Take the Thunder River Trail generally south across the Esplanade. The trail crosses expansive slickrock sections as it works around several small drainages, so hikers need to be alert for cairns that mark the route ahead. Try to locate the next cairn before the last one is lost from view. About 2.5 miles of reasonably flat walking brings hikers to the southern edge of the Esplanade, a wonderful canyon view, and the top of a series of steep switchbacks through the Supai and Redwall Formations to the floor of Surprise Valley. The descent is long and rough and the southern exposure makes the entire area infamously hot. Avoid hiking in Surprise Valley after 10 a.m. during warm weather. A large cairn marks a fork in the trail east (left) to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek
, west (right) to Deer Creek
The trail to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek
winds east across the floor of Surprise Valley, crossing shallow drainages and low hills for about a mile before dropping down steep switchbacks to Thunder River. After so many hot, dry miles the cascades of Thunder River seem almost too good to be true and the place demands a stop for rest and relaxation. The designated Upper Tapeats campsite (AW7) is about mile below the confluence of Thunder River and Tapeats Creek
on the west side of the creek. Hikers headed for the Colorado River can cross to the east side of the creek either just below the campsite or about mile down canyon and continue about two miles to a second creek crossing back to the west side.
A short rope may come in handy to lower packs at a little downclimb (8 feet) above the lower crossing. Snowmelt or heavy rain may make creek crossings impossible. Spring warming trends and intermittent high creek levels are more likely after mid-March with the peak flows often in May. During periods of high water, hikers must use a sketchy, seldom-used trail that stays west of the creek all the way to the river. This option is narrow and exposed and should be used only as a last resort, but when Tapeats Creek
is in flood it may be the only possibility. Lower Tapeats (AW8) is a designated campsite, please look for the tent symbol sign and camp on the west side of the creek.