Wildcat Peak via Laurel Canyon & Jewel Lake (Tilden Regional Park, CA)

Wildcat Peak, Tilden Regional Park, May 2021

Truly unobstructed panoramas with views in all directions are a relative rarity in the Berkeley Hills of California’s East Bay, but Wildcat Peak in Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park offers one of them with excellent vistas of the San Francisco Bay, the Carquinez Strait, the Briones Hills, Mount Diablo, and more. At 1,211 feet, Wildcat Peak is not the highest point in the Berkeley Hills (that distinction is held by nearby Vollmer Peak (1,905’)), but it is a popular destination in perhaps the East Bay’s most well-known regional park. The following description traces a 3.25-mile circuit, ascending shady Laurel Canyon before emerging out into the open atop windy Wildcat Peak, then returning via a switchbacking route and the very modestly-sized Jewel Lake.

Map of Wildcat Peak hike, Tilden Regional Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the interactive map)

The hike

The hike begins in the Tilden Nature Area, one of the most popular sections of Tilden Regional Park because of its so-called “Little Farm,” petting zoo, and nature center. The large parking area is often full on weekends but relatively lesser-travelled during the week, which is the ideal time for hiking in Tilden. Unlike other parts of the park, dogs are not allowed in the nature area, but the place is often crawling with families and school buses full of kiddos. After leaving the parking lot, crossing a short bridge over Wildcat Creek, and passing the Environmental Education Center on your left, however, the crowds tend to dissipate considerably.

To reach the Laurel Canyon Trail, cross the grassy field behind the visitor center and look for a sign marking the start of the trail leading into the oak/bay woodlands. The dirt track quickly enters the woods, passes a small structure on the right, and then ascends to a junction with the wide Service Road. Bear left briefly, then follow the continuation of the Laurel Canyon Trail as it veers right, entering a grove of tall eucalyptus trees.

These fragrant trees are ubiquitous to the Bay Area but technically an invasive species, brought to the area during the Gold Rush and known for their strikingly fast growth. As further research revealed that eucalyptus bark had a tendency to crack when dried, the trees disappointed those seeking to get rich off lumber, but the trees remained, rising to towering heights and scattered across the area. Today, Bay Area residents have a love-hate relationship with eucalyptus trees: even as they are invasive, they have become an iconic part of the landscape.

As hikers make their way northeast, the eucalyptus gradually decline in number, and hikers drop down a staircase to clear a pretty ravine at about ¼ mile. After a mild uphill, the trail forks again, reaching an intersection with the Loop Road. Bear left briefly on the wide track, then right again, catching the onward path. From here the Laurel Canyon Trail begins a steadier ascent, at one point ascending a set of sharp bends. The route crests 700 feet at about 0.65 miles, reaching a junction with the Pine Tree Trail that comes in from the right.

Crossing Laurel Creek

Stay left, descending to clear two short bridges, then follow the trail as it rises again to a shaded fork. Head left, following the signs for Laurel Canyon Road. The trail beyond descends sharply to a scenic crossing of Laurel Creek. From here the trail ascends a set of steep switchbacks, culminating at Laurel Canyon Road at 9/10 mile. Bear right on this wide track, continuing to climb, although more mildly, to another trail junction at about the 1-mile mark. Hikers should bear left here, following signs of the Peak Trail, which—you guessed it—leads toward Wildcat Peak.

As the bay/oak woodlands gradually turn to scrubby chapparal, the singletrack trail rises to views of Wildcat Canyon and the westward hills beyond. Stay left at the next fork, by which most of the elevation gain has been completed. Bearing west, the trail passes the Berkeley Rotary Peace Grove and curls around to the south side of Wildcat Peak, reaching a final junction before the summit at 1.5 miles. Follow this spur (right) to the top of Wildcat Peak, marked by a long, circular stone bench.

San Francisco Bay from atop Wildcat Peak in Tilden

As promised, the panoramas (at least on a clear day) are terrific. Off to the west are San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, the North Bay, Angel Island, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin Peninsula. Northward, one can see across San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait to the Napa/Sonoma area, while Mount Diablo—across San Pablo Reservoir and the Briones Hills—is the most prominent peak to the east. The Berkeley Hills stretch southward, with onward views blocked by Vollmer Peak and Grizzly Peak, two of the highest mountains in the range.

Eastward views to Briones Reservoir

Once ready, return down the spur to the main Wildcat Peak Trail, which continues right en route to Jewel Lake, nearly 700 feet below. The views keep coming as the narrow path winds west and then south, passing wily oak and bay trees before returning to the odiferous eucalyptus. The subsequent junction is easy to miss; about one mile from the summit, look for a well-trodden path heading right; it quickly leads to a trail marker. Take this track as the Wildcat Peak Trail becomes the Sylvan Trail, which in turn drops to a second junction minutes later. Take a right, descending again amid the eucalyptus to the base of Wildcat Canyon and a junction with the Wildcat Creek Trail.

Straight ahead is Jewel Lake, a modestly-sized pond often frequented by turtles and waterfowl but often nearly dry in late summer and fall. The lake itself is dammed, and hikers can continue to the south side of the pond for some nice waterside picnic spots. The quickest return route is to the follow the wide Wildcat Creek Trail southeast, across level terrain, for nearly a half-mile. The path returns soon enough to Little Farm, the visitor center, and the parking area, completing the roughly 3.25-mile circuit hike.

