Your Grand Canyon experience doesn’t have to end with snapping a few photos of the majestic views at the rim. Why not take some time to hike down into the Canyon?
It’s a 20-plus mile hike from one rim all the way to the bottom and back up the other side. I must acknowledge up front that I did not come close to hiking that entire distance – I only went down a few miles. However, during those few hours spent inside the canyon, I picked up some insight to pass along to those who may want to be more adventurous and go all the way.
Hiking into the canyon can be dangerous, but it’s doable if you are prepared. As the NPS site says: “Hiking in the Grand Canyon is so demanding that even people in excellent condition often emerge sore and fatigued. Yet small children, senior citizens, and people with physical disabilities have successfully hiked the canyon.”
Our experience hiking into the Grand Canyon
I visited the canyon with my friend Jason and we spent a couple hours hiking via the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim. We quit after a couple hours for a few reasons. First, we had to do some high rollin’ in Las Vegas that night, so our brief visit did not allow us to spend all day in Arizona. Second, we started around 10 am, which is a bit too late to do any serious hiking. You just don’t want to be hiking down into the canyon during the middle of the day, when temps can get crazy hot.
Certain points of the hike were so unforgiving, with no shade, that finding a small little cave to hop into for a couple minutes became a welcome relief. This was the view looking out from the Supai Tunnel, a narrow tunnel you’ll encounter 2 miles down the trail.
We followed the trail past the Cococino Overlook and the Supai Tunnel, so it was between a 4 to 5 mile roundtrip. The hike down was awesome, with magnificent sights.
The hike back up was rough. It was pretty much straight up, and we had to stop for frequent rest breaks. Our primary motivation was this elderly lady we lovingly called “grandma” who was right on our tail most of the way. As much as we admired her level of fitness and stamina, we couldn’t live with ourselves if we let her beat us, so whenever she got close we high-tailed it. I’m proud to say we beat her out of the canyon by a good 20 seconds. We rock!
Tips for hiking into the Grand Canyon
-Don’t try to hike down to the bottom and back in one day! The Canyon’s official site makes this point repeatedly in red text, saying “under no circumstances” should you try this. About 250 people have to be rescued from the canyon each year, so this is not something to take lightly.
-Don’t hike during the hottest hours. Most people who take the full hike to the bottom of the canyon leave early in the morning (we’re talking 7 am or so), rest during the hottest hours, and continue when it starts to cool down. The temperature within the canyon can be 30 degrees hotter than at the rim. Even during my short hike, I noticed a big temperature difference from a couple thousand feet of elevation.
-Take water! Lots of it. The park recommends at least one gallon per person per day, but even that seems inadequate. There are some purified drinking water stations at various points within the canyon, but having your own supply is the best way to protect against dehydration and heat stroke, two of the bigger dangers in the park. Even for our modest day hike, we ran out of water on the way back out and had to tap into the supply of a fellow hiker. You’ll drink more than you think!
-For long hikes, bring toilet paper. There are a few toilets in the canyon, mostly at the campgrounds. Aside from that, you’ll need to follow typical backcountry etiquette by burying or carrying out the payoff from any bathroom breaks.
-Don’t get scared by the distance. While most of the trail is winding and hidden, at certain points you’ll be able to see miles straight down and you might find yourself becoming discouraged at just how far you still have to go. That structure in the middle of this photo is a foot bridge on the trail miles below. There’s nothing like the Grand Canyon to make you feel really small.
-Don’t be one of the entitled few riding a mule down into the canyon, forcing all the hikers to stop and move off the path (it’s required) when they pass by. These people are not appreciated by most hikers, because we’re huffing and puffing and working our butts off and they stroll past like royalty. If you want to make it to the bottom of the canyon, wouldn’t you feel a whole lot better if you actually earned it by walking there? The exception, of course, is for those with serious physical limitations that make such a ride necessary.
-Don’t rely on cell phone service, because chances are you won’t have any. Even at the rim, service can be spotty.
Check out the NPS’s Grand Canyon Hiking FAQ for more information.
Would you ever hike into the Grand Canyon?