Thunder River

(6 customer reviews)



Starts in Flagstaff, AZ

Discover some of the most breathtaking waterfalls and swimming holes in the Grand Canyon while exploring remote North Rim terrain.


Venture into an incredibly remote and difficult to access section of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim on an epic five-night, six-day trek to Thunder River. We’ll be accessing the North Rim on old forest roads to explore some of the most breathtaking waterfalls and swimming holes that the Grand Canyon has to offer. With just over 30 miles of trail, we’ll travel along slickrock and winding slots while following the natural curves created by wind and water throughout time. This guided Grand Canyon backpacking trip is all inclusive, easy to join, and open to fit and motivated individuals of all ages and experience levels.

Thunder River is the second trip introduced as part of our Grand Canyon Limited Edition experiences (2023), and utilizes the Thunder River, Deer Creek and Indian Hollow trail systems.

What’s included

  • Roundtrip transportation between Flagstaff, AZ meeting point and your trailhead
  • Guided 5-night, 6-day trek through remote Grand Canyon terrain
  • Opportunity to extensively explore remote Grand Canyon trails, side canyons, historical sites and beaches
  • All meals and snacks while in the back-country
  • Backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad if needed
  • Personalized pack-check prior to departure
  • Group gear and equipment
  • Priority access to future Limited Edition experiences
  • Flexible cancellation policy
  • Inspiration for a lifetime

What’s not included

  • Lodging in the front-country
  • Meals in the front-country

How it works

A $500 deposit is required upon registration with balance due 60 days prior to event. Trek dates may be adjusted +/- one day until permits are finalized 4 months in advance of departure (when Grand Canyon permits are issued). Maximum group size of 11, including two guides. An additional 5% charge will be applied when your reservation is made to offset new fees mandated by National Park Service. Book with confidence! Review our flexible cancellation policy.

Thunder River photo credit: John Strother


Evening before departure, pack-check overnight in Flagstaff

On the evening before your trek start date, we’ll convene at 6:00pm for a one hour group orientation and pack-check in the main lobby of Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. At orientation we’ll hand out backpacks, tents and sleeping bags to those who requested them. We’ll also get to know our team, preview the trail and talk safety. If you are driving in from the West or North (i.e. California, Utah, etc.), you can alternatively plan to meet us on Day 1 at a designated meetup point about 30 minutes from Fredonia, AZ to reduce your drive time.

Day 1 – Thunder River Trail to Esplanade (5 miles, 850 foot descent)

We’ll get together in the lobby of the Little America Hotel, Flagstaff at 5:00am, load gear and water, then head out to the North Rim. Our 5 hour drive will include a short visit to the Navajo Bridge, overlooking the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. We will continue on to the Thunder River Trailhead, where our hike begins at 6,400 feet. After an afternoon hike down to the Esplanade, a bench of beautiful slickrock, we’ll set up our dry camp for our first night under the stars.

Day 2 – Esplanade to Lower Tapeats (9 miles, 3,450 foot descent)

On day two we’ll have an early start to beat the heat! We will descend into Surprise Valley and travel east towards Thunder River, one of the shortest and steepest rivers in the world. We will pass a series of waterfalls virtually appearing out of nowhere as they emerge from channels concealed within the Tapeats sandstone. Then it’s off to camp at Lower Tapeats, with our first opportunity to swim in the Colorado River.

Day 3 – Lower Tapeats to Deer Creek (5.5 miles, 150 foot ascent)

Day three will be shorter mileage but rugged terrain. We will spend most of this day traveling through a boulder garden along the Colorado River. As we near it’s end, Deer Creek its enchanting Patio and narrows will come into view. This camp is a true oasis in the desert.

Day 4 – Layover day for day hikes, swimming and exploration

Spend time relaxing and enjoying the Grand Canyon at your pace, with time to explore the hidden swimming holes, water falls, and side canyons of Deer Creek and the Colorado River.

Day 5 – Deer Creek to Esplanade (7 miles, 3,200 foot ascent)

Our trek transitions to working back toward the North Rim with a climb that includes incredible views of the Colorado River, and a camp that hosts an expansive sunset and night sky on the vast and open Esplanade. Camping out is highly encouraged! A hearty dinner with good company will prepare us for our final climb out of Grand Canyon.

Day 6 – Esplanade to North Rim (5 miles, 850 foot ascent)

Our last hiking day of this trek will feel familiar as we retrace our steps along the Thunder River Trail and up to the North Rim. After completing our hike, we’ll have a short drive to a hearty lunch stop and then continue on to Flagstaff.


