4 Best Grand Canyon Hiking Tours

The Grand Canyon is a 277-mile-long section of northwest Arizona that contains enough adventure to last a lifetime. Everything from whitewater rafting to fishing is available in this nearly 6000-foot-deep Wonder of the World. Surprisingly, less than one percent of the roughly six million visitors per year venture below the rim. The Grand Canyon’s full range of beauty simply can’t be fully experienced on top. The further into the canyon one ventures, the more amazing it becomes.

People on edge of Grand Canyon

But the Grand Canyon is an enormous landscape encompassing over one million acres of backcountry. This can make deciding on a specific backpacking trip to embark upon pretty overwhelming. That being said, there are certainly the most popular and well-known hikes to consider and, for many, these may end up being the most reasonable options for first-timers to the canyon’s challenging backcountry.

 

The horror stories and warnings scare some people away from trying to embark on a hike in the canyon. This shouldn’t be the case. While it’s necessary to know your abilities, a trip into Grand Canyon is certainly a reasonable endeavor with the proper amount of preparation and equipment. There are hiking options ranging from short half-day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. This article will give you details on five of those backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon.

1. Rim to Rim

 

The first and perhaps most popular option is the Rim-to-Rim Hike in the Grand Canyon. As the name implies, you hike across the canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim or vice versa.

North Rim Grand Canyon

Rim to Rim Grand Canyon

 

Trip Details

 

Type: Backpacking/Camping

 

Days: 3 to 4

 

Distance: 24 Miles

 

Difficulty: Intermediate, compared to other trips in the Canyon

 

Best Time to Go: May, September, or October

 

 

Trip Description

 

This trip tends to be THE Bucket List trip in Grand Canyon for any hiker. And it’s the only hike that you can cross the Colorado River via a footbridge.

 

This hike is traditionally done from the North Rim to the South Rim. You’ll start at the North Kaibab Trail and spend the better part of two days to reach the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. Then it’s just over 9 miles up the Bright Angel Trail to the the South Rim, with an optional third night at Indian Garden Campground.

 

The best way to break the hike up into three or four days is as follows:

 

Day 1:

 

Start on the North Kaibab and hike the seven miles down to the Cottonwood Campground. It’s just over a 4,000 descent. You’ll be grateful to stop for the night to recover and enjoy the scenery the canyon has to offer. The night sky from Cottonwood is magnificent. The campgrounds throughput the Trans-Canyon Corridor are all high quality by backpacking standards. Each site has a picnic table and all of the campgrounds have drinking water and bathroom facilities.

 

We’ll detail the campsite reservation process at the end of this description.

 

Day 2:

 

From Cottonwood, you’ll hike seven more miles to Bright Angel campground. This section is far less physically demanding than the first day and it follows Bright Angel Creek for the whole 1600-foot descent. Be sure to take a stop at Ribbon Falls, a stunning 100-foot tall waterfall that’s only a short side hike off the main trail and most definitely worth the detour.

 

Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch are a veritable hub of activity inside the Grand Canyon. It marks the confluence of Bright Angel Creek with the Colorado River and signifies ‘reaching the bottom’. Phantom Ranch is the only developed tourist accommodations below the rim. And the Ranch Canteen is open to the public on a daily basis, offering cold lemonade, beer, snacks, and a variety of sundries in case you missed a few small items on your packing list.

 

You can spend the night at either Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground, but each requires a separate and very specific reservation process that you need to take care of prior to arrival.

 

Day 3:

 

At this point, you have a decision to make: head all the way out in one long day or break it up into two days. You have almost 10 miles to reach the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail, which is your best option for getting out since it features regular access to drinking water, a couple of streams for cooling off, as well as Indian Garden Campground if you’d like to break up your hike over two days. The shorter South Kaibab Trail is a relatively brutal ascent with a full backpack and is generally discouraged unless you’re a hardened Grand Canyon hiker or in extremely good shape.

 

For the Bright Angel Trail, you’ll cross the Colorado River via the Silver Bridge and follow the scenic River Trail to its terminus at Pipe Creek. Indian Garden is 3.1 miles from the river and will gain around 1,500 feet in elevation. Indian Garden is the last campground before the South Rim and if you choose to spend the night here, be sure to take the side hike to Plateau Point. It’s a magical viewpoint offering 360-degree views of the inner canyon and is one of the best places to watch the sunset.