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Water Canyon (Canaan Mountain Wilderness, UT)

Water Canyon, Canaan Mountain Wilderness, May 2021

Climbing partway up the sandstone cliffs of Canaan Mountain, this short hike—located just over the Utah border from Colorado City, Arizona—ascends rocky and sandy terrain to a beautiful perennial waterfall, short slot, and bowl-shaped narrows resembling “The Subway” in nearby Zion National Park. Water Canyon is notable for its year-round stream, which gives life to dense vegetation in an otherwise very dry, desert environment. Ambitious hikers can continue on to the hightops of Canaan Mountain, but most visitors will turn around at the waterfall/slot situated about 1.1 miles from the trailhead.

Map of Water Canyon, Canaan Mountain Wilderness; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

Water Canyon Trailhead offers access to the BLM-managed Canaan Mountain Wilderness, which protects a 44,500-acre tract of public space covering similar terrain as nearby Zion National Park. As visitors drive Water Canyon Road—a gravel track—north from Colorado City, Arizona and neighboring Hildale, Utah—the cliffs of thick Navajo sandstone begin to envelop the surroundings and rise nearly 2,000 feet above the canyon floor. Water Canyon Road first passes a series of residences and commercial “glamping” options, then continues past the Squirrel Canyon Trailhead on the right. The road ends with a set of two parking areas, separated by a stagnant pond. The far parking lot, closest to the start of the hike, is preferable but often fills up by mid-morning, requiring travelers to instead find a spot at the secondary lot about ¼ mile back. There are restrooms and a map at the trailhead.

The sandy Water Canyon Trail begins just beyond the restrooms and information board, immediately following a flowing stream on the right. The first ¼ mile sees the main path split into a series of forks, although most use trails tend to reconnect further upstream after a brief divergence. Amid the dense vegetation of oaks, junipers, pinyon pines, and others, numerous spurs lead down to the stream’s banks. The main track continues uphill, however, keeping the water largely just out of sight on the right. At ¼ mile, the path crosses a side stream with dense thicket.

At around 0.35 mile, an unmarked junction serves to confuse hikers; stay right, dropping to cross a second tributary before climbing steeply up the sandy bank to an open, sun-soaked hill. From here, the wide trail continues to rise, gradually and then sharply, as the sand gives way to larger rocks that require some careful footing to surmount. A myriad of different paths seems to lead in all directions; generally, one should stay straight and up, never quite descending to creek level but paralleling the ever-steeper drainage.

At ½ mile, the trail crests a hill and drops for a brief stretch; one can see minor cascades in the creek down below. The next stretch is somewhat level with brief ups and downs before ascending a rocky patch again and passes a batch of small, green ferns and thorny bushes. From atop a scrubby, sunny hilltop at 7/10 mile, one can see the dark, narrowing canyon ahead, as well as Water Canyon Arch—a high archway situated near the top of the Navajo sandstone cliff to the east.

Water Canyon Arch high above its namesake canyon

After passing a graffitied rock slab on the left at ¾ mile, the trail continues to rise before dropping to skirt a beautiful, moss-laden alcove. From here it is a short walk—and steep descent—down to the scenic subway section, where desert varnish forms vertical streaks in the bulging walls, and the water feeds monkeyflower and other plants lining the sides of the bowl-shaped drainage. This unique sight is an easy rival to Zion—with far fewer crowds.

Subway section in Water Canyon

At the far end of the subway is a lovely, multi-tiered cascade that could pass as a waterfall, a highlight of the hike. (Note: At higher elevations, there may be additional waterfalls, depending on recent rains/snowmelt, but this is the most reliable.)

Onward passage requires ascending the throat of the falls or climbing a thin notch just off to the left; both lead up to a beautiful, fluted chamber surrounded by high walls. Here the sandstone splits into parallel chunks, each harboring some vegetation; some are passable partway before rising to near-vertical heights. A use path hugs a sandy slope on the left, doubling back to the south briefly before rising to the next level up. From here one can scramble across partly exposed ledges to a final slot—narrowing to a few feet across—which ends quickly at a murky pool. (Note: This sometimes hosts a beautiful waterfall, but it was not present as of mid-May 2021.)

Climbing above the subway section
Slot in Water Canyon

The trail continues onward from here, offering access to additional narrows and eventually Top Rock, White Domes, and the summit of Canaan Mountain. However, most will turn around at this point, retracing one’s steps back down 1.1 miles to the start. This shortened version is moderately difficult, with some steep sections, requiring about 2-3 hours to complete.

View down Water Canyon
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The New Wave Loop (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ)

The New Wave, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, May 2021

The striated sandstone formation known as “The Wave” attracts flocks of photographers and sightseers to southern Utah each day, and—given its popularity—is now limited by a permit lottery that is next-to-impossible to win. Fortunately, the characteristic undulating Navajo sandstone knobs and ruddy gulches of the Wave/North Coyote Buttes area are relatively ubiquitous across the region, offering other opportunities to witness similar—although perhaps not as iconic—formations up close without need for a day use permit. One such alternative, which has become known as “The New Wave,” is easily accessible from Page, Arizona and is situated just inside the boundary of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area around Glen Canyon Dam. A short, 1.25-mile hike forms a circuit around a clutch of sandstone buttes and spires, culminating with a walk up through a notch between two “Wave”-like knobs for which the hike is named. While generally poorly-advertised outside of a few Internet posts, the New Wave hike is impeccably-marked, lined with stones that guide hikers across the slickrock.

