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Bass/Boucher Loop Hike - Grand Canyon National Park

Summary: A four day backpacking trip loop hike through a less visited section of the Grand Canyon (note: some may want to take more time to complete this hike and add in some exploration on the side).   Call the Park Service for water availability before beginning your hike.
Directions: From Flagstaff follow US 180 northwest until you reach the cheesy Flintstone town of Bedrock.  Turn north (right) onto Highway 64 (which is also 180) and follow it to the south entrance of the Grand Canyon.
Note: When I performed this hike, I parked at the Waldron Trailhead. I have recently received reports that the Park Service no longer allows people to drive all the way out to Waldron or Dripping Spring. Check with the Backcountry Ranger Office before beginning your hike. This policy may have eliminated the option of doing this hike with a single vehicle.
The following roads may be found on the Trails Illustrated - Grand Canyon National Park map (note: these roads become quite muddy when wet and may be impassible after a storm).  From the  the Bright Angel Trailhead follow the West Rim Drive one quarter mile then turn left onto Rowe Well Rd (note: the West Rim Drive is not open to passenger cars during the summer months - it would be too hot to perform this hike anyway).  Drive 2.4 miles along Rowe well, along the way the road becomes dirt and crosses the railroad tracks twice.  Turn right at a small gazebo located on the right hand side and follow this road 0.5 miles until you see a fainter dirt road coming in from the right hand side.  Turn right at this road and follow it 0.5 miles (if you go straight {or left} you will come to a barricade just beyond which are a couple waste water treatment lagoons) to a 4-way intersection.  The road which crosses the one you are on is closed to vehicle traffic, so continue straight at this intersection.  The road becomes somewhat rougher at this point, continue on for an additional 2 miles until you see the sign for the Waldron Trail on the right hand side.  Parking is available 50 feet back up the road on the right side.
Road Conditions: Four Wheel Drive Vehicle - some fairly rough roads, may be impassible when wet
Navigation: Moderate - the Tonto Trail is very faint and hard to follow in places, however you can't get very far off track along the Tonto Plateau.
Length: ~57 miles
Day 1: 15 miles
Day 2: 12.6 miles
Day 3: 18 miles
Day 4: 11.5 miles
Date Hiked: February, 2000
Weather Conditions: Cold on the rim, cool with periodic drizzle in the Canyon
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Day 1 - Waldron Trailhead to South Bass Trailhead: Sort of a tedious road walk to begin this trip, but it's easy and flat - a car shuttle would enable you to avoid this portion and cut a day off this hike.   From the car park at the Waldron Trailhead begin walking along the road past the trail sign.  After a short distance you will come to a 'T' intersection with a very straight road (the same one closed to vehicles that you crossed earlier).  Turn right onto this road and walk to the end, ignoring any roads that branch to the left or right along the way (about a 10 mile hike).  At the end of the road you will come to the Pasture Wash Ranger Station, turn right onto this dirt road and hike the final 3.6 miles to the South Bass Trailhead, once again ignoring any side roads.  Enjoy the view and set up camp.

Day 2 - South Bass Trailhead to as far as you get on the Tonto Plateau: Follow the South Bass Trail down into the Canyon.  The trail is easy to follow as it descends through the upper portion of the canyon (several Indian ruins may be seen on the canyon walls to the right as you descend).  When you reach the Esplanade (as evidenced by the red rocky sandstone) the trail becomes less distinct, but cairns mark the way (stay right where you see stones marking a branch in the path).  The trail follows the Esplanade for about a mile then begins descending steeply into the break formed by Bass Creek.  The trail then follows Bass Creek on one side or the other down the drainage.  As you continue down the canyon you will first see large cairns on the left marking the Tonto Trail heading west then a few minutes later cairns on the right which mark the Tonto Trail heading east, turn right on the latter.  You are now on the Tonto Trail which, for the most part, sits atop the Bright Angel Shale.  After a few hours of hiking you will become used to it's idiosynchracies.  The trail typically winds around a flat section along the Tonto Plateau cuts in at a drainage where the trail then becomes quite rocky, drops into a drainage and climbs steeply out again - then repeats the process.   The trail is very faint in places, but cairns mark the way fairly well (besides it's hard to get lost with a sheer drop off to the Colorado to the left and an unclimbable wall to the right).  The first major drainage you will come to is Serpentine Canyon which had running water when the author was there.  The next two drainages are unnamed.  The fourth drainage is Ruby Canyon, which contained a few pot holes with water.  The author hiked for another hour after crossing Ruby and made camp on the Le Conte Plateau.  Total walk time was 9 1/2 hours with a distance of ~12 miles (either because of time wasted site seeing or the difficulty of the decent or that the mileage provided by the Park Service was off, it seemed to take longer to cover this distance than it should have - go figure).

