DISTANCE
30.6 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
8,772 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

backpacking

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

views

rocky

no shade

no dogs

backpacking
6 months ago

I’d always wanted to take this trail after visiting the Phantom Ranch area on my first backpacking trip to Grand Canyon. The lure of that trail taking off across the north Tonto platform excited my imagination. Where did it lead? What was at the other end?

I took a solo trip of five days in January to find out. I’m going to skip the corridor portion of this hike, since it’s so well known.

If you’re looking for solitude without having to drive to a remote trailhead, Clear Creek is a good choice. Once you depart Phantom Ranch, you’ll see few people. And once you reach the Tonto, you might be lucky enough to find yourself totally alone for a couple of days.

Depending on the time of day, you’ll experience different hikes. For me, departing my camp just past the cairns as the sun was coming up, I walked alternately through sun and shade, rising and falling with the contouring trail as it moved into and out of washes and canyons.

Throughout my walk, I experienced exceptional views of Grand Canyon’s prominences surrounding me, and of the Colorado river below. Yucca and cactus of several species dot the landscape. Along the way, an eight point buck passed on the slope above me.

The route rises overall until it reaches the bright orange Hakatai shale above Clear Creek, where the trail narrows to sometimes as little as four boots wide, and begins a 600’ descent into Clear Creek Canyon. This section of the trail is filled with loose, broken bits of rock, and though not excessively dangerous, should be taken with care.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, I reached a trickle of a drainage that feeds Clear Creek. The trail was a little difficult to find, and may actually have been washed out, but following the creek leads to several obvious campsites. There were no food storage boxes, but there is a primitive toilet.

Several of the campsites are near the creek itself. The water is clean and cool (but make sure you treat your drinking water). The sound is relaxing, and makes for a wonderful stay.

Clear Creek can be windy place. The air races up and down the canyon, trying to equalize pressure. Plan ahead and make sure you have enough guy line for your tent.

Leaving the canyon, I faced the climb up the switchbacks, but was clear of them in 45 minutes. In another three hours, I had covered the remaining ~6 miles back to the cairns. It was way too early to make camp, and I continued another hour down to the Bright Angel ranger station where I secured a site at the campground.

This is a trail I’ll definitely return to do again, planning on spending an extra day or so at Clear Creek to explore Cheyava Falls up creek, or the drainage into the Colorado river below.