On Sunday, February 13th, a small group of friends and I decided to walk the short Grotto Canyon trail. This is a 4.4 km out-and-back trail with 115 metres of elevation – so it is essentially flat. Since we didn’t have the whole day to dedicate to hiking, this trail was the perfect choice. It allowed us to get out and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather without committing to an entire day.
We arrived at the trailhead at 4 pm, and immediately put on our micro-spikes. Some form of crampons are a must for this trail as you are spending the majority of the hike along the frozen creek. We walked along the trail towards the creek, enjoying views of the Baymag plant (yes, not the most scenic section). Upon reaching the canyon, however, the views become more impressive. The hike along the creek takes you between the canyon walls. As we were hiking on a very warm day, parts of the creek were thawing, making the creek a maze of hidden slush puddles. I would certainly recommend waterproof footwear, it saved us from wet feet.
Hiking through the canyon gives a unique perspective to the geological formations and erosion that has happened here. The smooth surface of much of the canyon walls indicates how ancient this area really is.
While you consider the passage of time through the canyon, you may also be lucky enough to spot some human history. If you are careful, you might spot the remnants of a Hopi pictograph as you approach the falls. We did not spot them, but they are reported on the left side of the canyon before you reach the falls.
At the end of the trail there are two impressive waterfalls, completely frozen. You can explore further down the canyon to the left, or, as we did, attempt the climb up the frozen waterfall to the right. This passage of water is a more gradual slope that the falling water seen in the photo above. With our spikes we were able to make the climb up and the descent down easily. We reached another, larger waterfall at the top of the slope. Here we encountered some ice climbers, though we were careful to stay out of their way.
We returned back through the canyon the way we came, picking our way across the semi-melted creek. We reached the parking lot just after 5 pm, with plenty of time before sunset. Hiking in the late afternoon worked wonderfully for us because we avoided the crowds and didn’t have to worry about finding parking. However, if you do choose to hike in the late afternoon, make sure you keep track of time and know the approximate sunset time for the area. The sun disappears faster in the mountains, and being out after dark can be dangerous when you aren’t prepared.