Did you know that only about 1% of the millions of annual visitors to Grand Canyon explore below the rim? At 1.2 million acres, Grand Canyon National Park offers a vast wilderness to explore, though only a tiny fraction of that can be hiked on an actual trail. Nonetheless, the established trails below the rim provide intrepid travelers access to unparalleled beauty and a better sense of what Grand Canyon is all about. With its breathtaking vistas, rugged terrain, and endless opportunities for exploration, the Grand Canyon offers an unforgettable adventure for outdoor enthusiasts.
In this article, we’ll delve into the many ways to enjoy a hiking-focused visit to Grand Canyon National Park. We’ll explore various reasons to embark on a backpacking trip, discuss the choice between basecamping and lodge-based options, and highlight the benefits of all-inclusive hiking tours. So, grab your gear, lace up your boots, and get ready to embark on a worry-free journey through one of the world’s most magnificent wonders.
Why Backpack the Grand Canyon?
For those seeking maximum exposure to Grand Canyon’s backcountry, a multi-day backpacking trip is the way to go. Here are four reasons to choose a backpacking trip:
- Unparalleled Natural Beauty: The Grand Canyon stands as a globally celebrated natural wonder, captivating the hearts and minds of countless visitors annually. Its vastness, geological marvels, and picturesque landscapes offer a visual feast that transcends description. But so much of this scenic splendor can only be found in the endless side canyons and hidden corners below the rim. And it often requires more than a day to get to them.
- Immersive Wilderness Experience: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon bestows upon you a profound connection with its untamed wilderness. As you traverse its intricate network of trails, you will intimately encounter the raw power of nature. This unique engagement with the land fosters an unparalleled sense of connection and reverence, offering a truly transformative experience.
- Rich Cultural and Geological Heritage: Beyond its natural splendor, the Grand Canyon boasts a rich tapestry of cultural and geological history. As you journey through its depths, you will unravel the stories etched into the very rocks and cliffs that surround you. This geological timeline and the cultural significance of the canyon’s indigenous tribes offer a multifaceted dimension to your adventure.
- Challenge and Reward: Backpacking the Grand Canyon is not merely a stroll through nature; it is an endeavor that demands physical endurance and mental resilience. The challenges you encounter along the way, whether it be steep ascents, rugged terrain, or fluctuating weather conditions, will test your mettle. However, these challenges also pave the way for profound personal growth and an unparalleled sense of accomplishment when you conquer the vast expanse of the canyon.
The Basecamp Experience
If camping beneath the stars sounds delightful but the idea of lugging a 30-pound backpack up and down the Grand Canyon does not, a basecamping trip is the choice for you. Basecamp trips provide a more immersive experience; you’ll establish a fixed camp and explore the canyon’s wonders daily, enjoying a variety of hikes while carrying only a lightweight day pack. It’s a fantastic choice for those who want to connect with nature, sleep under the stars, and explore the park’s trails.
You can choose from a variety of camping locations. The developed campgrounds on both the South and North Rims offer the easiest and most comfortable option. You’ll have picnic tables in each campsite, nearby toilets and showers, and easy access to a general store in case you miss something on your packing list. Campsites must be reserved in advance and their popularity means they sell-out quickly. Most sites become available 6 months in advance via Recreation.gov.
If you’re a bit more self-sufficient and enjoy more solitude, there is endless National Forest lands surrounding Grand Canyon that offer incredible camping opportunities, as long as you’re comfortable with a bit of dirt road travel to find the perfect spot.
The only basecamping option for a “below the rim” camping trip is to reserve a campsite at Bright Angel Campground and arrange for mules to pack all of your camping gear and food in and out of the canyon for you. This option will require considerable advance planning since you will need to obtain a backcountry permit for the campground (available about four months in advance) and reserve the mule duffel service (available up to one year in advance). And then you’ll need the strength and stamina to endure the arduous hike all the way down to the bottom of Grand Canyon and all the way back up again! Considering the daunting logistics involved, it can be nice to opt for a fully-outfitted and guided hiking tour. The outfitter will handle everything for you.
The Lodge-Based Hiker
If you prefer a bit more comfort and convenience after a long day on the trail, lodging in and around Grand Canyon National Park is a great choice. At the South Rim’s Rim Grand Canyon Village, you’ll find a number of casual accommodations, with some located directly along the rim. Just south of the park entrance, the small town of Tusayan offers a number of lodges and restaurants to choose from. The North Rim features a quieter, more isolated experience, with the Grand Canyon Lodge as the sole accommodation option. There are a number of rustic cabins along and near the rim and the setting is simply sublime. Both the North and South Rim lodges are within easy access to a number of trails that offer below-the-rim experiences.
And no discussion of Grand Canyon lodge-based hiking trips is complete without mention of the most sought-after lodge of them all: Phantom Ranch. Nestled at the bottom of Grand Canyon, not far from the banks of the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch has been accommodating hikers and mule riders since the 1920s and remains one of the most iconic destinations in the National Park system. You’ll need to score reservations in the extremely competitive lottery (13 months in advance) and then you’ll need to hike 7 miles, descending 4800 vertical feet to get there, none of which is an easy feat!
Save The Time, Hire A Guide
A guided Grand Canyon hiking tour can be an excellent option for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers looking to explore the park, whether it’s on a backpacking adventure, basecamp tour, or lodge-based hiking vacation. The benefits of a guided tour are many:
- Expert Guidance: Guided hiking tours are led by experienced and knowledgeable guides who are familiar with the specific area you’ll be exploring. They can provide valuable insights into the local geography, flora, fauna, history, and safety considerations.
- Safety: Safety is a top priority on guided tours. Guides are trained in wilderness first aid, navigation, and emergency response, ensuring that participants are in capable hands in case of any unforeseen situations.
- Educational Experience: Guides offer informative sessions about the natural and cultural history of the region you’re exploring. This educational aspect adds depth to your adventure and helps you better appreciate the environment.
- Customized Itineraries: Guided tours can be tailored to suit different skill levels and interests. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, guides can adjust the difficulty of hikes to match the group’s abilities.
- Logistical Support: Planning a trip can be complex, involving permits, gear, meal planning, and navigation. Guided tours take care of these logistics, allowing you to focus on the experience rather than the details.
- Group Dynamics: Being part of a guided group can be a social and enriching experience. You’ll have the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, make new friends, and build camaraderie during the journey.
- Access to Remote Areas: Guides often lead tours to less-visited and remote areas that might be challenging to access on your own. This allows you to explore pristine wilderness and enjoy a more secluded and unique experience.
- Minimal Impact: Guided tours typically follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize their impact on the environment. Guides emphasize responsible camping practices to preserve the natural beauty of the wilderness.
- All-Inclusive Options: Most guided hiking tours provide all the necessary gear, meals, and accommodations, making the experience hassle-free. This is especially beneficial for those who are new to camping and backpacking and don’t want to invest in expensive gear.
- Adventure and Challenge: Backpacking can be physically and mentally challenging, and guided tours offer a structured way to push your limits and explore your capabilities in a safe and supportive environment.
- Solo Travelers and Beginners: Guided tours are a great option for solo travelers and beginners who may not have the experience, gear, or confidence to venture into the wilderness alone.
Are you thinking you would like to join the 1% and experience the Grand Canyon below the rim? Whether it’s from a lodge, from a comfy campsite, or with everything you need on your back, there are certainly a number of ways to do so that will appeal to every type of hiker. The canyon is calling!
About the Author: Four Season Guides has been leading outstanding Grand Canyon hiking and backpacking adventures for nearly 25 years. Based in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, they consist of a small group of the most experienced and passionate Grand Canyon guides in the region.