Thunder River



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 experience is all inclusive, easy to join, and open to fit and motivated individuals of all ages and experience levels.

The Thunder River is the second trip introduced as part of our Grand Canyon Limited Edition experiences (2023). Our Limited Edition trips are extended backpacking experiences on routes that will change each year, so that every year will we 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. Priority access for the limited number of spots each year will go past Limited Edition participants.

What’s included

  • Guided week-long trek through remote Grand Canyon terrain
  • Opportunity to extensively explore remote Grand Canyon trails, side canyons, historical sites and beaches
  • 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). Routes utilized on our experiences include the Thunder River, Deer Creek, and Indian Hollow trails. 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.

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.

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 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.

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.


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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