Grand Canyon Backpacking – North Rim – Thunder River Loop

Trip Length4 Days
Group Size4-9
Activity level
Starting from
$1,199 for REI Members
$1,319 for non-members
DeparturesApr 2024-Oct 2024

Four days spent on a challenging backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon gives us time to absorb the sheer magnitude of this vast expanse.

Far below the rim, beyond the tourist crowds, our small-group journey from the North Rim to the Colorado River begins. Our first day takes us by the dramatic contours of the canyon wall to our amazing campsite overlooking the inner canyon. Venture past billions of years of geological history. Move beyond ancient fossils and flowing waterfalls and over steep and rocky trails. Experienced backpackers will revel in the physical demands of this journey, returning to camp each night exhausted but exhilarated. On day two, take an opportunity to cool off and explore the magical Thunder River area, one of the most remote and pristine parts of the region.

An early call time on day three sets us on the trail for the hike to Deer Creek, considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in the canyon. An experience unlike any other, this journey is a rewarding milestone accomplishment for avid backpackers.

Looking for alternate dates or itineraries? Check out our South Rim itinerary for another fantastic Grand Canyon backpacking experience.

A lush oasis provides a welcome surprise along our backpacking route.

Trip Highlights

  • Backpack to the canyon floor past ancient geological formations
  • Hike along and cool off in the Colorado River
  • Challenge yourself with four days of hiking amid jaw-dropping scenery
  • Enjoy pristine campsites with unforgettable views of a natural wonder


This trip is rated Strenuous [5]. Participants will be carrying backpacks of 30–45lbs over steep and rocky terrain for up to 11 miles per day. Participants should be prepared to hike over steep, rocky and sometimes exposed terrain, with constant and dramatic elevation gains and/or losses of up to 3,700'–5,000' per day on most days. Sections of the trail will be exposed and pass near cliff edges. This trip is not recommended for those with vertigo or an extreme fear of heights. We strongly recommend practicing with 30–45lbs in the pack you intend to use for the trip and making sure your hiking boots are broken in before departure. This is not a beginning backpacking trip. Previous experience is highly recommended and we ask you to review your personal health and preparation plan with your medical physician prior to traveling.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional instruction and guiding; meals as noted in the daily itinerary; 2-person tents; group cooking gear; group first aid kit, water filter; campsite and backcountry permit fees.


Backcountry camping, 3 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Grand Canyon Backpacking – North Rim – Thunder River Loop
Route Variation

This itinerary is subject to change based on permit availability.

We may reverse days, use different trails, and/or change campsites. Final trip materials will indicate our determined route.

Day 1

Hike down "50 Switchbacks" and over the Esplanade to our inner canyon camp

Rise early and be sure to eat a hearty breakfast before meeting with your group early this morning in Kanab, Utah. There will be an orientation and backpack check before we caravan in our personal vehicles to the trailhead. The drive is approximately 1.5 hours along paved and gravel roads that pass through beautiful forests. With a few final adjustments, we leave the trailhead to begin our descent into the canyon. Marine fossils can be found in the Kaibab and Toroweap Limestones as the trail drops through the Coconino layer. The notorious "50 Switchbacks" deposits us onto the Esplanade, where a long flat traverse takes us to our amazing campsite overlooking the inner canyon. Dinner included.

Backpacking: 6–11 miles; Elevation loss: 2,000'–5,000'

Day 2

Hike along the Thunder and Colorado Rivers to our camp

We will continue our journey today by following a break in the Redwall and making a steep descent further into the canyon. The stunning Tapeats Amphitheater comes into view to the east, and we quickly find one of the most amazing sights in the canyon: Thunder River, one of the steepest and shortest rivers in the world. The trail continues to follow the river to its confluence with Tapeats Creek and we soon have the opportunity to study the rare Grand Canyon Super Group layers as we hike to the Colorado River and our campsite for the night. We'll take many opportunities to cool off in the falls and creeks along the way with a final great plunge in the Colorado at the day's end. Breakfast and dinner included.

Backpacking: 7 miles; Elevation loss: 3,200'

Day 3

Hike to Deer Creek past rock formations and traces of past civilizations

An early rise sets us on the trail for the hike to Deer Creek, considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in the canyon. The trail travels above the ancient basement schist and granite of the inner canyon with expansive views of the river and soaring rock formations. See remnants of the canyon's previous inhabitants, ancient Cambrian fossils, and lush springs and waterfalls. Breakfast and dinner included.

Backpacking: 8 miles; Elevation gain: 1,800'

Day 4

Make the challenging climb out for a last, scenic view from the rim

We rise early and are rewarded with a beautiful, early morning hike in the coolest part of the day as we tackle the day's first difficult uphill climb. We retrace our steps across the Esplanade, back up the Switchbacks, with a final push through the Kaibab to the rim. Our finishing time varies due to many factors, so we recommend making return travel plans for the following day. Breakfast included.

Backpacking: 9 miles; Elevation gain: 3,200'

Note: Trip members will need to bring a variety of quick foods for snacks and lunch each day. Granola bars, drink mixes, trail mix, bagels, hard cheeses, salami, jerky, tuna packets (not cans), crackers, packets of nut butter (not jars), apples, etc. are all good choices.

Itinerary map for Grand Canyon Backpacking – North Rim – Thunder River Loop

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

Provided by REI

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Water Filter

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.