Beginning the descent, shortly after leaving the trailhead.
75 miles from the nearest town and notoriously difficult to find lies a faint route into Little Colorado Canyon known only as “Horse Trail.” We’ve been there a few times, and even the local Navajo are surprised to hear such a trail exists. It’s not well-traveled, but it’s the easiest way into the Little Colorado gorge. It takes about 4-5 hours to reach canyon bottom, with some intermediate route-finding along the way.
Steep but enjoyable path down into the greater gorge
Easy and beautiful but rocky
There is no water along the trail. Footing is pretty good, loose in sections, rocky and rough in places where the trail flattens out. Do not attempt when rain or thunderstorms are forecasted anywhere in the region. Horse Trail is not as tight as Salt Canyon but there are several confining places where a sudden flash flood would be difficult to escape.
There are some heights early on in the hike but nothing too daunting, aside from some loose footing. The only exposed section comes during the last couple hundred feet of the descent and it is brief, requiring a few steps along some carefully-placed pieces of driftwood to get past a gap in the cliff.
Route-finding is an essential skill on this hike. The route is easy to follow in most places but can be hard to detect in places.
This trail puts you at the bottom of the Little Colorado gorge about a day or two’s hike up-canyon from Blue Spring. While the descent on Horse Trail is straightforward, the journey from that point on is expert-only, with quicksand and swift currents in abundance.
Shaded rest toward the end of the descent
Finding the Trailhead
It is a challenge, to say the least! It is a long dusty drive through a maze of rough Navajo roads, over an hour from the nearest pavement, at least. Once you’re at the trailhead (just a rough clearing, a vehicle turnaround of sorts) it can be tricky to pick up the trail itself, too. Just look for cairns.
Fortunately, for finding the trailhead and the trail itself, a great write-up was posted over at HikeArizona outlining the details.
The Little Colorado gorge comes into sight
This hike is beautiful, especially after you drop below the upper reaches of the canyon, but I would not recommend it for a day hike. It’s a great hike, for sure, but its primary appeal is to serve as a jumping-off point for further exploration into the Little Colorado Gorge.
If you’re looking for the fastest route to the famed blue waters inside the gorge, the descent down Salt Canyon is a better choice as it leads you right to a prime section of river. Salt is more rugged but easier to follow than Horse. That being said, Horse Trail will always be one of my favorites. Other than grinding your way all the way down from Cameron, Horse Trail is the only way to witness the magical transition from clear water to blue, and while that journey is difficult, the rewards are great.