 

Optional Day 4:

 

If opted for a third and final night at Indian Garden, then it’s only 4.6 miles and 3000 feet up to the South Rim. The trail features access to drinking water and restrooms every mile and a half. If it’s a hotter time of year, start at first-light and you’ll enjoy shade almost the whole way up. Upon reaching the South Rim, stop for high-fives, obligatory celebration photo-op, and stop by the Bright Angel Lodge for ice cream, cold beer, or whatever strikes your fancy. You did it!

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED

 

  • A professional, licensed and medically trained guide
  • All necessary gear: backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, trekking poles
  • All cooking/eating gear: bowls, cups, utensils (your guide will prepare all meals)
  • All meals from a light breakfast on Day 1 through lunch on the last day + trail snacks
  • Roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Flagstaff, AZ to Grand Canyon
  • Entrance fees and backcountry permits

 

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED

 

  • Transportation to/from Flagstaff, AZ
  • Lodging the night before/after the trip
  • Clothing, raingear, and footwear
  • Personal toiletries, sunscreen
  • Water bottles/hydration bladder
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Guide gratuity (suggested about 15% of trip cost)

 

 

TRANSPORTATION

 

We will provide all transportation to/from trailheads on each end of the trip. We will pick you up at your hotel in Flagstaff and return you there at the trip’s conclusion. Guests staying at the Embassy Suites (recommended) or Hampton Inn & Suites can leave their cars at the hotel.

 

These hotels will often store your luggage for you, as well. If not, we are happy to store extra luggage at our shop for the duration of the trip. If you are staying at a different hotel, you will need to check with them as to whether you can leave your car there.

 

2. CANYON CLASSIC

 

This is a great introductory backpacking trip in the canyon, especially when the North Rim isn’t accessible for a Rim to Rim. It’s also an excellent backup itinerary if you couldn’t score a Rim to Rim permit. While it’s only 17 miles round trip, it still rewards heartily with epic views, well-maintained trails, and well-appointed campgrounds.

Grand Canyon Classic Hiking

 

Type: Backpacking 

 

Days: 3 or 4

 

Distance: 17 Miles

 

Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Best Time to Go: January through mid-May/October through December

 

Trip Details:

 

The Canyon Classic is the trip to do for anyone who wants to backpack the canyon but doesn’t feel quite ready to tackle a major trip. This trip can be done in a span of three days, but it’s nice to stretch it to four days. It’s going to offer all of the classic views you might expect and it will feed your desire to see what else the canyon has to offer on more remote trails.

 

The most popular plan of attack is to descend the South Kaibab Trail and come out via the Bright Angel Trail. The opposite direction is very doable but it requires your to hike all the way out from the bottom of the canyon in a single day. There is no camping allowed along the length of the South Kaibab Trail.

 

This description is based on a trip that starts at South Kaibab and finishes on Bright Angel.

Day 1:

 

You’ll be hiking from South Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch. This is a 7-mile trek that takes you down about 4,800 feet. Don’t let the mileage fool you. This is a steep and relentless downhill pursuit that will leave many hikers with very tired legs. And the trail has no access to drinking water between the rim and the river and opportunities for shade are few and far between. So it’s typically best to start early and take your time.

 

Bright Angel Campground features bathroom facilities, running water and each campsite has a picnic table and food storage containers. You’ll even have access to the Phantom Ranch Canteen which sells hiker lunches, snacks and even some souvenirs. Supplies are limited so don’t count on there being a full meal available. Be sure to pack accordingly!

 

Day 2:  

 

The hike from Bright Angel Campground then follows the Colorado River, up Pipe Creek Canyon through the Devil’s Corkscrew, along idyllic Garden Creek and on to Indian Gardens for your second night. After a time to rest, we will move on to Plateau Point to take in one of the greatest views of the Grand Canyon. Total hiking distance is 4.5 miles and a 1,500-foot ascent.

 

Day 3:

 

Finally, we tackle the final ascent toward the South Rim. This stretch of trail offers some of the best chances to see endangered California Condor. The Three Mile and Mile and a Half Houses are great markers of your progress. Be sure to take your time and look behind you. You’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. The switchbacks can be mentally taxing, but don’t quit. You’ll be there before you know it. We will stop for a big tasty lunch and spend time on the rim to celebrate your accomplishment. The hiking distance is 4.6 miles with a 3000-foot ascent.

 

Optional 4-Day Itinerary

 

If you chose to include a layover day at Bright Angel Campground of Day 2, this option allows a full day for day hike exploration of areas such as Phantom Creek, Ribbon Falls and the Clear Creek Trail.

