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Spencer Trail at Lees Ferry AZ

Hiking Trail or Trailhead
Approaching the canyon rim on Spencer Trail. – so

ADA Accessibility Notes


This is a steep up-and-back hiking trail with a fascinating history. It is named for Charles Spencer, a late 1800's visionary who had plans to wash gold dust from the sloping banks of the Colorado River. He built a paddle-wheel steamer here, to carry coal for the boilers which would run his sluice pumps. Spencer's rusting machinery still lies on the sandy slope above the river - and the boiler of his abandoned steamboat lies just below the water's surface.

Spencer of course was not the first on the scene. Here, at the mouth of the Paria River, was the only place where a wagon road could reach the river, cross on a ferry, and continue south. John D. Lee was a Mormon pioneer with a past, who arrived in the 1870's. His ordained task was to establish and run the cable-ferry here for the benefit of settlers, travelers, and local Indians. The farm he also built here at the mouth of the Paria was soon named by his wife "Lonely Dell."

The Spencer Trail begins near several old ruins of the historic farm and Lees Ferry crossing of the Colorado River, where it flows out from Glen Canyon and enters Marble Canyon downstream. This trail switchbacks roughly 2 miles up the steep canyon wall to the top of the Vermillion Cliffs, with hundred-mile views in all directions.

This trail was originally built for pack-mules hauling coal down to the riverbank from up-canyon mines in Utah. The story is told that the trailwas laid out by Spencer's mule as it was goaded along, up the cliffs. The mule's zigzag path was observed and mapped from the valley below, until finally a way was found through the cliffs to the canyon rim. The miners then improved the route enough to serve as a pack trail.

A sign east of the area of building ruins marks the trail, which soon begins a moderate climb up the slope. The trail steepens in a series of wide switchbacks up the talus slope to a band of cliffs. Here the trail runs level for a short way, then climbs again at an even steeper grade. As hikers approach the canyon rim, the path levels off and then drops for a short stretch. In this area, unexpected soft sand appears that has been carried from the valley to the clifftop by strong spring winds. A final steep stretch leads at last to the top of the Vermillion Cliffs, with endless views in all directions. To the northeast are Page, Navajo Mountain, Lake Powell and the Red Rock country, with Lees Ferry and the entrance of Marble Canyon spread out below to the south. Further southwest, the high North Kaibab Plateau and North Rim of the Grand Canyon are visible in the distance. River trips launch daily from Lees Ferry into the Grand Canyon, and hikers can watch the scene below from the cliffs as rafters begin their long journey.

By continuing past a large cairn another few hundred yards to the east, one can look 1,000 feet straight down into a horseshoe bend of the Colorado River, in Glen Canyon. Enjoy the views and when ready, return the way you came. Be cautious about staying too long, as the trail down should not be attempted in the dark.

This trail is within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and naturally, an access fee is charged.

Pet Friendly Notes

While originally a mule trail, it is not recommended for dogs; they should be leashed for their own safety and that of other hikers on this steep, cliffside trail.

Trail Distance

4.4 miles approximate round-trip.

Vertical Gain or Loss

1500 feet to the clifftop.

Nearby Places