13 Grand Canyon Hiking Tips
Its silence and unparalleled beauty hit the “reset” button, while the long, steep hike pushes limits. Here’s the advice that you won't know until you go.
Stay at the Rim
The rooms along the South Rim are sometimes hard to book, but reserve one if you can. Plus, the South Rim is chock-full of deer, elk, antelope, turkeys, and other wildlife that will change your life.
Drive Past Tusayan
The restaurants in Tusayan, the town right outside of the South Rim of the park, are overpriced and not very good, whereas pretty much any restaurant, cafeteria, or food court within the park is delicious, reasonably priced, and has gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Always Use Bright Angel Trail
Don't tempt fate at the Grand Canyon - always use Bright Angel Trail, which has safety nets for life's surprises.
Bright Angel Trail Has Hands-Down the Most to Offer
Bright Angel Trail is a 10-mile trek to the bottom that offers drinking water, emergency lines, park and volunteer rangers, and lots to see along the way. After Indian Garden, drinking water is not available for another five dry miles, so drink up and stock up, buttercup. Park rangers and volunteer rangers typically monitor the first few miles down from the South Rim, although I've seen them as far as six miles in. Park guides claim they "randomly patrol" South Kaibab Trail, which sounds like code for "pretty much never. With a creek that runs along parts of it, old-school phone lines, butterflies, wildflowers, and Indian Garden, a lush stop four miles down the rim to sit and eat lunch, it is arguably the Canyon's most beautiful path. There's a spot near Indian Garden where the trail crosses a shallow creek.
But Don't Get Roped Into Indian Garden
Camping at Indian Garden stinks. It’s muggy, it's hot, and it's full of mosquitoes. It's a great spot to stop for a while, but it's miserable for overnight camping.
Skip the Hike if it Rains
A few days before you descend into the Canyon, keep tabs on the weather. If it floods the trail, you'll walk along wet stone pavers that border it, which in many areas is the only thing separating you and a 400-foot drop.
You Too Can Sleep at Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch is a rustic, charming historic lodge with understandably off-again, on-again plumbing, and after a three-to-five-hour hike down the Canyon, it's Disney World. The other advantage of arriving a day early is that you might nab a last-minute reservation at the Ranch.
Call the transportation desk at Bright Angel Lodge the morning before your hike to see if any beds have opened up, because they often do. You can reserve a spot at Bright Angel Campground four months in advance. Located at the bottom of the Canyon approximately one mile away from Phantom Ranch, the camp is shaded by cottonwood trees and flanks a creek to cool off in. Don't stay without a permit, because park rangers check every last soul for a tag and they're ruthless about marching those that don't have a golden ticket back up the Canyon.
Let Them Eat Steak
A camping permit or room reservation is not required to eat well at the bottom of the Canyon, but make reservations in advance because meals always, I repeat, always sell out. You'll prepay $43.65 for a steak dinner, $26.45 for a vegetarian or stew dinner, $19.11 for breakfast, and $14 for a sack lunch. Every day right around 3 p.m., sweaty, weary hikers fresh off the trail crowd its picnic tables to guzzle down a few cold ones before the Canteen closes for dinner.
Pack (Pretty Much) Nothing
Duffels can go down on a donkey, but the service is perpetually sold out, expensive, and complicated. Duct tape your pack or water bottle so you don't have to bring an entire roll. Overnighters shouldn't bother with anything else other than one - skimpy - change of clothes and a toothbrush pre-topped with toothpaste. Campers should bring the lightest tent possible and leave pads and sleeping bags home.
Many Fitness Levels Can Hit the Trail
Sure, consult your doctor before taking on this trail, but you don't need to become a marathon runner to hike the Grand Canyon. Before you go, hike regularly to break in your legs and shoes and to learn your endurance and rhythm.
Know your style and prepare accordingly.
Load Up on Laughs
There's no cell reception, so be sure to download lots of music. Comedy shows are a go-to in the last two miles on the way up.
Open Trails Are Not Safe Trails
Although the South Rim is open year-round, you don’t want to hike November through March, because the trails are icy, snowy, or muddy, nor from May through early September because it's too hot.
Here's a brighter idea: Start no later than say, 9 a.m and walk one and a half miles down Bright Angel Trail to the first seasonal water spigot, which will get you up-close and personal with the Canyon. I promise that you will see the bulk of what there is to see.
So when are the trails safe to hike the Grand Canyon? They're never foolproof, but it's best to hike mid-April through the end of the month, and anytime in October. During that slim timeframe, I sing happy Bright Angel trails to you.