Toroweap / Tuweep, AZ

Above Cove Canyon

The Colorado River flows west towards Toroweap Overlook…


On my way back to camp after witnessing a sublime sunset from the north rim of the Grand Canyon I heard the distinct slice and crack of a golf ball being hit ahead of me followed by giggling and the murmur of voices. I reached the top of the outcrop I was walking along and in the twilight I could see the shapes of three people, not yet aware of my presence, looking relatively at ease as they hit golf balls into the abyss. They thought this was pretty funny stuff.

I stood there watching in irritated disbelief and after a pause they stiffened up in synch, making a lame attempt to hide their clubs behind their legs. I could just make out their hushed words.

“Is it a ranger?”
“I can’t tell”
“No…No I don’t think so”

Unfortunately, I was not the bike-ranger who had been patrolling the area right before sunset but I guess being watched had spoiled the fun and the three stooges soon got into their truck and rattled off into the night. I was left thinking that in spite of idiots who litter the wilderness, Toroweap is a pretty striking place.

Toroweap , or Tuweep, is popular as a remote and unique overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It is one of the few relatively accessible places where the Colorado River can be viewed directly below from a sheer drop off on the rims edge. This particularly stark contrast of river, rock, chasm and sky captures the essence of the Grand Canyon as few other locations do. It is also free of development and extremely photogenic – the perfect place to spend a few days exploring.

Driving out from LA, I split the approach trip into two days, stopping the first night at a favorite spot – the Virgin River Campground in the Virgin River Gorge. Historically speaking, the Virgin River Gorge was a bottleneck that forced explorers, trappers and traders like Jedediah Smith and Antonio Armijo through its narrow channel between the Beaver Dam and Virgin Mountains before other routes were found to the north. Today its history and beauty is easily overlooked in light of a 4-lane freeway blasting through it – yet I still find the area has a certain attraction and mystery.

Classic Overlook View

The classic overlook view looking east…

Virgin River Gorge Camping

Camp in the Virgin River Gorge on the way to Toroweap…Lights from Vegas in the background…


 

The Virgin River Gorge Campground…

Upon arriving at Tuweep the following day I found quite a few day-trippers exploring the area and I headed to the Tuweep Campground to set up camp for a few days. The campground is located about a mile from the overlook proper and as magic hour set in on the first day I grabbed my camera gear and headed out to the overlook to photograph the sunset. By evening the number of day-trippers dwindled and it was dark by the time I headed back to camp, past the golf pros.

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The last few miles of road to the Toroweap Overlook are pretty rough…This is the road into camp…

The Colorado flowing West...

The Colorado flowing west from the Toroweap Overlook…

That evening I made friends with the only other people in the campground and we enjoyed dinner and drinks together. Meeting new like-minded people is one of the reasons I do all this. After a conversation about nearby canyons, hidden petroglyphs and a mutual affection for Edward Abbey, I headed back to my tent and drifted off to sleep under the stars.

Camp at Toroweap CG...

Camp at Tuweep Campground…

The next day my plan was to hike 4 or 5 miles east from camp along the Tuckup Trail to an overlook point above Cove Canyon that I had scouted on google earth. It looked like it would provide a perfect sunset view of the river running west through the canyon towards the overlook. I said goodbye to my new friends and headed off down the trail, quickly encountering the total isolation of the landscape beyond the immediate Tuweep area.

East along the Tuckup Trail...

Heading east along the Tuckup Trail…

Views along the trail...

Views along the Tuckup…

Nearing the point I intended to photograph from, I left the main trail and slowly hiked cross country, carefully avoiding the fragile crust of cryptobiotic soil by stepping on sandstone and following faint use-trails wherever possible. I tried to scramble out to an overlook that looked accessible from topo maps and Google Earth…but the approach turned out to be far more exposed than I thought. Being alone and without any technical gear I settled for a safer vantage point right on the rim.

Afternoon Destination

My destination above the confluence of Cove Canyon and the Colorado…

Here I stumbled upon an old US geological survey marker / triangulation station. I often come across these when I’m out in the middle of nowhere and they immediately remind me that no matter how isolated I feel, someone has been there before. I spent the afternoon relaxing high above the Colorado River, basking in the silence, watching the sun slowly sink below the horizon.

Top of the World

Top of the World…

The Mighty Colorado

The Mighty Colorado…

Geological Survey Marker above Cove Canyon...

