Sixtymile - Grand Canyon Notes
A Grand Canyon Explorer's Essential Maps

In detailing the first major technical survey of the area, F.E. Matthes and R.T. Evans characterized the extreme difficulty in a 1926 concluding summary: "It is a broad and complex chasm that encloses within its walls an immense area of bold and intricate and, in places, almost labyrinthine scupture." The physical limitations of this initial survey can be found in the qualification "almost". The survey team was unable to venture very far into the Canyon and completed most of the survey from observation points along the rim and some vantage points accessible by trail. The inner regions of Grand Canyon are truly "labyrinthine" and no map in existense to this date has successfully respresented the complexity of the place. The usefulness of any map for nagivation, other than locating and following established trails, is actually quite limited.

USGS: The best maps are the new United States Geographic Survey 7.5min survey, but you will have to buy a lot of them to have a complete set. The detailed contours and up-to-date trails and springs of these maps are essential. Hiking, I carry the 7.5min maps cut in half and rolled to go into a tube; I never fold a map. These can also be obtained on CD with the additional advantage that you can print your own maps of just the sections that you want.

The outdated USGS 15min surveys from the 1950s are still available and, although many trails have migrated or even disappeared, these maps are still essential for reference because many locators (elevations and labels) given by Butchart and Steck are found only on these maps. It's not uncommon, for example, to find a reference like " can come down into the nameless ravine where the name "Asbestos" begins on the map." Or "...a break in the Coconino south of the elevation number 7994." In these cases it is important to have a copy of the correct survey and edition. The map "Grand Canyon National Park and Vicinity" is a composite of the 15min survey and has most of the marks required to match the "Treks" books.

Matthes-Evans: This was the first technical survey of the Grand Canyon and was done sometime around 1900. A map set of the Matthes-Evans survey will be necessary to resolve some of the references in Butchart's "Treks" books. But a set of these maps in this time is a genuine antique and usually not essential.

Geologic Map: Likewise, if you are serious about the Grand Canyon you absolutely must have the color-coded geologic composite map from the Museum of Northern Arizona. Geology has a profound influence on Grand Canyon travel by foot. This map covers exactly the same area as "Grand Canyon National Park and Vicinity." Faults are indicators for breaks in cliffs. Accessible ramps exist where layers are tilted. Certain rock types are considered "friendly" and others "hostile" (see About Grand Canyon Rocks). It's not a useful trail map because the colors and geologic markings obscure the fine detail.

Trails Illustrated: This map is also based on the older 15min survey, but the trails and routes are updated and it includes all of Marble Canyon upriver from the traditional park boundary, and somewhat downriver from Havasu. This map has sufficient detail for most purposes and is, without question, the one most widely carried by Grand Canyon hikers. There is a 2000 updated version now available. It has quite a number of useful features, including showing the backcountry use areas, regulations and restricted areas, and designated campsites. It also has the river mile-markers from Lees Ferry, but they are not in complete accordance with other sources such as the Larry Stevens river-runner guide or the Hamblin and Rigby geologic guide. The way these mile-markers are used, it's more important that they should be consistent than a perfect measurement of the distance downriver from Lees Ferry. Unfortunately, there seems to be no official source that we can take over any other.

You should be aware that many maps are not completely accurate. The Trails Illustrated map published before the National Geographic partnership (hiking routes in red) was really bad. Errors exist in a few of the NPS handouts as well. Parts of some routes in George Steck's "Loops" books are off a little, but the "Loops" books are of the very few that include any useful maps at all. I can even document errors on a few USGS maps! You don't believe me? Good!! On the other hand, I have always found the written route descriptions in the guidebooks listed in Essential Books to be perfectly reliable when properly interpreted. That said, proper interpretation is not that easy even for the experienced hiker, but the Grand Canyon Glossary may help.


Catalog of Places - Trips - Routes - Notes