Hiking Guide: Exploring Arizona’s Hopi Salt Trail

We awoke to the familiar yet amazing views of the Grand Canyon and began getting ready for an excellent day hiking the Hopi Salt Trail. After making breakfast and launching my drone for the first time (both scary and exhilarating), we headed off – with little idea of what the hike would physically be like.

We started just after 9 am with perfect weather conditions. Three hours and eight minutes later, we’d be at the bottom of the Hopi Salt Trail and getting ready to go swimming. But we won’t gloss over the trip that fast.

Hopi salt trail canyon

Hopi Salt Trail Hiking Details

  • Distance: 5.5 – 6.5 miles one way
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Beauty: Ridiculous
  • Permit Required: Yes

A quick breakdown of the Hopi Salt Trail

The Hopi Salt Trail is a challenging hike. With 3k feet of elevation gain, it would be hard enough if the trail was maintained, but this one is not. Think about the worst trail you’ve ever hiked on, and this will rival it. I had a lot of anxiety going down certain sections, which added to the difficulty. Also, hiking with the sun beating overhead didn’t make it any better.

I found the way up to be more accessible. You don’t fear falling down the mountain; it only took us 30 minutes longer to come up. We also had a shaded canyon for most of the hike, which helped immensely.

What to know before hiking the Hopi Salt Trail in the Grand Canyon

Permits Are Required for the Hopi Salt Trail

You need a hiking permit to hike the Hopi Salt Trail. It’s not hard to get, but they need to be within business hours. You can pick them up in Cameron, Arizona, right by the roundabout. The location is here.

Higher Clearance Vehicle Needed

It’s an undeveloped dirt road out to the Hopi Salt Trail trailhead. From what I remember, it wasn’t in bad shape, but you’ll want some extra clearance and an AWD to ensure you don’t get stuck.

Sleeping at the Hopi Salt Trail Trailhead

I camped out both times at the trailhead and saw hardly another soul. It’s a pretty magical experience to be surrounded by that much beauty! Make sure to bring all that you need as there are no facilities or anything out there.

You are on your own.

Hopi salt trail canyon
Hopi salt trail canyon

How to stay safe on the Hopi Salt Trail

  • Don’t hike the Hopi Salt Trail alone
  • Download the trail and bring a comms device
  • Bring more water than you think/get a filter for the bottom
  • Make sure you’re using real hiking boots – no running shoes while on the Hopi Salt Trail
  • Keep an eye on the sun. It’ll get dark in the canyon quicker than the sunset time. Also, start early.
  • Stay away May-August. It might be lovely at the top, but you’re dropping to an elevation comparable to Phoenix. Also, remember how hot it gets there.

Trail Report: Hiking Down the Hopi Salt Trail

Start early to beat the Arizona heat

The first thing to note: Keep your eyes out for Cairns. These will keep you on the Hopi Salt Trail both up and down.

The trail briefly heads north out of the landing pad area before making its way down the side of the slope and then comes back to the mouth of the canyon. This is the only part of the trail that you feel comfortable on. Once you hit the mouth of the canyon, it is down, down, down. We both used one hiking pole, and this worked well. The first half of a mile or so of the Hopi Salt Trail is incredibly steep. Take your time.

This first part of hiking the Hopi Salt Trail requires climbing a 5-7 foot rock wall. It’s not too bad, but it will likely quickly get you out of your comfort zone. After this, there’s no more climbing, but you’ll find yourself walking on loose rocks while traversing a steep slope. So again, take your time and be careful.

Hopi Salt Trail hike
hopi salt trail arizona

Once you get out of the initial steep section, it levels off a bit, and you’ll find yourself hugging the left side of the canyon as you continue to make your way toward the Little Colorado River. Unfortunately, if you’re tracking on your watch, your watch will probably go haywire once the trail goes under the rock overhang.

The middle of the Hopi Salt Trail

After the overhang, you’ll begin going down again – more steeply this time – and cross over onto the canyon’s right side. You’ll stay on this side for the rest of the hike. As you traverse toward the bottom, you’ll hug the cliff for most of the walk. Don’t worry; there’s little risk of falling.

The final decline to the water is quite a chore. It’s steep, and the rocks are loose. But, on the positive side, it’ll go pretty quickly as you’re covering a sizeable distance quickly.

Hopi Salt Trail hike
Hopi Salt Trail hike
arizona hiking hopi salt trail
Hopi Salt Trail hike

Reaching the bottom of the Hopi Salt Trail

Congrats! You made it down Salt Trail!

We stopped and hung out under the tree for 10 minutes to cool off, eat, and drink while our body temperatures recalibrated. I needed it after the sweltering heat of the hike. Once you’ve cooled off, it’s time to explore.

My brother went in January and said the water wasn’t cold, and I went in late April, and the water was perfect. So, unless a rogue iceberg from Greenland finds its way down the Little Colorado, I’m going to say your water temperature will be great.

If you’re lucky (no rain in the area for the previous ten days), the water will be blue! Unfortunately, we didn’t get that lucky, but with Lightroom’s power, I could replicate what it’s supposed to look like.

hiking the hopi salt trail
Hopi Salt Trail hike

This is pretty much up to you. We didn’t go too far as our time was limited, but there’s supposedly a waterfall in Big Canyon, and if you’re backpacking, the confluence is approximately six miles to the right. But, again, I didn’t go to either of those, so don’t take it as gospel from me.

I only spent about two hours at the bottom of the Hopi Salt Trail, and it was torture to have to leave the water and begin the climb up.

hiking the salt trail

Hiking the Salt Trail back up

Your legs will be torched from the steepness coming out of the river right off the bat. However, instead of fearing tumbling down the slope, you’re in much more control. I found this to be a sigh of relief and enjoyed the hike up much, much better.

After the initial climb, it levels out, and you’ll be crossing the canyon before you know it. I was ecstatic when I realized how quickly we conquered the first half of the Hopi Salt Trail.

This, though, means the most challenging part is nearing you.

Once you get past the overhang, your summit push begins. Again, we broke these into stages, which helped, with quick breaks every 5-10 minutes as we trudged our way to the top.

We were pretty gassed going up but looking back on it, the uphill climb wasn’t much different than any other Grand Canyon experience. What made this a strenuous hike was how much mental processing I had to use to locate cairns and prevent myself from sliding down the mountain.

I never felt like I could relax, which puts a considerable strain on you no matter what you’re doing. As we climbed out of the canyon, we gave each other high-fives and mentioned the PTSD we suffered from the hike.

Hopi Salt Trail – Wrapping up

We knocked the Hopi Salt Trail out in three hours and forty minutes on the way up. It included a five-minute break around the halfway point and periodic breaks to catch our breath on the way up. In totality, we hiked for six hours and forty-eight minutes with a total trail time of 10 hours. Time flew by as we were on this adventure.

You should do this incredible Hopi Salt Trail hike if you can physically handle it!

Hopi Salt Trail hike

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.


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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside