Descend roughly 4,000 feet in 2.5 miles on switchbacks from Grandview Point (in March, they can be icy; pack microcrampons) to Horseshoe Mesa, a boomerang-shaped mesa with pocked, 400-foot Redwall Formation cliffs.
At the Last Chance Mine ruins, turn west, pick up the Cottonwood Trail and descend to a seasonal spring. Tank up on water and camp here, or hike further down Cottonwood Canyon's rim and look for a dispersed spot. Explore the canyon down to an impassable pouroff.
Next morning, trace the rim of the ever-deepening canyon to the Tonto Trail, and turn west. This trail, which you'll hike for the next 12-plus miles, yields fantastic mid-canyon views every step of the way. Looking toward the north Rim, you can spot Wotan Throne and Vishnu Temple. The five miles around Grapevine Creek (this hike's only year-round water source) describes a boot shape when viewed from above. Camp near the heel, with good access to water.
Next day, walk out to the rim of the Inner Gorge, looking upstream to the Grapevine Rapids. Your next seasonal water source is Boulder Creek. Fill reservoirs, and continue to a flat site between Boulder and Lone Tree Canyons.
On your final day, drink deeply from Boulder Creek (treat the water from this seasonal spring and all sources, of course) and fill every bottle you have, this is the last chance to get water before the long ascent back to the South Rim. Pick up the South Kaibab Trail just north of The Tipoff (with bathrooms and an emergency phone) and start the ascent, which passes O'Neill Butte, climbs along Cedar Ridge and finally ends at the South Kaibab trailhead.
Season March to May and October to November. Inner canyon temps ?from June to September are often above 100°F.
Key gear Wide-brim hat and six liters of water storage
Map/book Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon ($12, natgeomaps .com). Hiking Grand Canyon National Park, 3rd Edition, by Ron Adkinson and Ben Adkinson ($19, falcon.com)
Permits $10 per permit, plus $5/person per night. Apply (nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm) on the first of the month four months prior to your hike date (e.g., June 1 for a hike beginning in Nov.) and fax it to (928) 638-2125.
Water There are four water sources along this route, and only Grapevine Creek (mile 8.8) flows year-round. The other sources—Cottonwood Creek (mile 3.3), Boulder Creek (mile 14.2), and Lone Tree Creek (mile 17.1)—usually dry up by June.
Contact Backcountry Information Office: (928) 638-7875 (from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday to Thursday), nps.gov/grca
-Mapped by Michael Lanza
- Distance: 43.1
Location: 35.998409, -111.987709
Location: 36.017724, -111.976253
Location: 36.018405, -111.975684
Continue straight at 3-way, heading north.
Location: 36.020153, -111.975784
Location: 36.024429, -111.987556
Camp 1 with seasonal spring
Location: 36.030055, -111.988625
Location: 36.031241, -111.989051
Continue straight at 3-way junction on Tonto Trail.
Location: 36.036121, -112.022056
Camp with year-round water
Location: 36.044075, -112.02176
Potential bivy rock
Location: 36.05045, -112.014215
Location: 36.057389, -112.007098
Camp (no water)
Location: 36.057397, -112.034711
Boulder Creek (seasonal)
Location: 36.071488, -112.042025
Lonetree Camp. Lonetree Creek is seasonal.
Location: 36.08241, -112.051887
Location: 36.082052, -112.06481
Camp (no water). Cremation Creek is dry year-round.
Location: 36.08714, -112.075597
Camp; overhung rock
Location: 36.090376, -112.088615
Turn left at junction with South Kaibab Trail. Hike south.
Location: 36.090891, -112.089466
The Tipoff emergency phone
Location: 36.063953, -112.089483
Location: 36.052818, -112.083667
Yaki Point trailhead