Grand Canyon Deer Creek & Thunder River
Fully Guided Trip
Extremely Remote and Demanding
Not for the faint of heart, the ~30 mile Deer Creek & Thunder River loop is the undisputed crown jewel of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim loops.
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What is included on your backpacking trips?
Backpacking trips include overnight permits, lightweight tents, team cooking equipment, main meals, trailhead transport from the closest town, water purification, team first aid and emergency communication, and of course experienced backpacking guides. Almost all of our backpacking trips also include a hotel night (double occupancy) before and after the hike, as well as a team dinner pre- and post-hike.
What gear do I need to bring?
Dreamland Safari Tours provides tents, team cooking gear, water purification, team first aid & emergency communications. You need to bring (or rent) a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cup/bowl/spoon, and your hiking attire including a waterproof jacket and down jacket. Rentals for backpacks, sleeping bags & sleeping pads are available through Dreamland Safari Tours.
What type of food should I expect?
Dreamland Safari Tours provides breakfasts, dinners, and light lunches while we are on the trail (as well as water, coffee and tea). You can expect both fresh meals and the occasional backpacker's freeze-dried meal. We can accommodate many dietary restrictions with prior notice.
What is the bathroom situation?
Except for the Grand Canyon itineraries, there are no outhouses to be found on our backpacking itineraries. On most backpacking trips, expect to bury solid human waste by digging cat holes. For some itineraries such as the Paria and Buckskin Gulch, the use of wag bags is mandatory.
How much weight will I have to carry?
Standard pack weights for most of our itineraries vary between 35 to 40 lbs, which includes a ~5 lbs team gear allocation in addition to your personal gear. Your gear choices, trip duration, and water availability on your itinerary are the main determinants of final pack weight.
Is it possible to hire porters?
Most of our itineraries are subject to strict group size limits, which makes it difficult to impossible to offer porter services. That said: if you are booking a private backpacking adventure and would like to explore the possibility of adding on porter services, please give us a call or send us an email to discuss.
How do I get to Kanab or Escalante or... ?
Most of our backpacking programs start and finish in small desert towns which can be admittedly hard to reach. Public transport options are very limited, which makes travel by (rental) car advisable. If you are flying in and would like to avoid renting a car, please give us a call - we may be able to assist with car pools with other backpackers or airport pick ups.
Is there a place to leave my vehicle?
There is a safe spot to park your vehicle for the duration of the backpack on each of our itineraries.
Is tipping the guide customary?
Yes! A typical gratuity is $20-$40 per person per day -- so for a 5-day trip, the suggested tip would be between $100 and $200 total. You can read more about guide tipping from the perspective of one of our guides on our blog here.
About Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
Backpacking in Grand Canyon National Park is an adventure of a special kind. Out of the nearly five million visitors that the Grand Canyon receives each year, fewer than 1% venture below the rim. Out of the adventurous few who hike and backpack below the rim, the vast majority spend time on the so-called “corridor” trails – Bright Angel, South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails, home to the classic Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim itineraries.
There are a lot of considerations that go into preparing for a Grand Canyon backpacking adventure. Given the steep initial descent and final ascent that come with any below-the-rim adventure, physical fitness is paramount. Advance permits are required for any overnight stays below the rim, and campgrounds regularly book up months in advance.
Due to the ~5,000 ft vertical difference in altitude between the rim and the Colorado River, prospective hikers also have to be prepared for extreme temperature swings and wildly varying conditions. It is not unusual for temperatures at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to be 20 degrees hotter than at the rim. If the forecast calls for a pleasant 78 degrees Fahrenheit at the South Rim, it may be a scorching 100 degrees at Phantom Ranch.
Yet for all those who are not deterred by the steep terrain, highly variable weather, and extreme remoteness of the Grand Canyon below the rim, any backpacking trip into the canyon is bound to create memories that will last a lifetime.
About Deer Creek & Thunder River
The Deer Creek / Thunder River loop is far, far beyond the “popular” corridor trails. In addition, just getting to the Thunder River Trailhead requires a long and remote approach on dirt roads that deters all but the most seasoned desert explorers.
