Thunder River



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

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We are excited to introduce our 2023 Grand Canyon Limited Edition Challenge experience, Thunder River! Our Limited Edition trips are extended backpacking experiences on routes that will change each year, so that every year we will be covering a completely different part of the Grand Canyon's trail system. Over the course of several years we will cover the entire Grand Canyon trail system.

In 2023, we'll be heading to an incredibly remote and difficult to access section of the North Rim with two epic five-night, six-day treks to Thunder River (April 8 - 13, Oct 6 - 11). 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 venture through some of the canyon’s oldest rock layers and travel along slickrock and winding slots while following the natural curves created by the forces wind and water throughout time. This guided TSX Grand Canyon Limited Edition experience is all inclusive, easy to join, and open to fit and motivated individuals of all ages and experience levels. Just bring your personal items, positive attitude, and be ready for an experience that can inspire for a lifetime.

What’s included

  • Guided five-night, six-day loop-trek on Grand Canyon's Thunder River and Deer Creek trails
  • Opportunity to extensively explore remote Grand Canyon trails, side canyons and waterfalls
  • Roundtrip transportation between Flagstaff and your trailhead
  • Personalized pack-check prior to departure
  • All meals and snacks while in the back-country
  • Group gear and equipment
  • Priority access to future Limited Edition experiences
  • Backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pad if needed
  • Inspiration for a lifetime
  • Flexible cancellation policy

What’s not included

  • Meals in the front-country
  • Lodging in the front-country, pre- or post-trek

How it works

A $475 deposit is required upon registration with balance due 60 days prior to event. Treks 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. Cancel up until the day of the trip without the risk of lost money; see our amended COVID-19 cancellation policy for details.

Thunder River photo credit: John Strother

Gear Checklist


This 2023 Grand Canyon Limited Edition Challenge experience will traverse remote and rugged North Rim inner-canyon terrain utilizing the Deer Creek / Thunder River trails. Final group size, as well as permit allowances, could result in some variation on which specific locations will be utilized for camp each night. Please note mileage is not indicative of difficulty! While the exact distance, camp locations, and direction of each trek may vary, here is a representative itinerary.

Pre and post-trip hotel accommodations are not provided. Once your trek dates are finalized, secure a lodging reservation as soon as possible (skip to logistics).

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.

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.

Thunder River TSX Challenge

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.

Traversing Trail between Deer Creek and Thunder 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 falls and the enchanting Tapeats 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.

Returning to North Rim from Thunder River

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 on the 1st of the month, four months in advance, and are notified by the park service of our exact permit dates within two weeks. You’ll receive an email from us as soon as the trek dates for your week are confirmed. At that time, you can start making plans for transportation and pre-trek/post-trek accommodations.

Pre and post-trip accommodations: Once your Grand Canyon Challenge trek dates are finalized, secure a lodging reservation in Flagstaff, AZ as soon as possible. You can request a TSX “corporate rate” at Little America Hotel ( / 800.865.1401) in Flagstaff where we’ll be having our pre-trek orientation, and where we will meet the morning of our hike (prices typically $125-$175 with discount). The nearby hotels on Lucky Drive are also a popular option within walking distance (prices typically $75-$105).  If you plan on staying somewhere else, that is ok with us! Just let us know where you end up and we’ll do our best to accommodate.

Transportation: 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 renting a car or taking a shuttle to Flagstaff. Reserve your shuttle spot in advance with Groome Transportation ( 928.350.8466) or you may be able arrange customized shuttle service with Uber or Lyft.

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 12pm and 2pm on the last day of the trek. However, the last requires a long 5 hour drive back. Please plan your return transportation accordingly. If flying out of Flagstaff on the same day, we suggest scheduling flights for departure no earlier than 8:00pm. Staying one additional night in Flagstaff, and departing the following day will be the safest option to ensure a smooth connection.


Joining a TSX experience is easy. Don’t own a backpack or tent? Not a problem. We provide backpacks, tents and sleeping pads for those who need them, at no additional charge. We also take care of all group items like pots, stoves, food, food storage, water filters, first aid and more. Your guides will do the cooking and dishes. Just show up with your boots and personal items, ready to hike!

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