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Grand Day Hikes in the Grand Canyon

Read our expert’s tips on the best trails for day hikes in the Grand Canyon.

 

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon enjoy the park only from roadside overlooks along the rim. Although these sweeping vistas will take your breath away, if you’re physically fit enough to handle the rigors of Grand Canyon hiking, especially day hikes, by all means hit the trails. You’ll discover parts of the canyon you would never see otherwise, and even during the most oppressive congestion in the summertime, a short hike of less than half an hour can take you away from the crowds.

Know Before You Go

Be aware that Grand Canyon hiking is hardcore, due to high altitude, slippery trails, treacherous weather and extreme changes in elevation. There simply are no easy treks into the interior of the canyon. On the return, Grand Canyon trails back up are steep, and first-time guests often underestimate how difficult it will be to ascend at the end of a hike.

When planning a hike, know your own limitations and err on the side of caution. Park rangers strongly discourage folks from planning a day hike to the Colorado River—they rescue some 250 people a year who fail to heed this warning.

With these caveats in mind, here are Grand Canyon hiking tips for five of my favorite hikes, divided by location and then listed according to difficulty (with easiest hikes first). South Rim trails are open year-round (although they can be icy and snowy in winter). North Rim trails are open seasonally, generally from mid-May to mid-October.

South Rim Hiking

Rim Trail

The Grand Canyon’s Rim Trail is a fairly level, partially paved pathway that runs along the South Rim, from Monument Creek Vista running west to Hermits Rest, for a little under three miles, one way. (Shuttle stops are available at Hermits Rest and Pima Point, a lovely vista about midway that is convenient for return trips or if you want to hike only a portion of the trail.) The route passes by Yavapai Point, with an enclosed observation area that offers shelter in inclement weather. Expect to encounter small wildlife along the trail and a lovely sprinkling of wildflowers in the spring.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail is likely the most famous trail in the park, and offers a tough 12-mile roundtrip, beginning at the South Rim near the Bright Angel Lodge, and running down into the canyon to Plateau Point. For hikers strong enough to go the distance, this trail offers a glimpse of the Colorado River. About halfway down, you’ll find restrooms and water at the Indian Garden Ranger Station (although note that because of freeze-thaw cycles and resultant broken pipes, water availability is not reliable in spring). This trail is also used by the mule train tours—these beasts of burden always have the right of way. (The best thing to do is step to the inside of the trail, away from the ledge, stop, and wait for the mule train to pass.) [Read more about Grand Canyon tours.]

This trail offers some fabulous canyon views, even if you don’t plan to make the full trip—but be aware that it is a steep return, and much too strenuous for inexperienced hikers and children under 12. For a more manageable hike, turn around at the first switchback, which will allow a leisurely walk down of about half an hour and another hourlong climb back up.

South Kaibab Trail

This rigorous six-mile roundtrip from Yaki Point to Skeleton Point offers another excellent view of the river and dramatic views of the canyon along the way. Note that even though South Kaibab Trail is a shorter trail, it’s much steeper than Bright Angel Trail, and thus inexperienced hikers should seriously consider turning back at the stunning and appropriately named Ooh-Aah Point, which is a little less than a mile down. Another half mile beyond Ooh-Aah takes you to Cedar Point, where you’ll find restrooms (but no water). Park officials recommend day hikers go no further than Cedar Point when hiking in the summer heat. Note that mule trains use the South Kaibab route on their return. As noted above, give the animals and their riders the right of way.

North Rim Hiking

Bright Angel Point Trail

This North Rim trail is likely the easiest in the park, and offers a distinctively different landscape from the South Rim trails, with more vegetation, greater variety in rock formation and distinct views of the canyon. Catch the gently meandering pathway just off the highway, near the Grand Canyon Lodge. The Bright Angel Point trail is under a mile long, paved and level—adapted for accessibility for those with disabilities and perfect for babies in strollers. You’ll find a self-guided nature trail along the route, where you can view geological highlights. (Be sure to pick up a recyclable brochure from boxes near the trailhead.)

Cliff Spring Trail 

For a good view of the canyon rock formations—and one of the prettiest hikes on the North Rim—try this mostly level, one-mile, round-trip trail. Catch the trailhead at a turnoff point near Angel’s Window (there is a large sign marking the point on the highway). You’ll descend briefly at the start of the trail, then follow a mostly level pathway along a creek bed, past lovely foliage and some dramatic rock outcroppings.

Don’t expect to see much water here in the summer—this is a gently dripping spring, not a gushing oasis. Look for the ancient American Indian cliff dwelling just above the spring. If you want to make it a longer hike, you can take a rougher trail at the terminus point for another half mile—your efforts will be rewarded with more panoramic canyon views.

Next: Safety Tips on Hiking the Grand Canyon

Safety Tips on Hiking the Grand Canyon

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan your hiking adventure to Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Plan your time: Remember that it takes twice as long to climb out of the canyon as it took to climb into it.
  • Carry at least one gallon of water per eight-hour hike. Experts recommend that half the supply include electrolyte replacements.
  • Wear hiking boots or, at the very least, nonskid athletic shoes. (I once watched a very fashionable woman descend the Bright Angel Trail wearing high heels—with patches of ice on the pathway, no less.)
  • Wear sunscreen with a high SPF, along with a wide-brimmed hat, year round. (Note: Baseball caps don’t provide enough coverage for ears and neck.)
  • Never hike alone.
  • Carry as little as possible: Try to limit your load to water, food and a waterproof poncho.
  • In the summertime, when the heat and exertion will cause your body to perspire excessively, carry healthy, salty snacks like nuts.
  • Rest frequently. Park rangers advise taking a 10-minute break for every hour of hiking. By giving your legs and feet a chance to recover, you will have more energy for the rest of the hike—and not to mention fewer aches and pains the next day.
  • Dress in layers. The canyon floor can be as much as 20 degrees warmer than the rim, so you want to be able to shed clothing—and then put it back on—as needed.
  • In the summertime, stay out of the most intense sun by avoiding the trails from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Check on weather conditions at a ranger station before heading out. Lightening and flooding rains are common in the summertime, and dramatic temperature shifts are to be expected in winter.


Destinations: Grand Canyon National Park

Themes: Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Sightseeing


User Comments

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