If ever there was a place to bring out one’s inner John Muir, the Grand Canyon is it. The vast wilderness is captured from the South Rim, looking down into the chasm of the canyon. From that ledge Muir’s words while hiking Grand Canyon are easily felt: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

While neither the steepest nor the longest canyon in the world, the Grand Canyon remains one of the world’s seven natural wonders. At 1,900 square miles, 227 miles long, and close to 18 miles wide, it looms colossal on many travel lovers’ bucket lists.

There are trails and adventures for every level of outdoor enthusiast.  The first rule of thumb on any hiking trip is to hike smart. Planning ahead for your visit can save you time, energy, and even your life. The Grand Canyon can undergo extreme weather conditions and planning ahead can make the difference between an amazing journey or a life-threatening one. The National Park Service website provides many tools and tips for those preparing to tackle the Canyon including trail etiquette, backcountry updates, and trail closures. Respecting the wildlife, fellow hikers, and nature are all part of having a great travel adventure on the trail.

Grand Canyon

Photo: Callistus Ndemo

Along The Trails

There are over 40 trails and routes in Grand Canyon National Park for hikers to enjoy. The most popular are those located along the corridor of the canyon. There are four sections of trails that are commonly used by travel lovers and adventure seekers. The Corridor trails, the Threshold trails, the Primitive trails, and the Above Rim trails.

Havasupai Falls

You know those instagram pictures with the crystal blue-green waterfalls, pouring down from the canyon? That is Havasupai Falls. It’s one of the most picturesque hikes you can take down into the canyon.

Havasu Canyon is on the outskirts of the Grand Canyon, closer to the South Rim of the park. While technically not part of the Grand Canyon National Park, it’s still considered one of the best hikes and thousands of travel and adventure enthusiasts make the journey each year. The reservation is run by the Havasupai tribe and they are deeply connected to the land and the water. In fact, Havasupai means, people of the blue-green water.

The hike starts at Hualapai hilltop on is 10 miles to the camp ground. If you take this trail, pack light and plan on overnighting for at least two nights, as it is not a day hike. You’ll want to overnight so you can enjoy the different waterfalls in the area, like Havasu, Mooney, and Beaver Falls. There is a little convenient store, restaurant, and lodging before you get to the campground.

Once at the reservation be prepared to pay a $50 site fee, 10% of which goes to an environmental care fee. You must make reservations in advance and often have to call six months to a year ahead of time to place them. It’s rumored that the rest of the 2017 season is already full, so if you plan on doing this hike, start looking at spring or fall of 2018.

The hike back to the top of the canyon is quite challenging and can be especially so if you don’t leave early enough in the morning. Take advantage of packing out early to avoid high temps. The hardest part is conquering the switchbacks at the top! Bring walking sticks and plenty of water (there are filing stations at the campsite).

grand canyon

Photo: Cara Fuller

Bright Angel

The most traveled trail in the Grand Canyon! While the 9.5 mile hike has challenges, it’s a friendly trail for those venturing below the rim for the first time. It’s mostly smooth terrain and beautiful scenery make it an easy choice for hikers. There’s also plenty of water stations along the way and half-way down the trail is the Indian Garden rest stop.

What makes this trail fun is the beautiful coral reefs of the Kabib limestone. You’ll also get to experience cottonwood trees and part of the Colorado River. It’s a very scenic and serene hike. There are two campsites at the bottom, Indian Garden and the Bright Angel campground and while you can do this one in a day, it is recommended to overnight for at least one night.

Remember, what goes down must come up! Well, at least when you are hiking Grand Canyon. Take advantage of the rest stops and water stations on the way back up. The series of switchbacks on the incline are no joke.

grand canyon

Photo: Joshua Peacock via Unsplash

The Hermit Trail

This short, but challenging trail is great for those who want a day hike with grit. The trail is not as smooth as Bright Angel and there is very little shade along the way. The trade off? It leads to the Santa Maria and Dripping Springs. Hikers will also be treated to the Hermit Rapids and epic views of the South Rim. You may also spot some fun critters like the Grand Canyon rattlesnake on your trek!

Grand Canyon

Photo: Tim Trad via Unsplash

Dos and Don’ts

Stay on the guided paths and trails

The trails in the corridor are clearly marked for a reason. Ignoring trail signs or going off the guided path could result in loss of life. Hiking in the Grand Canyon is not the time to show off or take chances. One can be plenty adventurous in the Canyon without putting oneself, or the natural habitat, in danger. Park Rangers put a lot of work into maintaining trails to ensure safety, not only  the hikers but also for the surrounding wildlife.

Don’t take or leave anything

Bring a small to medium sized trash sack with you, especially if you are overnighting. Packing out your trash is courteous to fellow hikers and to the environment. It’s also a good idea not to leave hiking gear unattended along the trail, as it attracts critters who will rummage through your belongings. Lastly, don’t take anything from the canyon that you didn’t bring in. Taking soil or plant life is extremely harmful to the environment and is a federal offense.

Grand Canyon

Photo via Pexels

Do your research ahead of time

The NPS backcountry updates and trail closure page is incredibly valuable to read before hiking the canyon. Everything you need to know, from where to collect safe drinking water to lighting and fire safety, can be found on their website. Check weather conditions and plan your travel accordingly.

The best months to hike are during the Fall and Spring when the daytime temperatures are mild. Nights in the canyon can get pretty cool, so you’ll want to bring layers. Also keep in mind that many of the camping sites require reservations and permits ahead of time. Often you will need to make these reservations months in advance. Showing up without the correct payment or permits could mean being turned away and having to make a trek back to the top unprepared. Check the FAQs of the National Parks Service site to find out which trails require permits.

Be respectful of the indigenous people and villages

The area surrounding and even in the Grand Canyon belong to Native American tribes, many of which profit directly from the tourism. Be respectful when interacting with them and remember that these are some of the oldest living cultures in documented history. They have worked hard to preserve the land and hikers are guests in their territory. You can do this in a few ways:

  1. Don’t trash their land
  2. Observe any signs and guidance they have put up for guests
  3. Ask before taking pictures
  4. Don’t gawk at them and treat them like they are indentured servants

Know the trail etiquette

Chances are, you won’t be the only person enjoying the beauty of the canyon. Knowing trail etiquette ahead of time will make everyone’s hike more enjoyable. Here are a few of the most important rules when hiking:

  1. Mules and uphill climbers have the right of way.
  2. It’s best to travel with a friend. If you plan to travel alone, have a support plan and check-in times in case anything goes wrong.
  3. Be quiet and remember that many are hiking to experience serenity and nature.
  4. Let people know if you want to pass them on the trail.
  5. Pack out your trash.
  6. Use the trail restrooms.
Grand Canyon

Photo Courtesy of NationalParks. Photo by PeterCoskun

What To Pack

What you bring with you can be just as important as how you travel. Again, pack light and consider bringing items that are made from sustainably sourced materials and/ or made in an ethical fashion.

Packing list

  • Environment-friendly bug spray and sunscreen
  • Reusable water bottle and food containers
  • Trash sack
  • Environment-friendly camping gear 
  • Environment-friendly foot and outerwear

Again, do your research before hiking Grand canyon. There are numerous websites devoted to the trails and what to look out for. Explore with an open mind, be respectful of the journey and you’ll have an unforgettable travel adventure.

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