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Trail Description : Red Canyon Trail

Like many places in the Grand Canyon this area of the canyon has some interesting history behind it. The Red Canyon Trail is also referred to as the New Hance Trail because it was built by John Hance, another one of those prospectors that came to the Canyon in search of riches. He mined asbestos on the other side of the river just opposite Mineral Canyon. Like many other prospectors he soon realized that the tourist business was much more profitable than the mining business and began taking visitors down to his holdings in Hance Canyon and from there to the river. He built the Red Canyon or New Hance Trail as a replacement for his original Hance Trail that had become impassable due to numerous rockslides. An entry from the guest book that Hance kept at his cabin reads "God made the canyon, John Hance the trails. Without the other, neither would be complete." This entry was recorded by Rough Rider Bucky O'Neil.

The trailhead for the Red Canyon Trail is located 4.8 miles east of Grandview Point turn-off or 1 mile west of Moran Point turn-off on the Desert View Drive. There is a clearing on the side of the road and a couple of No Parking, Tow Away Zone signs. Parking is not allowed here so you either have to park at Grandview or Moran Points and walk to the trailhead, or make arrangements for a pick-up and drop-off via a Harvey Car. If you are planning on doing the Red Canyon, Tonto, Grandview loop have the Harvey Car meet you at Grandview Point and drop you at the Red Canyon trailhead. When you hike out the Grandview your car will be waiting for you. If you are coming out on the Red Canyon Trail then you've got a problem and don't have much choice but to walk to a parking area.

Mileages are as follows (one-way):


Like the Tanner Trail this trail should not be used by any but the most experienced canyoneers, especially you are travelling solo. If you should run into trouble along it your chances of rescue are very slim. This trail has additional disadvantages because its trailhead is not easily accessible and also because none of the trail is visible from any of the rim lookouts, meaning that all a signal mirror will do for you is let you signal aircraft. Another problem in that area is that in the winter months most the upper sections of the trail never get any direct sunlight making a signal mirror useless. At least on the Tanner Trail you can use a signal mirror to try to get help from people at the Desert View lookout. If you run into trouble on the Red Canyon Trail your best bet, depending on how far from the rim you are, is to keep heading for the river and to get help from a river party.

Assuming that you still want to attempt this trail and you have managed to get yourself, all of your gear and any companions to the drop off point, you'll need to follow the dirt road from the highway about a quarter mile back through the forest the the trailhead. That's the easy part. Once you reach the trailhead this trail does not mess around and immediately begins its plunge into the canyon. The upper reaches quite steep and are covered with large boulders that you have to go either around or over. These upper sections bring you down through the Kaibab Limestone and Toroweap Formations. Make sure that you are on the right trail before you start your descent and never go down anything that cannot get back up. A very nice view of Coronado Butte to the north dominates the scene as you descend these upper sections of trail. The trail continues its descent into and through the Coconino Sandstone and heads east for a while. When the trail turns and heads back towards the west again you will be in the Hermit Shale.

The trail continues westward until it reaches the Coronado Butte saddle, about one mile from the rim or trailhead, at which point it veers off towards the northeast and begins to follow a major drainage along the eastern edge of the butte. This section of trail is also quite rocky and is littered with boulders, some large and some small. It continues down through the Hermit Shale and eventually through the various layers of the Supai Group. The trail recrosses the drainage a number of times through this section and encounters a couple of falls that may prove difficult to get down if you are carrying a large backpack. Some of these falls have other ways of getting around and some you simply have to go over. None are really that high that you need worry. Usually sitting down on the edge and simply sliding off is enough. I don't remember any of them being more than a three or four foot drop from the sitting position. Look for cairns that may indicate an alternate route around them before going over. The trail follows the drainage for approximately one mile until it finally comes to a falls that you simply cannot negotiate.

At this point the trail breaks away from the drainage and heads off more towards the east-northeast. The views along this section of trail are spectacular. You are right above the Redwall Limestone at this point, of which there will be a very nice view on the western side of the canyon. There are also some very nice views of Rama and Krishna Shrines and Vishnu Temple just behind them. The trail stays pretty close to the edge as it contours along the top of the Redwall heading for the break that will allow you to descend further into Red Canyon. After maybe a half mile on this section of trail you will come to a promontory of rock that juts out into and over Red Canyon. If you are paying too much attention to the trail you may miss the awesome view that you get from this point. Here the trail will also veer briefly back towards the southeast as it contours around a drainage coming down from Moran Point on the rim. When you get to the other side of this you will be at the Redwall break. Be careful here as some sections of the trail have been obliterated by rock falls and slides and require careful attention.

Note: This is the only section of any trail in the Grand Canyon that I have any really negative feelings about. I had a backcountry trip come to an quick end and almost lost my wife on this section of trail. She slipped on something on the trail and went sliding off of it and down through the rubble and scree below and to its side. Luckily she only slid about 25-30 feet before being stopped by a very large boulder that prevented her from cascading over the edge and down into Red Canyon. Not so luckily the abrupt stop created by this boulder broke her ankle. Be very, very careful on this section.

Once you get past this section of trail the real fun begins. No, we are not having fun yet! Take care when looking for the actual Redwall break as there are a couple of places that look like they might be right but there is only one that will get you down. Some careful scouting will enable you to find the right spot and you will know it when you see it. The Sierra Club Totebook, Hiking the Grand Canyon, claims that the correct descent is marked by a totem sized cairn. I have never seen this, though I am not really sure how big a totem sized cairn should be. I've seen totem poles created by Native Americans in the Northwest and I have not seen a cairn here that even comes close to those.

Once you find the Redwall break you are in for the ride of a lifetime. The trail heads down some extremely steep switchbacks that are littered with the same type of debris that you should be used to by now. It's hard to believe that John Hance used to bring people on muleback down into the canyon using this trail. At times you may feel more like you are freefalling than hiking. It is probably wise to take a good rest and give your legs a break before attempting this section of the trail.

Once you get through that section the trail becomes a little easier but not much. When it breaks out of the Redwall and into the Mauv Limestone it is not quite so steep and not quite so rocky but the earth itself is much less firm. This section is more like a packed gravel mixed with sand and does not provide very good footing. Be careful to not get up too much speed coming down this section as you may discover when you try to stop that you cannot. You will notice the floor of Red Canyon getting a lot closer now as you come down through this section. The trail gets a little better when it breaks out onto the Bright Angel Shale. It is still steep and still loose at this point but the broken shale seems to hold together better.

Below the Bright Angel Shale you come into the rusty reddish colored Hakatai Shale that gives Red Canyon its name. The trail along this section has pretty much the same consistency as that through the Bright Angel Shale and requires a good deal of braking as you descend. Your legs will be feeling pretty bad by the time you get to the floor of Red Canyon. The trail will cross another drainage coming down from the vicinity of Moran Point but will keep to the eastern side of the canyon. There is a major fall along this drainage and you cannot get down to the floor of Red Canyon by following it. Shortly after crossing the drainage the trail goes around and down a large hill and on the other side finally descends into Red Canyon. Once on the floor of Red Canyon you can relax. You've still got about 2-3 miles to go to the river and there are a number of boulders to work around but after what you've just been through it will seem like a walk in the park.

When you finally reach the river you can camp on either the eastern or western sides of the creek, as both offer some very good campsites. When I was there I opted for the eastern side only because another party was already camped on the western side. From this point you can continue upriver along the Escalante Route to the Unkar Delta overlook and Tanner Canyon or downriver on the Tonto Trail to Hance Canyon and Horseshoe Mesa.
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