A Geological Survey marker above Cove Canyon…

Last Light

The sun setting over the Colorado River near its confluence with Cove Canyon

With the sun down I broke out my headlamp and hiked the 4.5 miles back to camp in the darkness, stopping every now and then to glance at my GPS, making sure I didn’t veer off course.

By the time I arrived back at camp my new friends had moved on, readying themselves for a hike to the Shaman’s Gallery the following day. I had the campground to myself, and after cooking dinner I relaxed under the stars and treated myself to a cigar on this last night at Toroweap. I leaned back and reflected on a perfect day, enjoying the brilliant stars and the cold air as it tried to sneak in under my jacket. These moments of silence spent in wild places are, to me, what life is all about.

The following morning the sky above was on fire with pastel purples and neon pinks. I grabbed my camera and walked the one mile to the overlook but as I arrived the light faded into an overcast sky. I hung around for a little while longer, taking in the view one last time before I reluctantly packed up camp and rumbled down the road through Toroweap Valley back towards the 389.

Sunlit Evening...

An evening view from the North Rim…

Gray Morning...

Gray Morning…

Looking West

Toroweap looking west…

Sunrise walk...

Sunrise walk to the overlook…

Heading Out...

Heading out through Toroweap Valley…

On the way out I decided to take the Mt Trumbull Loop Road to Colorado City, trying a different route than the Antelope Valley Road I had come in on (Now confusingly called Mt Trumbull Road). I found the Loop Road to be of slightly better quality and more scenic – cutting across the unsettled plains of the Arizona Strip, passing benches of volcanic rock and grazing cows. It is beautiful open country. Eventually a string of power lines stretching from horizon to horizon announced that the highway was not far and soon enough I was back on paved road heading towards LA after a quick trip to another amazing place…

Volcanic Outcroppoing...

A volcanic outcropping…

Plains of the Arizona Strip...

The plains of the Arizona Strip…

Signs of Civilization...

Signs of Civilization…



::: Download Trip KML :::

Rating: ★★★★☆
Distance: If your vehicle is capable you can drive right to the overlook, hiking or camping from there is up to you. I hiked about 4.5 miles down the Tuckup Trail although this trail goes for about 60 miles.
Time Needed: From the 389 give yourself about 3 hours to get to the overlook…
Difficulty: Easy to moderate with a capable, high-clearance vehicle – depending on road conditions…

Special Considerations: Getting to Toroweap can be a bit of an adventure – the two primary routes being 50-60 mile dirt/clay roads leaving US Route 389 near Colorado City, AZ or Kaibab respectively. These roads are the Mt Trumbull Loop Rd (road 5) from outside of Colorado City and the Mt Trumbull Rd (road 109) from near Kaibab. They eventually both meet with NPS 115 which takes you through Toroweap Valley to the Toroweap area. It is probably unwise to attempt the drive in anything other than a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle with emergency precautions in place, and the last two or three miles of the 115 are not really possible at all without one (see above photo). In rainy weather the roads easily change to mud and if rain is in the forecast a trip should not be attempted at all unless you want to run the risk of bogging down and paying a couple grand for a tow-out when the weather passes.

I personally found the roads to be of a better quality than a lot of the backcountry trails and fire roads in the area like House Rock Valley Road or the backcountry roads in Death Valley. I also passed other people (mostly day-trippers) with some regularity – leading me to feel slightly less isolated than I had expected.

Photo Tips: The classic photo op at Toroweap can be hard to find and is not, at first, obvious. It is directly on the rim just south of the parking area past the picnic table that sits near the edge at 36°12’52.65″N, 113° 3’22.59″W. You will need to walk / scramble out onto a promontory of rock and face directly east to find the classic shot.Check the GPS mark in the above map. I shot mainly with a 16-35 mm lens and brought along a 70-200 to isolate landscape elements. November and December are the best times of year for lighting at Toroweap due to the low angle of the sun at sunrise and sunset.

Logistics: Permits are required to camp at Tuweep. Permits can be requested 4 months in advance of your desired trip. For reference, I requested my permit via fax about three weeks in advance and the permit was approved the same day. I was notified via email and the permit was sent by mail to my residence. It was very efficient.

Necessary Links:
NPS Toroweap Overview Page
NPS Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit Page
NPS Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit PDF Download

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