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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.

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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