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Trail Description : South Bass Trail

Mileages are as follows (one-way):


ACCESS: Rowe Well Road or Forest Service Road #328. It generally takes 1½ to 2 hours to negotiate the 29 mile trip from Grand Canyon Village. Trail head directions are available from back country personnel.

MAPS: 15 Minute Havasupai Point Quadrangle.
7.5 Minute Havasupai Point Quadrangle.

WATER AVAILABILITY: Colorado River, seasonal at the Tonto level, occasional rain pockets on the Esplanade

CAMPSITE AVAILABILITY: South Bass Trailhead, Esplanade, Tonto, South Bass beach

The trail is steep and rocky but easy to follow through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations. The trail crosses a dry stream bed about ½ mile down from the top, passes an old barbed wire fence, and then turns north and descends via switchbacks through a break in the Coconino sandstone. There are supposed to be ruins of an Anasazi granary near the top of the Coconino but I could not find this when I was down the trail in late April 1998. Here the trail is less distinct, but follows, in general, a logical route and is well-cairned.

In the upper portion of the Hermit shale, the trail is again very distinct. It becomes less discernable as it descends across some ledges in the Supai formation and upon reaching the red, rocky soil of the juniper-covered Esplanade. Look for cairns and signs of other hikers traveling through; footprints last a long time in this environment. A large cairn marks a trail junction with the Royal Arch Route; continue on the right fork.

The trail is level across the Esplanade for nearly a mile. It winds over to and then along the east base of Mt. Huethawali, usually not more than 100 feet from the Supai ledge. The Esplanade Plateau is an excellent place to camp or cache water for the return trip. Be careful not to step on the cryptbiotic soil in the area, once damaged this will take a very long time to recover. If you must leave the trail, try to stay on rocks.

The start of the descent through the Supai formation occurs at the first drainage break running north into Bass Canyon. The trail will ascend a small rise, enter an area that appears to be a popular campsite and then appears to end. If you look carefully you will find the descent on the north side of the campsite. Watch for cairns and consult your topographical map; it is necessary to be on the trail at this point. After dropping down the upper portion of the Supai the trail winds east around a rocky point and heads back south. It is quite plain as it drops from ledge to ledge to the break in the Redwall which is through a narrow slot at the very head of Bass Canyon. At the lower edge of the Supai formation' you will see a USGS benchmark; from this point, about five miles remain to reach Bass Rapids.

The trail descends the Redwall along the west side of the break, then leads down the center of the drainage for several hundred yards. This section is quite brushy. At a cairn on the east side of the wash, the trail exits out of the wash onto the east slope and stays high through most of the Bright Angel shale. Be careful, it's easy to miss that cairn and be tempted to try and follow the drainage itself. Near the lower end of the shale, the Tonto Trail crosses; it is indistinct, but large cairns mark both the Tonto West and Tonto East junctions.

Through the Tapeats sandstone and Vishnu layers, the trail is not plain. It crosses the canyon bed several times through folded rock layers and dense polished surfaces. Cairns are extremely helpful in this section, although about one mile below the Tonto East junction, care must be taken not to accidentally follow the shortcut route from the creek to the Tonto West; if you find yourself climbing steeply OUT of the drainage, backtrack and try again.

This spur, or shortcut, is marked by a huge block of Tapeats sandstone that has separated from the main rim. If you are looking for this route, you can start hunting for the cairns that mark it once you have spotted the block. The trail basically ascends directly towards this block, but a little to its right (north). The lower section of the trail is steep, rocky and in some places slippery. Once it approaches the elevation of this block it begins to head directly toward it and then passes directly beneath its northern edge. There is good shade here during most of the day and it is a good rest stop if you are headed up from the river. Above the block the trail heads in a more northerly direction and is more level as it continues to ascend towards its junction with the Tonto.

Continuing on to the river... Near the lower end of the canyon, the trail goes up the west bank and along the top of the south wall of the Colorado River gorge; the gorge wall is about 200 feet high at this point. Soon after you emerge from Bass Canyon, you will see a cairn marking a spur trail leading to a difficult scramble down the gorge wall over a granite boulder field.

This spur trail leads to a beautiful beach at the head of Bass Rapids. The beach is about 200 yds. long, extremely clean and undisturbed. Numerous bushy trees, plus the height and position of the canyon walls afford daylong shade on the beach; it is an ideal camp spot.

If you do not turn off onto the spur trail, you will continue downstream along the Colorado River to the Bass Cable Crossing which is down a short series of switchbacks. The cable is no longer there, as it was out in fear that it may drop on a river party or cut a helicopter down. The trail continues past the cable crossing to a fine view of Shinumo Rapids.

River parties are allowed to camp on this beach. You may have to share the beach campsite with them.

Directions to South Bass trailhead

Forest Road #328. Most of the road is rough and is impassable during wet weather conditions. During dry weather conditions a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle is recommended. wo wheel drive vehicles can make it during dry conditions, but you run the risk of "bottoming out" in a low clearance vehicle.

During the fall, winter and spring months drive out Hermit Road one quarter mile then turn left onto Rowe Well Road. During the summer months the Hermit Road is closed. Turn left at the West Rim interchange and drive south to the Maswik Lodge. Near the lodge a sign will direct you to the kennels. Follow the signs until you cross the railroad tracks and reach Rowe Well Road.

Follow Rowe Well Road south, passing the kennels. After leaving the park in about 2.5 miles, the road turns to the east and climbs a steep hill across the railroad tracks. It joins Forest Service road #605 in a short distance. Turn right and cross the tracks again. Here a sign points the way to Forest Road #328, a right turn up a slope. The road that proceeds straight ahead at this point is equally passable.

Once on FS road #328, follow it west about 6 miles to a junction just north of Little Rain Tank and several ranch buildings. At this junction you will see a sign marked "Topacoba Hilltop". Turn right here and continue on FS #328 passing Sheep Tank, Homestead Tank, Cecil Dodd Tank, and on into the Havasupai Indian Reservation. In wet weather many travelers become stuck at Cecil Dodd Tank.

Once inside the reservation, continue 1.5 miles to a road junction. Turn right, cross two cattle guards (please close gates) and continue on to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station and the South Bass Trailhead. About two miles before Pasture Wash, you will re-enter the National Park. Pasture Wash Ranger Station is not manned nor maintained, therefore you cannot expect any assistance if you have vehicle problems.

From the Pasture Wash Ranger Station to the South Bass Trailhead the road is very narrow and deeply rutted. You may prefer to park your vehicle at the station and walk the 3.6 miles to the trailhead.

Trail description and directions to trailhead courtesy of National Park Service
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