Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona - Hiking Trails / The Inner Canyon
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Hiking and Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is one of America's great outdoor adventures. However it is also
a great challenge. You must be in excellent physical condition and well-prepared. It can make the difference
between a pleasurable trip and a tortuous ordeal.
You will be descending thousands of feet in elevation on rough trails at the beginning of your trip when
your backpack will be heaviest. The steep ascent comes at the end when you're tired. On many trails you must
carry a great deal of water.
The inner Grand Canyon is a desert with limited water, little shade, and brutal temperatures during the
summer, often over 100°F (40°C). In arid conditions, you do not notice your sweat (which evaporates quickly)
and will be unaware of dehydration. Heat exhaustion is a real threat. Essential hiking gear includes sturdy
boots, water bottles, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
Newcomers to Grand Canyon are advised to hike the corridor trails for their first experience. The Bright
Angel Trail from the South Rim, and the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim end at the Phantom Ranch where
there is food, water, and facilities. The trails are heavily traveled and patrolled by rangers; there are
water stops and a campground along the way.
Unless you are staying overnight at the Phantom Ranch cabins or bunkhouses, you will need a permit to hike
overnight and backpack in Grand Canyon. These are issued up to four months in advance by the
Backcountry Office of Grand Canyon National Park.
Demand for permits is great, and making reservations well in advance is essential to get the dates and
places you want for your trip. Overnight stays and meals at the Phantom Ranch must also be reserved well in advance.
For more information, visit the
Xanterra Parks & Resorts
website or call 888-297-2757 or 303-297-2757.
(One advantage of staying or eating at Phantom Ranch is that you will need to carry less on your back.)
See below for our experiences on some of the Grand Canyon hiking trails.
On the Trail
(Photo left) The best spot we ever camped at. A lush and very private beach
at the mouth of Boucher Canyon. Being close to the river provides some
relief from the heat.
(Photo right) A sweet view from the Thunder River trail. The shot was taken on
the Esplanade, a large terrace north of the river.
Hiking the Canyon - Our Experience
- North Kaibab Trail (twice) - From the North Rim to the Phantom Ranch
at the Colorado River. This trail is 14 miles one way, very strenuous to
do in one day. The trail drops quickly from the rim into Roaring Springs Canyon
which flows into Bright Angel Canyon. Much of the walking is in a desert environment -
very hot in the spring and summer. Water readily available, plenty of
other hikers around. The Cottonwood Campground is about halfway if you can get a reservation.
- Bright Angel Trail - Nine miles from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch.
Most heavily used trail. Oriented to "tourist" hikers.
Water readily available, nice rest area at Indian Gardens Campground (slim chance
for reservations), and lots of rangers around. Fairly easy hike though final descent
to the river is very steep. Best bet for the inexperienced hiker.
- South Kaibab Trail - Seven miles from rim to Phantom Ranch. Shorter distance than
Bright Angel, but waterless, mostly shadeless, and steeper.
- Hermit Trail - Leaves the south rim west of Grand Canyon Village and reaches
the river via Hermit Creek. The trail is easier than Bright Angel but is
waterless until reaching Hermit Creek a couple miles from the river. The creek
is very lush and pleasant. Fewer hikers than Bright Angel, a nice experience.
- Tonto Trail - Runs along the Tonto Platform about midway between the rim
and river. Connects many of the rim to river trails. Platform is a waterless
desert but the trail dips into many side canyons which often have water and shade.
More solitude on this trail but the ups and downs can become very tedious.
- Boucher Trail - A challenging secondary trail which branches off of the Hermit
Trail and reaches the river at Boucher Creek. The trail is occasionally hard to follow
and is very steep in places. Very strenuous since there's not much of a trail.
Not for the beginner. You can make a nice loop by going down Boucher, then connecting
back to the Hermit Trail via the Tonto Trail.
- Bass Trail - Access from the south rim to the river about 40 miles west of
Grand Canyon Village. Degree of difficulty is comparable to Hermit trail. However
vehicular access to the trailhead is very difficult and probably impossible when
the roads are wet. Very remote area, more solitude.
- Bill Hall / Thunder River Trail. - Accesses a fascinating area from the North
Rim west of the main corridor. The trail reaches Thunder River and its beautiful
hanging gardens, roaring Tapeats Creek, and spectacular Deer Creek Falls. The initial
descent to the Esplanade (the platform north of the river) is fairly easy, the descent
through the Redwall (into the inner canyon) is pretty strenuous. All the trails
are secondary and not maintained. No water between the rim and Thunder River.