 

 

Transportation:

 

We will provide all transportation to/from trailheads for the duration of the trip. We will pick you up at your hotel in Flagstaff and return you there at the trip’s conclusion. Guests staying at the Embassy Suites (recommended) or Hampton Inn & Suites can leave their cars at the hotel. These hotels will often store your luggage for you, as well. If not, we are happy to store extra luggage at our shop for the duration of the trip. If you are staying at a different hotel, you will need to check with them as to whether you can leave your car there. We will hold a pre-trip orientation at 4:30pm the evening prior to your trip’s departure at the Embassy Suites hotel in Flagstaff. Departure times and logistics for the following morning will be discussed at the orientation.

 

Departure times and logistics for the following morning will be discussed at the orientation. Most trips will depart between 4:30am and 7am. *This meeting is not mandatory, but highly recommended, as we will depart early the next morning. If you are unable to attend, please let us know in advance so that we can make alternate arrangements.

 

3. Deer Creek/Thunder River

 

Type: Backpacking

 

Days: 5

 

Distance: 30 Miles

 

Difficulty: Advanced

 

Best Time to Go: Late-April & May/September through mid-November

 

This trip is one of the most unique trips you can take in the canyon. While it’s definitely quite challenging, it’s well worth the effort. You’ll see incredible vistas, majestic waterfalls and experience fantastic solitude. This trip takes quite a bit of planning, but it’s well worth the time!

deer creek thunder river grand canyon

 

Day 1:

 

You’ll want to start this trek on the North Rim at Monument Point, a remote trailhead requiring many miles of dirt road driving.

 

You’ll descend via the rugged Bill Hall Trail. The upper portions of the trail are extremely steep and require a few scrambles. The initial descent takes you down about 1500 feet until you reach the Esplanade. The Esplanade is one of the most unique aspects of the canyon. There are mushroom-shaped rocks, a scattering of juniper and pinon pine trees along with exceptional views. The first night will be spent overlooking Surprise Valley and the Colorado River. This first section of the hike is about six miles and descends nearly 2,000 feet.

 

Day 2:

 

Though your second day only requires another 5 miles of backpacking, the trail remains challenging and can be slow going at times. But just as you’re approaching Deer Creek Canyon, you’ll be greeted by your first waterfall, tucked back in a shady little cove. Relax, cool down and enjoy your surroundings before the final hike down to the campsites in Deer Creek. Then plan to spend the afternoon exploring downstream in the idyllic Deer Creek Narrows. There’s an exciting trail that leads down to the Colorado River at the base of 200-foot Deer Creek Falls. Don’t be surprised to run into at least a handful of rafting groups, as this is one of the most popular stops on a whitewater trip through Grand Canyon. But don’t worry…they will be gone by mid-afternoon.

 

Day 3:

 

You’ll leave the established trail and head far above the Colorado River on your way to Tapeats Creek. This is an amazing portion of trail! You’ll feel as if it’s only you and the canyon. Take pictures and soak in these views. Eventually, you’ll reach the mouth of Tapeats Creek and turn upstream. You’ll follow it a few miles until you reach camp. This is the second longest day of the trip. It’s about a six-mile hike with 1,000 feet in elevation change. There are amazing viewpoints and a few tempting swimming holes along the way.

 

Day 4:

 

Day four is going to be the longest and most challenging day. However, at this point, you’ll be used to the canyon and ready for the challenge. You’ll slowly work your way uphill to Thunder River, the world’s shortest named river. The river explodes from the limestone cliffs and cascades down through an oasis of trees and wildflowers. This is your last reliable water source on the hike so be sure to tank-up with at least 5 liters per person before continuing on.

 

You’ll then hike across Surprise Valley and begin the climb back to the Esplanade. You’ll camp somewhere along this slickrock wonderland and rest up for the final climb tomorrow. The fourth day covers about seven miles and require a 3,000 foot ascent. You’ll want plenty of time to rest after a difficult day. Be sure to soak up your surroundings before you exit the canyon.

 

Day 5:

 

This is the final push back up to the rim. Follow the route you took getting down on the first day along the Bill Hall Trail. With an early start, you can be back on the rim for an early lunch before hitting the road. If you make enough miles on Day 4, you should only have about 3 or 4 miles to cover today.

 

 

Travel Logistics

We will provide all transportation to/from trailheads for the duration of the trip. We will pick you up at your hotel in Flagstaff and return you there at the trip’s conclusion. Guests staying at the Embassy Suites (recommended) or Hampton Inn & Suites can leave their cars at the hotel. These hotels will often store your luggage for you, as well. If not, we are happy to store extra luggage at our shop for the duration of the trip. If you are staying at a different hotel, you will need to check with them as to whether you can leave your car there.

