South Bass Trail

HARD 5 reviews
#37 of 93 trails in

South Bass Trail is a 12.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Grand Canyon, Arizona that features a river and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until October.

12.2 miles
4,366 feet
Out & Back




nature trips

trail running







no dogs

This is a strenuous, 15.6-mile (round-trip), remote, non-corridor hike in Grand Canyon National Park. Camping here is at large, as there are no established sites below the rim. There is also no water at the trailhead--not until you get to the Colorado River more than 4,400 vertical feet below and 7.8 trail miles later.

1 month ago

This is a breathtaking way to experience the Canyon and miss all the crowds, but you're going to have to work for it. A wisely operated high-clearance, two-wheel drive vehicle can make access to the trailhead. Plan on spending two hours + or - 30 minutes on the dirt road heading out and back. Six hours down and seven to eight coming out are reasonable time estimates for fit, experienced backpackers with base pack weights of less than 20 lbs without water. As noted elsewhere, cache water on the Esplenade, (Immediately before dropping down toward Bass Canyon is a great place.) One gallon per person will get you back to the trailhead in hot conditions. We did this hike with daytime highs on the river of 100 degrees and are Phoenix heat-acclimated. I would NOT recommend doing this hike in 80+ degree river temps if you are not used to hiking all day in the heat, as you will find no shade during most of the day. When you get first sight of the river on the way down, start looking for an old fireplace ruin on the left side of the trail. When you reach it, turn right and drop steeply down to the river. There are several beach sites to choose from for camping. Mind the ants and the cold water, and guy out your tent to keep it from blowing into the river. 5 AM is a fine time to start heading back out if you're expecting heat. The last two hours of the hike in are the hardest of this trip. If you can make it down, you can make it out. The load on your feet and legs will feel different going uphill compared to down. Trekking poles and a light-as-you-can make it pack are a must. A practical trip plan might be to drive in and hike down to the Esplanade on the first day, hike to and camp at the river on the second day, then hike out and drive home or camp at the trailhead on the third day. Breaking up the descent would take a lot of stress off of your knees and eliminate any question of ability to make it to the river in one day. For reference: We're in our mid-40's, are reasonably fit and have a lot of backcountry experience. This hike is not for unguided beginners.

The bomb!!

2 months ago

Did this hike at the end of April. Road getting out was pretty serious. Definitely need some ground clearance. We were expecting to pay $25 bucks to on the Havasupai reservation but nobody was at the gate so we just went through. Great views at the trailhead. As should be expected, the trail is steep with lots of loose rock. Very easy to slip. Took 4 liters going down and cached 2 at the edge of the esplanade. Also had a filter to refill at the river. We camped at the river on a nice little beach. Had packed an inflatable raft to cross to the north side which we did (had to put in about a 1/4 mile down river to avoid some rapids). Explored the north side a bit before heading up river and crossing back to the south. My garmin recorded almost 8 miles to the river. Left at 4am to hike out and caught sun on the first climb and the esplanade. Lots of good shade on the second climb. It was a good hike with great views. I think it took us 3-4 hr going down and 6-7 going up (with an hour break at the esplanade).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Really steep in places but I loved the trail! I would do it again. Just make sure that one of the group members knows how to backpack and you should be fine!

Monday, January 11, 2010

This is, so far, my favorite hike in Grand Canyon. The tricky part is getting to (and from) the trailhead, which involves a long drive on unpaved Forest Service, Reservation, and National Park roads (with a $25 fee required at the gate to the 1.8 miles of road through the Rez), which can be impassable in winter and wet weather. The hike, though, is just amazing, with great camping at the trailhead (no water or bathrooms), on the Esplanade--a good place to cache water for the return hike--and along the Colorado River. The descent through the Redwall is spectacular, and Bass Canyon offers lifesaving shade during the intense heat of summer.

Be sure to obtain a backcountry permit before doing this hike. I'd recommend carrying at least two gallons of water per person for the descent and caching one (or more) of those--again, per person--on the Esplanade. I'd also take a filter to obtain water from the Colorado River for the hike out, and bring a bandanna or some other method of pre-straining the water to remove silt.

You can see my full trip report, along with photos and information about accessing the trail, at