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South Canyon - Grand Canyon National Park

Summary: A nice north rim hike to a spring, cave and ruins.
Directions: From Flagstaff drive north on Highway 89.  Turn left on Highway 89A towards Jacob Lake.  Between mile posts 559 & 560, turn left onto House Rock Buffalo Ranch Road (Road #8910, there is also a sign for South Canyon). Follow this well graded dirt road for 19 miles then turn left onto Road #632 (also signed for South Canyon).  After 1.5 miles turn right (before reaching the ranch) following the sign for the canyon once again.  Go through the gate and park in the area provided.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car - well graded dirt roads
Navigation: Easy
Length: ~12.5 miles
Date Hiked: November, 2000
Weather Conditions: Nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the trail head descend a little past the info signs, duck under the barb wire fence then begin descending very steeply into the canyon.  This trail is not maintained and requires the use of hands in a few places to get down.  When you reach a small bench with an overlook into the canyon the trail bends right and continues steeply down the breakdown.  Once in the canyon bottom, the route proceeds down canyon.  There are cairns marking the way and some good sections of hiker made trails on one side of the canyon or the other.  In the bottom end of the canyon you will have a choice of proceeding through the narrows, or following the trail to the left up and around this section.  The narrow section contains 7 drop offs and presents a challenge to complete, see below for a description of this route.  On the hiker trail, just before reaching the river a use trail branches right.  This trail leads up to a small indian ruin and an arch (neither are particularly impressive).  Once at the Colorado, turn right and hike down river, on the rock wall to the right and you will see the gated Stanton Cave.  The cave is an archeological site in which split figurines 3000-4000 years old were found as well as animal bones dating back even further.  The cave was gated for protection.  Further down river you will come to Vassey's Paradise, a large spring that is gushing from the canyon wall.  This marks the turn around point for your hike, return the way you came.

Lower Narrows: Be aware that this section is quite challenging and may not be for everyone.  In addition, this route can change with the next rain storm and this description may not be valid.  There are 7 choke stone drop offs that must be climbed to get all the way through and at least one pool to wade.  The largest of these drop offs is approximately 15 feet and the climbs become progressively more difficult as you head down canyon.  If you are descending, you will have to lower your pack, then yourself and slide, then jump to get down the choke stones.  An ankle injury is a definite possibility with this option.  A rope may make your descent safer.  If you are heading up canyon, you will be presented with the most difficult climbs first.  If you can make it up the first two, the others won't be a problem.  Having someone along with you to provide a boost may make the ascent easier. 

Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife hiked down canyon, taking the hiker route around the narrows.  At the river they looked at the ruins, arch, cave then ate lunch below the spring.  On the return trip the author went up the narrows solo, while his wife went around on the trail.  He made it up the first climb with some difficulty, used a dead log as a step to get up the second and had no trouble with the other ascents.  He took off his shoes to wade one pool.  The hike was completed in 8.5 hours. 
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Grand Canyon National Park
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
South Canyon. View near the Colorado. Vassey's Paradise.