Grand Canyon Hiking

Grand Canyon Hiking Tips

In This Guide
  • Planning Your Grand Canyon Hikes
  • Working With Grand Canyon Weather
  • Trail and Gear Tips For Your Hikes
  • Understanding the Grand Canyon Scenery

Planning a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon can be intimidating. There are a lot of trails and if you’re not familiar with the area, it can be confusing. This Grand Canyon hiking tips guide will arm you with everything you need to know to get some epic hikes when you’re staying at the Grand Canyon. You can see a list of all the Grand Canyon hike guides here.

Beginner Tips Video

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Grand Canyon Planning Tips

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Forgot some hiking gear? There’s a hiking shop tucked away in the supermarket. You can also rent gear there. Keep reading…
  1. The Grand Canyon is really two parks, the South Rim and the North Rim. They are separated by about 11 miles across the canyon, but you can’t drive through the canyon. To drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is about 4 hours. The North Rim is actually closer to Zion National Park and Las Vegas. If it’s your first time visiting the Grand Canyon, the South Rim is your best bet.
  2. Give yourself at least 3 days to visit the South Rim if you want to see the sights and get some hikes in too. Take a day to drive the South Rim and mix in the Rim Trail to Bright Angel hike to stretch your legs. Then take two days to hike.
  3. Use the shuttle buses to get around the South Rim, especially in the summer.
  4. Your best bet is to try and stay in Grand Canyon Village, but the accommodation fills up quickly. El Tovar is the fanciest option. You can also camp which is the most affordable option.
  5. If you can’t get lodging in the Grand Canyon, go 10 minutes outside of the park and stay at Tusayan (pronounced too-say-ohn) which has some chain hotels and off-brand hotels. The off-brand hotels are often just as clean and nice as the chains. There’s also a free shuttle into the park from Tusayan.
  6. If you are doing a last-minute trip, call the reservations number at 730am on the day you wan to stay. There are often last-minute cancellations.
  7. Buy a National Parks Pass which is good for entry of your whole car (and all passengers). You can use the pass to enter and park at all USA lands (National Forests, Statue of Liberty, etc.)
  8. You can rent and buy hiking gear at the Grand Canyon Village Market.
  9. If you are buying food the Grand Canyon Village Market has a great selection. I find it better than the supermarkets in Tusayan.
  10. Cell phone reception in the park is so-so around the Visitor’s Center and lodges, but otherwise non-existant. Same with WiFi.
  11. Check the Grand Canyon National Park Updates Page – sometimes roads close, water is turned off, trails are impassable. This page will let you know what the current conditions are.
  12. Everyone asks, so here you go:
    1. Best Sunrises: Yaki Point, Maricopa Point, Powell Point
    2. Best Sunsets: Pima Point, Mohave Point, Hopi Point, Yaki Point

Grand Canyon Weather Tips

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Snow is probably not what comes to mind when you think of the Grand Canyon, but the trails can be covered with snow and ice.

If you’re used to seeing the Grand Canyon on TV and popular media, you’ve probably got an image of a sandy desert with cactus in your mind. But the Grand Canyon is a little different.

  1. Understand that the average elevation at the South Rim is 6,800 feet (about 2,070m), which is higher than any mountain on the East Coast of the USA. It can be colder than you expect at the Rim, even in the summer.
  2. The North Rim is closed in the winter because of snow and winter weather. It has gone down to –22F (-30C) here in the winter and there’s been almost 23 feet of snow over a season.
  3. The South Rim can get snow and ice from September to June. When there is snow and ice on the trails, it’s best not to hike unless you’ve already got experience on the trail and experience hiking with crampons or micr0-spikes.
  4. In the summer the South Rim can also get very hot, with highs in the 90F range.
  5. As you descend into the canyon, the temperature rises about 5.5F (about 3C) for every 1,000 feet (305m) that you go down.
  6. Hiking at the bottom of the canyon during the summer months is not safe. The highest temperature recorded at the bottom is 120F (49F). You will likely die if you hike in these temperatures.
  7. Like most deserts, in average conditions the Grand Canyon gets very hot during the day and very cold at night.
  8. May and June is the sweet spot to visit the South Rim. It’s often dry and cool. Late August / early September is the best time to visit the North Rim.
  9. In the summer and fall (July-September) there is a “monsoon season” where you can get severe thunderstorms and flash-flooding. The Grand Canyon is a magnet for lightning (about 25,000 strikes a year) and dry streams can turn into raging rivers. Don’t hike if a thunderstorm is forecast.
  10. Grand Canyon National Park has a page with all the weather conditions on it here.

