Are you thinking about hiking the Grand Canyon? This hiking guide will walk you through the basics-- what to pack, trail etiquette, weather, and safety tips.
I left my heart in Arizona, along a dusty, mule-worn path winding down into the center of the earth.
The husband and I have hiked into the depths of the Grand Canyon twice now.
The first time we did a day hike on the South Kaibab Trail.
For our second Grand Canyon hike, we took the South Kaibab all the way to the Colorado River, spent the night at the bottom, and came back up to the rim along the Bright Angel Trail.
And one day soon, I'm convinced that my boots will yet again be covered with the canyon's bright red dirt.
Are you planning to make this "bucket list" hike a reality?
Here are a few things I learned along the way.
What Should I Carry in My Pack while Hiking the Grand Canyon?
As little as possible.
Every single ounce will weigh you down.
We kept my pack to 20 pounds, and the husband's at 35 pounds. Water should be the bulk of your weight.
Need help loading your pack? Check out this article from REI: How to Pack and Hoist a Backpack.
Here's a list of things we brought (plus one I wish we'd brought):
- Headlamps (We skipped these-- and it was a mistake. Have a hands-free way to light your path in the dark. This Black Diamond headlamp is a good one.)
- First Aid Kit: ACE bandages, medication for treating pain, antibacterial wipes, antibacterial gel, + bandages
- Hand sanitizer
- Tissues or Toilet Paper
- Wet Wipes
- Trekking pole (or poles) I love these Kelty cork-handled poles for a budget-friendly option, or these Black Diamond Alpine carbon trekking poles for a higher-end option. Technically you'll hold these, but they can also be strapped to your pack. Trekking poles are also good for shooing away squirrels.
- Food + Water (see this post for ideas: Hiking Food Ideas for the Grand Canyon)
- Water Filter or Purification Tablets. We use a Sawyer Squeeze water filter.
- Overnight Trip: Change of clothes (If desired)
- Overnight Trip: Small backpacking stove (Not totally necessary, but a cooked meal is nice after hiking.)
- Overnight Trip: Cash for Phantom Ranch Canteen
- Overnight Trip: Backpacking tent (we use this River Country trekking pole backpacking tent) sleeping pads, and pillows (we use these Outdoor Vitals ultralight pillows)
- Overnight Trip: Hiking Sandals (for walking around the campground). I love my Keen hiking sandals.
Make sure to check out my recommended gear for the Grand Canyon National Park!
How Hot Does the Canyon Get?
The bottom of the canyon can be as much as 30 degrees hotter at the bottom than at the top. In the summer, it can get up to 120ºF at the bottom.
Ideally, hike in spring or fall, and avoid hiking in the middle of summer.
I'm Afraid of Heights: Should I try Hiking the Canyon?
I can't tell you how many times I Googled this phrase before we got to the canyon.
The answer-- unsatisfying as it may be-- is "it depends."
It depends on how afraid you are, and how determined you are.
I am afraid of heights, but I've found that for me, as long as the path is relatively wide, and as long as there is a wall on one side of the path, I'm fine.
At the Grand Canyon, the corridor trails are generally wide enough for a person and a mule to stand side-by-side, and there is usually a canyon wall on one side.
And when I got to the few spots where it wasn't wide, or where there wasn't a canyon wall, there was no way I was turning around.
So-- know yourself, and make sure your trail buddies are willing to cancel the hike (or find something for you to do while they hike), if you arrive at the canyon and decide you just can't do it.
Can I Hike the Grand Canyon with Kids?
Maybe! When we hiked, we did see some families hiking.
If you do, be prepared, and keep in mind how physically fit and active your children are. And then check out these tips for visiting (and hiking) the Grand Canyon with kids.
Do I Need Hiking Boots to Hike the Grand Canyon?
I recommend them.
You'll be walking on dirt paths, and there will occasionally be areas with lots of loose pebbles.
If you choose not to wear boots, make sure that your shoes have excellent grip, and that the tread is not worn down.
If you (like me), have weak ankles from previous sprains-- I'd definitely recommend ankle-high boots. My favorite boots are these Keen Pyrenees.
Looking for a hiking boot? Here are my picks for the best women's hiking shoes and boots.
Make sure to avoid wearing tight-fitting boots, lace them tightly (especially towards the front of the shoe), wear thick hiking socks, and trim your toenails before heading out.
The hours of steep downhill hiking can be hard on your toenails, and make your feet extra sore.
Do I Need a Hat?
I am not inclined to wear hats-- but trust me-- there's little to no shade on most of the trails, and the heat can be relentless.
Wear a brimmed hat-- preferably one that won't blow off your head if there's a gust of wind.
Looking for a hat? I like these roll-up straw sun visors-- they look like straw beach hats, but actually stay in place and are easy to pack.
Make sure to also bring along sunscreen and sunglasses.
Hiking the Grand Canyon: Trail etiquette
- Mules have right away-- step toward the canyon wall as they pass.
- Hikers going up always have right away over hikers going down.
If you're going down, step towards the canyon wall to let them pass.
If you're coming up, and it doesn't seem like the hikers coming toward you are moving, say "excuse me" and ask them to move.
Staying Safe While Hiking the Grand Canyon
- Do not multi-task. If you want to take a picture, stop hiking, take the photo, and then move on.
- Eat and drink often. Drink before you feel thirsty, and eat before you feel hungry.
- Pay attention to your body. If you find that you're starting to trip over your feet, or are feeling disoriented-- stop hiking, rest, and eat and drink.
- Stay cool. If you're hiking in the heat, get your shirt or hat wet, and rewet it throughout the hike to stay cool.
- Do not attempt to hike the entire canyon in one day. It's incredibly dangerous.
- Start early-- we started well before sunrise both times. It will help you avoid crowds, and get you off the trail before midday.
Hit the trail well-prepared, and enjoy one of the most breathtaking spots on earth!