Key information: Grand Canyon
- Outstanding hikes down into the world’s most famous canyon, or along its rim.
- Revel in huge views across the vast canyon; enjoy the changing colours and fantastic shapes of the cliffs, buttes and spires.
- Enter another world with wildly varying ecosystems as you plunge deeper into the great abyss.
Walkopedia rating(Top 100)
- Walkopedia rating96
- Natural interest18
- Human interest5
- Negative points3
- Total rating96
- Note: Neg: popularity
- Length: Variable
- Kaibab Trail is 35km / 3 days
- Maximum Altitude: Around 2,700m (North Rim)
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a World Heritage Site, and geological heaven. It is hard to overstate the canyon’s raw, majestic beauty and glamour, or the awe that it inspires. Its varied colours and outlandish shapes and formations are justly famous.
The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is astounding. Up to 1,830m (well over a mile) deep, 450 km long and up to 25 km wide, it is the one against which all other canyons are measured.
The Canyon abounds in natural wonders: nearly 2 billion years of geology are revealed in its cliffs (although, amazingly, it took a mere six million years for the Colorado to excavate it), and you move quickly between different layers of history (young sandstone at the top, ancient granite near the river) and between hugely varied ecosystems, from the pine forests of the rim to the hot desert of the floor. There are areas of greenery such as the overpopular Indian Garden and the Havasu Canyon, where streams converge to produce rich and vivid vegetation. You will see birds of prey soaring on the Canyon’s thermals. Dangers and pests include rattlesnakes and scorpions.
Layers of hard rock alternate with soft, resulting in vast cliffs and majestic buttresses above flatter terraces, the best known and most useful being the Tonto Platform.
The Canyon contains various intriguing archaeological sites, including rock paintings and the detritus of old civilizations, indication that even the most inhospitable of places has long been lived in. The Anasazi people were here from the sixth to 13th centuries, other tribes from the 15th, one now occupying the remote and lovely Havasu Canyon.
The Canyon gets around 6 million visitors a year, so its rim – and the main trails – can get crowded. Getting away requires effort, and planning.
Walking the Canyon: there are many different ways to explore the Canyon: tough trails that cross its entire width, day hikes into the abyss, or walks which savour the outstanding views from its rim, although you will not be alone. A wonderful way to appreciate both its immense size and beauty is to walk across the Canyon, or at least deep into it. A hike deep into its bowels will, though, test both your physical and mental fortitude with its extreme heat, steep climbs and tough trekking.
The cross-Canyon route is the South / North Kaibab Trails. The only bridge over the Colorado is on these trails, near Phantom Ranch, so crossing here is your only realistic option. The North Kaibab Trail is the only recognised path in the centre of the NP between the North Rim and the river.
You can walk either way. You can also walk down/up on the Bright Angel Trail from the south, which joins the South Kaibab Trail near the bridge.
The crossing is mainly walked south-to-north, although vice versa is perfectly workable. It usually takes 3 days.
See our Crossing the Canyon page.
Going deep into the canyon
There are many options for getting down into the Canyon. Choose carefully what will suit your tastes and, importantly, fitness and experience
The best known and most-used trails are the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail. These are wide and well-constructed routes, called the ‘corridor trails’, and are the recommended routes for first-timers as they are well maintained and even patrolled. But they can be very crowded at peak times. Experienced walkers should be able to use less-frequented trails, such as the Grandview Trail, even if it’s their first time. There are many other trails into the Canyon. The Tonto Trail (and to a lesser extent Escalante Trail), which wind along the Tonto Platform on the Canyon’s southern mid-slopes, are useful links for many of these trails, enabling circuits and all sorts of combinations to be made involving, for instance, descents on one path, overnighting in the canyon, and returning by another path. E.g. what we call the Grand Day Loop.
How deep you go depends on how fit and experienced you are. See more below.
