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 (flagstaff.littleamerica.com / 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 (groometransportation.com 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.
WHAT YOU’LL NEEED
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!