Tips for Hiking the Grand Canyon

What You Need to Know

Ask anyone who has ever hiked from the rim to the bottom of Grand Canyon and back, and he or she will certainly tell you, “There is no easy way.” I have certainly found that to be true. After several hikes down and up, I can assure you that it is important to be in reasonably fit condition. In fact, my hiking partner and daughter-in-law, Kathy, and I have always begun preparing weeks before our selected hike dates with a programmed training regimen in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. We have carried fairly heavy packs both to build up endurance and to help in selecting supplies and equipment.

Below the Rim
Below the Rim.

The south rim, the most popular side with visitors, including hikers, lies at about 7000 feet elevation. It is open all year round. The Colorado River, which has carved the canyon, lies about a vertical mile below. Some five million people visit the south rim every year. Very few ever see the bottom of the canyon. Although many do start down the Bright Angel Trail, they soon realize that they should not go very far. Even then, some get overextended.

Likely, you will find that an overnight hike into the canyon will be more enjoyable than the especially strenuous one-day hike in and out. This will take planning and preparation. You have the choice of taking the Bright Angel Trail, about a 10-mile hike from the south rim to Phantom Ranch, or the more steep South Kaibab Trail, just to the east, about a seven-mile hike to Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is a comfortable destination for a two-day trip. You can spend the night there, where cabins and meals are available, or at a nearby campground, where tent sites are available

Phantom Ranch

Reservations for Phantom Ranch must be made well in advance, typically a full year ahead of time. Also, there is a very small window open for getting permits for the limited number of camping spaces at the Bright Angel campground. The permits are snapped up very quickly. (Similarly, reservations for the mule rides into the canyon require a long lead time. Each mule, incidentally, carries no more than 190 pounds.)

Supply train on Grand Canyon trail
Supply Train

After you establish the preferred dates for making your hike, find out when the National Park Service will accept applications for those days. Get your application in as early as possible. I submit mine via overnight mail. It is well worth the cost. This guarantees a date that my permit will arrive. You will have to follow all instructions precisely, getting the latest up-to-date information. Also, provide alternate dates in case you don't receive your preferred date.

We began one of our hikes from the south rim into the canyon via the South Kaibab Trail, leaving our car parked in the village. The South Kaibab is a ridge trail. It is shorter and steeper than the Bright Angel. It is also exposed to wind and sun during most of the descent. There are no services until you reach the river and the campground, located a short distance up Bright Angel Creek. We hiked for about five hours before we reached the footbridge that crosses to the north side of the river.

As we descended, we left tourists behind. The solitude contributed to our enjoyment. Reaching the Colorado on the riverbank we came to an Indian ruin. Just beyond, we happened on a river-runner group pulling out for a break.

On one trip we had meals reserved at the ranch, which serves an excellent stew. Also, a ranger gave a talk about the local history. For instance, he told us that once, a Model T Ford was brought down on mules and reassembled for local work. There is also an old filled-in swimming pool and a buried piano, which speak to a different time.

We have also carried food in and prepared our own meals at the campground, which is clean and pleasant along the creek, but food must be stored carefully to prevent raids by the clever and persistent squirrels, ravens and deer.

Deer at the Campground

You might consider taking Bright Angel Trail for the return back up to the canyon rim. It offers new views. It is less exposed. It is cooler for the ascent. Expect it to take about twice as long as the hike down, or about 10 hours. Longer, but less steep than South Kaibab Trail, Bright Angel Trail mostly follows valley bottoms. This becomes important because you are growing weary by the time you reach the steepest and most difficult end. Tonto shelf, the most strenuous stretch, is about 3500 feet below the rim at Indian Garden. Some people make a nice one-day partial canyon hike to Indian Garden, where water is available, and to Plateau Point, where the view is terrific. The last 4-1/2 miles in the climb to the rim are the toughest. There are two relief points – a 1.5-mile rest house and a 3-mile rest house – where there is water in season.

Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail

This is not an easy hike, but it can be done by anyone, with planning and preparation, who is in reasonably good physical condition. Emergency medical help is available sporadically but as one ranger told us, “Fatigue is not an emergency.”

For additional information, contact:

Phantom Ranch Reservations

Grand Canyon National Park Permit Information

Permit Application

River Runner Transportation
River Runner Transportation

Related Pages
Grand Canyon NP North Rim Trails
Grand Canyon NP South Rim Trails
The Grand Canyon Railway
Hike South Kaibab Trail, River Trail & Bright Angel Trail
Official Guide To Hiking The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon River Adventure




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