Map of The New Wave Loop, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

The New Wave Loop (see Google location here) begins and ends at a small dirt parking area just south of the Beehive Campground, a popular but primitive RV destination situated just off Highway 89 (the first left turn west of the Carl Hayden Visitor Center). (Note: There has been discussion of collecting entrance fees at this location, but, as of spring 2021, the status of this project was unclear and may only apply to the campground.) The hike is located within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but there are no signs or directions for the trail. Nonetheless, from the parking area, one can easily spot the path leading up into the slickrock to the west. (Note: There is also a dirt road leading south from the parking lot; this is NOT the New Wave hike but rather provides access to the extremely difficult Ropes Trail leading down to Glen Canyon and the Colorado River.)

The New Wave Loop is demarcated the entire way by neatly-placed rocks on either side, offering passage across the barren slickrock slopes where footsteps or other markers would be nearly impossible to follow. The path begins by ascending westward and skirting a scrubby drainage on the right, with views back to the north toward Beehive Campground, Wahweap, and Lake Powell.

Lake Powell and Beehive Campground from the New Wave Loop

At 1/10 mile, the route forks, marking the start of the loop portion. While both directions are fine, heading right and completing the hike in a counter-clockwise direction saves the “New Wave” formation for near the end of the walk. Heading in this direction, the path skirts north to clear an initial set of sandstone buttes, striated with nice examples of crossbedding.

After clearing this initial set of outcrops, the trail descends and then rises again to parallel a second, larger collection of knobs and buttes at around ¼ mile. Here the orange-hued formations peer down over a sweeping valley with a wash that eventually drains into the Colorado River, near Ferry Swale Canyon to the south.

Following the sandstone buttes

At about 6/10 mile, the route rounds a bend to the west, cutting around the sandstone chunks, revealing another ridge—known as Radio Tower Rock—to the east. From here the path hugs the east flank of the New Wave area outcrops, never descending to the wash floor below.

Nearby ridge with a cave-like indentation
Returning via the path between Radio Tower Rock and The New Wave

At a point nearly one mile into the hike, the path rises gently to the park’s featured highlight: The New Wave, where deep red and orange colors, streaked with attractive stripes, illuminate the two exposed knobs. Photographers seeking the best light here may want to visit in mid to later afternoon, or perhaps sunrise. At other times, the most attractive streaks are cast partly in shadow, although still beautiful in their own right. This scenic notch is certainly not as impressive as the real Wave, but it’s a not-so-shabby backup.

The New Wave

From The New Wave, the trail drops steadily and encounters a junction at about the one-mile mark. (Note: This spur trail heads right toward Radio Tower Rock.) Stay left on the main track, following photogenic knobs and slickrock slopes back to the initial junction. Head right at the final fork and descend back to the start of the hike, capping off a 1.25-mile journey.

Sandstone features beyond The New Wave
Descending to the trailhead
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Wiregrass Canyon (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, UT)

Wiregrass Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, May 2021

Highly weathered and rimmed with chalky hoodoos, natural arches, and tafoni, Wiregrass Canyon is an intriguing side drainage in southern Utah’s Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The relatively-accessible canyon eventually empties into Glen Canyon and (what’s left of) the reservoir at Lake Powell. Those wishing to shorten the lengthier three miles each way to the waterline, however, can instead opt for a shorter alternative: a 1.6-mile out-and-back to the first of two natural bridges in the canyon, a terrific sight where floods have gradually whittled a hole between two sandy washes in close proximity. This report describes a moderately-difficult round-trip to and from the natural bridge, which should take between 1-2 hours.

Map of Wiregrass Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

Like many attractions in the area, reaching Wiregrass Canyon requires traversing a gravel road for several miles, although the Smoky Mountain Road leading east from Big Water, Utah is usually well-graded and accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles. (Note: There is one ford required to clear Wahweap Creek, but it should be shallow most of the year. Check at the Big Water Visitor Center for latest conditions.) Once across Wahweap Creek, the road rises to a level plateau below the Mancos shale cliffs of Nipple Bench, itself a branch of broader Smoky Mountain, for which the road is named. After entering Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the road passes several minor drainages and bends northeast. About 4.5 miles from Big Water, the drive dips to a small parking area on the right, where a sign indicating “Wiregrass Trail” marks the start of the hike.

Park here, and be sure to apply sunscreen/sun protection, as this area is highly exposed with little shade. When ready, follow a narrow but well-trodden path that leads down into a minor drainage on the right, dropping to the wash before continuing partway up the other (south) side. This dry arroyo quickly meets a larger drainage coming in from the left, and the trail eventually drops to wash level. Follow the dry and dusty wash downstream until reaching a short pouroff, relatively easily bypassed via a use trail on the left.

Now heading south, a tributary drainage comes in from the right at around 3/10 mile. Stay left, following the main wash down-canyon, finally reaching some more interesting terrain at about ½ mile. A bathtub-shaped hoodoo on the right is followed by a thin, duck-head turret, which signals the start of a more rugged wash.

