The Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa

This is not a bad option for those people who don’t want to wait for the Hermit’s Rest bus; or sit through the one hour bus ride. The trailhead for this trail is also not found in the village area; however as the trailhead is at the Grandview Point Overlook, it does receive a fair amount of foot traffic. Despite there being more hikers on this trail than the Hermit Trail, I can say that I observed the majority of the traffic hanging out and “hiking” within fifty to one hundred feet of the overlook.

How to Get There: Grandview Point is located off of the Desert View Drive. It is well-signed in both directions, and about a half mile drive on a paved road from the Desert View Drive. There is ample parking day use; as well as overnight parking for backpackers.

The Trail to Horseshoe Mesa: We had decided to day-hike the trail to Horseshoe Mesa; approximately six and one half miles round trip. Like the Hermit Trail, I was not that familiar with the Grandview Trail before I arrived at its location. Before I had arrived at the Grandview Trail, the word I had heard used most about it was “steep”. As descriptors go, I have always been unimpressed with “steep”. Everyone knows that climbing a mountain is steep; everyone also hopefully knows that 99% of the trails in the Grand Canyon are also “steep”. (The only exception that I know of is the Rim Trail on the South Rim that meanders from lookout to lookout along the park road, and is mostly flat – and almost completely paved!) As everyone more or less intuitively knows these things, the word fails to bring any information to the discussion. All I knew about the trail before I hiked it was what I could see on the map

After my group had made the necessary adjustments by the car to their gear on a cool March morning, we cut through the herd of people meandering around the viewpoint and onto the trail. I mentioned above that most of the “hikers” turned around within the first fifty to one hundred feet. This is because the Grandview Trail descends immediately with knee-shaking vigor through a series of tight switchbacks. Or as some people would say, the start of the trail is “steep”. One of the interesting things my group and I noticed is that in several early sections, the trail is shored up through a tough lattice/cribbing of logs and rocks. Having done a fair amount of trail work in my past, I was impressed by these sections, because most of them came on narrow, sandy, cliff-type sections of trail.

We were headed to Horseshoe Mesa, because I was interested in viewing some of the ancient mining ruins in the park. I find it interesting to wonder what would have happened to many of our national treasures had the Organic Act not been passed by Congress. A short list of some of the other Western Parks that were affected by human activities prior to becoming protected include the Borax mining in Death Valley, as well as logging and mining in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I definitely feel lucky that people had the foresight to preserve these and other areas from development. In order to view these ruins, we had to keep hiking down the switchbacks that cover the first portion of the Grandview trail.

Unlike the Hermit Trail, the first portion of the Grandview Trail is covered with the short switchbacks mentioned above that cause the rim to rapidly recede from view. In a very short distance, we were well into the Canyon, and traversing our first flat stretch of the trail, across a saddle that had seemed incredibly distant from the viewpoint. The flat section was short lived. As we traversed around the corner through the sporadic oaks, there were several more long downhill stretches that lost a lot of elevation as well.

Before we began to traverse down further, we took a moment to admire the view. The Grandview Trail has an appropriate name. From the start, the view is simply amazing because the trail possesses a classic, traditional canyon view. The view is “traditional” because from the moment you leave the viewpoint, you are continually facing the main body of the canyon. Whereas the Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs provided interesting views of some of the slot canyons that the Grand Canyon has, the Grandview Trail provides amazing views into the heart of the Canyon and its formations. The next section that descended was basically a series of stone ramps.

I am tempted to say that these ramps are more like steps, but I will not for two reasons. One, there is no “stepping” like a staircase. Two, I don’t want to get a bunch of e-mails telling me that I’m an idiot because there are no real “steps” on the trail. The reason I equate these cobbled sections as steps is for two good reasons of my own. One: when I’m hiking, and I reach a stone or cobbled section, laid by the trail crew, I view it as akin to pavement. In dry conditions – meaning no snow, ice, or rain, they are an easy traverse in my book, as I don’t have to worry as much about my footing. Two: the grade on these cobbled sections is quite sharp. Each downhill step drops you quite a bit further into the canyon. Since I was descending sharply with each step I took, I found it to be reminiscent of a staircase, rather than the actual ramp-type bed of cobbles that it was.

And this is the point where I can more fully lay out my system of descriptors that I would use instead of “steep”. I could say at this point that this cobbled section is “steep”, and it would be true. But it would ignore the fact that the trail was also “steep” to this point. I could say that it was “very steep” in the cobbled section and it was. I would rather say that this section was such a rough descent that it caused the cartilage in your knees to grind audibly – and mercilessly against the tendons and kneecap within. It was such a quick descent that if my legs were not fresh, I would hesitate to walk down the section, because one mis-step – even on cobbles – would mean a definite painful fall, and roll down a long section of hill. It was a section that if we had been driving a car, at the bottom, the interior would reek of burnt brakes. That was how “steep” I thought the section was.

Even though it was quick and hard on the knees, it was not that bad because it was short. I would recommend trekking poles, to balance out the weight of a backpack or daypack, and to take some of the pressure off the body. As an aside, trekking poles are a great help on any hike in the Canyon, especially if one does already have rickety knees! After that descent, the trail lurches to a stop at a notch that divides Hance Creek Canyon from Cottonwood Creek Canyon. This is a great spot to stop for lunch, which our group did. The area is shaded by a number of trees, and has a great view of a separated butte. The area also seemed to be a great spot to cache water, whether for a day or a multi-day hike, as I stumbled across several water caches while looking around.

Upon resuming hiking after lunch, we realized that we had descended the bulk of the altitude to Horseshoe Mesa, as we passed a USGS Marker that stated that we were approximately twelve hundred feet lower than the rim. (The marker doesn’t say this in particular terms; it marks the elevation that it’s at, so if you do the math like we did, you should come up with a similar number!) The trail then slowly – every so slowly – begins to level out as it traverses along the butte. Slowly, the trees distanced themselves from their neighbors, becoming more and more spread apart.

As we trekked along this section of trail, our group elected to turn around because some people were trying to get over some spring colds. So, alas, we did not make it to the actual Horseshoe Mesa to see the ruins. When I reviewed the map later, it appeared to me we had stopped about one mile short of the Mesa, making a four mile round trip instead of the six miles. It is my opinion that we probably could have made it to the Mesa and back, but it is always better to be cautious than risky. Besides, the ruins have been there for a long time, and I’m sure they’ll still be there by the time I get back. I will say that the tough sections of the descent did make for a vigorous uphill climb on the return trip, so if one does take this hike, be sure to save a little extra energy for those sections.