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Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

by: Brendan Leonard

Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)

Grand Canyon Rim to River
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

X    Trade route Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails
→   Sneak route Hermit Trail
Key stats 19.4 miles, 8,620 feet elevation change, 1 campsite 
Off-radar cred Your Hermit Trail hiking permit comes with a backpackers-only code to open the locked gate at the Hermits Rest Transfer, a quarter-mile from the trailhead.

The bad news: Every year, more than 88,000 people—roughly the seating capacity of the Rose Bowl—reserve a backcountry campsite below the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The good news: Nearly half of them squeeze into just two sites along the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails corridors—the Bright Angel and Indian Gardens Campgrounds. Your avoidance plan? Hike this rough-around-the-edges trail to a single campsite on the Colorado River next to Hermit Rapids. The track is narrow, not regularly maintained, and sees frequent rockslides.

Do it From the Hermit trailhead, drop a steep 2,000 feet in the first 2.5 miles—don’t let the stunning cross-canyon views cause a stumble. The route continues with a few more big dips to the Cathedral Stairs at mile 3.5, then eases off on the vertical drop on the traverse to Hermit Creek campsite after 8.2 miles. The loose, rocky route looks nothing like it did in its pre-1930 glory days, when it served the luxury camp at Hermit Creek. While several inlaid stone sections remain as historic reminders, much of the trail has disintegrated over time. Indeed, in at least three places you’ll scramble across old rockslides that have obliterated the path (though the route is well-marked with cairns). Thanks to this lack of maintenance, you’ll get the same sweeping views of the canyon’s desert-palette walls and soaring buttes as in the crowded corridor, but without the human and mule traffic. Tank up on clear water at Hermit Creek, to avoid clogging your filter with the silty Colorado, then hike the last two miles down to the river and the beach campsite at Hermit Rapids. Your only company? Occasional boaters who pull off to scout the rapids before dropping in. From camp, retrace your steps. Best strategy for the return: Hike back up to the Hermit Creek campsite and spend a night before tackling the ascent, or get up early and punch out the 9.7 miles all the way back to the trailhead (warning: the exposed route is dangerously hot in summer).

Get there Hermits Rest trailhead is eight miles west of Grand Canyon Village on Hermit Rd.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
Permit Required for all overnight stays below the rim. Apply early, starting the first of the month, four months prior to the proposed start month of your trip.
Contact (928) 638-7888; nps.gov/grca




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star
Jim Andrews
Jun 20, 2014

The Abol Trail to Katahdin's peak is closed indefinitely due to slide damage from the recent harsh winter -- http://bangordailynews.com/2014/06/05/outdoors/katahdins-abol-trail-closed-for-2014-season/?ref=search

Please don't plan to use this trail in 2014.

Star Star Star Star Star
Rick Buhite
May 15, 2014

Little known secret re" Mt Whitney permits.
(5% of the overnight permits for Mt Whitney afre held for "Date of Entry")
What this means it...
If you go to the Mt Whitney Ranger station in Lone Pine before they close the night before you intend to hike the Mt Whitney Trail, They can issue you an Overnight permit good for the next day, (Even if the available permits for the current day are all gone)
What this means is that you can start hiking at MidNight or after on that next day.

Star Star Star Star Star
Laguna Hiker
May 15, 2014

Mt. Whitney - Cottonwood Lakes: A great route! No crowds until Trail Crest, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the Sierras. It's a tough hike, though, so make sure you condition for it.

Star Star Star Star Star
Back in Colo
Jan 28, 2014

I've done the Hermit trail 3 times. Twice to the river on a day hike. It's a long day, but you earn your burger at Beaver Street Brewery (in Flagstaff). I also enjoyed the Boucher trail. If camping permits are available, you can loop Boucher to Hermit. We did this with a stay at Boucher campground, looped over to Hermit rapids via the Tanto trail and then an extra night at Hermit campground.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
sierracanon
Jan 23, 2014

Did this Whitney from the south trip in a all on-trail version several years ago. Went over Cottonwood Pass, through Rock Creek, Crabtree Meadow, and out through Whitney Portal in three days. A good alternative for those who are not comfortable with extended cross-country travel.

imjackhandy
Aug 16, 2012

If you have to take the Rainbow Falls trail take it down and not up. Not a lot of views on this trail but the falls are spectacular. I recommend the Bullhead trail up and Rainbow Falls down. It'll put you out at the same parking lot.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imjackhandy/sets/72157609867058824/

Nick
Aug 16, 2012

I just got back from a very similar trip where we came down from tenaya lake stayed need sunrise lakes then did clouds rest then staying at the john Muir trail connection. Only had to get up at 4am the make the 2.5 miles to half dome where we beat the sunrise by half an hour and had the entire summit to ourselves for the sunrise. The weather could not have been more perfect. This is the only way to see half dome.

David Dickey
Aug 16, 2012

I did the short hike 3 times last April. The crouds don't get up early so if you start early the hike is croud free. That seems like a easier way to beat the crouds than to spend $39 and 19 miles of hiking. The main point is that it is not that crouded and the last half mile (the chained part) is crouded the same no matter which way you do the hike.

Phil R.
Aug 16, 2012

Did approximately this hike before they started requiring permits to go up the cables. If you want shorter hiking days, consider taking three nights. One additional night at Upper Cathedral Lake is worth considering. Then the second night at mentioned in the article is OK. Consider a third night camped at at Little Yosemite Valley...it is a large backpackers campground, but we enjoyed it. When hiking out the last day you can choose the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail has some wet steps, but you pass by two amazing water falls. You can also consider taking a hike to Clouds Rest. That would add another day.

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