Backpacking the Grand Canyon North Rim’s Thunder River Loop

What the Grand Canyon is all about


This adventure is a challenging multi-day backpacking trip that gives us a glimpse of what the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon is all about. Endless vistas, gorgeous narrow canyons, slickrock expanses, towering waterfalls, turbulent streams, solitude, and outstanding camping. The Thunder River Trail is the most exciting and breathtaking adventure in the Grand Canyon. A trip is so short a time to absorb the sheer magnitude of it, but the experience and thrill of the trip are worth a lifetime! Backpackers would be rewarded with amazing panoramas of the canyon, the Esplanade’s mushroom rocks, the rumbling waterfalls, the personal fulfillment of seeing the Colorado River up close, and the rockslides that are so immense it changes the course of the river. The scenery just gets better and better the further the trip goes.

Access Route

Get on the FSR 22 (Forest Service Road). The FSR 22, can be accessed from either Highway 67 a couple of miles north of the North Rim entrance station or from Highway 89A a couple of miles east of Fredonia. From FSR 22, get to the junction of FSR 425. To get to the Bill Hall trail at Monument Point, take FSR 425 to FSR 292 then to FSR 292A. For the Indian Hollow trailhead, take FSR 425 to FSR 232. Be reminded that Winter and Spring months access is unreliable. Prior to leaving home, get a North Kaibab National Forest Road map at Kaibab National Forest Service.

The Trip

There are two options in getting to the trailhead of the Thunder River. One, is from Indian hollow that starts directly down the Thunder River trail. This section of the trail was originally intended for stock animals hence it is more gradual in grade. Two, is to start on the Bill Hall Trail at Monument Point. This section is steep and tougher, but it trims offs 2.5 miles, so many backpackers choose this route.

A backpacking trip from the North rim to the Colorado River would take hikers to spectacular sceneries of the canyon. Go past ancient fossil remains, roaring flowing waterfalls, and steep rocky trails. The breathtaking contours of the canyon wall would lead hikers to an amazing campsite overlooking the inner canyon. These spectacular formations are billions of years of geological history.

Take an opportunity to explore one of the most remote and pristine parts of the region and cool off in its sparkling pools in the magical Thunder River area. Discover more of the trail further by hiking to Deer Creek, considered to be the most beautiful spot in the canyon. Experienced hikers would reveal the physical demands of this trip, exhausted but exhilarated.

3 Thunder River Backpacking Trips

A backpacker’s dream is to spend a night below the rim on a backpacking trip at Deer Creek or Tapeats Creek. This is the best trail for backpacking in the entire Grand Canyon. And getting to spend multiple days soaking in the magic of the canyon is an experience you will never forget in a lifetime.

Listed below are the best backpacking locations along the Thunder River trail.





Tapeats Creek

22.8 mi


Use Area AY9
Use Area AW8

Deer Creek

19 mi


Use Area AY9
Use Area AX7

Tapeats Creek/ Deer Creek Loop

21.5 mi


Use Area AY9
Use Area AW8
Use Area AX7

1. The Tapeats Creek Trail

Begin at either the Indian Hollow trailhead or skip the first 2.5 miles and begin at the steeper Bill Hall trail at Monument Point. Each takes you to the Thunder River trail. After the junction of the Bill Hall and Thunder River trails, hike 2 more miles to the Esplanade. Here, you can camp for the night, sleeping beneath the stars, and amongst the mushroom-shaped boulders.

The next morning, you will make your way to Redwalls and at this point, you can look down into the guts of what’s yet to come. Descend to Surprise Valley and follow the cairns for Bonita Creek– which has dried up. It is infamously hot in Surprise Canyon, so try to hike this in the early morning. Look for a large cairn that marks a fork in the trail and take the trail east to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek. This will lead you to Thunder River, where you can swim, filter water, etc. When ready to leave Thunder River, the trail will weave along Tapeats Creek to a designated campsite at the Colorado River. On the third morning, wake early, and begin your uphill hike back to the trailhead. Camp at either Surprise Valley or back at the Esplanade if you need one more night in the canyon.

2. Deer Creek (3 Days)

Again, begin at either trailhead; both will take you to the Thunder River trail. It is 4.5 steeply descended miles to the Esplanade, which is a great spot to camp the first night. Wake early the second morning, as you will be hiking through the infamously hot Surprise Valley. Be alert for a large cairn that marks the junction for the Deer Creek trail. The trail to Deer Creek is rocky, loose, and exposed as you hike around to the arm of the creek. Deer Spring provides a lovely break, and you can rejoice that you are only 20 minutes from camp.

Leave your pack at camp, and head downstream, through “The Patio” to the Narrows. Carved through the tough Tapeats Sandstone, the Narrows are truly mesmerizing and lead to the Colorado River and the most impressive waterfall in the canyon. Spend as much time in this enchanting place as you can before heading back to camp for the night. The last morning, wake early and try to beat the heat as you make your way back up to the trailhead.

3. Tapeats Creek/ Deer Creek Loop (4 Days)

To truly experience it all on the Thunder River trail, you can combine Tapeats Creek and Deer Creek. Read the above description for how to get to Tapeats Creek. On the third morning, follow the path that traverses the Colorado River north to Deer Creek. The trail goes up and down, from beach to cliff, and after 3 strenuous miles, you will reach Deer Creek. Let yourself be engulfed in the majesty and wonder of the creek, the narrows, and the waterfall here. Camp at the designated campsite under the Cottonwood trees. On the fourth morning, wake early, and start your way back to the junction at Surprise Valley where you will take the Thunder River trail back to the trailhead.



  • 3-6 liters of water (more in summer)
  • Salty, calorie-rich snacks
  • lunch
  • backpack
  • trekking poles
  • crampons (in winter)
  • wide-brimmed hat
  • sunscreen, sunglasses
  • non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
  • rain jacket
  • warm non-cotton layer (women/men's)
  • 1st-aid kit



  • all items listed for day hikes PLUS
  • multi-day backpack
  • 3-season tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping pad
  • water filter
  • backpacking stove and fuel
  • backpacking meals
  • 3 pairs of wool socks
  • extra t-shirts



We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails are a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No Trace Principles

If you are looking for adventure and want to be impressed by the beauty of the Grand Canyon, this is the trail for you.