Approaching the interesting section of Wiregrass Canyon at around 1/2 mile

The drainage quickly drops down a series of smooth pouroffs, many of which will be impassable to hikers (but possible for decent down-climbers). Down-canyon travel therefore requires climbing an unmarked but well-trodden bypass route leading up the left bank, climbing steeply to a four-way junction atop a gooseneck ridge. From here, one can head right to reach the duck-shaped spire and peer down into the slot canyon below. But eventually one will head straight, descending sharply back toward the canyon floor. The path leads into a sheltered side drainage, where hikers can relatively easily skirt the walls and drop down a series of minor dryfalls to return to the main wash.

View down to the narrows section from the bypass
Final descent from the bypass route

Before continuing down-canyon, first head right for a brief moment to explore the narrows/slot section. This is the finest scenery of the hike, featuring tall hoodoos, narrow and shady passages, and honeycombed walls. Follow the wash until reaching a high pouroff that is at least ten feet tall and difficult to ascend. Turn around here and continue down-canyon.

Hoodoo at Wiregrass Canyon

Beyond the end of the bypass route, the canyon deepens, with high, ghostly walls towering above. Amid the deep incisions and spooky landforms, Wiregrass Canyon gradually widens. Finally, all of a sudden, as the wash takes a hard right, the Wiregrass Natural Bridge appears on the left. This small archway was formed when the adjacent drainage (visible through the bridge) whittled away at the canyon wall, producing a shortcut to the wash in which one stands.

Wiregrass Natural Bridge

From here, hikers can continue for another two miles downstream to reach the shores of Lake Powell, encountering deep alcoves, ever-taller walls, and another natural bridge along the way. But for many, the first bridge is the natural turnaround point. Retrace your steps, up and over the bypass route and through the initial wash, back to the trailhead. All told, this hike takes about 1.5-2 hours depending on pace and comfort with minor scrambling.

Wiregrass Natural Bridge

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Horseshoe Bend Trail (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ)

Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, May 2021

There once was a time when Horseshoe Bend—an entrenched meander along the Colorado River—was a relatively sleepy destination, known largely only to locals living in northern Arizona. But today, thanks to social media (and its high propensity for showing up as a Windows desktop background), the hairpin turn in Glen Canyon has become one of the most popular attractions in the Page, Arizona area. To be sure, Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular feat of geology in which the Colorado traces a 270-degree course through the ruddy sandstone. However, the Disneyland-like crowds and hefty parking fees ($10/vehicle) make this one of the most over-hyped destinations in the area. The newly-renovated trail to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook is wide, well-graded, and deemed ADA-accessible, but steady inclines could make wheelchair access difficult.

The hike

The Horseshoe Bend Trail in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is situated about 1.6 miles down Highway 89 from its junction with Route 98, just southwest of Page, Arizona. The well-marked turnoff leads to an entrance station, where visitors must pay a $10 parking fee. The massive parking lot beyond often hosts dozens and dozens of tour buses and private vehicles.

Starting down the Horseshoe Bend Trail

There is now basically only one official trail leading from the parking area: the path to Horseshoe Bend skirts a modest hill on the left, with broad views across the scrubby escarpment north to Lake Powell and Page, with the Vermilion Cliffs off to the northwest. There is little shade on this highly sun-exposed trail, save for two man-made overhangs, the first of which is encountered on the right after 2/10 mile.

Second of two shaded overhangs

After clearing the initial hill, the route officially enters Glen Canyon NRA and then passes a second overhang at about 1/3 mile. From here the trail begins a steady and winding descent, wrapping down to the ever-popular overlook after about 6/10 mile of “hiking.”

Horseshoe Bend from the overlook

While the main viewing area has a fence for protection, much of the surrounding rim is entirely exposed, with the vertical cliffs of the Navajo sandstone dropping precipitously to the Colorado River. Having encountered a particularly resistant chunk of the bedrock, the river here instead goes around it, forming the incised, or entrenched, meander visible today. Beyond Horseshoe Bend to the west, the flat plateau gives way to the higher cliffs of the Paria Canyon area and the Vermilion Cliffs, formed by older Jurassic period rocks.

Another look at Horseshoe Bend

After wrestling a place to snap a few photos at this scenic but immensely tourist-mobbed destination, return the way you came. All told, this short walk should occupy no more than 1-1.5 hours of your day, leaving plenty of time to explore some of the area’s more spectacular and lesser-visited hikes.

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Cathedral Wash (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ)

Cathedral Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, May 2021

Appearing modest from the trailhead, Cathedral Wash quickly deepens into a spectacular canyon that cuts through the Kaibab Limestone and Toroweap Formation in northern Arizona’s Glen Canyon area, ending at the Colorado River and a narrow sliver of Grand Canyon National Park. Don’t be fooled by the hike’s short distance: this is a trail-less adventure, requiring route-finding and mild scrambling to overcome several obstacles, including nasty pouroffs, muddy pools, and exposed ledges. That said, this is not a technical slot canyon, and—given that it is somewhat well-advertised by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area—it is a relatively popular hike for hikers of all ages, a fun half-day adventure in the area around Lee’s Ferry. (Note: As with all slot canyons, conditions vary widely; on some days, muddy pools are hard to avoid, while on other days—like during my visit in May 2021—avoiding wet feet is relatively straightforward. Due to flash flood danger, don’t enter when there is rain in the forecast!)

Map of Cathedral Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The hike

The entry to Cathedral Wash lies just within the pay area for Lee’s Ferry, just north of the “town” of Marble Canyon on the west flank of the Colorado, near the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center. While the Colorado River itself remains within the jurisdiction of Grand Canyon National Park, the bulk of the hike lies within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a massive tract best known for nearby Lake Powell, a dammed reservoir located upstream.