Bright Angel Trail: a wonderful name, but it is very crowded as it starts from Grand Canyon Village. The trail makes a quick initial descent, on endless beautifully constructed switchbacks inside the deep canyon-recess of the Garden Creek, then levels out toward Indian Garden. Pass various lookouts, which can make logical turn-rounds. Indian Garden is a delightful canyon-bottom oasis, with green trees and running spring water, but is very crowded at peak times. Most people stop at Indian Garden, but you can continue on to the Colorado, dropping steeply down the the inner canyon - only recommended for the super-fit and very experienced. If you think you have the legs, do make the level, 3 mile round trip from Indian Garden to Plateau Point, for dramatic and magnificent views of the Colorado river. The return hike from deep down is a long slog, but much assisted by the brilliant construction of the trail.
South Kaibab Trail: beginning to the east of the visitor centre, the trail makes a steady descent, dropping 6+ miles down through nine layers of the Canyon. Unlike most trails down, which follow side canyons, the South Kaibab Trail sticks to ridgetops, so you get huge views much of the way down (we think it is the better route for this reason). Across the sloping Tonto Platform, the scene of the eponymous lateral trail, you drop steeply to the river – only recommended for the super-fit and very experienced. You can then cross to Phantom Ranch or the Bright Angel campground and then back the next day, or on along the North Kaibab Trail to cross the Canyon. The return hike from deep down is a long slog, but much assisted by the brilliant construction of the trail.
A popular alternative is to use the Tonto Trail to connect the above routes to create a Grand Day Loop: is this the best day walk in the Grand Canyon? Walkopedia thinks so. 13-16km of visual rapture. Descend the South Kaibab Trail to the Tip-off. This is the better descent, as the trail follows a ridge most of the way down, so has superb and wide views. Traverse from the Tip-off to Indian Garden (on the Bright Angel Trail) on the brilliant Tonto Trail, which is beyond delightful; then it is the long ascent of the Bright Angel Trail back to the Canyon Village.If you think you have the legs, do make the level, 3 mile round trip from Indan Garden to Plateau Point, for dramatic and magnificent views of the Colorado river.
Another possibility is to spend a night at the bottom, then reascend to the South Rim. Note that accommodation at the bottom needs to be booked ages in advance.
The Tonto Trail meanders, relatively level, for approximately 70 miles along the Tonto Platform, deep in the Canyon, and sometimes alongside the Colorado river. It connects with tracks all over the sprawling canyon complex, enabling circuits, loops and plenty of other options. The Tonto Platform is a long and rugged plateau of harder, slower-eroding, rock, which separates the inner gorge from the cliffs and buttes of the upper canyon. If every viewpoint along the Canyon’s rim opens up breathtaking new panoramas, the vistas from within its entrails offer entirely new and exhilarating perspectives. You can feel as if you are at the heart of a huge bowl, surrounded by mountains, or in a long wide valley between marching escarpments, such is the size of the place.
The North Kaibab Trail is the only way to access the middle of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim, down the long, straight, stately Bright Angel Canyon to Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campsite near the Colorado river. Walkable in part as a day walk, or stay the night down there.
Other day walks into the canyon: There are plenty of fabulous routes, mainly from the South Rim, for those without the time or inclination to sleep down inside. Consider:
The Hermit Trail, from Hermit’s Rest to the west (shuttle bus available). The Hermit Trail is tough, demanding even for experienced canyon walkers. Originally built by horse thieves, there are major obstacles and descents, and hair-raising drops. The path is not officially maintained by the park rangers, and is at the mercy of natural and manmade erosion. The trail descends into the canyon steeply, past the usual wondrous and weird formations, before meeting the Tonto Trail about 6 miles in; a few miles further is the Hermit Creek campsite. Stick with the trail right up to its stunning finale – the Hermit Rapids on the Colorado River – and then return the way you came, or along Tonto Trail to pick a different route back up.
The Boucher Trail, via Hermit and Dripping Springs Trails: The Boucher Trail is tough, with gradients exceeding 25% in places. It is, however, less travelled than many, and dips down into the same stunning scenery and geology as its more famous sister trails. Some of its more dramatic features include, after just a few miles, contouring around beneath Yuma Point; a steep descent through the Supai Group to the head of Travertine Canyon; the climb east out of Travertine Canyon to the Whites Butte saddle; the natural fissure in the Redwall Limestone that leads to its junction with the Tonto Trail and platform (in 8+ miles); and the narrow Boucher Creek itself that splits off and down to the Colorado River at the trail’s terminus. Return to the Tonto Trail to choose an alternative trail back to the rim.
