New Hance Trail
Distance: 14 miles round-trip from the trailhead to the Colorado River
Duration: 3 days or more
Elevation loss: 4,400 feet from rim to river
Effort: Very strenuous
Trailhead: Desert View Drive, between Buggeln picnic area and Moran Point
The trailhead is one mile southwest of the parking area at Moran Point, 18 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. There’s no parking here, but you can cache your packs near the trailhead, then park at Moran Point and walk back, adding an extra mile to the hike each way.
The trail is called the New Hance Trail because pioneer John Hance built it when his original trail washed out. It’s also known as the Red Canyon Trail because it follows the bed of Red Canyon, where bright orange-red Hakatai shale, part of the Grand Canyon Supergroup, makes an appearance. Probably the most difficult South Rim trail, it gives contemporary hikers a sense of the effort pioneering miners (and their mules) expended to bring minerals out of the canyon.
The trail begins as a deceptively easy walk to the rim on an old road before dropping sharply through switchbacks in the Kaibab limestone. The Sinking Ship looms to the west, tilting up from behind Coronado Butte. The trail clambers over and around boulders and slabs on its way to a saddle at the base of the Coconino sandstone formation, just over one mile. Washouts and side trails can make route-finding difficult—just one of the reasons many backpackers consider New Hance to be the South Rim’s most difficult route. Another is its steepness: allow plenty of time for the hike out; consider spending a second night in the canyon.
The trail descends from the saddle into the Supai Group, then follows the east rim of Red Canyon for about one mile, a rough-up-and-down traverse across several rocky drainages. The mile-long section along the top of the Redwall formation edges a 500-foot vertical drop—step carefully. Cairns mark a break in the Redwall limestone at approximately three miles. For experienced day hikers, this makes a good turnaround point, offering views into fault-formed Red Canyon and across the main canyon to the North Rim’s Cape Royal and Wotans Throne.
The trail drops from a fin of Redwall limestone down steep talus slopes, reaching the bottom of seasonally dry Red Canyon at about five miles. The winding creek bottom leads a couple of miles to the Colorado River, where you’ll see—and hear—the “rock garden” of Hance Rapids, the most challenging rapids that river runners face in Grand Canyon’s upper half.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition