This Challenging And Underrated Hike In The Southwest Rewards You With Breathtaking Views

Deep in Arizona's Marble Canyon is a shockingly turquoise river running through the desert. This glittering blue paradise is almost never visited, and with good reason. Although similar sites in the neighboring Grand Canyon have become crowded tourist destinations, this one lies at the end of a long and treacherous journey that keeps all but the most tenacious and experienced hikers from ever finding it.

The Hopi Salt Trail leads hikers deep into Marble Canyon. To reach the bottom, they must traverse increasingly difficult terrain, scrambling down cliff sides across loose rocks and using nothing but cairns to guide them. The entire roundtrip hike is between 8 and 11 miles long, and it takes many hours to reach the bottom. Many hikers, even experienced ones, are forced to turn back before they reach the water. Along the way, however, those who are up for the challenge of a lifetime are continually rewarded with incredible views of a natural landscape like no other.

Rough terrain and canyon views

The very beginning of this trail is easy, flat terrain. Then, you will reach the drop-off. As shown by photographer and filmmaker Kevin Eassa, who hiked this trail twice in 2022, the view from the drop-off is incredible. From the top, it's possible to see down into the wide expanse of the canyon, where the sunlight casts long shadows across the ancient rocks. This view alone would be worth the trip, and the trail leads straight down. From here, the trail becomes extremely challenging, and only relents when you reach the bottom.

For those looking to experience the natural world with no interruptions, the Hopi Salt Trail may be ideal. Very few people travel here, so it's likely that you and your companions will be the only ones on the trail. There is also no cell reception, so there will be no distractions from the landscape — not that it would be possible to check your phone while scrambling down a steep rocky incline anyway.

Reaching the Colorado River

Although the views while making your way down the trail are certainly worth the price of the permit, for most hikers the real goal of this journey is to see the Colorado River winding through Marble Canyon. For most of the year, the water appears a staggering turquoise blue, seemingly far lighter and brighter than the sky above, creating an unbelievable view to encourage you to push through and finish this difficult hike. As described by Jimmysadventure, a Grand Canyon University student who hiked this trail in 2023 and documented it on his YouTube channel, the final leg of the hike where the river is visible is an extremely challenging one, partially because it is so steep, and because by the time you reach this point you will have been scrambling for several hours. For those who are able to reach the bottom, the beautiful blue water is waiting.

Once at the bottom, many choose to stay and camp beside the river. In the warm weather, it's possible to go into the water and experience a refreshing swim after a long hard day of hiking through the desert. In the winter, the river freezes while appearing to still be rushing between the rocks.

Preparing to hike Hopi Salt Trail

Hopi Salt Trail is on Navajo land, so those hoping to explore this incredible area must first obtain a permit from Navajo Nation, at the Colorado River Tribal Park, for $15 per day, per person. Most people prefer to hike Hopi Salt Trail over two days, camping overnight, so hikers may want to consider paying for two days. As noted by Kevin Eassa, those making this trip for the view should also take this opportunity to ask what the river is like, because for a few days in the spring the staggering blue turns a dark muddy brown — that would be a disappointing surprise for people who have spent many hours navigating a dangerous path into the canyon to see clear blue waters.

Preparing for a hike that includes class 4 scrambles, like Hopi Salt Trail does, is a balance between making sure you have everything you need and not carrying so much that it weighs you down. For those planning to set up camp by the beautiful river, camping supplies are a must — but this does mean adding a lot more weight to your packs. Ty Zabel of Full Send Productions, who had an extremely close call on Hopi Salt Trail in December of 2023, suggests not attempting this hike alone, and bringing at least 6 liters of water per person.