The Grandview Trail, from Grandview Point parking area a few miles east of the visitor centre: The Grandview Trail opens with a quick descent on switchbacks through Kaibab Limestone and the Toroweap Formation, generally following the ridge that marks the fault in the Coconino Sandstone. Thereafter a turn to the north means a further descent, this time through the Hermit Shale and Supai Group until it reaches Horseshoe Mesa. You’ve just descended 2,500 feet in around 3 miles. After the Last Chance Mine, an eastern steep spur track leads down through the Redwall Limestone break, heading east past Miners Spring to its rendezvous with the Tonto Trail just over 4 miles later, and then east to the flow of Hance Canyon. Following Tonto Trail westward, you can pick up a western spur of the Grandview Trail, following Cottonwood Creek up to an alternative break in the Redwall Limestone, making a loop back to the Horseshoe Mesa camp and the trail back to the South Rim.
To the east, the New Hance Trail and the Tanner Trail from near the Desert Lookout Tower are both fine (and less used) descents to the Colorado. As neither have camping facilities, they both need to be walked in a day, so plan accordingly and don’t descend beyond your powers of return.
In the far west of the central area are the little-visited and hard-of-access Royal Arch Route and South Bass Trail.
Thunder River/Deer Creek Trails In the far north-west of the park, accessible from the North Rim.
The Havasu Canyon in the west is outstandingly beautiful, and (relatively) remote. Waterfalls, bright blue mineral pools, lush greenery; and a long history of American Indian occupation. You have to camp near the famous Havasu Falls. Permits needed.
Note that many of these will make very long and tough days if tackled in their fullest extent, so be realistic about your capabilities. Many of these trails can be linked by the Tonto Trail to make a marvellous if long day circuits.
Hiking on the South Rim is limited (which is very tedious) to the Rim Trail and the short Shoshone Point Trail. The views are wonderful, though, and may be worth mixing with the throngs of tourists for. Things are more relaxed and varied on the North Rim. See below.
The Rim Trail runs for 13 miles between the South Kaibab trailhead near Yaki Point to the east of the visitor centre and Hermits Rest some 7 miles west of Grand Canyon village. It joins together a series of amazing viewpoints, running close to the cliff-edge most of the way. It is paved for much of its way. It is, needless to say, crowded on a quiet day and hideous at busy times. Despite this, you can't possibly not walk some of the rim. The further you go west of the village, the (relatively) fewer the people on the trail. You do need to watch at least one sunset from the rim, although, again, don't expect romantic solitude.
There are plenty of fine trails which lead out to sublime viewpoints – just look at a map to find one to suit you. The only significant rim-top trail is the Widforss Trail.
This can be tough walking in hot, dry conditions. Come fully prepared, including carrying plenty of water. Make a realistic assessment of your capabilities and the demands of the trails. Remember that you have to get back to the rim: “Descending is optional; ascending is compulsory”, as the signs say, approximately.
Our friends and partners Responsible Travel have a selection of walking and other holidays in South-west USA. You should get good ideas, perhaps for something you hadn’t thought of!
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
The Grand Canyon – Cicerone: excellent, as usual. Unlike most Cicerones, which deliberately restrict their focus to closely walk-related matters, this covers all the practical information you would get in a general guidebook.
- Hiking in the Grand Canyon - John Annerino
- Hiking the Grand Canyon National Park - Ron Adkison
- Official Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon - Scott Thybony
- Hiking in the USA - Lonely Planet
- Grand Canyon Treks: 12,000 Miles - Harvey Bouchart
- Day Hikes from the River: A Guide to 100 Hikes from Camps on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park - Tom Martin
Chapters in Trekking Atlas of the World – Ed. Jack Jackson; Trek! The Best Trekking in the World – Claes Grundsten; Classic Hikes of the World – Peter Potterfield; and Classic Treks(ed. Bill Birkett) for ideas.
- A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon - Stephen Whitney
- Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon - Myers and Ghiglieri
- Hiking the Grand Canyon's Geology - Terri Cook and Lon Abbot
- Beneath the Rim: A Photographic Journey through the Grand Canyon - C.C. Lockwood
- The Photographer's Guide to the Grand Canyon - John Annerino
- Grand Canyon National Park 261 Bright Angel - National Geographic
- Grand Canyon National Park: Trails Illustrated - National Geographic
Good maps can be bought locally, easily. Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.ukare a good online specialist source of worldwide.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
March-May (but weather can be inconsistent). Generally cold until late April.