Vermilion Cliffs from the Cathedral Wash Trailhead

As visitors bear north on the road toward Lee’s Ferry, the drive takes one across a broad and crumbly shelf, with the multihued Vermilion Cliffs towering above to the west and the deep incision of Marble Canyon off to the east, obscured from view. The trailhead for Cathedral Wash lies 1.4 miles down Lee’s Ferry Road, with a long, paved pull-off on the left. From here, a wayside sign details the geology of the Vermilion Cliffs, and a second sign, indicating the start of the Cathedral Wash hike, guides the way into the wash. (Note: Technically one can continue up the wash, toward the Vermilion Cliffs, into Upper Cathedral Wash, but it is Lower Cathedral Wash—east from the trailhead—that packs the more spectacular views.)

From the trail sign, follow the sidewalk east-northeast to its end, after which the path turns to dirt and drops down into Cathedral Wash. Bear right and pass through a culvert under Lee’s Ferry Road, carefully following deep concrete steps on the other side to drop back to the natural wash, now on the east side of the road.

While the Vermilion Cliffs are primarily composed of “newer,” Jurassic-period rocks, the hike begins in the reddish Moenkopi Formation, a rock layer dating to the Triassic period (240-250 million years ago). This crumbly layer is ubiquitous across the Colorado Plateau, especially in nearby Utah, forming the base of tall geologic formations in places such as Zion and Capitol Reef National Park.

The Moenkopi sits atop the harder and even older Kaibab Limestone layer, which quickly comes into view as hikers make their way down into Cathedral Wash. After about ¼ mile of easy walking through the gradually-deepening canyon, the bedrock turns to a ghostly, speckled, cream-colored layer, marking the transition into the Kaibab Limestone. It is relatively unusual to find narrows and slot canyons in this layer (and the subsequent Toroweap Formation), but the gradual weathering of Cathedral Wash has revealed a weakness in the rock, allowing seasonal floods to cut ever deeper into the stony shelf en route to the Colorado River below.

Cathedral Wash in the Kaibab Limestone

Over the course of the next quarter-mile, the route drops down three minor pouroffs that are very short and easy to negotiate, after which the canyon briefly opens up, revealing ever-higher walls on both sides. Soon enough, the gorge narrows again, and hikers must bypass a boulder choke and drop by following the flat shelves on either the right or left.

After dropping back to the wash level, hikers encounter another minor obstacle minutes later: a set of three potholes, often filled with water. If dry, one can easy head right down the throat of the canyon, but most will want to again follow ledges on either side to bypass the puddles.

Bypassing a pouroff in Cathedral Wash

After this point, the canyon widens again, revealing chimneys of stacked limestone and Moenkopi high above. At 8/10 mile, a side drainage comes in from the left, although a tall dryfall makes access quite difficult.

Towering spires along Cathedral Wash

By now, hikers are around halfway to the Colorado, but the fun is only beginning, as the route in the latter half of the hike is considerably more challenging and slow-going. At 9/10 mile, hikers suddenly stumble upon a tall pouroff of 30 to 40 feet, impossible to handle head on without a rope or serious down-climbing experience. Fortunately, a shelf system off to the right offers safe passage, although the route requires some careful footing and use of handholds to descend. Rock cairns guide the way right, leading to a chute where it is possible to descend safely to the next level down. This is perhaps the most difficult scramble of the hike but should be passable to most hikers with some patience and perhaps some help from your fellow hiking companions.

Above the tall dryfall
Descending a chute to clear the dryfall

Once down a level, hikers should resist continuing straight down to the wash. Rather, follow the ledge as it approaches an overhang, then duck your head and follow the passage until it reemerges back into the open. Continue until reaching a small clutch of boulders, and again resist the temptation to descend to wash level, instead paralleling the right-hand wall. Here a straightforward, sandy path gently courses down to the next level.

Under the overhang

Keep skirting the right flank as you encounter a second nasty pouroff at 1.1 miles, this one guarded by a massive chockstone with a relatively deep, year-round pool below. Again the shelf system on the right is your friend, with natural stairsteps leading down easily to the wash, having put the pool behind you. Much of this is likely to be cairned, but continue to use careful footing and make good decisions – if following the path of least resistance, nothing resembling exposed “climbing” should be required.

Looking back toward the initial dryfall (around the corner to the right)

The walking thereafter is generally easier than this latest stretch, now behind you, and by now the canyon walls rise more than 100 feet. The sun and shadows reveal wild colors: beautiful reds, oranges, and even purples make for a picturesque setting.

After an ever-so-brief time in the wash bed, hikers will want to divert again—left this time—to avoid a muddy splash as the floor drops down a narrow chute. Bypass two drop-offs, staying left for around for around 150 yards, after which it is safe to descend to the wash bed. After following cairns to the right flank, the route drops back to wash level again and continues up and across a reasonable bypass on the left, avoiding a set of shallow pools.

Nearing the end of the narrows in Cathedral Wash

By 1.3 miles, the canyon has opened up considerably, marking the final stretch to the Colorado. With the roaring river within earshot, the path is easy work until a final boulder choke at about 1.5 miles, which requires either a controlled jump or rocky bypass on the left in order to clear. By now the walls on either side are as high as 300 feet above the canyon floor.

