Hiking Thunder Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is one of the world's seven wonders, and the North Rim is its most remote destination.
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Thunder Spring Falls. Photo by Whit Richardson

Thunder Spring Falls. Photo by Whit Richardson

(This hike is about 8 miles)

The Grand Canyon is one of the world's seven wonders, and the North Rim is its most remote destination. Taking Bill Hall Trail from Monument Point, begin a 5,000-foot descent down the North Rim toward the Colorado River and at-large camping near Tapeats Creek.

A thousand feet above South Rim, the North Rim has much cooler temperatures and somewhat unpredictable weather patterns. Snow, hail, freezing rain, torrential downpours, and 90-plus degree heat can occur within in minutes of each other. Two billion years of wind, storms, stream and river erosion have formed mushroom-shaped rock formations, red walls, and far-reaching canyons full of cacti, flowers and shrubs.

The roaring waters of Thunder River Falls, one of the tougher ascents on this 8-miler, pour out of a cave's mouth near the campsite. The weather may be variable, but the experience is well worth packing some extra rain gear.

If you need a detailed map to help you plan and visualize where you want to go, you can buy one of three Grand Canyon maps made by Trails Illustrated at REI.com

*Mapped by Heidi Sackreuter

To Trailhead:

Start This hike is located on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From Las Vegas, take I-15 east to the Hurricane, Utah, exit about 5 miles east of St. George. 

Go East on US 9 through Hurricane, then south on SR 59, which becomes SR 389 once the border with Arizona is crossed. At Fredonia, Ariz., take US 89 south and turn right on Forest Service Road 22, about two miles south of Fredonia. FSR 22 is unpaved the last 20 miles to the trailhead. At the junction with Forest Service Road 245, turn right and continue to Monument Point parking area.

Directions + Waypoints: helping you find your way

Thunder Canyon
Distance 7.97 mi
Position Format: Datum:

Point Name: THR001: Trailhead: Monument Point marks the start of the Bill Hall Trail and the end of the journey on the way back. Bill Hall follows the North Rim westward for about .5 mile. Many large junipers line the trail, with Indian paintbrush, globe mallow, agave and prickly pear cacti adding myriad colors to the landscape. Location: 36.43468, -112.42999

Point Name: THR002: Go left @ T-intersection, following the trail as it plunges downward. There is extreme exposure for the first .25 mile of descent, then trail flattens out and traverses a cliff to a 15-foot sandstone diagonal ledge that has many hand holds. The trail then switchbacks to the Esplanade, a plateau of slick rock sandstone and formations halfway between the Rim and the canyon floor.

Option B: To make the descent easy on yourself, lower your pack by rope. In late spring and early summer, rain can swathe the inner canyon, preceded by gusty winds. Your descent also can be accompanied by snowflakes if the temperature drops under the cloud cover.

Location: 36.43096, -112.43964
Point Name: THR003: Look for a possible water cache site in large boulders alongside the trail at the top of Esplanade. Location: 36.43186, -112.44896

Point Name: THR004: Stay left @ T-intersection. Turning right on the spur trail will bring you back toward the Thunder River trailhead. Location: 36.43053, -112.45038

Point Name: THR005: Stay left @ Y-junction with Thunder River Trail. The trail crosses Esplanade with very little elevation change across the slick rock. You'll discover many possible campsites and water caches. You can encounter freezing rain on Esplanade even into early summer. Sandstone potholes fill with water during rain; filter if using for drinking source. From here, the trail descends about 3 miles on Esplanade along the Supai and Redwall formations: a steep and rocky descent of about 1,800 feet with full southern exposure. Location: 36.42664, -112.45580

Point Name: THR006: Possible campsite on Esplanade. Location: 36.42636, -112.45491

Point Name: THR007: Possible water cache, rest stop, lunch rock or campsite on Esplanade. Location: 36.40794, -112.46883

Point Name: THR008: Bear left @ Y-junction with Deer Creek Trail and descend. If ascending on the way back, stay right. Location: 36.40107, -112.47601

Point Name: THR009: Stay left @ T-intersection and take the spur trail to Deer Creek Trail. This is Surprise Valley. Many blooming agave dot the scenery; rolling hills provide the track to Thunder River about 1.5 miles to the east. Location: 36.39602, -112.47461

Point Name: THR010: View of Thunder River falls: Thousands of gallons of water flow out of a cave halfway down a cliff, cascading into Tapeats Creek and on toward the Colorado River. The narrow trail descends about 1,400 feet through this canyon with the river roaring just below in some spots. Location: 36.39414, -112.45737

Point Name: THR011: Upper Tapeats campsites. Four sites are first-come first-serve but must be reserved five months in advance as the amount of campers per night is restricted by park service. Tapeats Creek flows swiftly in the spring due to the North Rim's snow melt. Exercise caution if crossing to the trail on the east side. Here the temperature can rise to triple digits. The canyon is filled with cat's claw, Acacia, prickly pear cactus, and sage. Cottonwoods grow along the stream bed. Location: 36.39098, -112.45272

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