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4 hikes you MUST do on your Grand Canyon rafting trip

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

It’s been 2 1/2 months since returning from my Grand Canyon rafting expedition and I still haven’t been able to shake the images of the towering walls and powerful rapids from my mind. It’s like the memories have been engraved in the back of my eyelids— every time I close my eyes I’m reminded of that beautiful river.

The images that stick out most prominently in my mind are the side hikes. I’ve done some serious hiking in my days, through spectacular terrain, but nothing can quite compare to the canyon. These short ventures off the river were magical, challenging, and absolutely stunning.

If you want to fully absorb the spirit and essence of the Colorado River, you absolutely MUST go on as many hikes as your weary legs will allow. And if they only allow 4 hikes… these are the 4 that you definitely have to do.

SILVER GROTTO, river mile 31

Difficulty: Moderate/strenuous, 0.5 miles; 2 hours round-trip.

Gear: Throw rope and carabiners, shoes that don’t come off, water bottle and camera. You will get wet.

This hike will likely be day three of your journey and is an outstanding introduction to the many slot canyons that await you further downstream. Think smooth, sweeping, water-carved red walls that burst into golden tones of orange with the glistening sun rays. BEAUTIFUL.

When you get to the entrance of the canyon you will see a giant daunting wall. Don’t worry, this isn’t a problem if you bring a rope. BRING A ROPE! There are anchors just above the wall on the left side, so have two coordinated members of your group scale the left wall and lower themselves into the canyon. Once they are there they can set up another anchor system and lower the rope down to the rest of you, who can use it to shimmy your way up the central wall.

The rest of the hike is a bit simpler, just be sure to help the person behind you! The rock walls get slick, so it’s not a bad idea to continue to use the rope in the steep sections.

ELVES CHASM, river mile 116.5

Difficulty: Very Easy, 0.5 miles; 30 minutes round-trip.

Gear: Camera and water- you can choose to get wet or not.

This super short hike definitely doesn’t disappoint. After an easy 15 minute walk, you will find yourself looking at a mystical waterfall surrounded by lush green plants and a jumble of large boulders. If you are anything like me, you will instantly rip off your clothes and jump into the pristine blue water.

Once in the pool, take a swim under the waterfall and scramble up the rocks to get yourself up and behind the raging stream to the rocky perch. Take in the view, smile for the camera then JUMP! It’s deep enough… at least when I was there.


Difficulty: Very strenuous, 10 miles; 6-7 hours.

Gear: Daypack with at a minimum 64 ounces of water and plenty of food, hiking shoes with wool socks, camera, long sleeve t-shirt, and sunscreen! Your feet might get wet and there are opportunities to take a refreshing dip in Tapeats Creek and Thunder River, so plan your clothing accordingly.

This is a pretty serious hike. But the challenge brings AMAZING rewards. If I could only do one hike in the Grand Canyon, this would be it.

It’s essentially 3 hikes in one and has some logistical aspects that need to be thought out beforehand. You’ll need to drop one raft off, with most of the group at the beginning of the Thunder River hike start-point and then the rest of the rafts, along with a couple of willing crew members, need to float downstream just around the corner. The first pod of hikers do the normal route, while the downstream pod hikes in reverse. Confusing? Yes, it is. Buy a hiking guide for a more detailed shuttle description!

The 3 sections of the hike are Thunder River, which is an exposed HOT steep hike to a river that literally explodes out of the side of the canyon wall; the second is through Surprise Valley, which is your typical desert landscape with the addition of sweeping canyon views and space-like terrain; lastly is Deer Creek, which boasts a patio like setting in the midst of a sacred creek with a waterfall. Deer Creek has been identified as a traditional cultural property (TCP) by the Hopi, Zuni, Hualapai, and the Southern Paiute tribes. Please be respectful of their land.

The trail itself is bit complicated. First, the route is marked by cairns, but they aren’t always that obvious. If you haven’t seen one of these rock stacks in a while, you are probably off-track. Whoops! And secondly, the terrain is rocky with steep drop-offs, so take it slow and be careful not to kick rocks down at your friends below!

This hike is also incredibly hot- you will need way more water than you think. I’d even recommend bringing some electrolyte replacement powder. You absolutely ought to start as early as possible, because it will take all day. Pack a lunch and plenty of snacks, and make sure you have comfortable shoes on. There are campsites just below Deer Creek so plan on setting up camp right after the hike.

MATKATAMIBA, river mile 148

Difficulty: Easy/moderate depending on route, 0.5 miles; 1-hour round-trip

Gear: Shoes that don’t slip off, waterproof camera- you will get wet!

There are a few days from my trip that are a little blurry. This is one of them. I don’t recommend day drinking… actually, yes I do. Just don’t drink and row.

Anyways, my intoxicated self survived this hike and from what I remember it was awesome! Basically a giant adult playground. Similar to the slot canyons in Silver Grotto, you swim through deep pools and spider-man your body through tight slots and slides. It’s fun from the very beginning, so feel free to just go as far as you want, although there is a patio a 1/4 mile in that I highly recommend.

It’s not a very tough hike but will require some coordination, balance, and bravery. If you aren’t up for the adventure, I believe you can walk around up top to a “goat trail” and watch your crew from there.

And there you have it, the grandest hikes of the canyon! Every hike we did was unique and magical and you’ll be in awe no matter which hikes you choose. Treat every day as an opportunity to explore and play; this river and its canyons will change your life.

*Keep in mind that many of these side canyons are highly prone to flash flooding, so be extra cautious during the rainy season and weather events.

I’d love to know what your favorite hikes are, even if they aren’t in the Grand Canyon! Leave a comment below and share your best hiking story.

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