Distance: 0.5 miles round-trip
Duration: 30 minutes
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Trailhead: River right, mile 31
Redwall limestone makes its appearance about five miles upriver, and by the time you reach the mouth of South Canyon, just past mile 31, you are floating between Redwall cliffs along one of the most fascinating stretches of the Colorado River. Like North Canyon , South Canyon can be explored from river or rim. Even a short hike from the river is awe-inspiring, leading through narrows of Redwall limestone. More determined canyoneers can clamber up through boulders and around pour-overs to the confluence with Bedrock Canyon, where Supai narrows await.
Those who don’t have climbing skills can explore along the Colorado River, up- or downstream from South Canyon. Just upstream from the mouth of South Canyon is an Ancestral Puebloan ruin, occupied about 900 years ago. From the back of the river camp, a short hike up to the Redwall Formation leads to Stanton’s Cave, where engineer Robert Stanton stored his expedition’s gear in 1889 after three men drowned.
If Stanton had explored deeper into the cave, he might have discovered a cache of split-twig figurines approximately 3,000–4,000 years old, left here by Archaic-period hunter gatherers. Inside the dry limestone cave, paleontologists have also found the bones of a giant sloth, a mammal that lived during the Pleistocene era. Because of past looting, the cave is now off-limits, although you can peer inside.
A little farther downstream, reached most safely by boat, is Vaseys Paradise, a lush oasis created by a spring erupting from the Redwall. John Wesley Powell named it in honor of a botanist colleague because it supports a number of species, including redbud, willow, monkey-flowers, watercress, and—beware—poison ivy. Also be careful of the endangered Kanab ambersnail, which might be crawling underfoot.