Distance: 1 mile round-trip
Duration: 1 hour
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Trailhead: River right, mile 168
Allow time to linger on this short hike leading to a fern-draped grotto and pool. Redwall and Muav limestone walls have been carved into shelves and chutes. The canyon walls narrow a short way from the beach, creating welcome shade. There’s no trail, but scrambling up limestone staircases is only moderately challenging.
Springs, like the one in Fern Glen Canyon, are formed when rain and snowmelt percolate down through the relatively porous limestone and sandstone layers above until more resistant Bright Angel shale blocks its progress. The water pools on top of the shale, forming an aquifer in the Redwall formation that is easily dissolved into caves and chambers. Where Redwall is exposed in canyon walls, water issues forth as springs, relatively common in the tributaries along this section of Grand Canyon.
Cliff walls block further progress up Fern Glen Canyon, but it’s pleasant to pause by one of the pools and listen to the trickling water before returning to the river.