The Grand Canyon has become a victim of its own greatness. A reader who had recently revisited the South Rim after several years was shocked at how much more commercialized and busier the national park had become since his last visit. He’s right, of course. Fortunately, there are several locations in and around the park where you can enjoy the views of this breathtaking natural wonder without running into throngs of tourists and into the scars of modern development. One such location is the so-called Tuweep Area, a remote, little-known gem perched on the northwestern side of the park. What’s great about this location is that you can enjoy an uncrowded, rustic, and remote experience from the comfort and convenience of your truck camper. You won’t have to pay an arm and leg to enjoy the views either.
Getting to Tuweep aka Toroweap can be a bit of a challenge, but the time and effort are well worth it. The official Grand Canyon National Park website says that a high clearance vehicle is required and they mean it. The three roads to the recreation area are unpaved and in some locations are very rough. Because of this, vehicle combinations longer than 22 feet are prohibited, which makes a 4×4 truck camper an ideal rig to visit Tuweep. Due to the remoteness and ruggedness of the road leading to the recreation area, the official website also urges visitors to bring tire plugs and a portable air compressor to repair flat tires. This isn’t an idle recommendation. Towing services cost between $1,000 and $2,000 and could take several hours or even a day or two to arrive. When preparing to visit Tuweep, make sure you bring extra water, food, and emergency supplies with you.
Tuweep can be reached through one of three routes: the Sunshine Route (County Road 109), the Clayhole Route (County Road 5), and the Main Street Route (County Road 1069). All three are accessed via Highway 389 between Fredonia, Arizona and St. George, Utah. We took the 63-mile-long Sunshine Route, which took us 3.5 hours to reach the campground. By far, the last 2.7 miles is the roughest part of the drive. Here, you’ll encounter deep ruts, steep climbs, and numerous rocks as you make your way to the campground and to the nearby overlook. The last part of the drive alone took us one hour. Due to the ruts, rocks and washboarding on this road, we highly recommend that you air down your tires (we aired down to 37 psi front and 45 rear, which worked very well for us). Doing so reduced our driving time back to the highway from 3.5 hours to a little over one hour.
The Tuweep campground, which consists of 10 sites, is as primitive as it gets. There are no services, not even water or garbage, just two pit toilets. Each site has a picnic table, that’s it. Camping requires a permit that must be purchased four months ahead of time. The price is pretty reasonable considering the scenic location. Our cost for three days and two nights was only $26, and that was for four adults with two truck campers. Camping is limited to seven days. Don’t think about trying to camp without a permit because park rangers will ask to see your permit when you enter the park. Bring a set of leveling blocks with you. The surface of the Tuweep campground is a smooth slick rock and is very uneven in places, so you’ll need a way to level out your rig. Unfortunately, fires and charcoal grills are prohibited.
At an elevation of 4,500 feet, the temperatures at Tuweep are pretty moderate compared to the North and South Rims. We visited Tuweep in late October and enjoyed sunny skies and near perfect temperatures with a high of 81 and a low of 60 the first day, and a high of 78 and a low of 56 the second day. Unfortunately, late on the second day, smoke rolled in from a controlled burn in the Kaibab National Forest and ruined our views somewhat. Burns are pretty regular in this part of the country, so this might be something to check on before embarking on your visit.
The Tuweep Overlook, which is located about a mile from the campground, is definitely worth a visit. From here you can enjoy the views of the Grand Canyon 3,000 feet above the Colorado River. What’s great about this location is that the distance to the South Rim is less than one mile across. This makes the Tuweep Overlook one of the narrowest and deepest parts of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, the overlook is a day use area only. Camping is no longer allowed there. It’s too bad because the best views in the recreation area are at the overlook. You can either drive or hike to the overlook from the campground, but if you drive, beware. The road to the overlook is even rougher than the part leading to the campground. We took our campers to the overlook the last day of our visit and it was very slow going. In fact it was so rough, we decided to call it quits before completing the last 1/8-mile to the overlook.
The Tuweep Area offers two hiking trails, the Tuckup Trail, which is six miles long, and the Saddle Horse Loop, which is a little over a mile. Both hiking trails are marked with cairns. The elevation in the Tuweep area is about 4,500 feet, so you may need to acclimate yourself to the elevation before embarking on any hikes. Due to the fragile biological soil crusts and native plants, the official website urges visitors to walk only on trails, roads and washes in order to prevent damaging them. Even though pets are allowed at Tuweep, pets are not allowed on the trails. Bicycles are also prohibited. Unfortunately, there is no direct access to the Colorado River within the Tuweep Area. However, the Whitmore Trail, located three hours west of Tuweep off the Main Street Route, can be taken down to the river.
We really enjoyed our short visit to the Tuweep Overlook Area. Compared to Diamond Creek, which is located at the bottom the Grand Canyon, Tuweep offers a completely different perspective from the top. Is the drive to Tuweep worth it? Absolutely, but if you’re looking to camp a few feet from the edge of the canyon, this isn’t the place. To do that, you’ll need to travel to the nearby Kaibab National Forest to one of several locations like Crazy Jug Point and Locust Point. However, Tuweep is a special place and definitely worth the effort to visit. How difficult is the drive? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest and 10 the hardest, I would rate this drive as a 5 for truck campers, primarily due to the rough road within the national park boundary.