The very best way to experience Grand Canyon National Park is to get out and walk. While some visitors believe a trip to the park would be lacking if they didn't hike down below one of the rims, an enjoyable hike along either South or North rims can reward you with magnificent views.
That's the beauty of the canyon. It's as awe-inspiring whether you walk only a short distance from your lodge or parking vehicle, or if you sling a pack onto your back and slip below the rim for an extended trek.
That said, there are precautions to be taken both winter and summer to protect yourself in this demanding landscape.
In winter, for instance, heavy snows can put the North Rim out of reach for all but the most hardy visitors who arrive via skis or snowshoes. At the same time, the South Rim remains open to all comers, though some of its trails can at times be coated with ice that makes travel precarious.
Here's a look at day hiking options on the South Rim, courtesy of the park staff:
The Rim Trail extends from the village area to Hermits Rest. Begin from any viewpoint in the Village or along Hermit Road. The Rim Trail offers excellent walking for quiet views of the inner canyon and for visitors who desire an easy hike. No water west of Bright Angel Lodge. By using the shuttle buses, you can customize your hike to meet your needs. Part of the trail is paved and accessible.
(Steep) The Bright Angel Trail begins just west of Bright Angel Lodge and offers day hikes that range in distance up to 12 miles (round trip). Some shade. Seasonal water subject to pipeline breaks. Check at the Visitor Center or Backcountry Information Center for water status. Upper portion of the trail may be extremely icy in winter or early spring.
(Steep) The South Kaibab Trail begins south of Yaki Point on Yaki Point Road. Access to the trailhead is by shuttle bus (Kaibab Trail Route). Offers day hikes that range in distance up to 6 miles (round trip). Best views for a relatively short hike. Steep trail, no water, little shade. Water available seasonally at the trailhead. Upper portion of the trail may be extremely icy in winter or early spring.
(Steep) The Hermit Trail offers hikes to Santa Maria Spring, 5 miles (round trip), and Dripping Springs, 7 miles (round trip). Trail conditions are tougher than the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. Unmaintained steep trail requires caution. Begins 500 feet west of Hermits Rest. Water from springs must be treated before drinking. For experienced desert hikers. Hiking boots recommended.
(Very Steep) The Grandview Trail offers hikes to Coconino Saddle, 2.2 miles (round trip), and Horseshoe Mesa, 6.4 miles (round trip). Trail conditions are tougher than the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. Unmaintained steep trail requires caution. Begins on canyon side of retaining wall at Grandview Point on Desert View Drive (12 miles east of village). For experienced desert hikers. Hiking boots recommended.
Here's a look at some popular North Rim hikes:
Bright Angel Point Trail
0.5 mi. / 0.8 km round-trip; 30 minutes approximate round-trip hiking time. A short walk on a paved trail to a spectacular view of the canyon. The trail begins at the log shelter in the parking area by the visitor center or at the corner of the back porch behind the lodge. Self-guiding nature trail pamphlets are available from a box along the trail.
3.0 mi. / 4.8 km round-trip; 1.5 hours approximate round-trip hiking time. Follows the canyon rim from Grand Canyon Lodge to the North Rim Campground.
This trail follows the road as it connects the Grand Canyon Lodge with the North Kaibab Trailhead, a distance of 1.2 miles / 2 km one-way. Pets on leash and bicycles are permitted on this hard-packed trail.
North Kaibab Trail
Distance and hiking times vary. This is the only maintained trail into the canyon from the North Rim. Even a short hike to Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles / 2.4 km round-trip) or Supai Tunnel (4 miles / 6.5 km round-trip) can give you an appreciation for the canyon's rich natural beauty and immense size. A hike to Roaring Springs and back is extremely strenuous and takes a full day (7-8 hours) - begin your hike before 7 a.m. Roaring Springs lies 3,050 feet / 930 m below the canyon rim and is 9.4 miles / 15 km round-trip. A day hike beyond Roaring Springs is not recommended. Many years of experience have shown that hikers who proceed beyond this point during the hottest parts of the day have a much greater probability of suffering from heat-related illness, injury, or death. This trail is also used by mules. NOTE: Round trip to the Colorado River is 28 miles / 45 km and trail descends almost 6,000 ft. / 1,800 m. Under no circumstances should you attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day! Do not hike during the hottest part of the day.