The remoteness of the Deer Creek / Thunder River loop is matched by its exquisite natural beauty. Over the course of almost thirty miles, you will descend from the North Rim to the expansive Esplanade level before dropping into the inner canyon, where the oases of Deer Creek, Tapeats Creek and Thunder River await. From waterfalls to swimming holes, from exposed traverses to a spectacular slot canyon – the Deer Creek / Thunder River loop has it all.
To complete the Deer Creek / Thunder River loop, you have to be prepared for almost 30 miles with >12,000ft of vertical change (including over 6,000ft of ascent) and several demanding traverses that require sure-footedness. This backpacking adventure also requires some short scrambles and is not suited for those who are afraid of heights.
About Dreamland’s Guided Deer Creek / Thunder River Backpack
At Dreamland Safari Tours we are proud to utilize our decades of experience in desert adventures, backcountry risk management and expedition planning to whisk you away to these magical Grand Canyon locales. You bring your personal backpacking gear & camera; we take care of the team gear logistics. Rental options for select gear such as backpacks and sleeping bags are available.
Our 6-day guided Deer Creek / Thunder River Backpacking Adventure includes:
- 4 days on the Deer Creek / Thunder River loop plus two nights in Kanab (one before the backpack, and one afterwards)
- Main meals & lodging in Kanab pre- and post-trail, double occupancy; contact us to inquire about the possibility of a single supplement
- Trailhead transport from and to Kanab
- Experienced backpacking guides at a 1:4 guide-to-guest ratio
- Lightweight backpacking tents (unless you prefer to bring your own)
- Team cooking equipment
- Breakfasts and dinners while on the trail
- Water purification and/or water resupply
- Team first-aid kit and Wilderness First Responder certified guides
- Satellite messenger communication in case of emergency
- Human waste bags where required
- Pre-trip gear & training advice as desired
- Overnight permits for Grand Canyon National Park
You will receive a detailed trip handbook & gear list once you reserve your spot on this adventure. Meanwhile, the below rough gear list provides guidance on what backpacking equipment to bring or rent:
- Backpack (55 – 65 liters)
- Sleeping bag, rated to 20 degrees or warmer
- Sleeping pad/s
- 4 liters of water capacity
- Personal bowl, cup and spoon
- Hiking boots
- Down jacket
- Rain jacket
- Hiking attire
- Personal snacks
Gear provided by Dreamland Safari Tours:
- Trekking poles
- Team cooking gear & meals
- Water purification
- Team first aid kit
- GPS communication
Permits & Group Size
Please note that there is a 3 person minimum for this itinerary. The maximum group size is 9 guests + 2 guides.
Overnight permits for Grand Canyon backpacking adventures become available three months prior to departure and are competitive in nature. We take care of all permitting requirements on your behalf and will reconfirm the details of your departure as soon as we have permits in hand. In the event that we are unsuccessful in obtaining permits for your scheduled dates and itinerary, we will work with you to establish an alternative and/or provide a refund for any fees already paid.
November 4-9 2023
Check back as we intermittently add new dates to our schedule!
Interested in a private Deer Creek / Thunder River backpacking trip just for your group? Call us at 435.644.5506.
Fully Guided Tour
5pm – Hotel check-in followed by trip briefing and gear check
~7pm – Team welcome dinner
Dinner & double occupancy lodging are included in the price of this adventure
~9am – Guests meet at the Dreamland Safari Tours office at 406 East 300 South, Kanab, Utah 84741. Guests may leave cars or extra bags here.
Trailhead transfer to Indian Hollow. Trailhead lunch, followed by descent to the Esplanade. Establish camp for the night. ~8 miles hiking.
Day 3 & 4
8-10 daily miles of hiking to visit Deer Creek, Tapeats Creek, Thunder River and the Colorado. Campsite selection and precise itinerary are flexible based on permit allocations.
Hike out to Indian Hollow (~8 miles, 1,000ft of ascent)
Afternoon trailhead pickup and return transfer to Kanab, hotel check-in. Team celebration dinner.
Dinner & lodging are included in the price.
Day 6 – Depart
Guest Experiences with Dreamland Safari Tours
We had a phenomenal winter adventure walking the length of the Paria canyon with some side canyon explorations. This was major bucket list check off! Sunny did a fantastic job as the lead guide. Our meals were plentiful and excellent. She had some great tips and tricks for comfort for winter camping. I enjoyed learning about the Paria from her and getting to know her better. She is a great steward of Leave No Trace ethics and safe backpacking practices. I also really enjoyed hiking with Maddi and Andrea who also guide with Dreamland.