Looking back at Cathedral Wash from the Colorado River

At last, around 1.7 miles from the start, hikers emerge from the lush riparian vegetation and set their sights on the majestic Colorado River. As it snakes through Marble Canyon, the natural sculptor passes over a set of rumbling rapids; it is not uncommon to spot river rafters, having started at Lee’s Ferry earlier in the day, making their way through this early warm-up riffle (called Cathedral Wash Rapid), a teaser of what’s to come downstream.

Off to the north, the canyon bends right, and the high Navajo sandstone of Johnson Point (3,792’) is visible above the gorge. To the south, beyond the rapids, the river also rounds a right-hand bend en route to Navajo Bridge and the rest of the Grand Canyon.

Colorado River at Cathedral Wash

After stopping for a snack and dipping your feet in the chilly waters, return the way you came. With the sun shifting position and the canyon views different on the way up, there is plenty to enjoy despite retracing previously-trodden ground. The return journey will also test your memory, having to complete the route-finding and scrambling in reverse. Once you have cleared the initial 30- to 40-foot pouroff, it is smooth sailing for a little less than a mile back to the car.

Travel times will vary wildly depending on condition and comfort with the scrambling required, but it is wise perhaps to devote an entire morning to handling this spectacularly scenic slot.

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Cape Royal & Angel’s Window (Grand Canyon National Park, AZ)

Angel’s Window, Grand Canyon National Park, May 2021

Situated at the far southern fringe of the Walhalla Plateau along the North Rim, Cape Royal is one of Grand Canyon National Park’s finest viewpoints. From here the epic canyon unfolds to the south and east, revealing stunning colors, deep gorges, and towering buttes. An added bonus is the nearby Angel’s Window, a picturesque arch high on the limestone wall that beautifully frames the Colorado River—the canyon’s main sculptor—in the distance. Both Cape Royal and Angel’s Window can be seen on an easy, mile-long walk that covers several viewpoints, offering different vantage points of the grandest of all the world’s canyons.

The hike

The Cape Royal Trail begins from the parking area situated at the end of Cape Royal Road, 23 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center in Grand Canyon National Park. Though well away from the crowded area around the Visitor Center, Grand Canyon Lodge, and Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal is a popular spot as well – with good reason, perhaps, as this is one of the finest viewpoints in the park.

The paved trail begins by crossing a level stretch of land dotted with the area’s ubiquitous pinyon pines and junipers, as well as sagebrush, cliffrose, and currant. Interpretive signs offer detail on the local flora, while the views begin to open up at around 1/10 mile. Here, off to the left, is a terrific initial overlook, where hikers can get an excellent view of Angel’s Window, the triangle-shaped natural arch which captures the blue-green Colorado River in its frame. This wonder is the product of freezing and thawing, which accelerated erosion of the Kaibab limestone along the North Rim.

Angel’s Window with the Colorado River beyond

From this vista, hikers can continue on for another 1/10 mile, arriving at a junction with a spur leading left to another viewpoint, this one out across Angel’s Window. After reaching an initial viewing area, the trail drops down a series of rocky steps and ends at a windy outcrop high above the canyon. Railings shield hikers from a fall of more than 1,000 feet into the Unkar Creek drainage area.

View southeast toward the Colorado River, Desert View, and Cedar Mountain

Visitors get great views of several prominent features, including Freya Castle (7,299’), Vishnu Temple (7,529’), and Krishna Shrine (6,115’), as well as one of the best views from the rim of the Colorado River, visible (and sometimes audible) in the distance. Beyond the reddish-grey basin of the Colorado, the walls rise some 3,000 feet to the East Rim, with Cedar Mountain (7,053’) beyond. To the north, one can also see Cape Final (7,916’), Jupiter Temple (7,081’), and the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers beyond.

Freya Castle and Vishnu Temple from Angel’s Window

Returning to the main trail, bear left and continue south for 2/10 mile to Cape Royal, stopping at an unofficial (and unfenced!) viewpoint on the left, which sports great views of Vishnu Temple. The paved trail ends by curling around to a railed-in viewpoint and a smattering of interpretive signs. Dominating the landscape to the southwest is massive Wotans Throne, an iconic fixture of the northern half of the Grand Canyon. Beyond, one can spot Horseshoe Mesa and the Grandview area of the South Rim in the distance. Off to the southeast is Vishnu Temple again.

Wotans Throne from Cape Royal

Cape Royal is truly one of the most exceptional viewpoints at the Grand Canyon and well worth the lengthy drive and short walk. After walking to both the Cape Royal and Angel’s Window vistas, return to the trailhead, capping off a one-mile jaunt.

Vishnu Temple and the Grand Canyon
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Bridle Path – Transept Trail Loop (Grand Canyon National Park, AZ)

Transept Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, May 2021

At the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, much of the visiting population spends the bulk of their time in the narrow wedge of land that includes the campground, Visitor Center, and Grand Canyon Lodge. Surrounding on three sides by precipitous drop-offs to the canyon below, this area boasts a network of interlocking hiking trails, including the popular Bright Angel Point Trail, as well as this roughly 3-mile circuit, which combines the Bridge Path, Transept Trail, and a connector route that traverses the campground area. Named for a difficult-to reach, woody side canyon, the Transept Trail looks down on its namesake before snaking around to the base of the lodge and Bright Angel Point, with excellent views of the broader Grand Canyon. This is not the best hike on the North Rim, but it is convenient for those staying at the campground or lodge.

