The Tanner Trail is the easternmost of our regularly scheduled hikes, and it offers a different perspective from other trails. Following an ancient Native American foot path into the Canyon, Tanner includes vast panoramas stretching from the Colorado River to Navajo Mountain, located 100 miles away. On the Tanner Trail, our Grand Canyon hiking tours generally reach 75 Mile Saddle, where we’ll have a spectacular view of the eastern Grand Canyon. Tanner Trail is very steep, which makes this our most difficult hike, but also the most secluded.
- LENGTH: 9 miles (one way)
- ELEVATION CHANGE: 4,650 feet (one way)
- WATER: None (until Colorado River)
- CAMPING: Tanner Campground (permit required)
- TRAIL ACCESS: Parking available at trailhead
- DIFFICULTY: 4/5
- VIEWS: 3/5
- SECLUSION: 5/5
The Tanner Trail begins at Lipan Point and terminates at the Colorado River, approximately 9 miles and 4,650 feet below the trailhead. Campgrounds are available at the end of the trail, though a permit is required. In places, the Tanner Trail is steep, rocky, and difficult. There are no water sources along the Tanner Trail – as such, day hikers are advised to be wary of how far along they venture. Because of difficult terrain and lack of water, Tanner is recommended for experienced hikers only.
Hiking the Tanner Trail
Beginning at Lipan Point (where you can park a vehicle, use restrooms, and fill up on water), Tanner Trail descends into the Grand Canyon through a series of steep switchbacks which pass through the highest rock formations in the Grand Canyon – the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, and Coconino Sandstone. After approximately 1.9 miles the trail reaches 75 Mile Saddle, where hikers can enjoy spectacular views into Tanner Canyon. The Saddle makes for a great rest stop, and is generally as far as our Grand Canyon Hiking Tours reach on the Tanner Trail.
Redwall Limestone. The Redwall typically forms sheer cliffs, as seen in this photo. Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park.
Continuing on from 75 Mile Saddle, the hike levels out as the Tanner Trail wraps around the east side of Escalante and Cardenas Buttes. After the buttes, the trail reaches a small saddle before descending down a break in the Redwall Limestone. A “break” refers to location in the Grand Canyon where a trail can be carved into into cliff-forming (and usually impassable) rock formations such as limestones and sandstones. Generally, because limestones and sandstones are harder and more resistant to erosion, they tend to form cliffs instead of gentle slopes. Breaks can be caused by several factors including faults or rock slumping. In the case of the Redwall break along the Tanner Trail, slumping of large rock fragments created a natural pathway into the Canyon.
After the steep descent down the Redwall break, the gradient levels out again, as the trail crosses the Bright Angel Shale. The easily-weathered and slope-forming siltstones and mudstones of the Bright Angel Shale act as natural pathways in much of the Grand Canyon. After passing through the Bright Angel, the trail straddles a ridgeline formed by the Tapeats Sandstone, before making the final descent to the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon Supergroup rocks. The Grand Canyon Supergroup is only visible in the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon, making the Tanner Trail an excellent opportunity to see these rocks up close.
Rocks of the Grand Canyon Supergroup. Pictured is the Bass Limestone. Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park.
Before reaching the Colorado River, the Tanner Trail follows a small wash that drains Tanner Canyon above. Sediments transported by the wash are deposited at the junction between the wash and the Colorado River, creating a small delta. As the wash empties these sediments into the River, the force of the water flowing down the Colorado moves the smaller, lighter sediments downstream, forming a sandbar directly downstream of the wash. The large, heavier sediments transported by the wash (such as boulders) are more difficult to move – as such, they sit where they have been deposited, and form the Tanner Rapids at the .
Here, on the sandbar, backpackers can camp at the Tanner Campground, though a permit must first be obtained from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center.
The end of the Tanner Trail forms a junction with two other trails – the Beamer Trail, which heads upriver to the Little Colorado River confluence, and the Escalante Route, which heads down river and eventually reaches Hance Rapids, the Red Canyon Trail, and the Tonto Trail.
History of the Tanner Trail
The Tanner Trail follows an ancient Anasazi and Hopi route to the Colorado River. The trail is named after Seth Tanner, who improved the trail in the late 19th century to help access a copper mine deep within the Canyon. Tanner, a Mormon pioneer and miner, arrived in Arizona in 1872. In addition to working on the Tanner Trail, he explored the Little Colorado River for a habitable place to settle. Tanner also befriended and worked with the Navajo and Hopi Indians, who called him Hastiin Shush (Mr. Bear). The trail was also used by horse thieves to transport horses from Arizona to Utah.
Seth Tanner, or “Mr. Bear”.
Artists rendition of the Cardenas expedition.
It is believed that the Spanish explorer Garcia Lopez de Cardenas became the first European to see the Grand Canyon near the Tanner Trail, though it is unlikely Cardenas reached the Colorado River along the Trail. His party’s difficulty in finding suitable access into the Canyon is documented and well-described in his journal:
“They spent three days trying to find a way down to the river, which from above appeared to be only a fathom wide, although, according to what the Indians said, it must be half a league across…. The descent was found to be impossible.”
Today, the Tanner Trail remains an important access point to the eastern portion of the Grand Canyon, and a reminder of those who ventured to the Grand Canyon looking for water, conquest, or adventure.