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.
Heads up– this is part one of a Hiking the Grand Canyon series! Read more Grand Canyon hiking tips here: Hiking Food Ideas, Training to Hike the Grand Canyon, Camping Inside the Grand Canyon, + Grand Canyon Trails.
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– once a day hike, and once all the way down to the Colorado River and back. 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 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.)
- First Aid Kit: ACE bandages, ibuprofen, antibacterial wipes, antibacterial gel, + bandaids
- Hand sanitizer
- Tissues or Toilet Paper
- Wet Wipes
- Trekking pole (or poles) (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 above for ideas)
- 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, sleeping pads, blow-up pillows
- Overnight Trip: Hiking Sandals (for walking around the campground). I love my Keen hiking sandals.
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– unsatisfyingly– 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.
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.
We love our Keen hiking 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?
Yes. 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.
Make sure to also bring along sunscreen and sunglasses.
Hiking the Grand Canyon
- 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.
- 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!