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Insider’s Guide: The Grand Canyon

From dayhikes to weekends to weeklong hikes our Grand Canyon expert will have you ready to hit this natural wonder in no time. PLUS: Get dialed with essential skills.


DAYHIKE Widforss Trail
This 10-mile out- and-back on the North Rim loses and gains less than 500 feet from start to finish. From Widforss Point at trail’s end, gaze down on Wotan’s Throne, and Brahma and Zoroaster Temples. Beyond them on the South Rim, you can see the San Francisco Peaks, more than 100 miles away. En route to the point you’ll hike through a conifer and aspen forest–beautiful in fall when the leaves are changing. And the 8,000-foot elevation is also great in summer, when daytime temps average 70°F while the canyon bakes like an oven.

WEEKEND Grandview/Tonto Trail
On this 13-mile, three-night loop hike, you’ll circumnavigate the flat-topped monolith of Horseshoe Mesa, which offers panoramic views and creekside camping without crowds. From the South Rim’s Grandview Point, descend the steep but maintained Grandview Trail for three miles to Horseshoe Mesa, dropping off the west side to Cottonwood Creek. In 1.5 miles, you’ll reach a reliable spring and just beyond that, established campsites. Day two: Take the Tonto Trail east for five miles around the front of Horseshoe Mesa. Head to Hance Creek from the junction with Miners Spring Trail for your second night, then return to the Tonto Trail and climb up the east side of Horseshoe Mesa on Miners Spring Trail. Tank up at the spring and spend your last night dry camping atop Horseshoe Mesa before rounding back to Grandview Point.

WEEKLONG Hermit’s Rest to Phantom Ranch
You’ll sample nearly every Grand Canyon environment on this 40-mile route–and cold beer at Phantom Ranch to boot. From the Hermit’s Rest trailhead, descend through Hermit Canyon for 7.5 miles to Hermit Creek Campground. Kick back on day two with a 1.5-mile hike to the Colorado River, camping next to roaring Hermit Rapids. Backtrack up Hermit Canyon on day three to the Tonto Plateau and hike east on the Tonto Trail to Monument Creek campsite. Ramble east across the plateau for two days, camping at Salt Creek (in 3.4 miles) and then Horn Creek (9 miles from Monument). Four miles past Horn Creek, intersect with the Bright Angel Trail, where you can cut the trip short by two days and 10 miles by hiking 1.5 miles to Indian Gardens. Spend the night and continue out the next day, or get that cold beer by hiking five miles to the Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground. Back at the Bright Angel trailhead, catch a park shuttle to Hermit’s Rest.

Grand Obsession co-author Tom Myers has spent more than 25 years retracing Harvey Butchart’s routes. Here: three of his favorites.

Clear Creek to the Colorado River
Starting half a mile north of Phantom Ranch (via the North Kaibab Trail), follow the Clear Creek Trail for nine miles until it reaches the bottom of Clear Creek Canyon. “Harvey discovered you can walk for six miles downstream along the creek [under dramatic Vishnu Schist walls] clear to the Colorado River,” says Myers.

Vasey’s Paradise “Harvey thought this was one of the most scenic areas of the canyon,” says Myers of the spot where a waterfall gushes from a limestone cave above the Colorado River. From the rim of South Canyon (off House Rock Valley Road in Marble Canyon), follow the creekbed seven miles to a cliff above the Colorado, where it descends to a collection of Anasazi and Sinagua ruins.

Wotan’s Throne This climb up an inner-canyon butte requires an 80-foot rappel and all-day bushwhack. “Wotan’s was one of Harvey’s favorites,” says Myers, who scattered Butchart’s ashes atop the Throne. From Cape Royal on the North Rim, drop down to the Hermit shale (a distinct, sloping bench), then contour to the east face of Wotan’s, where a break in the Coconino sandstone offers access to the Throne’s upper ramparts.

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