Thunder River / Deer Creek Trails
Key information: Thunder River / Deer Creek Trails
Find oases of lush green amidst the Grand Canyon’s bare red rock, where underground torrents breach the surface at Thunder River, Tapeats Spring and Deer Spring. Amazing walking in the thrilling broken towers and canyons of this remote area.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points0
- Total rating90
- Length: 22km return
- Maximum Altitude: 2,196m (Monument Point)
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
This walk description page is at an early stage of development, and will be expanded over time. Your comments on this walk, your experiences and tips, and your photos are very welcome.
The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a World Heritage Site, and geological heaven. It is hard to overpraise the canyon’s raw, outlandish shapes and formations: they are justly famous. The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is astounding.
Find oases of lush green amidst the Grand Canyon’s bare red rock, where underground torrents breach the surface at Thunder River, Tapeats Spring and Deer Spring. Amazing walking in the thrilling broken towers and canyons of this remote area. These are demanding walks, but at least with two trailheads you can choose between an easy or strenuous introduction to this wilderness track: gentle, if longer, from Indian Hollow - or shorter but steep and with a 15ft scramble, from Monument Point. Exhilarating out-and-back treks down either trail.
There are two trailheads for the Thunder River / Deer Creek Loop, the original starting point at Indian Hollow, and the shorter route from Monument Point: both are accessible by road to the north rim, conditions allowing. The MP trailhead actually adjoins the Bill Hall Trail; and it never quite reaches Monument Point itself. Just a short distance on, however, travelling west towards that landmark, it overtops the lip of the Grand Canyon’s north rim amidst a number of waymarking stone cairns, and dropping precipitously past the Kaibab and Toroweap formations and contouring across its walls and underneath Monument Point around to the Coconino descent.
As with most routes into the Canyon, this track means switchbacks galore. Where there’s no room for switchbacks, it’s scrambles – at times pretty treacherous. (Maybe bring a rope to lower your bags.) The Esplanade below hosts the junction with the Indian Hollow trail, whose gradient is easier but means twice the walking distance.
At the junction you take the Thunder River Trail, south(ish) across the Esplanade. Much of the area is slick, smooth rock, so make sure to work from one cairn to the next in order to stay not-lost! Having walked along the Esplanade for a few kilometres (with huge canyon views opening out all the time), climb down to Surprise Valley via yet more steep switchbacks, through the Supai and Redwall formations. This section is infamously hot and exposed, the bare rock an over-perfect suntrap. A large cairn marks where the path splits: east/left to Thunder River, or west/right to Deer Creek.
Thunder River Trail (TRT): Take the trail east through Surprise Valley (not advisable after 10am in summer); again, it’s steep, switchbacking all the way down to Thunder River and plentiful shady, cooler spots to rest. Just below the confluence of Thunder River and Tapeats Creek, on the west side, is the designated Upper Tapeats campsite.
The next day, you have another choice: either go on, all the way to the Colorado River, or start your return leg along the previous day’s trails – it’s an arduous climb, after all, and you’ve had that exquisite night in the canyon.
To reach the rushing Colorado River, cross the creek just below your campsite or a few km downstream (warning: can be dangerous, even un-fordable, after snowmelt) and follow it for its length.
(If you’re a climber there is a path, after a large, dark obtrusion, that traverses across to Deer Creek (west/right at the Surprise Valley cairn). Sadly, it’s technical, so please look elsewhere for your research, and take all appropriate safety measures!)
Deer Creek Trail (DCT): The other option at the Surprise Valley cairn, and some of the most magical canyon walking available in this vast complex of creeks, obelisks and walls. Heading west, descend on progressively uneven and misshapen paths to Deer Spring in a branch of the main creek. Then, follow that trail through the creek itself, passing the Deer Creek campsite en route (overnight here, or on your return).
Next comes the famous Narrows section (not after wet weather/snow), resistant hard rock eroded into sumptuous curves and slot canyons. Finally, out the other side, the trail’s climax comes after a kilometre or so with the Deer Creek Falls plunging into the Colorado River below. Sadly, after marvelling for however long it takes, you eventually have to turn around.
This is remote: the deepest, wildest recesses of the Grand Canyon’s many twists and turns. Trailheads can be difficult to access, even impossible. Come prepared.
ANYONE HAVE ANY GOOD PHOTOS? WE’D LOVE TO PUBLISH THEM!
7.5 Minute Tapeats Amphitheater and Fishtail Mesa Quads (US Geographical Survey)
Trails Illustrated Map, Grand Canyon National Park (National Geographic)
North Kaibab Map, Kaibab National Forest
See the US National Parks Service PDF for this walk for helpful tips.
Cumulative Distances (believed correct!)
Monument Point/Indian Hollow > Bill Hall Junction – 4km/8km
Bill Hall Junction > Surprise Valley Junction – 7km
(TRT) Surprise Valley Junction > Upper Tapeats – 11km
(DCT) Surprise Valley Junction > Deer Creek camp – 11km
See our Grand Canyon page for much more on the canyon, and detailed practical information.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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