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Thunder River and Deer Creek

Weary hikers at Thunder River
elevation plot: Deer creek to Bill Hall Trailhead
Elevation plot: Bill Hall trailhead to Upper Tapeats camp
Elevation plot: Upper Tapeats camp to Deek creek via the river route
map: Thunder River-Deer Creek
Swimming in Tapeats creek
Turkey hogging the Thunder River trail
Views of Deer creek falls
Hiker on the trail to Thunder river
Scrambling on the Thunder river trail


How to Get There
This hike is located North of the Grand Canyon.

Take HWY 67 South from Jacobs Lake, AZ. Turn west (Right) on FR22 and zero your odometer. After 2.1 miles, go straight to stay on FR22. After 10.3 miles, turn right to stay on FR22. After 17.4 miles, turn left onto FR425. After 25.1 miles, turn left to stay on FR425. After 27.4 miles, turn right to take FR292. After 27.6 miles, turn right to stay on FR292. After 28.9 miles, go straight to take FR292A which will take you all the way to the start of the trailhead (odometer reading 30.5 miles when you reach the Bill Hall trailhead). The Forest Roads are are in decent shape and usually do not need 4 wheel drive to take. A high clearance vehicle would be helpful in spots. Since the opening of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is not until mid May, depending on snows, HWY 67 may not be open until June. This road closes at the first heavy snowfall (usually November). Buy a good map before trying to find this trailhead.
Jacob Lake
Grand Canyon and Marble Canyon area

Hike details

24.00 [Miles] Total
Hike Distance- Details
From Bill Hall trailhead to Upper Tapeats (Thunder River) Campsite, 9.4 miles
From Upper Tapeats to Colorado River, 2.5 miles
From Colorado River to Deer Creek via the river route, 3.5 miles
From Deer Creek back to the Bill Hall Trailhead, 10.1 miles.
96.00 [Hours]
It took us four days (three nights camping) with the fourth day really just a few hours.
Elevation Change
14,000 Total gain/loss [Feet]
Elevation Loss
5,200 Total Elevation Loss[Feet]
Elevation Details
A monster 5200 ft !
Hike Trail Type
Lollypop Loop
Special Features


Best Season
  • May
  • October
Worst Season
  • June
  • July
  • August
Season Details
May or October. (We went during the first week of May)
Date Hike completed
May 05, 2001


Solitude Details
This is the hike for those of us looking for some privacy. This area of the Grand Canyon is not frequented by many... only the die hard hikers. Expect to meet less than 15 people over the four days of your hiking.


Difficulty Rating
Death March
difficulty detail
I have to be honest. This is a Death March. Tremendous elevation gains and losses, major exposures, some poorly marked trails, even some scrambling... everything a true adventurer needs. This hike is epic.

Leave the kids at home. Don't even mention this hike to Grandma... it would probably give her a heart attack just listening to the description


Permit Info
Backcountry permits from the National Park Service must be acquired prior to this hike. See for details. You can reserve up to three months in advance.
Be Aware of
Outrageous elevation changes, extreme temperature changes. Lack of H2O in spots. Scrambling. exposure. Poorly marked trails. Need a back country permit from Grand Canyon National Park

An epic hike on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park to Thunder river and Deer Creek.


This hike describes a multi-day loop hike from the top of the North Rim, all the way down to the Colorado River, and back up a different route. For an excellent detailed description of this hike, please see Ron Adkinson's book on hiking the Grand Canyon in the Suggested Reading Section.

The hike begins at the Bill Hall Trailhead. Look for the Cairns marking the steep decent from Monument point. We missed these Cairns because we couldn't believe a trail descended from them... but it does. There's a fun down-climb here that you should probably shed your pack for. The Bill Hall trail meets up with the Thunder River Trail (JCT_1L on the map). The hike continues along the Esplanade range. There is no water on the Esplanade and this is where you will most likely want to camp on your final day soSTASH AT LEAST 1 GALLON of H2O per hiker! The hike descends again into Surprise Valley. From Surprise Valley, you meet up at the trail junction between Deer Creek Trail and the Thunder River Trail. Stay left (JCT_2L on the map) and use the Thunder River Trail to descend into Tapeats creek. As you begin your descent into Tapeats creek, you will hear Thunder River. Be sure to fill up your water at Thunder River and spend some time in the cool canyon. We camped at the Upper Tapeats Campground for the first night. (CAMP1 on the map)

The next day we hiked down the Tapeats creek to the Colorado River on the West side of the creek. This hike gains and loses significant elevation, so it's much more strenuous than the 2.5 miles to the river suggests. It's very easy to miss the trail here as well. Fill up your water at the Colorado (treat the H2O) before continuing. At the Colorado, a trail skirts downstream of the river for a bit, walking along the beach, then turns uphill and heads away from the Colorado river and towards Deer Creek Valley. There is no shade on this route, so try hiking it early in the day or late in the evening if the temperatures are high. The trail eventually winds into Deer Creek Valley. We camped here on the second night. (CAMP2 on the map)

The following day, we hiked up to Deer Springs (the spring that feeds Deer Creek) and filled up all the H2O we could. Don't miss the creek crossing (CROSS CREEK HERE on the map) when you make the right turn to the spring. We then continued the killer climb up to our cached water on the Esplanade. There's not much shade in Surprise Valley and the Esplanade, so if you find your hiking either in the middle of the day, find some shade and wait it out until the sun dips down and temperatures drop.  We eventually found our water cache and camped here the third night.

The following day was a quick ascent to the summit, parked cars, showers at the North Rim, and one amazing memory.


When we hiked this, we made several mistakes:

* We took along a hiker that did not have Grand Canyon hiking experience. They bought new shoes a few days before the hike, packed way too much crap, and slowed down the entire group. Experienced Grand Canyon hikers on this hike only!

* Some of us did not stash enough water at the Esplanade and were forced to continue the hike out to reach water. Stash at least 1 gallon per person!

* The weather was unseasonably hot and we drank much more water than we predicted.Bring enough water and check the weather!

* We got a very late start (10am) on the trail for the first two days and it really took it's toll on us as we ended up hiking in the heat of the day. Some of the rocks were hot to the touch, which made scrambling that much more painful. Hike early and late!

* We lost the trail between Deer Creek and Surprise valley and it cost us a good hour of hiking in the wrong direction that we could ill afford. Bring a topo map!

As expert hikers, we should know better. Don't make the same mistakes we did.


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