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Wed, Jan. 29

Johnson: Completing the Tonto Trail, South Rim and Grand Canyon
Hiking Arizona

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That’s often my approach when it comes to hiking trails over 50 miles in length. As I considered the logistics of the last section of the Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon, I thought about the issue of getting a permit. Enforcement in a dispersed setting like the Canyon is far more challenging than for a peak like Mt. Whitney.

Permits and Bikes

Hiking overnight below the Rim requires a permit. Day hiking does not. Therefore, I decided to do this section in one day, 23 miles. That’s a stretch. But, if I biked from the Village to Hermit’s Rest (seven miles), I should have enough daylight in winter to hike down the Hermit, east on the Tonto and back up the Bright Angel. I don’t know why people don’t do more bike/hike combos. In this case, I would have to bike some in the dark but the road from the Village to Hermit’s Rest was paved and there was no traffic since it was in the off season, which is the best time to hike below the Rim and it is also when permits are easier to get, if necessary.


A classic book for Grand Canyon hikers, especially if the Tonto Trail is on your bucket list, is Colin Fletcher’s, The Man who Walked Through Time. While I question some of the details he gives and the philosophy he espouses, it’s worth reading prior to doing any section of this Trail.


With snow on the Rim and an elevation drop/gain of 3,500 feet, layering your clothing is essential. As I changed from winter pants to hiking shorts near the Tonto, another hiker asked how I could hike in shorts when it was so cold. If he thought it was cold on the Tonto, what was he going to think approaching the Rim where it was 30 degrees colder? People are funny.

Tonto Trail: Hermit to Bright Angel, Eastbound

Monument Creek is the first significant side canyon you encounter. There you will find a signed junction to Granite Rapids on the Colorado River as well as a sign announcing the presence of Monument Creek Camp. This must be the most “civilized” section of the Tonto. There is reliable water here along with pit toilets.

The trail crossing at Monument Creek is not clearly marked. Thankfully, I ran into a couple of hikers who pointed out the way for me. If you are hiking west on the Tonto, this junction is a little less confusing, since it is more visible as you descend toward Monument Creek.

Continuing east, Salt Creek is next. There is water here too. Looking back to take in the view west, the Tonto Trail disappears into the vastness of the Canyon which is truly GRAND. Passing Horn Creek, the junction to Plateau Point is soon reached, followed by Indian Gardens. Completing the Tonto Trail over a period of several months has been a most satisfying experience.


Rather than buying a snack off the shelf, why not try something fresh as well as refreshing? Pomegranates may be the most refreshing snack on planet earth, especially for hikers. They freeze well and munching on these crunchy, juicy treats is a delight to the senses. Fresh fruit is a little heavier but that’s another advantage to day hiking, greater flexibility.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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