Grand Canyon’s Grandview Trail leads intrepid hikers and backpackers down a historic and rugged path into a quiet and beautiful portion of the canyon’s backcountry. Many hikers visiting the South Rim of Grand Canyon simply head for the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trails. But just east of these high-profile and well-worn routes, one will find access into Grand Canyon that was not originally intended for tourism or easy access – but for mining.
The search for minerals in Grand Canyon dates back to the Hopi Tribe, who gathered blue copper ores used for paints, as well as salt that leaches out of Cambrian-age sandstone near the Colorado River. In the late 1800s, miners realized the value of the rich copper ore and began mining areas in and around Grand Canyon.
The Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa was originally constructed by Pete Berry’s operation in order to access his Last Chance Mine. Over a period of approximately 14 years, hundreds of tons of high-grade copper ore were mined and carried up to the South Rim by pack mules. Teams of men worked steadily and remnants of the operation, including the cook house, mine shafts and equipment, rusty cans, and broken crockery can still be found on Horseshoe Mesa and along the trail. Hiking this trail today is still relatively rough and steep but it offers a unique glimpse back in time to before Grand Canyon was the tourist mecca that it is today.
Engineering the original trail was quite the feat in the late 1800s. Considerable time and money ($12,000) were invested in the construction of the trail back in the day. Following fault lines and natural features, the trail was crafted for practicality. Cobblestone ramps on the steepest sections are still in place today and log “cribbing” effectively pins the trail to the cliff face.
The trail hasn’t been without its problems, having washed out in many places during violent rainstorms in 2021, and some landslides tore through other sections in the winter if 2005. Repairs have been frequently made by trail crews, but in some spots, the landslides just require carefully picking your way through boulders. The Grandview Trail offers its fair share of exposure to heights so those wary of such things might reconsider attempting the hike. Some may also prefer hiking Grand Canyon’s Grandview Trail with an experienced Grand Canyon Guide.
Incredible views are achieved on the Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa. A sliver of the distant Colorado River is glimpsed near the top, jaw-dropping depths are witnessed from Coconino Saddle, and inner canyon vistas from Horseshoe Mesa are unbeatable.
Campsites are located on historic Horseshoe Mesa and easy strolls out the east and west “arms” of the mesa offer endless views and inspiration. You can also enjoy discovering some of the old mining relics as you explore.
To make your way deeper into the canyon, backpackers can choose between three trails that link Horseshoe Mesa and the Tonto Trail, some 1200 vertical feet below. These trails are considerably more rugged and should require careful advance planning and likely a backcountry permit for overnight backpacking, as it’s not appropriate for day hiking.
What About Water
Water along the trail is non-existent and must be packed in. Cottonwood Creek to the west and Miner’s Spring (Page Spring) to the east may provide seasonal water sources but cannot be 100% relied upon. They are also difficult to access and not practical if embarking on a day hike to Horseshoe Mesa. Grand Canyon’s Backcountry Information Center is a good resource for current water availability reports. Nonetheless, day hikers and backpackers to Horseshoe Mesa should plan on carrying all the water they need for the duration of their hike.
The Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa offers hikers an off-the-tourist-path opportunity to experience a wilder side of Grand Canyon’s extraordinary backcountry. If you enjoy a challenging hike, and are eager to experience a slice of Grand Canyon’s fascinating history, this is an excellent hike to consider.