Ken Patrick Trail
10 mi. / 16 km one-way; 6 hours approximate one-way hiking time. Winds through the forest and along the rim from Point Imperial to the North Kaibab Trail parking area.
Uncle Jim Trail
5.0 mi. / 8.0 km round-trip; 3 hours approximate round-trip hiking time. Winds through the forest to a point overlooking the canyon and the North Kaibab Trail switchbacks. Begins at the North Kaibab Trail parking lot. This trail is also used by mules.
10 mi. / 16 km round-trip; 6 hours approximate round-trip hiking time. Blends forest and canyon scenery. Even a short walk can be very satisfying. Take the dirt road 1/4 mile/0.4 km south of Cape Royal Road for 1 mile / 1.6 km to the Widforss Trail parking area. Self-guiding trail brochure available at trailhead.
The Arizona Trail is an ambitious project that traverses the length of Arizona from the Utah border to Mexico. A section of this trail enters the park near the North Entrance and roughly parallels the highway until it connects with the North Kaibab Trail, a distance of approximately 10 miles / 16 km.
Cape Royal Trail
0.6 mi. / 1.0 km round-trip; 30 minutes approximate round-trip hiking time. An easy walk on a flat, paved trail providing views of the canyon, Angels Window, and the Colorado River. Markers along the trail interpret the area's natural history. Trail begins at the southeast side of the Cape Royal parking area.
Cliff Springs Trail
1.0 mi. / 1.6 km round-trip; 1 hour approximate round-trip hiking time. Meanders down a forested ravine and ends where a chest-high boulder rests under a large overhang. The spring is on the cliff side of the boulder. Please do not drink the water as it may be contaminated. Trail begins directly across the road from a small pullout on a curve 0.3 miles / 0.5 km down the road from Cape Royal.
Cape Final Trail
4.0 mi. / 6.4 km round-trip; 2 hours approximate round-trip hiking time. A 2-mile walk from dirt parking area to Cape Final. This trail offers a view of the canyon.
Roosevelt Point Trail
0.2 mi. / 0.3 km round-trip; 20 minutes approximate round-trip hiking time. This trail is a short, secluded woodland loop with spectacular views. Offers benches for relaxed enjoyment of the canyon.
Point Imperial Trail
4.0 mi. / 6.4 km round-trip; 2 hours approximate round-trip hiking time. This easy trail passes through areas burned by the 2000 Outlet Fire and ends at the north park boundary. From there connections are possible to the Nankoweap Trail and U.S. Forest Service roads.
Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
The canyon offers an immense, and rewarding, area for backpackers, but you must come prepared for coping with the dry heat, blistering sun (in summer, ice on trails in winter), and the relative lack of water.
And you also need a permit if you're going out into the backcountry overnight. In short, a permit is required to camp in a location other than a developed campground on the North and South rims. Visit the park's Backcountry Permit page to learn how to obtain a permit. Also, read the Backcountry Food Storage and Safe Drinking Water guidelines when planning a backcountry trip.
There is a non-refundable fee of $10 per permit (unless you have a $25 Frequet Hiker Membership) plus $5 per person per night camped below the rim and $5 per group per night camped above the rim. Frequent users may wish to purchase a one-year Frequent Hiker membership for $25 that waives the initial $10 fee for each permit obtained by the trip leader for twelve months from the date of purchase.
When sending in a permit request, the preferred method of payment is with a credit card. Please be sure to indicate the maximum amount you authorize the Backcountry Information Center to charge so that your longest trip alternative can be considered. Valid personal checks and money orders against a United States bank are also accepted when made out for the correct amount. Please do not send cash in the mail.
South Bass Trail and Pasture Wash Trail visitors may be charged an additional fee by the tribe for crossing the Havasupai Indian Reservation.