 

4. Indian Garden

 

Indian Garden is going to be the easiest trip on this list. It’s great for beginner backpackers who want to get a small taste of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Four Season Guides Grand Canyon

Type: Backpacking

 

Days: 3 Days

 

Distance: 16 Miles

 

Difficulty: Beginner

 

Best Time to Go: Year-round, but June through August will be hot.

 

If you only have a couple of days to spend in the Canyon and don’t want to strain yourself, choose this option. It’s going to be the most family-friendly and still allow you to explore!

 

Day 1:

 

You’ll start at the Bright Angel Trailhead on the South Rim. There are plenty of places to park your car near the Bright Angel Trail. You’ll begin your descent down to Indian Garden Campground. Though it’s only 4.6 miles and all downhill, it’s best to start early. You’ll get a better of the campsites and have the whole afternoon to explore.

 

The hike to Indian Garden Campground descends 3000 feet and features regular access to drinking water and restrooms. Indian Garden is a great campground with plenty of shade. But without the white noise of a nearby stream, it’s very quiet at night. If you happen to have noisy neighbors, you’ll appreciate some ear plugs!

 

Once you reach the campground, guides will set up camp while you relax on the nearby creek.

 

 

 

Day 2:

 

After a hearty breakfast, the hike will take us to the bottom of the canyon at Pipe Creek and the beaches of the mighty Colorado River. Hike through sandstone narrows, past pools of water and further into the Canyon’s secret passages. After soaking in the day, we will work our way back to camp for a delicious dinner.

 

The hiking distance for the day is 7-10 miles with a 1400-foot descent/ascent

 

 

Day 3:

 

It’s time to make your way out of the canyon! You’ll follow the Bright Angel Trail on your way back to your vehicle. It’s good to start this hike early in the morning so you can get on the road back to your destination. Again, it’ll only be around a five-mile hike.

 

Transportation:

 

We will provide all transportation to/from trailheads for the duration of the trip. We will pick you up at your hotel in Flagstaff and return you there at the trip’s conclusion. Guests staying at the Embassy Suites (recommended) or Hampton Inn & Suites can leave their cars at the hotel. These hotels will often store your luggage for you, as well. If not, we are happy to store extra luggage at our shop for the duration of the trip. If you are staying at a different hotel, you will need to check with them as to whether you can leave your car there.

 

PACKING

 

Packing for a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon (or anywhere else) is largely a matter of personal preference. There will always be the essentials like food, clothing, sleeping bag and pad, and shelter. And though water will be important on any trip, it is a crucial consideration when hiking in the heat of Grand Canyon. There are places to fill water at all of the developed campgrounds along the Corridor Trails but it’s crucial to be aware of any and all other water sources between intended camp spots. When the weather will be warm, be sure to carry at least three liters of water at all times and strongly consider having room for more. It is not out of the question to consume 4 liters of water during the 7-mile descent of the South Kaibab Trail. Don’t assume that you will cover the seven miles in 4 hours and be good to go. Unforeseen delays, such as an injury or sudden illness, can delay your progress considerably and that extra time in the sun and heat will require having plenty of water. Never underestimate how much you will need.

 

As far as clothing is concerned, this will depend heavily upon the weather. If you’re visiting during spring, fall and winter, you’ll want layers since the temperature fluctuations can be extreme between rim and canyon bottom, as well as between day and night. It’s not unheard of to experience snow on the rim followed by temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit only a day later at Phantom Ranch. Avoid cotton and opt instead for wool or synthetic materials. Know the forecast and pack accordingly.

 

The warmer times of year (late May though mid-September) might only require shorts and tee shirts. Cotton shirts are great in the summer months. When you get cotton wet, it will stay wet longer and help keep you cool. Also consider long sleeves for sun protection.

 

Proper shoes are a must for the canyon. Your feet aren’t going to get a break. Be sure you have enough room in your shoes so your toes can handle the constant pressure of going downhill. Also, be sure they have good traction. While many of the trails are wide and well-maintained, a rugged sole will help give you a better grip on slickrock or gravelly section of trail. If there is snow or ice on the trail, it’s essential to have traction devices to keep you from slipping. As you might guess, an unfortunate slip in Grand Canyon can have serious consequences. For a more in-depth look at your packing list, visit our Grand Canyon Packing List.

 

Conclusion

 

A backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon has the potential to be a memorable and life-changing. As long as you’re prepared, it’ll be a trip of a lifetime and whet your appetite for another adventure.

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