The Grand Canyon trails are quite simply some of the best hiking trails that you will find anywhere on the planet. The surrounding scenery is awe-inspiring, and that’s where much of the allure of the Grand Canyon lies for most travelers. In addition, there are multiple options for different distances and levels of experience among the Grand Canyon hikes, including day hikes on various trails or overnight excursions that include camping and more time to explore the area. If you don’t want to go it alone, both guided hikes and mule rides can be arranged by those who are interested.
Excellent Grand Canyon trails can be found on both the North Rim and South Rim sides. In other words, you can look to include an unforgettable hiking experience on your Grand Canyon vacation itinerary regardless of which side you choose to visit, but the South Rim is definitely the more popular of the two rim destinations.
Hiking into or out of the Grand Canyon is a true joy, but it’s far from easy. The National Park Service advises that hikers not descend into the canyon without proper equipment and planning, so those who are less mobile or simply looking for an easier Grand Canyon hiking experience typically turn their attention exclusive to the Rim Trail. About 13 miles long, this hike along the South Rim goes from the Grand Canyon Village area to Hermits Rest and does not dip down into the canyon. There are many opportunities to stand on the canyon’s edge, however, and at Hermit’s Rest, it is possible to get some water and snacks. Free shuttle buses follow along the Rim Trail and make stops at various points, so hikers can take advantage of them as they see fit. Much of the Rim trail is paved, it should be noted, and while there are some elevation changes, it is mostly flat.
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail
No other trail that leads into the Grand Canyon is more popular than the Bright Angel Trail. Much of this popularity is related to the fact that the trail begins in Grand Canyon Village; the trailhead is located immediately west of the Bright Angel Lodge. Also lending to the popularity of the Bright Angel Trail is the fact that it is the most commonly used trail for mule rides and the only maintained trail into the canyon that has potable water—though hikers should always bring their own as well. The water is available at two points along the trail during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, and way down at the Indian Garden point year round. The Bright Angel Trail is a well-maintained dirt trail, but it is steep and follows along a narrow side canyon, extending 6.1 miles from the trailhead out to Plateau Point. The views are beautiful and there are picnic tables, but there are portions of the trail with no shade and the steepness of the trail makes it challenging.
South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab Trail
Another one of the most popular Grand Canyon trails, the South Kaibab Trail is found along Yaki Point Road and begins just south of Yaki Point. Round-trip day hikes of up to 6 miles can be done on this trail, and regardless of how far down you go, the views are guaranteed to be spectacular. In fact, the South Kaibab Trail arguably offers the best views of all the trails that lead into the Grand Canyon. However, the hiking is strenuous along most of the South Kaibab Trail: it’s a maintained dirt trail, but it can be icy in the winter or early spring, and the trail itself is quite steep, dropping about 2,000 feet of elevation over the 3 miles it takes to get from the trailhead to Skeleton Point. Water is only available at the trail head on a seasonal basis, and shuttle buses travel between Grand Canyon Village and the South Kaibab trail head.
If you don’t want to share your Grand Canyon hiking trail with a lot of other hikers, then a hike along the trail might be perfect. Beginning approximately 500 feet west of Hermit’s Rest, this unmaintained trail certainly isn’t as busy as the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail—mostly because it’s much more difficult. In fact, most Grand Canyon experts advise that only experienced desert and mountain hikers tackle this technical route. Stops along the trail are at Waldron Basin, Santa Maria Spring, and Dripping Springs, which is the farthest out, at 3.5 miles from the trailhead. There is no treated water along the trail, but if you bring iodine tablets or another treatment system, you can drink what you find at the springs.
One of the steepest trails that dips into the Grand Canyon, the Grandview Trail also caters to the experienced and physically fit hiker who wishes to escape the crowds for a while. The unmaintained trail is steep and very challenging, but it’s also among the most beautiful. On the South Rim, the Grandview Trail has hikes to Coconino Saddle, which is 2.2 miles roundtrip, or Horseshoe Mesa, at 6.4 miles roundtrip. Going to Coconino, the trail descends more than 2,000 feet, and it drops 2,500 en route to Horseshoe Mesa. There is no water along the route, so in addition to good hiking boots and plenty of food, you must also bring water; at least two quarts per person is the recommended amount. The trailhead is at Grandview Point, which is a little more than ten miles east of Grand Canyon Village.
Top image: John Loo (flickr)