Grand Canyon Hiking | Expert Guide By Mountain IQ

Grand Canyon Hiking – Expert Guide

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Grand Canyon National Park

Our pick of the top Grand Canyon Hikes!

Over 6 million years old, US Grand Canyon is the most famous canyon in the world by far, even though it's not the deepest, nor the widest of them all! 

As one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is America’s most visited most famous landmark. Millions of people from around the world visit the Canyon every year.

Though hiking trails are stunning, they are challenging. Even the most experienced hiker can expect some challenges the first time, but don’t let that stop you – the views are and memories will be worth it.

See Best hikes in America for a complete list of hiking trails in the USA.

Grand Canyon Overview

Grand Canyon –Quick Facts

  • Grand Canyon is bigger than Rhode Island
  • It has its own climate
  • Around 5.9 million people visit the Grand Canyon a year
  • It takes 5 hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim.
  • From 1906 the area is known as the Grand Canyon Nature Reserve.
  • The South Rim is open all year; the North Rim is open from 15th May to 15th October.
  • Permits are not required for day hikes but are required for overnight hikes.
  • Reservations are not needed to visit the Grand Canyon; however, it is required for accommodation at any of the lodges or campsites.

Please note: Day hiking does not require a permit but if you are carrying food then bear-resistant storage containers are a must and it is always advisable to carry bear spray.

The Grand Canyon is at the top of many bucket lists. It is a stunning landscape with a rich history. President Roosevelt loved the Canyon so much, that he turned it into a monument in 1908, saying that it was "perfect" and should be preserved.

One of the great things about Grand Canyon National Park, is that when you pay the entrance fee, you receive a permit that is valid for 7 days. You could make an entire week of it, and only pay the entrance fee once.

Topography

The Grand Canyon forms part of the Colorado River basin and was developed around 6 million years ago.

The Canyon supports three primary sets of rock: Layered Paleozoic Rocks at the top, Grand Canyon Supergroup Rocks and Vishnu Basement Rocks. Each of these types of rock contain various other rock types, such as Limestone, Granites and more.

Volcanic rocks are thought to be the youngest in the Canyon, occurring roughly between 100,000 to 3 million years ago.

Rocks are not the only thing to be found here. The Canyon also has lots of vegetation, and its North Rim is said to be particularly lush and cool, while the South Rim has less shaded areas and is significantly hotter.

Wildlife and Plants

There are around 90 mammal species that have been recorded, including Mountain Lion and the rarely seen Black Bear here. Due to the 8,000ft (2,400m) elevation change, the plant life is incredibly diverse, with species of vascular plants, fungi, moss and lichen. There are 2,163 plant species from the Colorado River to the top of the North Rim.

The different sections of the Canyon have different types of vegetation. Both the South and the North Rim have forests growing on them, while the eastern section is covered in Sonoran Desert vegetation, and the western part has Mojave Desert attributes.

Grand Canyon Hiking

Hiking trails range from moderate fifteen-minute loops to the much more strenuous multi-week treks, with each trail offering a range of sights to behold. It is not recommended to hike to the very bottom and back in one day. If you wish to hike to the bottom, it is advised to purchase a backcountry permit and stay overnight.

There is a number of amazing day hikes, including the popular Bright Angel Trail, and the more secluded New Hance Trail that is recommended for experienced Canyon hikers only.

Regional Map

Grand Canyon National Park is in Northern Arizona, United states. The park is divided into two sections, each with their own hiking trails and entrances:

  • South Rim: this is the most popular section of the Grand Canyon due its easy accessibility.
  • North Rim: while this rim is not as popular, nor as accessible, it offers lush vegetation and is perfect for those hot summer days.

While the visitors’ center and the National Geographic Center do offer maps, it is best to prepare in advance. We recommend this detailed National Geographic map on the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon to help you prepare for your trip.

Best Grand Canyon Hikes


1. Grand Canyon Rim To Rim

Photo by Bill Cheadle

  • Area: Grand Canyon, from North Rim to South, or from South Rim to North
  • Permit: Not required (unless you choose a longer route and stay overnight)
  • Difficulty: For experienced hikers
  • Distance: 24 miles for Bright Angel and 21 miles for South Kaibab
  • Elevation: one mile up, one mile down
  • Time Hiking: from 2 hours to 5 days (depending on your preference)
Route Description and Options

North Kaibab to Bright Angel: This trail is a 24-mile hike and could be done in one day. It's best to begin the hike incredibly early and choose the North Rim as your starting point. While you should always carry over enough water, there are sections along the trail where you can get water.

