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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: Escalante Route, AZ

Plumb the wild depths of the Big Ditch.

by: Kelly Bastone

Hilltop Ruin, Grand Canyon National Park (Leon Werdinger)
Hilltop Ruin, Grand Canyon National Park (Leon Werdinger)

This five-day, 33-mile blockbuster includes a life-list rim-to-river journey and so much more. “You also enjoy al fresco sleeping most nights on the river, a little class 3 scrambling, and crawling through a slot canyon—pretty much the whole spectrum of essential Grand Canyon experiences,” raves Southwest Editor Annette McGivney, who has written about the Escalante Route several times (including “Hike Through Geologic Time,” December 2001). “There’s no better route for the access, solitude, and scenery.” Intermediate backpackers will find this trek through the vastness of this sandstone labyrinth challenging but doable—and, dare we say, life-altering. Caution: First-timer? Try an easier route, such as the South Kaibab-Bright Angel Loop (Trip ID 56089).

Do it Follow the Tanner Trail as it plunges 4,500 feet over eight miles from the South Rim to the Colorado River, and camp at Tanner Rapids. The next day, hike across the unmaintained, 10-mile Escalante Route and camp at Cardenas Creek. Day three’s hike includes a 30-foot rock scramble and Unkar Overlook, where you hover 1,000 feet above the river and below the canyon’s fiery cliffs. Be sure to overnight at the mouth of Red Canyon, a beach campsite enlivened by the roar of Hance Rapids. On day four, follow the Tonto Trail to a camp at either Hance Creek (with water) or atop Horseshoe Mesa (dry, but great views and it shortens the climb out). Alternatively, if you are a speedy hiker (or have extra time), loop around Horseshoe Mesa on the Tonto Trail and camp along Cottonwood Creek. End with Grandview Trail to Grandview Point. Go in spring or fall for the best weather; avoid summer’s heat.


Lipan Point (the Tanner trailhead) is 2.3 miles west of the Grand Canyon’s east entrance. Take the park bus back from Grandview Point.

Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon National Park ($12,

Required ($10 + $5 per person/day)

(928) 638-7875;

Trip ID

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jul 12, 2014

Hike Smart by going to to plan your Grand Canyon adventure. The Grand Canyon continues to claim more lives every year for a variety of reasons; hikers become lost, hikers arenít prepared for the elements they encounter, or a simple photo op turns tragic. Live to hike another day by staying found and knowing how to use a compass. Even skilled explorers can become lost or somehow end up spending the night hunkered down because of weather or injury. Many people never consider that they might end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors or waiting for medical help --and so they hike without the essentials. Day-hikes can be the most dangerous because hikers usually carry minimal supplies. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors. Read "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). A compass doesn't need a signal, satellites, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. This book is for all ages. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart."

Star Star Star Star Star
Jake Davis
Apr 08, 2014

Last week I followed this itinerary almost exactly with four friends. We had a great time. The beginning of April sure is a great time to be in the Canyon. There was life flouirshing everywhere. I posted some photos here if you are considering the hike and are curious of the terrain.

Star Star Star Star Star
Michael Winslow
Feb 01, 2014

Two years ago in March two friends of mine and myself set out to do this hike. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life! The Escalante trail is terrifying and NOT for the faint of heart. We hiked in March so there was snow at the rim but down at the river it got hot and very dry. Dehydration happens so fast you don't even realize it. Our last night was on Horseshoe Mesa and it snowed that night and dumped a foot of snow on the Grandview Trail. Tough climb when the snow in spots was up to your knees and you had no idea where the edge was. Best hike to date. Next stop BOB MARSHALL 2014.

Jun 01, 2012

We just returned from hiking Tanner, Escalante, Tonto, Grandview Sun20-Fri25May2012 in an unexpected heat wave 115-120F at the river, was unbelievably hard going, didn't cool down so 2nd late afternoon sessions not possible until higher-up on Tonto. Toughest trail conditions ever, still hurtin 5 days after, but worth it - will never forget.

Klubfoot Kolby
May 20, 2012

Just hiked the New Hance trail a month ago what a blast we made our way almost to hance creek the first day, It was the toughest hike I've done so far a GCNP, Tanner will be next probably in the middle of October

Aug 25, 2011

There is NO PARK BUS FROM Grandview Point; nor is there a phone- so shuttle cars, have a cell phone to call a taxi, or get a ride from a visitor to get to/from Lipan Point.


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