Map of the Bridle Path – Transept Trail Loop, Grand Canyon National Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

The circuit described here begins and ends at the large parking area adjacent to the North Rim Visitor Center and guest cabins, near the tip of Bright Angel Point in Grand Canyon National Park. The short hike to the overlook at Bright Angel Point heads south from here, while the Bridle Path parallels the east flank of the parking lot. Follow this track as it gradually pulls away from the parking area and teases views, between the firs and pines, of Roaring Springs Canyon, a tributary of Bright Angel Canyon and the main gorge carved by the Colorado River.

After ¼ mile, the wide Bridle Path clears the parking area and crosses Route 67, dipping to the west side and continuing north. Stay right at the junction with the Nature Trail, a short connector path, then left on the Bridle Path again as a doubletrack leads back up to the road to the right. From here the trail briefly ditches the intersecting trail network, meandering amid ponderosa pines, spruce firs, and other conifers, ubiquitous on the high Kaibab Plateau. At one point, the somewhat drab trail dips to clear a ravine, then climbs again to a level surface.

Bridle Path, at the junction with the spur to the campground

Make your way north on the Bridle Path, crossing a spur road to an administrative area at 9/10 mile, then take a left at the small sign indicating the way to the amphitheater/campground. Here a narrow singletrack leads away from the Bridle Path and bears west through the trees. One can continue straight here on the Bridle Path, connecting with the Transept Trail in another 4/10 mile, but heading left offers a shortcut that bypasses some more relatively uninteresting trees and gets one to canyon views sooner. So, bear left, following the dirt tread as it passes the outdoor amphitheater and then emerges at the entrance to the North Rim Campground.

From here, make your way south toward the General Store, at which point one should peer right – follow the track leading west from here, astride some maintenance buildings; it connects with the Transept Trail, the highlight of the loop.

Looking out at The Transept

Bearing left on the single-track, dense tree cover tends to obscure initial views of The Transept, a deep and narrow side canyon with cliffs that drop more than 3,000 feet. After around 5-10 minutes of walking, however, the visibility improves, with hikers able to make out the multiple rock layers along the opposite wall of The Transept to the west. The cream-colored Coconino Sandstone is largely interrupted, forming vertical cliff faces, while the crumbly Hermit Shale gives way to the ruddy Supai Group and Redwall Limestone.

Oza Butte and The Transept

To the south is Oza Butte (8,095’), a prominent landmark that ushers in the rest of the canyon ahead: on all but the haziest days, hikers should be able to see across to the South Rim. On clear days, the views extend as far as the San Francisco Peaks of the Flagstaff area beyond.

As the trail continues, it begins to cut in and out of shady ravines, mildly descending as a series of connector paths comes in from the left. At about 2.5 miles, the route finds the southern terminus of the Nature Trail, followed by one of the best overlooks along the Transept Trail: a wooden picnic table, set in the shade, with sweeping views of The Transept and Bright Angel Canyon.

Transept Trail, with Bright Angel Canyon and Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples in view

From here the path descends rather sharply to clear another ravine, then treads southward toward the tip of Bright Angel Point, rounding a left-hand bend at about 2.9 miles that leads one to within striking distance of the Grand Canyon Lodge. A spur to a railed-in overlook offers an excellent look at the canyon, after which the onward trail passes below the lodge and its lovely terrace on the left. Bear left on the staircase heading up to the lodge, or complete the loop by staying straight, dropping down a level to another junction, where hikers find the highly-trafficked thoroughfare to Bright Angel Point. Bear left here and follow the wide path back to the parking lot.

View from overlook near the Grand Canyon Lodge

This completes the circuit, clocking in at about 3.3 miles and perhaps 1.5-2 hours of relatively easy hiking.

Extra credit

Add in the short spur to Bright Angel Point for dramatic views, at the cost of only an additional half-mile of walking.

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Bright Angel Point Trail (Grand Canyon National Park, AZ)

Bright Angel Point Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, May 2021

Arizona’s magnificent Grand Canyon National Park has a lot going for it, although perhaps creative naming conventions is not one of them. One of the most ubiquitous names for various features in the park is “Bright Angel”: south of the Colorado River, the popular Bright Angel Trail descends from the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, while the congruously-named Bright Angel Canyon leads north from the Colorado, past the Bright Angel Campground, all the way to the North Rim. Here on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon is one last kindred namesake: Bright Angel Point, a panoramic overlook situated at the far extremity of a narrow jut of land more than 3,500 feet above the canyon below. The ¼-mile Bright Angel Point Trail is by far the most popular “hike” on the North Rim and offers an introductory—though not necessarily the best—view of one of the world’s most famous natural wonders.

The hike

Definitely the most crowded section of Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim is the area around the North Rim Visitor Center and Grand Canyon Lodge, crammed near the tip of a leafy finger of land jutting out above the canyon. From here, there are two avenues for reaching the Bright Angel Point Trail. The first, briefly following the level Bridle Path, begins just behind the Visitor Center at the southeast edge of the main parking area. The second option starts from a narrow staircase to the east of the lodge.