Day 3 - Tonto Plateau to Boucher Creek: This hike is a continuation of the second half of day 2.  You will continue east along the Tonto Trail going in and out of several major drainages in succession.   Canyons crossed along the way are (in order): Turquoise, Sapphire, Agate, Slate and finally Boucher.  When the author performed this hike (during a particularly dry winter) water was available in Sapphire Canyon, the others were dry.  The trail is mostly flat except for the sections where you are descending or climbing out of a drainage (most of the time) and ranges from the smooth, soft shale of the Bright Angel formation to rocky break down as you enter and exit canyons.  After your decent into Boucher Creek (water available year round) you can either camp near the stream or follow the creek down to the Colorado and camp on the beach.  To camp at the creek, head upstream a ways until you see cairns on the left hand side and the continuation of the Tonto Trail.   There are several good campsites in the vicinity.  Total walk time was 10 hours with a distance of ~18 miles traveled.

Day 4 - Boucher Creek to Waldron Trailhead: From Boucher Creek, follow the cairns steeply up out of the stream bed.   At the cairned intersection with the Tonto Trail bear right and continue on the Boucher Trail.  The trail climbs (very) steeply up through some breakdown in   the muav, temple butte and redwall limestones to top out at a saddle below Whites Butte.  After rounding a corner the trail again ascends steeply this time through the red Supai formation.  From here you will walk the next several miles on top of the Supai group.  This section of trail is quite exciting and one of the best hikes around with perilous drop offs to your left, sheer walls to your right and some spectacular views into the Canyon.  After a while you will enter a drainage and arrive at an intersection with the Dripping Springs Trail, continue left on Boucher.   After some more strolling you will come to the intersection with the Hermit Trail.   Turn right onto the Hermit which you will follow up a steep section for a short ways before turning right onto the signed Waldron Trail.  Follow the somewhat overgrown Waldron Trail through a nice level area before beginning your steep climb once again.  This section of trail is a nice change from most of the other rocky, dusty highways through the upper layers of the Canyon.  It is a narrow dirt/gravel footpath which switchbacks it's way up through a forested drainage.  Once you reach what you think is the top, there is another short climb, then follow the drainage left a short ways back to the Waldron Trailhead and your vehicle.  Total walk time was 7 hours with a distance of ~11.5 miles (estimated, I haven't found actual mileage for the Waldron Trail).

Rating (1-5 stars):
This hike is a great way to see a good chunk of the Canyon without having to share it with anyone else.  It offers a good introduction to some of the more remote areas without too much risk.  There are no routes to the river between Bass and Boucher, however, so carry plenty of water and check with the Backcountry Office for water availability before your trip.  One drawback is that the Hermit corridor is the main flight path for the scenic overflight businesses - low clouds will prevent these flights and preserve the silence of the Canyon (it's not often that you actually hope for rain during a hike).  When the author and his wife performed this hike, weather was cloudy with occasional drizzle.  A complete downpour the last night at camp caused Boucher to roar and send rocks crashing against each other below our camp.  We passed only one other person the entire time and that was on the way out the last day.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Grand Canyon National Park
Books: 'Hiking the Grand Canyon', John Annerino (Sierra Club Totebook)
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Heading down the South Bass Trail. View from the South Bass Trail.
Typical view along the Tonto Plateau. Sunrise on day 2.