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Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Spring – Grand Canyon National Park’s Most Underrated South Rim Hike

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Last Updated on February 11, 2024 by Sarah Puckett

Nestled within the colossal expanse of Grand Canyon National Park lies a trail less traveled, a pathway to solitude, wonder, and unparalleled natural beauty. The Hermit Trail, a hidden gem within this iconic landscape, offers intrepid adventurers a chance to delve deeper into the heart of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring wonders.

We’ve visited Grand Canyon National Park three times, and each time we’ve hiked a different trail or visited different overlooks, and without question, we found the most solitude on the Hermit Trail. We hiked the Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Springs for an excellent day hike, and this is the route we recommend for you too! It’s long enough to get you deep into the canyon and is the perfect length and difficulty for a day hike.

Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles: plan your hike in advance, stick to designated trails, carry out all your belongings, dispose of waste properly, leave natural areas untouched, minimize the impact of campfires, show consideration for fellow hikers, and avoid approaching or feeding wildlife.

Tim Hiking on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Disclaimer: Grand Canyon Adventures hosted us on a guided hike in Grand Canyon National Park in exchange for social media content and this blog post. All opinions and recommendations are our own, and we hope that they make your planning easier and your adventure even better!

This blog post covers everything you need to know about hiking the Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Springs, including trail stats, how to get to the trailhead, what to expect, and more.

Hermit Trail At-A-Glance

Hermit’s Rest to Santa Maria Springs (Recommended for a day hike)

  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation change: 1753 feet of elevation loss and gain
  • Estimated time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Hermit’s Rest to Hermit’s Rapids (Colorado River)

  • Distance: 17.5 miles
  • Elevation change: 5013 feet of elevation loss and gain
  • Estimated time: Overnight backcountry trip
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
Tim on the Hermit Trail in the Grand Canyon

History of the Hermit Trail

The Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park holds a rich history steeped in exploration and development. Originally blazed by prospector Louis Boucher in the late 19th century, it was expanded and improved by the Santa Fe Railway, aiming to create a tourist destination.

Boucher, known as the “Hermit of the Grand Canyon,” established the initial trail to access his mining claim and tourist camp. He utilized mules to transport supplies, creating a path from the rim to the Colorado River. However, the trail was challenging and rugged, primarily used by those seeking a more adventurous route into the canyon.

The Santa Fe Railway recognized the tourism potential and, in the early 20th century, invested in the trail’s expansion to accommodate visitors. They developed infrastructure, including a trailhead, lodging, and amenities at the top and bottom. These efforts aimed to attract tourists to the stunning vistas and unique experiences offered by the canyon.

If you hike down the Hermit Trail just a mile, you’ll see the trail is made of cobblestones, a reminder of the elaborate efforts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to draw tourists to the Grand Canyon. Tourists back then paid the modern equivalent of nearly $600 for transportation down to camp.

Tim Hiking on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Hiking the Hermit Trail

Entering Grand Canyon National Park

In order to get to the Hermit Trail, you need to first enter Grand Canyon National Park at the South Rim. This is the main entrance to the national park. Visitors must pay an entrance fee of $35 per vehicle at the gate or online in advance. Note that you do NOT need a timed entry permit or advanced reservation to enter the park at this time (nor are there currently plans for this in the future).

Rather than pay an entrance fee, however, we recommend buying a national parks pass for entry to all NPS sites at no additional cost for a full 12 months from when you purchase.

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America The Beautiful National Parks Pass at REI

Note: if you visit the Grand Canyon on a guided tour with Grand Canyon Adventures like we did when we hiked the Hermit Trail, you do not need to pay an additional entrance fee. The tour company will handle it when you arrive.

Getting to the Hermit Trail Trailhead at Hermit’s Rest

In order to access Hermit’s Rest, which is at the end of Hermit Road, you will need to take the free park shuttle from the Visitor’s Center. The shuttle system is efficient and easy to use, and shuttles stop regularly.

If you visit in December, January, or February, you can drive your own private vehicle down Hermit Road to Hermit’s Rest, but note that the road is frequently closed in winter due to snow and ice.

If you hike the Hermit Trail with a guide, your guide can drive and park the tour company’s commercial vehicle all the way to Hermit’s Rest, bypassing the need for a shuttle altogether.

Miles 1-2 on the Hermit Trail

From the Hermit Trail trailhead, you’ll soon start a descent via switchbacks below the canyon rim.

The Hermit Trail is a great place to see the various geological layers of the Grand Canyon. As you hike down the trail into the Waldron Basin, you’ll literally be stepping back in time into the Permian Era between 200 and 300 million years ago (the same era that formed the supercontinent Pangea and gave rise to the world’s first mammals and dinosaurs) as you descend into the Toroweap Formation, then Coconino Sandstone, before entering the Hermit Formation.

Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

We even saw fossilized footprints of a bird-like animal in the Coconino Sandstone on the trail, which our guide pointed out to us!