Start of the hike near the terrace of Grand Canyon Lodge

Taking the second choice, the stony staircase leads to a snaking path that ends at a junction, just below the terrace of the lodge on the right. Head left, following the signs for the Nature Trail and Bright Angel Point, then pass an initial overlook on the right. This first promontory offers views across a deep side canyon called The Transept, flanked on the opposite side by the rim and Oza Butte (8,065’). At the top of the canyon walls is the Kaibab Limestone, a Permian-period layer that is the youngest rock in the Grand Canyon (but often the oldest in nearby Utah parks like Capitol Reef). Below this is the less-discernable Toroweap Formation and the cliff-forming Coconino Sandstone, followed by the crumbly Hermit Shale and the reddish Supai Group, culminating with the sheer drop-offs of the ruddy Redwall Limestone.

Initial overlook with The Transept and Oza Butte beyond

Beyond the initial overlook, the onward path hugs the rim on the right, passing gnarly junipers, and then intersects with a broader, paved track coming in from the left (this is the path from the Visitor Center). Take a right here, heading southeast as the more heavily-vegetated Roaring Springs Canyon comes into view down to the left.

Roaring Springs Canyon, Uncle Jim Point, and Bright Angel Canyon

The narrowing path hugs a whitish wall of Kaibab limestone on the right, then rises out into the open amid some windswept trees. From here the trail drops to clear a neatly-crafted bridge at what might be the rocky ridge’s narrowest point. For the final approach, the paved but steep trail ascends steadily, keeping the high rock outcrops on the right, culminating at the railed-in overlook. This is Bright Angel Point (8,161’).

View out across Bright Angel Canyon toward the Colorado and South Rim

The near-panorama from the viewpoint is excellent. Ahead, to the south, The Transept feeds into the broader Bright Angel Canyon, which in turn steadily routes southwest toward the Colorado River. Though the Colorado is not visible, one can make out the deep drainage cut by the river in the distance, with the South Rim beyond on the horizon. On clear days, one can see as far south as the San Francisco Peaks in the Flagstaff area.

Back on this side of the Colorado, the walls to the east of Bright Angel Canyon are decorated with a series of colorful buttes: Deva Temple (7,339’), Brahma Temple (7,553’), and Zoroaster Temple (7,128’). Off to the right, visible in the background, just to the left of closer Oza Butte, is the towering Buddha Temple (7,203’).

Oza Butte with Buddha Temple beyond

It remains somewhat of a mystery why the Grand Canyon is much wider north of the Colorado than south of it, but the primary crafter of these side canyons, clefts, and buttes is not the Colorado but rather its tributaries—as well as the other main culprits of erosion: rain, freezing, and thawing.

The downside of Bright Angel Point, of course, is the crowds: visitors are likely to barely get a chance to take in the view and snap a few photos before giving in to peer pressure to move along and let others have their turn. There are finer and quieter viewpoints elsewhere along the North Rim, but consider this the appetizer.

When ready, return the way you came, venturing back toward the lodge, visitor center, or parking area. All told, the round-trip from the Grand Canyon Lodge is about 8/10 mile.

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North Rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ

Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park, May 2021

The deep incisions and multihued colors of northern Arizona’s Grand Canyon have captivated visitors for thousands of years, inviting spectators to reflect on their smallness in the midst of such massive grandeur. Today Grand Canyon National Park receives more than 5 to 6 million visitors each year, but the vast majority flock to the canyon’s more popular South Rim. Those looking for a little more solitude and a different take on the canyon can head to the North Rim, a 4.5-hour drive from the south side but considerably more accessible from southern Utah and even Las Vegas.

Driving on Route 67 across the highly-forested Kaibab Plateau, it’s hard to believe that a massive canyon, more than 10 miles wide and 5,000 feet deep, lies ahead. But as visitors pass the meadows south of Jacob Lake and traverse woody Thompson Canyon, they are finally tantalizingly close to the rim. Staying right at the first major junction past the entrance station, visitors can head to the Visitor Center, Bright Angel Lodge, and rim views from Bright Angel Point, a popular look into the canyon at 8,161 feet. Some short hikes, such as the Transept Trail and Bridle Path, explore the pine-studded plateau around here, while more ambitious hikers can venture down into Bright Angel Canyon via the North Kaibab Trail.

Better than the area around the Lodge and Visitor Center, however, is the 20-mile Cape Royal Road, which courses across the Walhalla Plateau to some of the park’s finest viewpoints, including Roosevelt Point, Walhalla Overlook, and the namesake Cape Royal. Eastward views from Roosevelt Point and Cape Royal extend across Grand Canyon to the vast Navajo Nation lands beyond, while southerly vistas from Cape Royal extend to the South Rim, with the San Francisco Peaks of the Flagstaff area on the horizon. Amidst the canyon are a series of craggy features that make the gorge special: massive Wotans Throne (7,721’), majestic Vishnu Temple (7,529’), and blocky Tritle Peak (8,388’)—among many other buttes and juts—tower above multi-hued canyons-within-canyons below. One particularly spectacular viewpoint is Point Imperial, at the end of a 2.6-mile spur road from the Cape Royal drive: from here, hikers can see east toward the Colorado River but are also spoiled with rocky pinnacles in the foreground, such as Mount Hayden (8,372’) (see photo above).

Although the North Rim is no secret, all this has a more low-key flavor than the bustling South Rim, making for an excellent day trip from Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona or perhaps a multi-day adventure. See below for a photo collection from various viewpoints along the North Rim.

View from Bright Angel Point on North Rim
Vishnu Temple from Walhalla Overlook
Unkar Creek drainage and Colorado River from Walhalla Overlook
Mount Hayden from the Ken Patrick Trail near Point Imperial
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