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Soap Canyon
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park
soap canyon
Soap Canyon
Trailhead (view E)


This 4.25-mile, 4.5-hour route runs down Soap Canyon to the Colorado River in the Marble Canyon section of the Grand Canyon. This route requires some route finding, but in general, from the trailhead, the route runs down a wash that gradually gets deeper and deeper, then drops into a deep, narrow canyon. The canyon is narrow and fairly difficult for about 1/4 of the route, but much of the rest is fairly easy terrain. Views in Soap Canyon, and views up and down the river, are spectacular, and it is always fun to watch river runners shoot the rapids.

There are several 3rd-class pour-overs, and there is considerable boulder hopping across steep boulder fields. Most of the difficult parts are passed on narrow use-trails or on cairn routes through boulder fields on the south side of the canyon.

Link to map.

soap canyon route
Starting into the canyons

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this route is pretty difficult with lots of high places to stumble off into the abyss and plenty of 3rd-class scrambling. Clambering through the rock slides requires constant attention to footing. One awkward down-climb might have a fixed rope, but don't count on it. Take 20-25 feet of rope for lowering and hauling packs.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This trail is long and the area is isolated, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Be sure that you are physically fit and that you choose routes of the appropriate difficulty for your skills and endurance.

Soap Canyon
First taste of what's to come

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located on the north side of the Grand Canyon, but at the far east end of the Grand Canyon (northeast Arizona), about 5 hours northeast of Las Vegas.

From Las Vegas, drive out towards the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From Jacobs Lake, continue east down off the mountain on Highway 89A. In the desert flats below the Vermillion Cliffs, stop at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge (Table 1, Wpt. Road_0), the only civilization for miles around.

soap canyon route
Below the first serious pour-over

At the Cliff Dwellers (Wpt. Road_0), turn around and drive back west for about 1.1 miles to a dirt road to the south (Wpt. Road_1), which has a Soap Canyon Trailhead sign. Drive southeast towards the corrals. Past an old building, but before the corrals stay left until you find the road, then drive northeast to the trailhead (Wpt. Road_2).

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Wpt. 01), the route starts into a shallow, sandy wash in a flat shrubby grassland atop the Kaibab Limestone. This wash is a tributary to the south fork of Soap Canyon. As the wash cuts into the limestone, the wash deepens as the hills and walls along the wash begin to rise. The canyon narrows, and rocky pour-overs begin to slow progress. One pour-over (Wpt. 2) requires lowering heavy packs and a short, 3-rd class downclimb through a slot in the floor of the wash.

soap canyon route
Easy hiking in the upper canyon

A few yards farther down the canyon, the wash intersects the south fork of Soap Canyon (Wpt. 3). Take a look at the confluence from below so you will recognize it on the way out.

Below the confluence, the canyon deepens and narrows with high walls, and the hiking is easy for a ways. When the canyon begins to widen, a high pour-over (Wpt. 4) is bypassed by walking on the hillside on the south side of the canyon.

This is the beginning of a pattern: almost every difficulty is passed on the south side of the canyon -- watch for narrow use-trails and cairn routes. The natural tendency is to try to stay in the bottom of the canyon, but resist the urge and follow cairn routes through the boulder fields. Believe me, travel is easier along the cairn routes in the boulders.

soap canyon route
More difficult hiking in the canyon

For the next half-mile or so, the route becomes very difficult and difficult to follow as the wash cuts through the Coconino Sandstone and huge boulders choke the canyon. There are boulder fields to traverse and pour-overs to negotiate. Crossing one boulder field (Wpt. 6) stay as high as possible under the red mudstone cliffs; off-route cairns lead down, but that is not the way to go. Farther down, watch for a narrow trail that runs high on the south wall and bypasses difficult sections (Wpt. 10), although the steep descent at the end of the use-trail is a bit airy.

Past the trail and below the steep descent, cross to the north side of the canyon, circle around the north side of an enormous boulder, and downclimb an awkward set of boulders (Wpt. 11) where a fixed rope may be helpful. The downclimb is a total of about 20 feet, but the difficult spot is just one big hop. This downclimb bring you below the Coconino Sandstone.

soap canyon route
Steep, narrow trail to bypass the major pour-over

Continue to stay to the south side of the canyon where possible as the wash cuts into the Hermit Shale. Here the canyon widens and the walls lay back. The hiking is easier from here on down to the river.

In about a third of a mile, the ground becomes damp as the route passes a seepy spring (Wpt. 12), and in another third of a mile, the route arrives at the confluence with Soap Canyon, proper (Wpt. 13).

The route continues to follow the bottom of the wash and enters Grand Canyon National Park (Wpt. 14) just before Soap Canyon opens into the Grand Canyon.

soap canyon route
Steep descent with exposure

Past the walls of Soap Canyon, use-trails run down both sides of the wash. The northern trail winds out to a nice sandy beach and camping area popular with river runners. There is room here for many tents in and among tall Saltcedar and Willow trees.

The southern trail winds out and across a sand dune area to campsites on a bench above the river. These sites also have some shade from Saltcedar and Willow.

soap canyon route
The most difficult climb is to get over these boulders
soap canyon route
Easy street with water
soap canyon route
Some of the lower canyon is slow going, but not difficult
soap canyon route
Grand Canyon National Park boundary sign
soap canyon route
Backpacker campsite
Soap Canyon
Quality time with the kids
Soap Canyon
Rafters passing camp
Soap Canyon
Kayaks downstream a ways
Soap Canyon
Colorado River just above Soap Creek Rapids; Marble Canyon
Soap Canyon
Colorado River just below Soap Creek Rapids; Marble Canyon
Soap Canyon
Highway 89A at Soap Creek access road (view SW)
Soap Canyon
Past the corrals, approaching trailhead parking (view NE)
Soap Canyon
Soap Canyon trailhead parking (view NE)
Soap Canyon
Soap Canyon trailhead and sign-in register (view E)

Table 1.Highway Coordinates (NAD27, UTM Zone 12S). NOTE: This is UTM Zone 12. Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Latitude Longitude Easting Northing Elevation Distance
Road_0 Cliff Dweller 36.74385 111.75301 432775 4066520 4,125 0.0
Road_1 Turnoff 36.72888 111.76095 432052 4064864 4,230 1.1
Road_2 Trailhead 36.72998 111.75395 432678 4064981 4,178 1.6

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates (NAD27, UTM Zone 12S). NOTE: This is UTM Zone 12.Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation Time (hrs) Point-to-Point Distance Cumulative Distance
01 Trailhead 432679 4064981 4,178 1311 0.00 0.00
02 Slot Pour-over 433673 4064904 4,082 1341 0.77 0.77
03 Confluence 433753 4064849 3,993   0.07 0.84
04 Major Pour-over 434148 4065031 3,949 1356 0.31 1.15
05 Cairns 434227 4065116 3,862   0.08 1.23
06 Boulder Field 434267 4065096 4,864   0.04 1.27
07 Cairn Route 434291 4065139 3,887 1425 0.03 1.30
08 Bottom of Scramble 434314 4065168 4,569   0.03 1.33
09 Bottom of Wash 434385 4065228 3,733 1432 0.11 1.44
10 Top of Scramble 434685 4065196 3,659 1444 0.24 1.68
11 Climb Down 434685 4065234 3,580   0.03 1.71
12 Spring in wash 435052 4065525 3,450   0.31 2.02
13 Confluence 435584 4065728 3,369 1631 0.39 2.41
14 GRCA Boundary Sign 437544 4065997 3,072   1.42 3.83
15 Camp on Colorado River 438036 4065708 3,061 1740 0.42 4.25

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 140413

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