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Burn After Reading

Empty White Mountain summits. Tourist-free Yellowstone geysers. Rarely hiked Yosemite ridges. Rangers, guidebook writers, outfitters, and ultra-hikers dish their favorite routes for the first time.

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ
Your guide: 
Backcountry ranger Mark Wunner, who has hiked nearly every mile of trail in the canyon.

Day: Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa
See the canyon as a condor does on an easy-access South Rim jaunt.

“Not for nothin’ does this trail gets its name,” says Wunner. His advice: Keep hoofing past the popular first section. Looping around the mesa, you’ll get more of the grand river and canyon views—plus a heap of solitude. First, drop three miles and 2,500 feet to the mesa, walking an at-times crazily exposed goat path. Then continue on to circle around the mesa for a tough 13-mile day; most hikers don’t, so you’ll enjoy a quieter stretch of the wildflower-, cactus-, and boulder-studded Tonto Plateau with balcony vistas of the Colorado River. Hike counterclockwise to tank up at Miner’s Spring (aka Page Spring). Grandview is hikable almost year-round. From Grand Canyon Village, drive 12 miles east to Grandview trailhead.

Weekend+: North Bass Trail
Explore the canyon’s most remote corner.

Lonely, difficult, and dropping through 4,500 feet of ancient rock layers past hoodoos, slickrock, and waterfalls, this 27-mile out-and-back from the North Rim to the Colorado River delivers the consummate Big Ditch experience in just three to four days. It visits many of Wunner’s favorite spots, too. See the camp of legendary miner, explorer, trail builder, and guide William Bass about three miles above the river, where 100-year-old mining and household artifacts lie scattered. Then, about a mile later, crest a saddle for an abrupt “eagle’s eye” first glimpse of the roiling river below. The entire trail lies within one camping zone, allowing total flexibility in site selection. Solitude plan: Camp near mile 12 and dayhike to the river (camping riverside guarantees rafter company). Go in September or October; most years, the trailhead isn’t snow-free until June, when the inner canyon is too hot. Find water seasonally at Muav Saddle and perennially in White and Shinumo Creeks. PRO Map to order a custom topo map of this trip printed on waterproof expedition paper.

Week: South Kaibab Trail to Tanner Trail

See wildflowers, boulder gardens, and top-to-bottom views.

Most canyon trails climb and drop steeply, but the Tonto Trail traverses the broad, gently undulating Tonto Plateau in the canyon’s midsection below the South Rim. Wunner calls the 56-mile, west-to-east hike from the South Kaibab to Tanner trailheads—linking the South Kaibab, Tonto East, Escalante Route, and Tanner Trails—the canyon’s rare gentle trail. Plus, it has guaranteed “super views” spanning from the river to both rims, hidden springs, and campsites with reliable water and solitude. Best plan: Descend the South Kaibab by 7 a.m. for morning light bathing the canyon and to avoid the dayhiking hordes. Tank up where the Tonto East Trail crosses Grapevine Creek at mile 18.7 (a good second camp); Wunner recommends a three- to four-hour, off-trail, exploratory foray down 1,000-foot-deep Grapevine Canyon to “a series of springs where a centuries-old fern garden hangs cliffside.” (Tip: Bypass the initial 20-foot waterfall by scrambling down around it on the left.) Plan to camp at two primo beaches on the Colorado: night five at Neville Rapids and night six on Tanner Beach, at the base of the Tanner Trail. With only one to two parties permitted in each camping zone nightly, solitude comes with the territory. Water sources are generally a half-day’s to a day’s hike apart; carry an 8- to 10-liter collapsible bladder.

Map Grand Canyon East ($12, natgeomaps.com)
Permit Required for backcountry camping ($10 plus $5/person/night). Apply on the first of the month four months prior to your trip (e.g., on Dec. 1 for a hike beginning in April).
Contact (928) 638-7888, nps.gov/grca

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