South Kaibab to North Kaibab: This trail is a 21-mile hike and is very steep. There is also no water on this trail, so be sure to take more than enough with you. This well-maintained trail offers incredible vistas, although certain parts, like the base of the canyon known as The Box are going to be particularly challenging in the summer due to heat exposure.

Best Time to Hike

June is the ideal time for hiking in the Grand Canyon, as it has the lowest rainfall and is not as warm as July and August. This is especially important for this trail, as “the box” can be very unpleasant during summer.

Accommodation

The South Rim has multiple lodges including the Bright Angel Lodge. There is also the historical hotel, EL Tovar. Accommodation can be pricey; budget accordingly.

The North Rim also has two accommodation options: Grand Canyon Lodge and Jacob Lake Inn. Unlike other lodges, Jacob Inn is open all year-round.

Uncle Tom's Trail Top Tips
  • Take more than enough water with you
  • You could take the shuttle back, if you don’t feel up to the return trip
  • Pack snacks and a basic first aid

See this video by Bryan Buchert on the Rim-to-Rim trail.


2. Bright Angel Trail

  • Area: South Rim, Grand Canyon
  • Permit: Not required
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: First Resthouse (1,5 miles); second Resthouse (3 miles); Indian Garden (4,8 miles)
  • Elevation: first Resthouse (1,100ft); second Resthouse (2,100ft); Indian Garden (3,000ft)
  • Time Hiking: From 30 minutes to 2 hours (there and back), depending on your pace and whether you go to the Indian Garden.

Route Description

This scenic trail features smooth terrain, accessible water and rangers. It takes you into the ancient coral reefs of Kaibab Limestone, and offers phenomenal views of the Indian Garden campground, as well as Plateau Point.

The Bright Angel is a fascinating trail, offering evidence of ancient, and recent cultures, passing through this trail. It is a generally pleasant hike as there are plenty of shaded areas, but those summer afternoons can become a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, there is plenty of water and shaded resthouses on the way.

Best Time to Hike

This trail is open to hikers all year round and is generally very pleasant due to the smooth terrain and ample shade. However, caution and proper gear is needed in winter.

Accommodation

The Bright Angel Lodge is available all year-round and is conveniently located only feet from the rim. This rustic lodge is made up of cabins and lodge rooms, two restaurants, and the front room boasts a fireplace for those cold winters.

Alternatively, you could stay in any of the other lodges on the South Rim: El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. Check Tripadvisor for the places with best reviews! 

Bright Angel Trail Tips

  • The trail is known to ice over in winter; ensure you wear the appropriate hiking boots.
  • Keep an ear out for the fascinating array of languages that will be spoken on this popular trail by your fellow travelers; you may end up learning some French or German along the way.

See this video on the Bright Angel Trail by Unboring Exploring


3. South Kaibab Trail

3-South-Kaibab-Trail

Photo by Elzbieta T.

  • Area: South Rim, Grand Canyon
  • Permit: Not required
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult (depends on the weather)
  • Distance: Cedar Ridge (3 miles); Skeleton Point (6 miles); The Tipoff (8,8 miles); Bright Angel Compound (14 miles)
  • Elevation: Cedar Ridge (1,140ft); Skeleton Point (2,040ft); The Tipoff (3,260ft); Bright Angel Compound (4,780ft)
  • Hiking Time: 1 day or 2 hours – 12 hours (there and back)

Route Description

The South Kaibab Trail begins at Yoki Point and is steeper than the Bright Angel. The spectacular vistas and stunning scenery along this trail are not without cost. Although, the trail may be similar to the Bright Angel Trail, but it does not provide much cover from the sun and there is no water fountains on route. You will need to ensure that you have more than enough water and appropriate protection against the harsh summer sun.   

Best Time to Hike

The trail is open to hikers all year round, and winter hikes are possible. While most would prefer to hike in summer, it is best to steer clear of this trail in the heart of summer, as heat stroke is quite possible without proper protection.

Accommodation

El Tovar Hotel seems to be the best accommodation option on the South Rim, although there are numerous other lodges available. The El Tovar is a historical landmark and is a full-service hotel with a dining room, cable TV, full-bath and room service.

South KaibabTrail Top Tips

  • It is better to avoid  this trail in July and August, as temperatures can get incredibly brutal and there might be heavier rains too.
  • It is essential to bring your own water as this trail has no refils available. Always pack more than you think you’ll need, as it can get very hot on this trail.
  • Wear a hat that protects your face, neck and shoulders from the sun.

Here is a video by Stuart Brazell on the South Kaibab Trail.