Sunny was great about pre-trip communication. She developed a thorough pre-trip packet and answered my emails promptly. I really appreciate the extra time she took to give me gear, day hike, and reading recommendations. Booking was easy and I think the price is spot on for all that is included and her service. Her itinerary included hotel stays before and after the trip with associated meals. This was a huge perk that other groups do not routinely offer. It was great to have a “home base” in Kanab at either end of the trip.
I highly recommend this multi-day backpack excursion with Dreamland as well as their other day trips.
Diantha W – February 2021
My family and I did a 42 mile hike down the Paria with Sunny and Nathalie. It was AMAZING. I felt so completely confident with the terrain knowing that Sunny was scouting quick-sand and drop-offs for us. It was the most beautifully in-nature immersive experience I’ve ever had. I learned so much from each of these marvelous women and can’t wait for my next trip with them. The trip was technically through Sunny’s company AWExpeditions, and supported by Dreamland.
From what I understand, the conditions during our particular trip were a little more cumbersome than usual due to this season’s floods. We trained the whole year in advance and did great, we were aged 34-68, and I’m heavy enough that people don’t reach for the term “athletic” when they see me, but we all did great. Felt good to live in my body and move in tune with my body for 5 whole days.
Also, shout out to Jan who drove us to the trailhead and picked us up; her enthusiasm and support was memorable.
Shannon B – October 2022
WOW! I just completed a two night backpack through Buckskin Gulch with Sunny and Orion from Dreamland Safari Tours. Both guides were really capable, knowledgeable and fun to be around. I appreciated all the pre-hike planning that Dreamland put into this difficult hike through this wet slot canyon – this enabled me to be prepared for this rigorous tour.
I would definitely recommend Dreamland for your future adventures.
Neal W – October 2020
Wow! Just wow! Everything I was hoping for and more. The geology was jaw dropping, the trip organization was stellar, and Sunny’s intimate knowledge of the canyon allowed us to see the little secrets that other will miss. But the best part was Sunny’s competency in not only leading the trip, but invoking a camaraderie and chemistry amongst a group of strangers that will inevitably lead to long term friendships. That is is a gift to all of us!
Tina Q – October 2021
What to Expect on this Deer Creek & Thunder River Guided Trip
This is a challenging multi-day trip for seasoned hikers, and the most physically demanding backpacking adventure out of all the guided backpacking trips we offer; prior backpacking experience is required. While the Deer Creek & Thunder River Backpack is a fully guided adventure and Dreamland Safari Tours will take care of group logistics, you have to be prepared to carry your own overnight gear as well as up to four liters of water, snacks, and your share of the food required for the entire time on the trail. Depending on your gear choices and packing discipline, your backpack will likely weigh upwards of 35 pounds. Each day we will cover 8-10 miles of rugged, remote, steep and frequently exposed terrain. This backpacking trip is not suitable for those who have knee issues or are afraid of heights. If you are concerned about the level of steepness or exposure on this adventure, you may enjoy our Paria Canyon or Boulder Mail Trail backpacking trips instead.
If you are at all concerned about your physical ability to complete and enjoy this backpacking adventure, please give us a call at 435-644-5506 to discuss the feasibility of your participation.
What Gear Should I Bring To Hike Deer Creek & Thunder River?
All participants will receive a comprehensive gear check list as well as recommendations for gear to buy or rent for this trip. We provide tents, cooking gear & meals but ask that participants bring their own overnight gear (i.e. backpack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag etc.). Dreamland Safari Tours has rentals available for select gear items such as backpacks, sleeping bags, and trekking poles, which may be reserved on a first-come-first-serve basis.
A Word about Grand Canyon Below-The-Rim Backpacking Permits
Overnight permits for Grand Canyon backpacking adventures become available three months prior to departure and are competitive in nature. We take care of all permitting requirements on your behalf and will reconfirm the details of your departure as soon as we have permits in hand. In the even that we are unsuccessful in obtaining permits for your scheduled dates and itinerary, we will work with you to establish an alternative and/or provide a refund for any fees already paid.