Grand Canyon Hiking Tips

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Spending some time planning your hike with these tips can mean the difference between a fun adventure and a miserable day. For example, it’s still possible to hike on hot days, but you have to do it right. The highest recorded temperature is 120F but radiant heat from the cliff walls can make it even hotter.

I’m a professional hiking guide who’s hiked hundreds of miles in the Grand Canyon, and I’m still constantly amazed by how spectacular and tough hiking here is. Here are some tips to make sure you have fun and stay safe on your hike.

  1. Everyone always underestimates how hard it will be to hike back out of the canyon. It’s easy going down but hard going up.
    1. Plan on going down at about double the speed that you will climb out. Most folks go down at about 2-3 mph and climb out at 1-2 mph.
    2. It’s (mentally and physically) harder to do the climb out after doing hike in. Normally people hike up a mountain and then cruise down. This is the opposite.
    3. The elevation and temperature extremes will take more out of you than you think.
    4. As the rangers like to say, there’s no shuttle bus from the bottom of the canyon to the top. Do a hike that’s easier than you think you can handle. It’s your responsibility to get out. There are no helicopter evacuation for being tired.
    5. Don’t hike to the river and back in one day unless you’ve got a lot of experience hiking in the Grand Canyon and top fitness.
    6. Take some energy gels with you in case you need a pick-me-up on the way back up. Gels are generally easier to put down when you’re exerting yourself or are very hot.
    7. Take small steps and avoid getting your heart rate way up. Take breaks when if you get winded.
  2. You don’t have to hike into the Grand Canyon; there are some great easy hikes up along the rim too.
  3. If you are hiking into the Grand Canyon for the first time, choose a (very well-maintained) corridor trail like Bright Angel or South Kaibab first. Leave the more primitive trails for when you have more experience.
  4. When looking at climbing (in feet) on trails, use the fact that the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet to help you gauge the effort. So a climb of 1,000 feet or so is similar to climbing about 80% up all the steps in the Empire State Building.
  5. You can get away with fitness clothing and a backpack on most hikes, but if a hike is moderate to hard, I’d recommend using proper hiking gear including trekking poles.
  6. Having a satellite communicator will help you address any problems you may have on the trail.
  7. Bring more water than you think you need. Bring more snacks than you think you need. Check the park updates page for any water closures.
  8. Don’t over-drink; just drink when you are thirsty. You can actually die from drinking too much water.
  9. Leave at sunrise to avoid the crowds. Trails start to get really crowded around 8am.
  10. When it’s hot out, don’t hike between 10am-4pm. A majority of the injuries at the Grand Canyon are from heatstroke and heat exhaustion, which are entirely preventable.
  11. If you do end up hot on the hike, dump water on yourself. This will keep you cool and help avoid any heat-related injuries.

How To Stay Safe

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People love to see the elk grazing. Don’t get too close though, elk can charge.

While the Grand Canyon is a harsh environment, it’s a relatively safe one for hikers. Most deaths are entirely preventable.

Quick Grand Canyon History

Vishnu Shist
Here’s what 1.8 billion year old rock looks like, as seen from the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This rock was formed millions of years before the dinosaurs. In fact, around the time that these rocks formed, oxygen was new on earth and the only life forms were simple bacteria and algae.

A little context and history will go a long way when visiting the Grand Canyon.