Trail Description : Bill Hall Trail
The Bill Hall Trail was originally just another entry point into the Canyon for the Thunder River Trail. The main Thunder River trail descends into the Canyon from Indian Hollow which is about 4 miles west of the trailhead of the Bill Hall Trail. Using the Thunder River trail from its start will add about 5 miles (8 km) to your hike. This section of the trail was dedicated to park ranger Ward "Bill" Hall after an accident claimed his life in July 1979. There is now a monument to Bill Hall out at Monument Point.
Getting to either trailhead can be an adventure in itself, depending on the time of year, and the condition of the Forest Service roads. Before May 1st the condition of these roads is questionable due to the heavy snowfall that the north rim usually receives. Even after the snow has melted you still have the mud to contend with. At one time the Park Service used to close access to the Surprise Valley and Thunder River area during the months of July and August due to the extreme heat and although this has not been the case for several years now it is always possible that this practice could be reinstated at any time. All things considered the hiking season for this area of the Canyon is very short and is primary limited to the months of May, June, September and October. I hiked the area in early May of both 2003 and 1995 and would highly recommend this time of year.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
The trailhead for the Bill Hall Trail is just outside the western end of the parking area at Monument Point. Monument Point itself is less then ¼ mile from the trailhead and the actual descent into the Canyon does not start until ½ mile or so after that. Between Monument Point and the start of the actual descent the trail follows along the rim and goes up and over a couple of small hills.
The actual start of the descent is marked by a large cairn. It is this topmost section of the trail, through the Kaibab formation, that I found to be the worst. It is steep, loose and rocky and can be quite dangerous if you are not careful. I think it may be this top section of the Bill Hall Trail that cause many people to opt for the longer but more gradual descent of the Thunder River Trail. I still don't think the steep descent is worth 5 extra miles of hiking but that's just my opinion. The trail descends for maybe a ¼ mile or so and in the process drops 800-1000 feet before it passes behind the back side of Bridger's Knoll which is to the south.
After passing behind Bridger's Knoll the trail begins a nice leisurely contour through the Toroweap formation, around the west side of Monument Point heading for the descent that will bring you down to the junction with the Thunder River Trail. This section of the trail is only about ¾ mile and is quite scenic. The trail crosses a number of rock falls, the last one before starting to descend again being an enormous one. If you hunt around in these rock falls you can find numerous fossils from the Kaibab Limestone, the rock layer just above you. Just remember you can look all you want but don't take any fossils with you. Leave them for others to enjoy as well. I would not suggest climbing on the rock falls themselves as many of them do not appear to be that stable and if upset could make your descent to the Esplanade be rather quick and unpleasant.
Shortly after crossing that last big rock fall the trail begins to head down again, through the upper portion of the Coconino formation, using a series of switchbacks. After the first couple of switchbacks the trail comes to a small cliff that can prove a little difficult to get down with a pack on. There is not much in the way of footing but with extreme care it is possible to negotiate it while wearing a pack. If you do not feel comfortable doing it with your pack on you can always rope it down or pass it to someone below. It may be comforting to know that it is somewhat easier to climb up this little obstacle on the way up than it is to climb down it.
After you get past this obstacle the trail continues switch-backing down to the Esplanade. Some of the switchbacks are a little steep and some a little rocky but the trail is pretty easy to negotiate for the most part. This section is only ¼ mile or so long and there is one final rock fall to scramble across near the top but it's not bad going for the most part. As you near the Esplanade and the junction with the Thunder River trail, it finally begins to level out. In the last ½ mile before you reach the Thunder River Trail junction the trail stops switch-backing and begins to head off toward the southwest. It crosses a couple of very small drainages along the way and before you know it you are at the trail junction.
[ last updated May, 2003 ]