September-mid November - best times.
Winter is very cold, and it can snow on the rim. Winter weather can lead to road closures, limiting access to some trailheads. Summer is too hot, and crowded.
Whilst the summer is extremely hot inside the canyon, the winter can be appealing for visitors who are happy with cold and shorter days, although icy conditions near the rim can make a winter expedition perilous. Temperatures can take visitors by surprise, as temperatures in the canyon are often a lot hotter than at the rim.
AIRPORTS:Grand Canyon airport is 7 miles (11.5km) from Grand CanyonVillage. There are flights to/from Flagstaff, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
TRANSPORT:There are regular buses from Flagstaff to Grand CanyonVillage. A shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes from Grand Canyon to Yaki Point. A daily shuttle bus also runs between south rim and the north rim (closed November to late Spring), an important facility for those wanting to cross the Canyon.
This being the USA, almost all visitors arrive by car. There is little other relevant public transport.
A vehicle-based park fee is payable. If you are travelling widely, think of getting a National Park pass.
With its grotesque visitor numbers, the South Rim’s roads and car parks are under strain. Some roads and car parks are becoming prohibited to private cars. Shuttle bus services are growing. Check the latest position when planning an expedition.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
OVERNIGHT BACKCOUNTRY PERMITS are required for all camping within the Grand Canyon (but not if staying at Phantom Lodge). There are a limited number of permits, so applications should be made several months in advance.For details, check the guidebooks and also (in case of changing rules) contact the Backcountry Information Centre – see www.nps.gov.grca. There is a permit fee.
A permit (call ahead) is needed to walk the trail from the remote Supai village into the HavasuCanyon.
There are a huge number of routes. See the Walk Summary, above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Variable temperatures often broiling, but it can get cold. Come prepared for the time of year – and the unexpected.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water (and plan for water supplies in an emergency) and protect yourself.
- Heights: dangerous! Not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Dangerous animals, including mountain lions and coyotes, snakes, scorpions, stinging/biting ants and other insects and stinging or sharp plants. Take all appropriate precautions. Check before sitting on or moving rocks and logs.
- Mice and other rodents can gnaw through your bags. Hang packs with food up – or store them in metal boxes if provided.
- Canyon dangers: canyons can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyon beds. Main risk season is July – beginning of September.
- This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies, and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
The great majority hike the Grand Canyon independently.
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions. They can be the only option if you want to stay near or in the Canyon but haven’t booked months ahead. Travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Expedition organisers include:
- Mountain Kingdoms – www.mountainkingdoms.com
- Sherpa Expeditions – www.sherpa-walking-holidays.co.uk
Grand CanyonVillage and Tusayan to the south have lodges, hotels, stores, and a campground.
At the bottom of the Canyon, Phantom Ranch has cabins and dormitory accommodation, and a campground; meals can be provided if booked in advance.
The north rim has limited lodges, cabins and camping. Famous Grand Canyon Lodge is one.
Camping is generally the only realistic option once in the canyon, save for Phantom Ranch. Other campgrounds are at Bright Angel, Indian Ranch and Cottonwood.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation.
Hostelbookersusually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Important: accommodation can need to be booked months in advance (it is said a year for Phantom and Grand Canyon Lodge), so plan ahead. Even campsites require reservations. Bookings should be made through Xanterra Parks and Resorts (885) 297 2757, who manage the National Park.
Other information and tips
Fires are prohibited, so bring a stove and think about light foods.
Water will be essential: plan carefully. Lots of people cache water en route, to pick up on their return journey and save haulage. Make sure your water is marked, dated, and well hidden (plus out of the sun). Relying entirely on this is inadvisable.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- www.wikipedia.com - fabulous variety of information
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
The Cicerone book has a multitude of ideas for the Grand Canyon area.
The USA has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be going.
Aside from casual sightseeing from the south rim, plane and helicopter viewing and whitewater rafting, ‘river running’, are deservedly popular.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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