Trail Description : Deer Creek Trail
The Deer Creek Trail provides access to Deer Spring, the Deer Creek camping area, Deer Creek Narrows and Deer Creek Falls at the Colorado River. This trail was originally constructed in 1876 after John Wesley Powell claimed to have found tracer gold at the mouth of Deer Creek. The upper section of that trail is now know as the Thunder River Trail and the lower portion the Deer Creek Trail.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
To get to the trailhead of the Deer Creek Trail you must first gain access to Surprise Valley via the Thunder River Trail and possibly even the Bill Hall Trail if you are starting from Monument Point. The Deer Creek Trail splits off to the west from the Thunder River Trail shortly after it finishes its traverse through the Redwall break and enters Surprise Valley. There is a small and not very noticeable cairn marking the trail junction which is approximately ¼ mile south of the bottom of the Redwall descent.
Once you are on the trail it is pretty easy to follow, the upper section being quite similar to the Tonto Trail on the south rim. There is only one little descent and re-ascent through the westerm arm of the Bonita Creek drainage and fter a little less than ½ mile you will come to another trail junction. From this junction the Deer Creek Trail continues west and a short spur trail heads east to link up with the Thunder River Trail. This spur trail is used by people who are hiking across Surprise Valley from Deer Creek to Thunder River or vice versa.
The trail continues west for about another ¼ mile or so, without much elevation change, just some ups and downs over small hills. After that it slowly starts to head downward through the Deer Spring drainage. This fairly gradual descent continues for another ¾ mile or so until the trail finally comes to a falls, directly above Deer Spring, which cannot be negotiated. The trail begins to get a little steeper as you approach this section but is still not a problem. When you reach the falls you are right on the lip of Deer Creek canyon and will have a splendid view of the area below. You should also be able to hear Deer Spring at this point which is only about a hundred feet below you.
At the falls the trail heads off to the northwest and then begins to descend to the floor of the canyon using a series of switchbacks and contours. The upper portion of the descent is steep and rocky and care should be exercised. After a very quick descent the trail levels out somewhat and begins to contour back to the south. Following the contour for 4-500 hundred feet the trail again begins to switchback down into the lower reaches of the Deer Creek area. There is another quick descent and when completed you are left just outside of the alcove that is formed by Deer Spring. A short trail heads into the alcove to the left (east) and the main trail continues to the right (west). The main trail begins to descend again but the rest of the descent is very easy as the trail from this point on seems very well maintained, probably by river runners who frequently bring people from river trips up to see the spring. Rocks have been positioned to form steps in most places that will lead you right to the floor of Deer Creek canyon.
Once the trail reaches the canyon floor it continues to head westward and away from Deer Spring. After a very short jaunt you come to a location where you can easily cross Deer Creek. The trail crosses Deer Creek just above (north of) the point where the main Deer Creek drainage and flow from Deer Spring come together. The flow from Deer Creek itself is not normally much to worry about but the combined force of Deer Creek and Deer Spring could make for a tricky crossing, depending on the time of year. After crossing the creek the trail heads southward and after traveling a little more than ¼ mile you will be in the Deer Creek camping area. Technically you can camp anywhere in the area but there are some very nice sites just north of the Narrows section of the creek. Camping in and below Deer Creek Narrows (i.e., at the Colorado River) is not permitted. A composting toilet has been installed at Deer Creek, halfway between the creek crossing and the narrows. This toilet is a new design, semi-portable and relatively inexpensive. This is a temporary thing to see what use it gets and how well it works. The ONLY items to be put in it is of course feces, urine and toilet paper.
Just south of the camping area the creek begins to cut through the rock and drop off toward the Colorado River. It is amazing how quickly this happens. There are a couple of nice pools and small waterfalls in the upper part of the Narrows but beyond that the creek drops out of sight very quickly. The trail stays on the west side of the Narrows all the way to the Colorado River, which is only about a mile away from the camping area. Some of the trail through the the Narrows is very narrow itself and care should be taken if you still have your pack with you at this point. There are a couple of places where you may have to crawl if this is the case as some ledges protruding from the cliff face tend to obstruct the trail. You can get by easily enough by crouching down or hugging the cliff edge without a pack, but with a pack you may feel safer on hands and knees. The trail is right on the brink of the drop into the Narrows and you can't even see the creek at this point but you know it's a long way down with no way out, even if you did survive the fall. There is no elevation gain or loss to speak of on the way through Deer Creek Narrows until you reach the Colorado River.
Once you get to the river you will be on a cliff about 400 hundred feet above the beach and there are magnificent views looking both up and down river from this point. The trail heads west at this point and switchbacks down through the cliffs, rocks and rubble to get down to river level. This descent is not too difficult except for one spot where you have to crawl down over a fairly large ledge/rock that has a tree limb hanging over it which provides very little in the way of clearance. Again, this would not be a pleasant descent with a heavy backpack on but then again, unless you're planning on heading west along the river and over to Kanab Creek, you really shouldn't have one with you at this point. Be careful of the sizeable patch of Poison Ivy along the trail as you near the river. Once you reach the bottom of the descent head back upriver for a short distance to the alcove in which Deer Creek Falls plummets to the pool below.
[ last updated May, 2003 ]