Hiking in the Grand Canyon
Hiking in the Grand Canyon was the highlight of my Trek America journey. Taking a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon was amazing but being inside the canyon, touching the rocks and seeing it transform as we hiked lower was incredible.
It’s that moment when you’re exhausted and sweating, your heart is pumping so hard it might burst through your chest, you’re gasping for water, you’re covered from head to toe in orange sand and then you look up and see this…
You suddenly realise how tiny you are and how incredible the world is.
The size of the Grand Canyon made me feel small and insignificant, like a tiny ant who appears to have so little impact on the world around him. I started thinking about the millions of people who had stood where I stood and the billions of years it took for our world to evolve like this. I felt like a drop in the ocean. I don’t mean this in a morbid ‘what’s the point’ way, more in a ‘live for the moment’ way. We are all so small but we let tiny problems weigh us down. Our tiny, insignificant thoughts won’t change the world so why not just concentrate on making yourself and those around you happy?
The Grand Canyon is thought to be somewhere between 6 million and 70 millions years old. It’s a bit of a difference, I know, but it gets you thinking about your place in this enormous world.
Choosing a Grand Canyon Hiking Trail
You can see many of the different trails along the North Kaibab, South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails here.
The trail you choose will come down to how much time you have, how fit and experienced you are and the time of year. Some trails are closed during the winter and many only have water during the busiest periods.
I hiked along the South Kaibab trail to Skeleton Point and this took 4 hours in total. This trail begins at the trailhead and the first point is Cedar Ridge. We walked to a viewing point where you can see the Colorado River and then you walk back the way you came. This is a great trail for a group of mixed abilities because everyone can walk to where they feel comfortable and either wait or turn back when they’re tired.
What to take when hiking in the Grand Canyon
Water! And lots of it. Take as much water as you can comfortably carry.
People have died when hiking in the Grand Canyon and this is mainly due to heatstroke and dehydration.
Salty snacks. Salty snacks will help your body to retain water. Something like trailmix with salty nuts is perfect. The shops around the Canyon and in the visitor center have plenty of suitable snacks. I went for a salty trail mix with chocolate chunks.
Packed lunch. Due to the heat I didn’t feel hungry but it’s important to keep your energy levels up when hiking. Fruit, sandwiches and energy bars are perfect.
Comfortable shoes. You may need walking boots depending on where you’re hiking to. I wore my normal running trainers and was fine.
Blister plasters. You may want to pop a few plasters in your bag just in case.
Sun cream, sun hat and sunglasses. It’s going to get HOT! Most of the trails are not shaded so keeping your head, eyes and skin protected is vital.
Layers. The canyon is freezing first thing in the morning but sweltering by 10am. Take plenty of layers to stay warm or cool.
Camera. You’ll definitely want to get snappy happy.
Tips for hiking in the Grand Canyon
Start early. We left our campsite at 4.30am and arrived in time to watch the sunrise. As soon as it was light enough we then began hiking, which was probably a little after 5.15am.
The reason you need to start so early is because by 10am it is almost unbearably hot. It also means the trails are quieter and you get the amazing opportunity to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon.
If you’re hiking alone or in a small group and won’t have anyone waiting for you to return, let the rangers know you’re going and your estimated return time.
Take plenty of breaks.
Be aware that when you normally hike, you start with the hard part and go UP the mountain. Then when you’re tired you have the easy part and come down. When you hike in the Grand Canyon you have the opposite. You begin feeling fresh and eager and the temperature is cool so it’s pretty easy. Then when you turn around to come back up you’re suddenly exhausted, it’s boiling hot and you have to climb up. Save your energy for the return journey and try not to begin the hike back up at midday.
Elk drinking from the water pump at the campsite.
Jaunting Jen hiked alone in the Grand Canyon and shares her experience. I love her beautiful photos and she proves that if you’re sensible you can have a great time hiking solo.
2Backpackers talk about camping in the Grand Canyon and some different trail options available.
Damian C. Koshnick took a 3-day hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. It looks tough but incredible and his story is well worth a read.
If you’re interested in the geological history of the Grand Canyon then this documentary is amazing. Prepare to have your mind boggled.
I visited the Grand Canyon during my Westerner 2 Trek America journey. You can check out all my Trek America posts here.