to Whispering Falls, where we can take a cool swim and then return to Kanab. Continuing down Kanab another 3.5 miles will bring us to the confluence with the Colorado. Our journey today will be 14 miles with a gain and loss of about 1,000 feet if we are able to make it all the way to the Colorado.

Day 5: Today we retrace our steps up Kanab, enjoying this marvelous canyon from another perspective. We’ll take some time to swim in some good pools along the way. Eventually we will camp at or above our second night’s camp. Our hike is about eight miles with an ascent of 800 feet.

Day 6: Resuming our journey up Kanab, we will come to Jumpup within four miles. And then in another two to three miles we come to the junction with Indian Hollow. Here we will turn up the slot of Indian Hollow, making our way through some possibly deep pools. Eventually we will return to the Esplanade at an elevation of 4,300 feet, where we will camp for the night. Today’s hike is about 11 miles, with an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet.

Day 7: Today is another layover day to enjoy hiking on the Esplanade, eventually getting to the top of Racetrack Knoll, which rises about 500 feet above the surrounding Esplanade. Today our hike is about eight miles, with an elevation gain and loss of about 700 feet.

Day 8: Our last day will be mostly easy scenic hiking along the Esplanade, where we'll reconnect with the trail that we came down on our first day. We will ascend on this trail for about two miles back to the trailhead and our vehicles. Today we will hike five miles and gain 2,000 feet in elevation. We'll caravan back to Jacob Lake Lodge, where we can enjoy a well-deserved lunch together.

Note: The exact itinerary for the trip may vary from what is described above depending on the weather, water availability, and the strength and preferences of the group. The trip officially begins and ends at the trailhead near Sowats Point.



Getting There

We will meet in the lobby of Jacob Lake Lodge at 4 p.m. the evening before the trip begins to go over a trip briefing and distribute equipment. Do not plan on leaving Jacob Lake until about 3 p.m. on our last day. Jacob Lake Lodge is located at the intersection of AZ 89A and AZ 67. From Las Vegas, it is about 225 miles (4.5 hours driving time) and from Phoenix, AZ it is about 310 miles (5.5 hours driving time). It will take us about two hours to caravan the 35 miles together to the trailhead near Sowat’s Point, where we will leave our vehicles for the week and begin our journey. The mostly dirt road is in generally good condition and might be passable by a sedan, but a high-clearance vehicle is preferable.

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, everyone will likely be more than satisfied.

Trip Difficulty

We cover approximately 40 miles with our packs on this trip. And all of the optional exploring without packs will add another 30 miles. Also we have close to 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 elevated. Our average daily distance with packs is about five miles, but most of the hiking is rugged, and if you add in all of the day hiking the average distance is closer to nine miles. The hiking is surprisingly varied with stretches of easy flat hiking on the Esplanade alternating with stretches of continuous boulder hopping in the stream in Kanab Canyon. All backpack trips are physically challenging, and Grand Canyon backpack trips can be especially demanding with dramatic elevation changes, unstable footing, exposure to the sun, and potentially hot temperatures.

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. Trip participants will be required to keep their pack weight to 45 lbs. or less.   

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: Jumpup Point, Kanab Point, Fishtail Mesa.


  • 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 has 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.
  •  Craig Childs, House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American SouthwestBack 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.



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. 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. The Southwest is in the grips of a 15-year drought; 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 permits from Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest.



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.


Shelly Eberly has loved hiking and backpacking since being old enough to walk, and she has finally balanced work and play enough to have time to share that passion with others. She has led backpacking trips in the ecologically rich Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and in the deserts of Utah and Arizona. Regardless of where she is backpacking, Shelly looks forward to sharing the rejuvenating power of the natural world with you. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

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