4. North Kaibab Trail

4-North-Kaibab-Trail

Photo by Filkferendi

  • Area: North Rim, Grand Canyon
  • Permit: Not required
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Distance: Coconino Overlook (0,75 miles, one way); Supai Tunnel (2 miles one way); Roaring Springs (4,7 miles one way)
  • Elevation: Supai Tunnel (1,400ft); Roaring Springs (3,000ft)
  • Time Hiking: From 30 minutes to 4 hours (there and back)

Route Description

The North Kaibab Trail is the prefect cool contrast to South Kaibab’s heat in the heart of summer. The North Rim is also incredibly lush and vibrant with vegetation.

This trail starts out with a bit of a steep drop, taking you through ferns, aspen and firs. Once you reach the Coconino Overlook, the views of the Bright Angel Canyon are incredibly stunning. You can take a break here and just enjoy the spectacular vista.

A little further away is the Supai Tunnel, and you can turn around here and head back. If you want to make a day of it, you could continue to the magnificent Roaring Springs, and turn around there.

Best Time to Hike

The cooler Northern Rim is great for those hot summer days, when the Southern Rim is too dangerous to hike. But note that the North Rim is only open from mid-May to Mid-October.

Accommodation

Unlike the South Rim, the North Rim only has two accommodation options: Grand Canyon Lodge, and Jacob Lake Inn.

Grand Canyon Lodge is the only accommodation within the park, as Jacob Lake Inn is located along Highway 67, roughly 45 miles from the North Rim. The Grand Canyon Lodge is only open from May to October while Jacob Lake Inn is open all year-round. The lodge offers motel rooms and cabins, and all lodging has a private bathroom.

Jacob Lake Inn may be the better option, as it offers additional services such a restaurant, bakery, gas station, Native American art gallery, convenience store and a small gift shop. Accommodation ranges from hotel rooms, motel rooms and cabins.

North Kaibab Trail Hike Tips

  • While there is water available along this trail, always pack over enough water when hiking, even if the trail isn’t known to be particularly hot. Staying hydrated is incredibly important.
  • Camping is only available 7 miles down the rim, at Cottonwood campground, or on the rim itself.

See this video on the North Kaibab Trail by This Road Trip Life.


5. New Hance Trail

  • Area: South Rim, Grand Canyon
  • Permit: Only for overnight camping
  • Difficulty: Difficult. Some previous experience in Canyon hiking is recommended
  • Distance: Red Canyon overlook (2 miles one way); Colorado River (6,5 miles one way)
  • Elevation: Red Canyon overlook (2,000ft); Colorado River (4,400ft)
  • Time Hiking: From 2 hours to 5 hours (there and back)

Route Description

This is a very secluded and rugged trail, and you won’t see many other hikers. The unmarked trailhead alone might pose some difficulty finding, and therefore those who are not experienced in Canyon hiking should not try this trail alone. Find a good guide and then head for a great short adventure.

This is a very hands-on (and elbows, knees and backside) kind of trail. You won’t just be hiking, and it will really test your endurance. Be sure to take over enough water and food along, and don’t push yourself too hard.

While this trail is difficult with its boulders and rugged terrain, it offers complete solitude and mesmerizing views. If you have some experience and a good fitness level, this trail is a great choice. It even offers the most wonderful river rapid beach camps – if you have what it takes to find it.

Best Time to Hike

It is generally best to avoid the South Rim and Inner Canyon during the heart of summer, as temperatures can become dangerously high.

Accommodation

The South Rim offers 6 accommodation options: Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge and Yavapai Lodge.

The Bright Angel Lodge and El Tovar Hotel are the most popular options, and El Tovar is said to be the best option on the South Rim.

New Hance Trail Tips

  • Camping is available at the river and Mid Canyon.
  • Avoid this hike from June to August, as Mid Canyon can be dangerously hot.

Here is a video by HikeArt on the New Hance Trail.

Recommended Guidebook

For a comprehensive guide on what to do and see in the Grand Canyon, we recommend Grand Canyon: The Complete Guide: Grand Canyon National Park by James Kaiser. The book includes chapters on History, Geography and Wildlife, as well as detailed maps.

Travel Insurance

Hiking insurance is not a mandatory requirement for hikes in Grand Canyon, but it is generally a good idea to get a cover before your hike.

Even the easiest trail will be accompanied by some risks (you are hiking a Canyon, after all). It is best to be prepared for any eventuality, and the insurance will allow you to have piece of mind,.

Please ensure that you have plenty of food and water when hiking, as well as a basic first aid kit and extra clothing (preferably warm).

Check out the World Nomads calculator for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip to the States.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a reservation to go on a Grand Canyon hike?

How much are the Grand Canyon National Park's entrance fees?

When is the best time to visit Grad Canyon?

Is altitude sickness a risk?

Are Grand Canyon hikes difficult?

What gear do I need?

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