Trail Description : Hermit Trail
The Hermit Trail, like many other Grand Canyon trails, began as an indian route. The trail was improved by prospectors and was originally know as Horsethief Trail. A prospector by the name of Dan Hogan began construction of the modern Hermit Trail in 1896. The trail was further improved by the Santa Fe Railroad about a decade and a half later. They used this trail as an entry into the Canyon in an effort to bypass the toll that was currently being charged for use of the Bright Angel Trail. They constructed a small camp, Hermit Camp, at the end of the trail, near where Hermit Creek cuts through the Tonto Platform and descends to meet the Colorado River. Hermit Camp provided a stop-over point for parties headed for the river and was active until the 1930's. At that point the National Park Service had acquired the Bright Angel Trail and had also constructed an additional cross-canyon route by way of the North and South Kaibab trails. With the trailheads for these trails being closer to the railhead the Santa Fe decided to move their tourist operations into that area. Hermit Camp is now abandoned and the structures have been removed. Some of the foundations still remain and can be seen from many points along the Hermit and Boucher Trails as well as from the Pima Point overlook out on the Hermit Road.
The trailhead for the Hermit Trail is located just beyond Hermit's Rest on the Hermit Road. From late Spring through early Fall you can reach Hermit's Rest via the West Rim Shuttle bus. From there it's just a quarter mile or so walk to the trailhead. When the shuttle is not running you can drive directly to the trailhead or arrange for a taxi to drop you off.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
The first section of the trails descends rather quickly through the Kaibab Limestone using numerous switchbacks. This top section of the trail is steep and caution should be used during the winter months as it is frequently iced-up. At that time of year you should be particularly careful on the sections that have been filled in with cobbles as these can sometimes be covered with a thin later of ice that is almost invisible and quite dangerous. When dry these sections of the trail provide a welcome relief over the other sections of the trail that are littered with rocks and boulders.
After descending through the Kaibab Limestone the trail reaches the top of the Toroweap Formation. After descending through that you come to the Coconino Sandstone. It is in the this formation, about a mile or so from the trailhead, that you can find fossilized reptile tracks imprinted in some of the sandstone layers. The best are along a long straight descent that has paved with cobbles. Blocks of sandstone have been cut and placed to form steps that you may climb to view some of the nicer sections. Please do not walk on the rock that contains the fossils as this simply enhances their erosion.
About a quarter to a half mile below the fossil tracks you will come to the junction with the Waldron Trail. This trail descends from the rim near Horsethief Tank and comes in from the south to meet the Hermit Trail. If you wish to use the Waldron Trail to descend to this point you can reach its trailhead by driving out on Rowe Well Road. This trail is not paved and may require four-wheel drive if wet or covered with snow. Check with the Backcountry Office for road conditions before attempting to drive on this road.
At this point the trail is descending through the Hermit Shale and after another quarter mile or so you will come to the junction with the Dripping Springs Trail. This trail should be used to reach the Boucher Trail as well as Dripping Springs itself. Stay to the right at this trail junction to remain on the Hermit Trail. The trail begins its descent into Hermit Gorge via another small section of switchbacks that take you through the Supai Formation. In about a half-mile or so you will come to the stone structure that marks Santa Maria Spring. The last time that I was down here I noticed that the Park Service had constructed some toilet facilities below the trail just prior to reaching the spring. There was a faint trail descending off to the left which was not marked.
Past the spring the trail continues its descent through the Supai Formation until it levels off just atop the Redwall. The trail is fairly level along this stretch and after a mile or a little more you come to Lookout Point. This is where you start getting the best views of the inner gorge. This area makes a very nice rest stop on the way down as beyond this point the trail begins to get a little tricky. Beyond Lookout Point the trail descends toward a break in the Redwall know as the Cathedral Stairs.
During the summer months you should be careful with the time of day that you hit this point in the trail. The afternoons can be brutally hot. There is no shade and the sun just bakes you while you are trying to make this descent. The switchbacks are short and there are plenty of them. Some sections are filled in with cobbles but some are just packed earth strewn with rocks and other rocky debris. After you get through this section you come out to a more gradual section that descends along the western wall of Cope Butte. Beyond this is the final set of switchbacks that will bring you down to he Tonto Platform. In the summer all of this section from the top of Cathedral Stairs until you finally get to Hermit Camp is very, very hot. Some of the switchbacks that bring you down the side of Cope Butte are very long and seem to take forever. It's probably because you can see the Tonto Trail below you as you descend. I've noticed that the trails in the Grand Canyon always seem to take longer when you can see your next goal. When you can finally make out the sign marking the trail junction you'll know you are close but even that last stretch seems to take longer than it should.
Once you do finally reach the junction with the Tonto Trail the worst is over. The trail remains very level as it meanders back and forth across the Tonto until you get to Hermit Camp which is maybe only a mile away at this point. At the trail junction go left and head west. The trail will eventually turn south and bring you up into Hermit Creek. You will cross another drainage before coming to Hermit Creek, that may or may not have water in it. It was just a trickle during late May. At first, being my first time down here, I though that this was Hermit Creek and I was very disappointed. Continue on maybe a quarter mile beyond here and you finally come to the real Hermit Creek and the camping area. Hermit Creek has some very nice campsites and the creek itself is pure heaven during the summer months. There are a number of pools that you can climb down into to just forget about the heat. I don't remember the heat at the camping area itself being that bad but after climbing down that trail the cool water sure feels good. We camped above a fairly sizable pool that has was fed by a waterfall.
From the camping area it is about a mile and a half down along the creek to the Colorado River. I have not done this section of the Hermit so I cannot attest to its difficulty. Some guidebooks claims that there was once a nice trail going to the river but that it since been washed out. The present trail supposedly crosses the creek a number of times and requires a lot of boulder hopping. There are also a number of campsites available at the river.