A good start for planning any hike (outside of the Corridor Trails) in the Grand Canyon is National Geographic/Trails Illustrated trail map. You have to plan your hike around the Canyon itself (water, distances, existing trails) — then you have to overlay the NPS permit system and use requirements in hopes of maximizing the chance of getting your ‘Backcountry Permit’.
The NPS has divided the Grand Canyon into “Use Area Zones” and sets a “Use Limit” on each zone. Each “Use Area” has a “Camp Type” and a “Management Zone”.
Management Zones refer to the expected amount of use and level of maintenance an area can expect. As it works out these zones also relate to the level of experience a hiker should have to hike them.
There are 4 management zones: Corridor, Threshold, Primitive, and Wild.
Corridor zones have water, sanitation, lots of use, and people to help. The trails are like dirt staircases - and getting lost would take real effort. If hiking the Grand Canyon was a board game - there’d be an arrow pointing to the Corridor Trails saying “START HERE”.
Threshold zones have less certain water, fewer people, and no trail maintenance. Trails in these areas are generally pretty obvious - but at times will be completely obscured by rock slides, washouts, or lack of use. First time hikers shouldn’t hike in these areas.
Primitive zones have scarce to no water (seasonal - here today, gone tomorrow) and very occasional sightings of other people. Unmaintained trails and routes are the only way through these areas. Routes can require skilled route finding and occasionally luck to follow. Only HIGHLY experienced hikers have any business hiking in these areas. Getting lost on these trails is a real possibility.
Wild zones - just getting to a wild zone is difficult even for HIGHLY experienced hikers. You might say that if you ever see a Wild Zone in the Grand Canyon you are either in an airplane or lost.
There are 3 types of Camp Types: Designated Campground, Designated Campsites, and At Large.
Designating Campgrounds are on the Corridor Trails - they are Bright Angel, Cottonwood, and Indian Gardens.
Designated Campsites are in the relative high use Threshold areas. Hermit, Monument Creek, Horn Creek, Salt Creek, Cedar Spring, and Granite Rapids.
Finally is my favorite - At Large camping - which is anywhere in the Use Area.
So, with that in mind, lets look at the South Bass/Tonto/Hermit Loop.
Use Areas from Bass to Hermit: BQ9, BP9, BO9, BN9, BM7, BM8 - encompassing 9 canyons from beginning to end - frankly that’s a lot of canyons.
Use Area: BQ9
Main feature: Bass Trail
Use Limits: 1 group, 1 party, 24 campers
Camp Type: At large
Use Area: BP9
No main feature
Use Limts: 1 grp, 1 party, 32
Camp Type: At large
Use Area: BO9
No Main feature
Use limits: 1 grp, 1 party, 32
Camp Type: At Large
Use Area: BN9
Main feature: Boucher Trail
Use Limits: 1 grp, 1 party, 32
Camp type: At Large
Use Areas: BM7 BM8
Main Feature: Hermit Trail
BM7 — Hermit Creek
Use Limits: 1 grp, 3 parties, 40
BM8 — Hermit Rapids
Use Limits: 1 grp, 1 party, 24
(Parties are 1-8 people hiking together)
(Groups are 9-16 people hiking togther)
This is the basic information we’ll need for general planning. We’ll use the Use Area designators for the National Park Service permit request when we make it. For each canyon we’ll research the water sources and information about access to the Colorado River.