- Kanab Creek. - Very remote. Access by difficult secondary trails. Progress
through the canyon is strenuous. For experienced, self-sufficient backpackers.
For more info, see our feature story, "Death March or Grand Adventure?, Hiking the Jumpup, Kanab, Deer Creek Canyon Loop". (Continued below...)
About Grand Canyon National Park
For detailed information visit our Grand Canyon Area Travel Guide.
Grand Canyon National Park is in northern Arizona about 80 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Most visitor activities center on the South Rim and North Rim villages on either side of the canyon. The South Rim is is the destination of most visitors, 80 miles north of Flagstaff, and convenient to Interstates 40 and 17, 210 miles from Phoenix and about 275 miles from Las Vegas. The more remote North Rim is accessed by secondary roads, about 350 miles from Phoenix and 275 miles from Las Vegas. The two rims are only about 10 air miles apart but 215 miles by road.
The South and North Rims offer visitor services such as food, lodging and camping, as well as access to the most popular trails into the canyon. The South Rim is open all year but at 7,000 feet elevation experiences winter. Many of its vista points offer views of the Colorado River and the Inner Canyon. At 8,000 feet, the North Rim offers cool summers but must close from November to May due to harsh winters. It is far less crowded than the South Rim but offers limited views of the Inner Canyon.
The Phantom Ranch sits in the bottom of the canyon between the two rims. It offers rental cabins, bunkhouses, meals and snacks. There is also a nearby campground.
Almost all Grand Canyon activities must be reserved well in advance, including lodging, camping, backpacking, mule trips, and white water rafting, as well as meals at the Phantom Ranch.
Havasu Canyon with its beautiful falls and travertine pools is outside of Grand Canyon National Park. For information, visit the Official Website of the Havasupai Tribe.
The scenic Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams, Arizona to the South Rim and offers a variety of services.
For more park information and visitor services, visit the Grand Canyon National Park (NPS) website.
Streams, Springs, and Falls
(Photo left) Tapeats Creek comes roaring downstream. It it fed by a huge spring
high on the inner canyon wall. Thunder River enters the creek here, flowing
from another large spring. During the spring runoff, the water flow can be
(Photo center) Deer Creek Falls is one of the canyon's most beautiful scenes. The
falls drops over 100 feet from the Deer Creek Narrows, a solid rock slot canyon
which has the appearance and feel of a tunnel.
(Photo right) A tiny stream flows through a side canyon. This is much more typical
of the inner canyon which is actually a desert. Lush streams and springs are
rather infrequent, and most side canyons will dry up in late summer.
Grand Canyon Wildlife
A rare sighting of Grand Canyon bighorn sheep. These creatures are
very elusive, and it is indeed a rare opportunity to spot them
from a main trail, in this case, the Tonto Trail.
A bald eagle soars high above the Colorado river in Glen Canyon.
This canyon is actually a short distance upstream from the national
park. This section of canyon below Glen Canyon dam is a world-class
trout fishery, and birds such as this eagle are therefore very well
fed. This eagle was in fact eating a trout on its perch just before
this picture was taken.
To learn more about fishing the Colorado River, check out our
Lee's Ferry page.
Cacti and Wildflowers of the Inner Canyon
A closeup of some beautiful cactus flowers. Late April and
early May after a rainy winter will bring many such displays. Flowering
cacti are pretty dependable most years in the desert environment of the
inner canyon while wildflowers will stay dormant if the winter has been dry.
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Hiking Grand Canyon National Park
by Ron Adkison
Definitive guide to the wide range of hiking opportunities in world-famous Grand Canyon National Park.
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by Dee Strickland Johnson
An impressive work that celebrates the history of her beloved native state with careful scholarship, captivating tales, and no small amount of humor.
(Jacket Photo by Gerald Allen, American West Travelogue)
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Sierra Club Totebook: Hiking the Grand Canyon
by John Annerino
The ever-popular Sierra Club Totebook is an information packed guide to America's best-known national park.
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Hiking the Grand Canyon - The Corridor Trails
by Ken McNamara
This video combines 3D animation with on-the-trail footage to present the Grand Canyon from the
hiker's point of view. Ideal for the first time hiker.
Buy This DVD!
We offer pages covering Grand Canyon scenery, the inner canyon, hiking
trails, hiking tips, a guest rafting story, and a feature narrative
on backpacking in the canyon.
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The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona, via US-180.
The North Rim is 44 miles south of Jacob Lake, Arizona, on state 67. Each is
approximately a 5 hour drive from Phoenix or Las Vegas.
The North and South Rims are roughly 200 miles apart by road, via the Navajo
Bridge on US-89a. Or, 26 miles by foot trails.
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