Q: How hard is it to hike into the Grand Canyon?
A: The answer is up to you. Depending on how prepared you are, your trip can be a vacation or a challenge, a revelation or an ordeal. The majority of Grand Canyon hikers are here for the first time, and although many are avid hikers, they find that hiking the Grand Canyon is very different from most other hiking experiences. They tend to react to the experience in one of two ways, either they can't wait to get back, or they swear they will never do it again.
Mental attitude and adequate water and food consumption are absolutely essential to the success of any hike into the Grand Canyon, particularly in summer. The day hiker and the overnight backpacker must be equally prepared for the lack of water, extreme heat and cold, and isolation characteristic of the Grand Canyon. Hiking in the Grand Canyon is so demanding that even people in excellent condition often emerge sore and fatigued. Yet small children, senior citizens, and people with physical disabilities have successfully hiked the canyon.
Backcountry rangers recommend that hikers make their first trip into the inner canyon on one of the park's Corridor trails: Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, or North Kaibab Trail. This area includes three campgrounds: Indian Garden, Bright Angel, and Cottonwood each having ranger stations, water, and emergency phones.
Q: How long will my hike take?
A: Monitor the amount of time it takes you to get down to any location; it can take twice that amount of time to cover the same distance going out. This "rule of thumb" seems to work well regardless of individual fitness, age and/or length of stride. Most first-time Grand Canyon hikers walk uphill at an average speed of one mile per hour.
Q: Which is easier the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail?
A: Although both trails are maintained, they are very strenuous and involve hiking numerous switchbacks. The Bright Angel Trail is roughly 2 miles longer but has water, some shade, and half-way down is Indian Garden, a wonderful place for a rest stop. There you will find water, toilet facilities, a ranger station, and a place to sit in the shade. The South Kaibab Trail has no water and very little shade.
If you are hiking from the South Rim to Bright Angel Campground and back, a popular option is to take the South Kaibab Trail down, and the Bright Angel Trail up, thereby completing a "loop hike". Leave your car at the Backcountry Information Center lot and take the free Hikers' Express shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.
Q: How long will it take to get to the bottom from the South Rim?
A: The South Kaibab Trail is 6.8 miles to Bright Angel Campground and the Bright Angel Trail is 9.3 miles. It will take most hikers between 4 and 5 hours to get to the campground on either trail. Oddly enough, very few people ask how long the return hike will take. The return hike may take twice as long, though 7 to 8 hours seems to be average. Underestimating the elevation change and not eating or drinking enough can easily add a few hours to those averages.
Q: Can I go to the bottom and back in one day?
A: The National Park Service DOES NOT RECOMMEND hiking from the rim to the river and back in one day.
Q: Should I hike alone?
A: Risks are greater for those who hike alone. There is no one to assist you if you become lost, ill, or injured. Mountain lions do inhabit the Grand Canyon. Hikers traveling alone are at greater risk of attack. Be sure to keep your group together; a good plan is to have your most skilled members at the front and rear of your group with the novices in the middle.
Q: Where do I park my vehicle(s)?
A: South Rim: Hikers can park at the Backcountry Information Center (parking lot D). It is a short walk over to the Bright Angel Trailhead. A free hikers' shuttle goes to the South Kaibab trailhead from the Backcountry Information Center, Bright Angel Lodge, and Yavapai Lodge. Private automobiles are not allowed to access the South Kaibab trailhead. Taxi service is available 24-hours a day, 928-638-2631. Backpackers with permits in the Boucher and Hermit areas are given the gate combination for Hermit Road. Drivers must yield to shuttle buses and observe posted speed limits. With regards to backpacking the South Kaibab/Bright Angel Loop, park at the Backcountry Information Center and take the free Hikers' Express shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead or walk to the Bright Angel Trailhead.
North Rim: There is a parking lot at the North Kaibab trailhead.
If you have only one vehicle, it is best to park it near the trailhead where you exit the canyon. Be sure not to drive off-road, block another vehicle, or otherwise obstruct traffic when you park. Valuables should be secured out of sight (in a trunk if possible), glove compartments left open for inspection and the vehicle locked. On the South Rim, the Bright Angel Lodge offers a storage service for valuables for a fee on a space available basis.
Q: How can I get my stuff carried out on a mule?
A: The Bright Angel Lodge (South Rim) works directly with mule outfitters to provide pack animal services for a fee. The service is arranged from above the rim only. Visit the Bright Angel Lodge transportation desk after you arrive at the park.
Q: Where can I go to find the more remote trails?
A: A good place to start would be the Grand Canyon Conservancy bookstore. It is fair to say that most of our backpackers would like to visit the canyon without seeing other people on the trails and in the campsites. Most of the canyon offers visitors the chance to have a very remote wilderness experience. However, if you have never hiked the Grand Canyon you should consider the Corridor trails for your first visit. The Corridor has been very popular for over a century because it offers the most dramatic views of the most familiar monuments. Here a hiker can enter the deepest exposed rock layers of the Inner Gorge and cross the Colorado River to the north side.
Q: Are there toilets in the canyon?
A: There are very few. Not all campsites have toilet facilities. Be prepared to provide your own toilet paper. Where toilets are available, you must use them. Only human waste and toilet paper should be deposited in the toilets. Where toilets are not available you must carry out your used toilet paper (a plastic ziplock bag works well) and bury feces in a small hole about 6 in / 15 cm deep. Be sure you are at least 200 ft / 60 m from trails, campsites, and water sources. Along the Colorado River, urinate directly into the wet sand at the river's edge.