Distance: 20 miles round-trip from the trailhead to the Colorado River
Duration: 2 days or more
Elevation loss: 4,600 feet from rim to river
Effort: Very strenuous
Trailhead: Lipan Point
The Tanner Trail begins at Lipan Point, 23 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. Look for the trailhead east of the overlook’s loop-shaped parking area. The trail, an old Indian route later improved by Seth Tanner and other prospectors, was once favored by horse thieves moving stock to and from the Arizona Strip.
The trail is challenging and isn’t maintained, but it offers views of the Colorado River and the broad eastern canyon, where the layers of the Grand Canyon Supergroup have been sculpted into colorfully banded hills and folds. You’ll be able to see the Colorado River for much of the hike—a view you might find taunting, considering that there’s no water and virtually no protection from the sun along the trail. The park service discourages hiking this trail in summer.
The trail begins in the piñon-juniper woodland of the rim, then descends steeply toward Tanner Canyon. After switching back and forth through talus slopes, the trail reaches a saddle ridge between Tanner Canyon and Seventyfive Mile Creek Canyon, just under two miles. This is a good destination for a day hike, considering the steepness of the trail.
After crossing the saddle, the trail traverses Escalante and Cardenas Buttes (named for the Spanish explorers). Once past Cardenas Butte, the trail descends the Redwall Formation to a fork at about 3.5 miles. The left spur leads to an overlook with excellent views of Tanner Rapids and broad Tanner beach, all the way upriver to the point where the canyon narrows at the Palisades of the Desert. This is another possible day-hike destination for strong hikers.
The Tanner Trail continues to the right, descending steeply toward a saddle, then down the Bright Angel Shale Formation, traversing the open slopes above the edge of Tanner Canyon. The trail drops sharply again before reaching the Colorado River near Tanner Rapids. The large sand dune at the mouth of Tanner Canyon is closed to visitors. Campsites can be found near the river on the east side of Tanner Canyon, and you may be sharing them with river runners.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition