Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA – May 1999
One of the seven natural “wonders of the world”, Grand Canyon, draws millions of tourists every year. Mostly in the summer. Lots of kids. Too many cars. Too many darned tourists.
The true beauty and thrill of hiking the Grand Canyon from the south rim is better found in the spring, fall, fall and winter seasons. Less traffic on the trails, better temperature conditions for hiking, and the seasonal beauty are three top reasons to hike the canyon during off-season.
Note: The North Rim is closed from fall to late spring every year. Reason? Snow. Lots of it.
If you really want to put your “BootsnAll” to the test, put them on the south rim’s Kaibab Trail – both going down and coming back up from the bottom of the canyon. You can do it!
Just know that the Kaibab Trail is known by the locals as the trail for the pros. Yes, the weekend-hikers can go down the Kaibab Trail and then back up the Bright Angel Trail with no problem. But what truly separates the pros from the sissies is coming back up the Kaibab Trail!
When To GoApril, May, October, and November are the best months to plan your canyon hike.
As noted above, summers at Grand Canyon are totally busy and crazy. Often the temperatures at the bottom of the canyon will be up to 100 degrees. Hiking the canyon desert bottom in those temperatures isn’t a whole lot of fun. Especially surrounded by crowds. Choose the “shoulder” months to visit the canyon and you’ll have a much better experience.
Plan Ahead!Start your plotting and planning about 1 year in advance. No kidding here. Accommodations and mule rides book out one year in advance and your hiking plans need to be set in about the same time frame.
Plan your schedule, book a hotel room at the south rim (or perhaps Flagstaff) and ask your boss for the time off NOW!
Take a camera and film on your hike. There is a splendid view around every bend in the trail!
Couch Potatoes – Beware!
You should be in fairly good physical health to hike the canyon. If you have a heart condition, bad knees or back, or other obvious health problems, don’t attempt the hike. Instead, go to the IMAX theater at Tusayan and watch their show…
We recommend you prepare for the hike by doing a little distance walking before your trip. Remember, once you get down to the bottom, you have to get out on your own steam; no one is going to fly you out unless you have a SERIOUS injury, accident or incident. The Park Service won’t just give you a free ride out; trust us!
Camping at the Bottom
Yes, you can haul your sleeping bag and tent down to the river. The Bright Angel Campground is available for these hearty souls. If you want to rough it, go for it!
For some hikers, camping out makes the experience even more meaningful (personally, we’re too old for it!). Make sure you get a back country hiking permit from the Park Service at the south rim park. If you don’t, you’ll get turned around and sent back up the canyon.
This is our friend Chuck on a G.C.Christmas hike. Along the Kaibab trail are some “toilet ruins” that are perfect for silliness, but not great for really relieving yourself. We’re glad Chuck has a sense of humor and will probably not sue us for splashing this photo on the web!
Taking the Kaibab Trail, expect it will take 4 hours to get down and 8 hours to get back to the top of the south rim.
Sure, you’ll hear about hikers coming up much more rapidly. The “robo-hikers” think that it’s pretty cool to brag about hiking up in 4 hours or less. Let them brag and swagger. You, smart person, should plan for reality.
I seriously wonder about the quality of a hike when someone is speeding up the trail at breakneck speed. When did they stop to rest on a boulder to view the canyon beauty? Most of the joy of hiking the Grand Canyon is found when taking your time to enjoy your surroundings and nature at its’ finest.
Leave at 6:30am and expect to arrive at the Colorado River about 11:30am. Spend the day exploring the river area and perhaps a walk up the trail towards the north rim. Sleep well that night!
On the morning out, eat a light breakfast, pick up a sack lunch at the ranch and plan to head out no later than 7:00 a.m. You’ll reach the top towards the end of the afternoon your second day.
Fill Your Spirit
A Grand Canyon hike is an experience of a lifetime, no matter how jaded a traveler you may be.
Before, during and after the hike you will see canyon views, colors and hues, and raw nature in all her beauty. Wildlife includes many varieties of birds, goats, deer, and squirrels.
From the seven miles of trail up and down you will have hiked through about 6 different stratus layers of environment. From the woods at the top to the cactus at the river bottom, the Grand Canyon environment constantly changes throughout your hike.
Hike slowly. Take many breaks. Sit on big rocks, look around and enjoy the show!
Mule riders crossing the river bridge. As a hiker, remember to always stand aside on the trail so that you don’t spook the animals. Always feel sorry for the mule riders…their butts hurt worse than your feet by the end of the trip!
Here are some great web sites and sources for more information:
Hotel reservations at the south rim.
Call (303) 997-2757 or email
What To Take When Hiking: First, remember that whatever you pack down, you have to pack out. Keep your weight as low as possible.
There is simple but clean lodging at Phantom Ranch at the bottom. We highly recommend you plan to stay with the nice folks there in either a dorm or cabin.
Assuming you take advantage of the lodging and food at Phantom Ranch, here’s our canyon checklist for a two-day hike:
Wear layers of clothing – As you go down in elevation the temperatures climb, so prepare to start out with a coat and be down to a t-shirt by the time you get to the bottom.
Hiking Boots – good ones that lace over the ankles. Make sure they are properly broken-in before your canyon hike!
Spares – 1pair of good socks, shorts and a tee shirt.
Crampons – if it’s been raining or snowing at the top, these are pretty handy. If necessary, you can pick up a set at Babbitt’s General Store when you get there.
Light-weight back pack
Disposable bottles of water – no less than 3 quarts (fill up whenever you can). By the way, drink the water! Too many hikers forget to spill that H2O down their throats. Dehydration is a total drag and completely unnecessary.
Moleskin – apply immediately when you notice a “hot-spot” on your feet.
Camera & Film
Lip moisturizer and sun block – the small size of course!
Small tablet and pen
Aspirin – If you can keep your supplies minimal, you will be oh-so-grateful and think you’re pretty darned smart when you complete your hike!
…The Grand Canyon. Put Your Boots on and Hike It!…
Richard & Patti Redd