The Little Colorado gorge is 58-miles long, infrequently traveled and incredibly remote. The two biggest challenges for most explorers are the degree of difficulty and the weather.
When considering a visit into the Little Colorado gorge, it is vital to remember that the vast majority of the canyon lies far outside the normal means of support . Help during any life-threatening situation can be many hours, or even days away.
Here are some of the challenges and perils that await even the most well-prepared explorers:
The drainage into the Little Colorado gorge is immense. A vast network of desert washes running across much of northern Arizona exist solely to funnel large quantities of water into the Little Colorado. Thunderstorms dozens of miles away can send deadly floods racing toward the gorge, even during blue sky hiking conditions.
The walls of the gorge are very narrow in places, and the perennial current is strong even in dry weather. Local storms can send water thundering down the main channel or any of the gorge’s side-canyons. It is always best to hike when the long-range forecast is optimal. Avoid summer months, when heavy monsoons roll across the desert. The Little Colorado can be a deathtrap in high water.
For much of the year, the Little Colorado bakes in the sun. Hiking routes into the gorge can be oppressively hot, dry and dusty. There are no freshwater seeps or sources to be found until the bottom of the gorge is reached, and shade is incredibly tough to come by.
Not many people hike down to the Little Colorado, and most carry all the drinking water required for the duration of their expedition. Heavy loads, and blistering sun makes summertime an inadvisable time to venture into the gorge. In neighboring Grand Canyon National Park, it’s a popular strategy to start warm-weather hikes long before sunrise. The Little Colorado’s remoteness and the faint nature of its trails tend to force daytime hikes. Be mindful of the heat!
There is always quicksand to be found within the Little Colorado gorge – during dry weather or rainy weather. It can pop-up anywhere along the bottom, but most significant patches can be found in the middle of the gorge, around Blue Spring for a few miles in each direction.
Quicksand alone won’t kill you – at most, you’ll sink to your chest. But it can certainly trap and exhaust people, leaving them helpless to escape some of the canyon’s other dangers. Lone hikers are particularly vulnerable.
The Little Colorado ups the ante even further, however. Not only is quicksand common, it sometimes exists underneath the river itself.
Snakebite & Scorpions
Exposure / Falls
In many conditions, the gorge can be a dangerous, inhospitable place – it has claimed the lives of even expert canyoneers. Trails are primitive, at best and route-finding is essential, on even them most well-traveled trails.