Go to GRAND CANYON Explorer home page

Trail Description : Tanner Trail

Sections of the Tanner Trail were originally part of old Anasazi and Hopi Indian routes into the Canyon. It is somewhere in the vicinity of Tanner Canyon that Europeans first "discovered" the Grand Canyon. The first European to visit the Canyon was a Spaniard by the name of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, who encountered it in 1535, while in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. Cardenas Butte, which is accessible via the Tanner Trail, is named in his honor.

More recently, in the late 1800's, the trail was used by copper miners to reach their diggings along the river. The trail itself is named for one of these prospectors, Seth Tanner, who improved the trail and used it to access his mine near Palisades Creek, upriver from Tanner delta. The Beamer Trail, which leads upriver from Tanner delta, is named in honor of another miner, Ben Beamer, who improved another old indian route along the river. This trail leads to the Colorado River's confluence with the Little Colorado River. Beamer's stone cabin still stands along the route and is a popular stop for river parties.

Tanner Canyon also has its more colorful legends. It was also went at one time by the name of Horsethief Canyon. It is reported that this side-canyon was used by horse thieves to drive stolen horses across the Canyon and into Utah. While in the canyon the brands on the horses would be changed before driving the horses out on the north rim via what now would be the Nankoweap Trail. An abandoned still was also found in the area back in 1928 and it is suspected that this was used during prohibition to supply whiskey to people living in the area at that time.

The trailhead for the Tanner Trail is located at Lipan Point on the Desert View Drive.

Mileages are as follows (one-way):


This trail should not be used by any but the more hardened canyoneers. There is never any water available along the trail until you reach the river. This can make the climb out exceedingly difficult and it is recommended that you cache water for the hike out during your hike in. A place called Stegosaurus Rocks makes a good cache point. The actual length of the Tanner Trail is not well known and has been estimated to anywhere between 8 and 12 miles.

The trail descends quickly into the canyon with steep switchbacks that are clogged with enormous boulders which you are constantly climbing around or trying to hop over. The Tanner Trail is the only Grand Canyon trail that has ever given me any trouble and this was during a descent through the lower part of these upper sections. I missed my footing on a large boulder and my pack pulled me backwards wedging my foot under me. It was quite painful but this was our first overnight hike into the Canyon and I was not about to turn back. I was still able to walk but some of the downward sections gave me trouble. It was months after this hike before that ankle finally felt better. It has still never healed completely.

The top sections of the trail pass through the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation and Coconino Sandstone. It should take only about an hour to descend the upper section of the trail which brings you to a spot called Seventy-Five Mile Saddle. The Stegosaurus Rocks are located along this saddle and provide some very good cache points for water for your hike out.

After the saddle the trail contours around the bases of first Escalante and then Cardenas Buttes before coming to the top of the Redwall break. The saddle between Escalante and Cardenas Buttes provides a good camping place if you are not in a hurry to reach the river on your way in, or reach the rim on your way out. It is also claimed that the summits of both of these buttes are fairly easy half-hour climbs which offer spectacular views. I have never attempted this so I cannot attest to it.

After you finally come around the base of Cardenas Butte the trail levels off for a while as it leads you across the rocks of the Supai Group, to the break in the Redwall Limestone that leads into the lower part of the canyon. The descent through the Redwall is supposed to be the most difficult section of the Tanner. I would have to disagree and say that the upper sections are more difficult, but then again I have my reasons. I didn't find that it took very long either going down or coming up through the Redwall break. Maybe 20 minutes down and maybe a half hour coming up.

At the base of the Redwall you will descend through the Mauv Limestone and Bright Angel Shale. The trail is rough and rocky and descends sharply. Many sections of the trail are covered with scree and talus slopes and can be quite easy to loose your footing on. Once you get below this the trail levels out and heads north along a ridge formed of the Tapeats Sandstone for a mile or maybe a little more. It then begins its final descent towards Tanner delta and the river.

These last sections of the trail bring you through the Dox Sandstone. Once you reach this point you've only got about 1200' more to descend to the river which is now quite picturesque and less than 2 miles away. Most of the descent through the Dox is at a fairly easy angle on a fairly good trail. There is one more difficult section of trail to contend with that has, on numerous occasions, been referred to as "Asinine Hill". This is a slope of the Dox that is very steep in which the trail goes straight down rather than switchbacking through. I thought it rather asinine when we encountered it.

Once you get past Asinine Hill the trail levels out considerably and you begin the long leisurely descent to the river, maybe a mile away. The last quarter mile or so of the trail is actually in he bed of the creek which you follow the rest of the way to the river.

The beach and dunes at the mouth of Tanner Canyon offer many fine camping places. The location is so utterly huge that it is impossible to feel crowded even if there are other people at the beach. Just head upriver or downriver until you find a spot where you can be alone.

From Tanner delta you can head downriver along the Escalante Route for approximately 10 miles to Hance Rapids, the Red Canyon Trail and the beginning of the Tonto Trail. Also along this route, but maybe only 2 miles west is a splendid overlook of Unkar Rapids and Unkar Creek Delta.

You can also head upriver along the Beamer Trail to the Colorado River's confluence with the Little Colorado River. The Hopi Indians' sacred Sipapu, or place of emergence, as well as their sacred salt mines are located along the Little Colorado River. These areas are off-limits and can only be visited by making arrangements in advance with the Hopi. Please be respectful and adhere to these regulations if you decide to travel in this area.

December, 1996 : A composting toilet has been installed on Tanner delta, near the beach. 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.

[ Grand Canyon Home | South Rim trails | North Rim trails | Trip reports ]
Copyright © Bob Ribokas, 1994-2008, all rights reserved. This publication and its text and photos may not be copied for commercial use without the express written permission of Bob Ribokas.