Spencer Trail

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 2.6 - 4.4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 3130 - ~4671 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 2-4 hrs.
Trailhead: Lee's Ferry
Fee: $20/vehicle
Attractions: Scenic historical trail




The Spencer Trail is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at Lee's Ferry, Arizona. The trail begins off of the Lee's Ferry trail along the banks of the Colorado River and climbs a precarious 2 mile route to the top of the Vermillion Cliffs gaining around 1600 feet of elevation in the process. The trail was built by Charles H. Spencer so his pack mules could haul coal down to the river to run the steam engines that he used in his gold mining enterprise. The story is told that a mule was goaded up the cliff by Spencer's men and that the route that it took became the new pack trail. As of the time of this post the Spencer trail was no longer being maintained.

NOTE: The exposure becomes very extreme as the trail ascends the cliffs and in our opinion the hike should only be attempted during dry weather and by advanced hikers.


To get to the Lee's Ferry trailhead drive about 45 miles southwest of Page, Arizona to the Lee's Ferry Road on Highway 89A near Navajo Bridge and the town of Marble. Follow the road for about 7 miles to the day use parking area near the boat launch. The Lee's Ferry trailhead is just east of the parking area and restroom.


From the trailhead follow the Lee's Ferry trail for just over a quarter mile to get to where the Spencer trail begins.


The trail starts out innocent enough as it begins a gentle climb through the boulder strewn talus slope above the river. As you look up at the cliffs it is hard to pick out the trail or even imagine what route it might take.


As the trail begins working its way up the slope there are places where stone steps have been placed that make the climb a lot easier and considerably faster. The ease of the steps tend to entice you further up the mountain. Since Spencer built the trail for his pack mules originally the steps were undoubtedly added at a later time. Maybe even by the Civilian Conservation Corp as they were responsible for upgrading many, many trails during their time.


The face of the cliff gets steeper as the trail continues to climb and most of the tender loving care the lower portion of the trail received begins to fade from memory. As the trail continues there are a few places where it becomes less than a foot wide as it clings to the side of the mountain. A person must be careful at this point not to dislodge any rocks and send them crashing down the mountain.


One reason, besides lightening, not to attempt this trail during wet weather is the spot in this photo where the trail slopes toward a vertical drop that is unnerving enough just to cross when it is dry.


When we reached the 1 mile point we could see a trail along the cliffs further to the west that looked worse than anything that we had seen up to this point so we chose to turn around and head back down the mountain. We later learned that we were at the spot where the Spencer trail turns back toward the east for a long lateral move that it makes in that direction. What we were looking at to the west of us was a game trail. There was also a thunderstorm moving in so it was best to get off the mountain anyway.


This is a screenshot of the trail from Garmin's MapSource software with our track overlaid on it. It is hard to say without having gone any further but we may have turned around just as the trail was getting easier.


This picture that was taken looking east where the Colorado River flows out of Glen Canyon is a good perspective of what the side of the mountain is like. It is definitely hard to argue with the view from up here.


This is the view looking west along the Vermillion Cliffs and down at the Colorado River where it is just beginning to flow through Marble Canyon and into the Grand Canyon National Park.


Spencer's mule trail proved too inefficient for supplying the coal that he needed to run the boilers he was using for his gold dredging operation and extracting the very fine flour gold was never profitable. His boilers can still be seen along the banks of the river and the boiler from his steam powered paddle wheel boat can be spotted just below the surface of the water. Those hikers that have a little mountain goat in their blood might feel right at home clinging to the cliffs above the Colorado River on the Spencer trail. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.