Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes

West Tonto Notes (Bass-to-Boucher)


The Tonto Trail between Bass Canyon and Boucher Canyon is one of the most remote sections of relatively easy trail. Although some parts of the Tonto are broken up in spots, this is nearly flat, contouring around many drainages. Seven days for this route would make a good trip; add another day for a stop at Hermit; add a half-day to include the beach at Bass. Allowing more time than this puts more demand on water supply. Faster hikers could easily cover the distance in 5 days, or perhaps less in cool weather. Not counting connections to the rim, the total distance along the Tonto according to Aitchison is 22 miles, 8 more from Boucher to Hermit.

The Route

Serpentine Canyon

Serpentine is listed as a river access by Butchart and Aitchison, but I have not tried it. In any case, it is too early on an easterly trek to be helpful for water. (Serpentine Notes)

Ruby Canyon

Several large potholes in the Tapeats make this a likely spot for rainwater. Other than the dry fall season, this may be a reliable water source, but should not be assumed. There are also numerous potholes below the Tapeats and at least two ways into the upper part of the lower canyon from the west side. At one of these there is an ancient looking step made of a block of sandstone resting on another of limestone. Although it is possible to reach the river, there are two dropoffs and the best way around them seems to be climbing out of the canyon at the first fall, following a ledge around and returning to the bed below the second fall. Round trip for this was 5 hours. The Tonto route leaving upriver is easily lost and not consistent with the (old) map; it passes below a Tapeats cliff near the lip of the canyon. (Ruby Notes)

Le Conte Plateau

The nameless drainage upriver of this point offers the possibility of a short, steep access to the river at the point on the upriver side. Not explored. This could be a useful water access near the midpoint of a trip.

Slate Canyon

Most of the year there should be water either above the Tonto Trail crossing or downstream just below the Tapeats. The route into the lower part of the canyon goes down an obvious break just north of a finger shape on the USGS map. A little hand and foot work is needed, and this streambed access may provide a water source, but there are some pour-offs in the bed below this place. Bypasses either side are workable but not easy. Crystal Rapid is an amazing place to visit and watch the rafts go through. Another access point seems to be opposite Scylla Butte on the upriver side of Slate. I did not have time to follow the bed to the river, but it should be worthwhile for a close-up of Crystal Rapid. The area up the canyon is also said to have caves and attractions. (Slate Notes)

Boucher Canyon

Travel between Slate and Boucher is rapid and easy going -- much of the distance is just getting out from Slate to turn east. Arriving at Boucher resolves any water concerns. (Boucher Notes)


Tonto water supplies are non-existent in the dry season, which is late-summer or early-fall. Groups travelling this way in the spring generally find ample water in every drainage. The only absolutely certain water sources are river accesses at Bass and Slate, and the stream at Boucher. Slate is believed to be generally more reliable, but was dry above the Tonto in November 1989, almost completely dry October 2003. After a rain, Tapeats potholes on the surface or under ledges may provide ample water.


Travel is mostly easy and ground can be covered quickly. The trails are really made by deer and bighorn and there may be duplicate or misleading paths. These tracks are grazing paths following the median of the Tonto platform, not necessarily the shortest route. There are faint sections, particularly at Ruby Canyon and around Scylla Butte. Following a series of old ducks, a track may simply vanish. In the strip between Tapeats and Redwall cliffs, it's not possible to "get lost," but confidence and time can easily be used up working through the uncertain spots.


Some may find this section of the Tonto uninteresting, but I have always found the Canyon views most attractive from this level. Visitors seem to still be infrequent in this part.


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