Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes

Escalante Route

Off-Trail between Tanner Rapid and Hance Rapid

The Route

The route connects the Tanner Trail, by an offtrail route along the river known as the Escalante Route, to the Red Canyon (Hance) Trail to the rim. This route can be traveled in either direction, but water supplies and navigation seem more easily managed going east to west. A quick transit in 3 days is possible for fast hikers familiar with the route, but most hikers will have a better time and see more features of interest in 5 days total from start to exit. The geology of the area is very different from most other parts of the canyon, the terrain is varied, and there are several locations of special interest.

Tanner Trail

The Tanner Trail is somewhat long and entirely dry. It is easy enough to reach the river in a single day, but carry water in reserve for overnight in case of difficulty. There are campsite restrictions to protect the dunes at the beach around the mouth of Tanner Canyon.

Tanner to Unkar

The Escalante Route follows the bank downriver to Cardenas Creek, then climbs away from the river toward the cliff above Unkar Rapid. Cardenas Route connects this area with the Tanner Trail by a direct and very rugged route. An Anasazi ruin, most likely a lookout, is on the apex of a hill above Cardenas Creek. From the cliff above Unkar there is a superb view of the rapids and the ruins on the delta across the river from the cliff. This part of the canyon is very open and lightweight binoculars are useful. There is a very nice beach camp at the head of Unkar Rapid. Although it is possible to follow the riverbank down from Cardenas, this route through the mesquite, along the rocks by the riverbank and then working through the tamarisk, is slow and awkward. To reach the beach camp more directly, follow the trail up the hill and then cross the next drainage, descend passing over the next slope, and go down into the dunes and to the river. There is a good view down on the Unkar area from Lipan Point at the start of the trip.

Unkar to Escalante

The track is indistinct in spots, contours steep slopes (no cliffs), and gives an impressive sense of isolation. The route divides in two and rejoins in the bed, and descends Escalante Canyon. The easier and more obvious route seems to be the one that contours to the west around the slope. The alternate goes up to a break in the Tapeats layer along the top of the ridge (there is a small campsite at the pass through), and then descends a steep field of chunky boulders into the bed of the east fork of Escalante. The east fork is NOT passable and the crossover and descent into the west fork may be obscure. Approaching the river, there is an easy bypass of a huge fall in the lower bed, and there is a large beach at Escalante. Another, completely different approach is to go down the drainage west of the Unkar cliff, along the river, climb over a rock obstacle (not technically difficult, but exposed to the risk of a fall into the river) and then along the riverbank again to the mouth of Escalante Creek.

Escalante to Papago

From Escalante, the route is forced away from the river again by a rising ramp of Shinumo Quartzite. This layer forms a narrow slot with vertical walls in the lower section of Seventyfive-Mile Canyon, and the route contours well into the drainage before a downclimb of a small fall into the bed (lower packs for convenience). The way follows the bed through the narrows back to the river. There are sections of smooth rock going down minor slot falls and spots that could form deep pools but these are typically dry. As the slot canyon opens up to river, there is evidence of past flood hazards where the trees on either side of the creek are buried in aggregate debris. The riverbank here is mostly rock and boulders and not particularly appealing as a place to camp.

The section from Seventyfive-Mile to Papago Creek is divided into two distinct routes. The high track begins just at Seventyfive-Mile and rises along a rocky slope This is rather slow going, staying high until approaching Papago with a steep descent to the riverbank just upriver from the mouth. Unless the water is quite high, an easy way along the bank leads to attractive beach campsites well downriver from Seventyfive-Mile, and continues low along the rocks to Papago Creek; this is the easier way.

From the river it looks almost impossible to get into Papago Canyon, but ledges along either side lead into the lower bed. There are lots of interesting climbs and obstacles to overcome before reaching the base of a huge fall from the quartzite rim.

Papago to Hance

At Papago beach, with low water, you can walk down to the point and look around the corner to the next section of riverbank a few yards away, but there is no connection. To bypass this cliff requires climbing up over several ledges. The ledges are high enough to require passing up packs and using hands and feet, but there is no exposure. After gaining quite a bit of elevation, the route descends a loose-rock chute. This is the only hazardous spot, and it's best to go down one-at-a-time just to be cautious. There is another mile of riverbank boulder-hopping and tammie-whacking to the beach at Hance Rapid.

Red Canyon Trail

The trail out goes up the bed of Red Canyon, and is mostly in good shape and not difficult for an experienced hiker.

Connecting Trails and Routes

From Hance Rapid the Tonto Trail begins and continues west to reach Horseshoe Mesa or the South Kaibab access. From the beach at Tanner Rapid the Beamer Trail goes upriver passing by Palisades Canyon to the confluence with the Little Colorado.


Every night may be spent near the river, or water can be taken from the river for a planned dry-camp. There are no springs, so the river is the only water source, and that means pumps are of questionable value. The section from Unkar to Escalante is the longest away from the river and may be hot in warm weather.


Not really difficult or dangerous, but very isolated. The route is indistinct in many places, is not shown on the USGS maps, and requires some routefinding skills.


A good introduction to offtrail Canyon hiking. Great views, interesting terrain and geology; things to explore.


A somewhat isolated section of Tonto Platform (where there is no track or trail in this part) is found overlaying the Supergroup geologic structure between Seventyfive-Mile and Red Canyon. A number of interesting, short, off-trail routes connect the established route along the river corridor with the area between the river and canyon rim. Routes exist up Seventfive-Mile Creek (with a connection known to reach the Tanner trail at the head of Seventyfive-Mile) and also upslope to the west from the inside of a bend in the narrows. The short arm of Papago goes through to a difficult but nearly safe climb up to the Shinumo terrace (connects upriver with Seventyfive-Mile), and climbers have passed up from there all the way to the rim. But routes to the rim between the Tanner Trail access at Lipan Point and the trailhead at Red Canyon involve advanced route-finding and a lot of off-trail exploration and climbing. The slope west from below the Redwall in Red Canyon also goes up onto the Tonto and offers a connection with these other routes. Most of these routes will require a taste for climbs and scrambles and the challenge of seeking a way. Notes on the attractions and features of these places can be viewed at: Cardenas Route, Seventyfive-Mile Canyon, Papago Canyon, and Red Canyon.

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