Trek date confirmation

We apply for Grand Canyon permits through a lottery system on the 1st of the month, four months in advance of our planned trek date. Permits are typically issued and within two weeks of submission. You’ll receive an email from us as soon as the dates for your trek are confirmed. Once confirmed, you can start making plans for transportation and pre-trek/post-trek accommodations.

Pre and post trek accommodations

Secure a lodging reservation in Flagstaff, AZ as soon as your trek dates are confirmed. You can request a TSX “corporate rate” at Little America Hotel ( / 800.865.1401) in Flagstaff. We will be hosting our pre-trek orientation at the hotel and will depart from the hotel on the morning of our hike (prices typically $125-$175 with discount). The nearby hotels on Lucky Lane are also a popular option and within walking distance (prices typically $75-$105).  If you plan on staying somewhere else, that is ok with us! Let us know where you end up and we’ll do our best to accommodate.


If traveling by air, Flagstaff is the preferred airport. There is a free hotel shuttle to Little America Hotel from the Flagstaff airport. If flying into Phoenix, consider taking a shuttle or bus to Flagstaff, or renting a car. Reserve your shuttle spot in advance with Groome Transportation ( or 928.350.8466), or book your Greyhound Bus seat from Phoenix to Flagstaff in advance. You may also be able arrange customized shuttle service with Uber or Lyft. If you are driving in from the West or North (i.e. California, Utah, etc.), you can alternatively plan to meet us on Day 1 at a designated meetup point about 30 minutes from Fredonia, AZ to reduce your drive time.

Arrival time

When scheduling flights or planning your drive, please allow enough time to arrive no later than 7pm the evening before your trek begins so that you can attend the pre-trek orientation (typically scheduled between 6:00pm-7:00pm at the Little America Hotel, Flagstaff lobby).

Departure time

We plan on exiting the trail between 10am and 12pm on the last day of the trek. However, the last day includes a long five-hour return drive back to Flagstaff. Please plan your return transportation accordingly. If flying out of Flagstaff on the same day, we suggest scheduling flights for departure no earlier than 7pm. Staying one additional night on the South Rim or in Flagstaff and departing the following day is also a popular option.


Don’t own a backpack, tent or sleeping bag? We provide all major gear for those who request it at no additional charge. We also take care of all group items like stoves, food, water filters, first aid and more. Your guides will do the cooking and dishes. Just show up with your personal items ready to hike!

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6 reviews for Thunder River

  1. Dwight McConn (verified owner)

    If you are thinking about one of these trips, dont hesitate. Start preparing, and get ready! I’ve been on 7 TSX adventures now since 2018 and each has been something special. For this trip, a dry camp on the rock formations of the Esplanade breaks up the ascent and descent into the canyon into managable pieces, and the layover day to hike and explore the deer creek slot canyon and waterfall, and swim in the colorado can’t be beat. Our guide Alyssa was wonderful, the meals were amazing, and the people you meet are as amazing as the natural settings that surround you. Come explore the North Rim and join the TSX family!

  2. Adam Feinstein

    This is my 3rd TSX trip and first to the Grand Canyon. Strong recommend. I really enjoyed exploring this remote part of the GC. Our guide, Alyssa, was fantastic. The route can be challenging (particularly the last two days when you are hiking up to the rim) but is doable for reasonable fit individuals.

  3. Jessie Feinstein

    This trip is 10/10. The route is challenging but so rewarding. Our guide, Alyssa, is a rock star and made sure we were all safe and well taken care of throughout. The rest day down by the Colorado River was much needed and very enjoyable. This is my second TSX trip and certainly won’t be my last!

  4. Stephen H

    Wonderful trek through a less-traveled part of the Grand Canyon. Great vistas and waterfalls. You spend a good amount of time on all levels and the transitions between them. On the esplanade you get a wide view of the canyon and the night stars. I really enjoyed the short hike beside a slot canyon down to the Colorado River on the off day. Strong recommend.

  5. Melinda H

    An amazing adventure through the remote North Rim. WAY west of any part of the Grand Canyon that the average backpacker will ever see. It was the perfect balance of challenging trails and relaxing at waterfalls/the Colorado River.

  6. Claire C.

    Remote and difficult to get to in the spring, but the reward of seeing some of the most incredible waterfalls in the Canyon is definitely worth it! The layover day was appreciated, and provided time to connect with my family who was hiking with me, and take in the wonder. I’ve done Hell For Sure, Trans-Sierra Xtreme Challenge and one other private group trip in the Grand Canyon with TSX. Great addition to the TSX line-up!

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