Fossilized footprints on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Scenic Grand Canyon View

The further you go down the trail, the better the views become. Around one corner of the trail about half of a mile before you get to Santa Maria Spring is a rock outcropping that makes for an excellent viewpoint over the unique geological layers of the Grand Canyon opened up before you.

From here, the trail flattens out substantially as you approach Santa Maria Spring.

Sarah and Tim and at overlook on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

You’ll also start to get your first view of the hut at Santa Maria Spring as you go around the corner.

Santa Maria Spring Grand Canyon National Park Hermit Trail

Santa Maria Spring

The Santa Maria Spring is a natural spring and crucial water source marked with a rest house that was built in 1913 and today is covered in lush green foliage. It’s a shady place to take a seat, have a snack, and hydrate. Inside the hut is a log book with a pen where you can add your name to the list of visitors who have made it to this remote location in the Grand Canyon!

Santa Maria Spring cabin on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Next to the hut is a trough of water collected from the spring. Help yourself, but be sure to filter and treat the water before drinking.

Santa Maria Spring on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

From Santa Maria Spring, you can turn around and hike back up the way you came to complete the approximately 5-mile round trip hike from Hermit’s Rest to Santa Maria Spring.

Remember, it’s a steep climb back up to the canyon rim and Hermit’s Rest. Going down is optional, but coming up is not. Only hike as far down into the canyon as you are capable of hiking out.

Helpful Tips and FAQ for Hiking the Hermit Trail

What should I bring with me to hike the Hermit Trail?

At a minimum, you should plan to bring a backpack with at least 3 liters of water, lots of salty snacks, and a sandwich or other substantial food for lunch. This applies to any hike in Grand Canyon National Park.

If you are on a tour with Grand Canyon Adventures, they’ll take care of your snacks and food, and will also help you make sure you have enough water for your hike.

It’s also worth noting that the trail is very steep and covered in loose rocks many times. I slipped and fell on my butt twice! Hiking poles can be very helpful for stability on steep trails. They will save your knees on the way down and allow your arms to carry some of your body weight uphill so you aren’t putting it all on your legs.

Is there a picnic area near the Hermit Trail trailhead?

Yes! In fact, the most scenic picnic tables we’ve ever seen are located right next to the parking area for the Hermit Trail. Our guide from Grand Canyon Adventures prepared a picnic for us overlooking the canyon – complete with a tablecloth! Talk about a luxury lunch!

Is a guided tour right for me?

A guided hiking tour could be right for you if any of the following apply to you:

  1. You are a less-experienced hiker
  2. You want added safety and first-aid (including emergency satellite communication)
  3. You would like snacks, water, and food handled for you
  4. You like learning about geology, history, and plants/animals
  5. You aren’t sure which hike is right for you,
  6. You want a personal guide to some of the best scenic stops in the Grand Canyon

Check out Grand Canyon Adventures to read more about their tour offerings!

We also visited the Flagstaff Area National Monuments with Grand Canyon Adventures. You can read about that experience here!

How hard is the Hermit Trail?

I would consider the Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Springs to be a difficult hike. It is quite steep and the trail isn’t as well maintained as South Kaibab or Bright Angel trails, which generally see a much higher volume of traffic.

It’s also important to keep in mind what the weather is like when you plan to hike. We hiked the Hermit Trail in November and found temperatures to be perfect. It was still warm, with temps in the 60s and 70s, which should tell you something about how hot the Grand Canyon gets in the summer. I generally would advise against doing any hikes below the rim in summer, due to the dangerous level of heat common in the canyon.

Can you drive to Hermit’s Rest?

If you visit outside of the March 1 to November 30 (in other words, if you visit in December, January, or February) window, you can drive your own private vehicle to Hermit’s Rest and the Hermit Trail trailhead. If you visit March through November, you will need to take the free national park shuttle or visit on a guided tour.

Can you hike the Hermit Trail all the way to the Colorado River?

Yes, you can hike rim-to-river for 9.7 miles (one-way) to Hermit Rapids. However, because of the intense elevation change combined with distance and heat in the canyon, the National Park Service does not recommend hiking to the river and back in a single day. Instead, if you want to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Hermit Trail, you should plan to backpack overnight and split the hike into two days.

Final Thoughts on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

In conclusion, embarking on the Hermit Trail to Santa Maria Springs isn’t just a hike—it’s an immersive journey through time, history, and the raw beauty of Grand Canyon National Park. This less-traveled path leads to Santa Maria Springs, a verdant oasis amid the canyon’s ruggedness.

As you traverse this trail, you’ll encounter stunning vistas, witness the canyon’s geological wonders, and experience the profound serenity that comes from being immersed in one of the world’s most majestic landscapes. The trek to Santa Maria Springs via the Hermit Trail promises not just a hike, but an unforgettable bucket list experience below the rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Sarah and Tim at Ooh Aah Point In grand canyon national park

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