13 Grand Canyon Hiking Tips Your Guide Won't Tell You

A hike into the Grand Canyon can be an experience of a lifetime, but there's a lot to know before you go. Arrive at least one day early to check out things like Yaki Point, which can only be reached by shuttle.
A hike into the Grand Canyon can be an experience of a lifetime, but there's a lot to know before you go. Arrive at least one day early to check out things like Yaki Point, which can only be reached by shuttle.

My first visit to the Grand Canyon was a boring family trip. That is, until our tour guide pointed out the hikers heading down Bright Angel Trail. I watched with envy and immediately knew that someday I would take that adventure.

Since then, I’ve descended the Canyon many times and it’s lived up to my every expectation. I am both tiny and larger than life in it. Its silence and unparalleled beauty hit my “reset” button, while the long, steep hike pushes my limits.

On my sixth trip, however, I nearly died. That’s when I realized that there's not enough information on hiking the Grand Canyon. Here’s the advice that you won't know until you go.

Stay at the Rim
The rooms along the South Rim are sometimes hard to book, but reserve one if you can. This will allow you to arrive the night before your hike and get an early morning start the day of your trek. Plus, the South Rim is chock-full of deer, elk, antelope, turkeys, and other wildlife that will change your life.

Drive Past Tusayan
The restaurants in Tusayan, the town right outside of the South Rim of the park, are overpriced and not very good, whereas pretty much any restaurant, cafeteria, or food court within the park is delicious, reasonably priced, and has gluten-free and vegetarian options.

Although a faster route to the bottom of the Canyon, South Kaibab Trail is filled with steep plunging ridgeline switchbacks like this. Water and emergency phones are not available on this trail, and rangers and shady areas are rare.
Although a faster route to the bottom of the Canyon, South Kaibab Trail is filled with steep plunging ridgeline switchbacks like this. Water and emergency phones are not available on this trail, and rangers and shady areas are rare.

Always Use Bright Angel Trail
I used to snub tourist darling Bright Angel Trail for South Kaibab Trail because the latter is less congested and two and a half miles shorter. Until the time I got very sick on it and lost massive amounts of bodily fluids without enough water to make up for the dehydration it caused. Concerned hikers stopped to help, but also had "just enough" water.

Too weak to walk five miles back up to the South Rim, my options were a potential $10,000 helicopter ride (after a four-hour wait for someone to hike up to fetch it), or to proceed to Phantom Ranch, where there would be water and our pre-arranged meals and lodging. Luckily, my hiking partner (and now fiancé) fed me all his water, a risky move. This, paired with electrolyte tablets, saved my life. Don't tempt fate at the Grand Canyon — always use Bright Angel Trail, which has safety nets for life's surprises.

Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail leads to the Colorado River, but there's no need to trek its 10 miles to get to the bottom. At the edge of the valley in this photo, you can see the lush trees of Indian Garden. To its front left is a trail that crosses the middle of a mesa called Tonto Platform. Hike to the end of this trail to see the Colorado River and avoid a much longer hike to the bottom.
Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail leads to the Colorado River, but there's no need to trek its 10 miles to get to the bottom. At the edge of the valley in this photo, you can see the lush trees of Indian Garden. To its front left is a trail that crosses the middle of a mesa called Tonto Platform. Hike to the end of this trail to see the Colorado River and avoid a much longer hike to the bottom.

Bright Angel Trail Has Hands-Down the Most to Offer
Bright Angel Trail is a 10-mile trek to the bottom that offers drinking water, emergency lines, park and volunteer rangers, and lots to see along the way.

Between the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and its sorta-half-way point, Indian Garden, there are three seasonal water stations and two bathrooms — more than any of the other maintained trails. Like a water cooler, they breed interaction, so you can chat it up with visitors from all over the world. After Indian Garden, drinking water is not available for another five dry miles, so drink up and stock up, buttercup.

Park rangers and volunteer rangers typically monitor the first few miles down from the South Rim, although I’ve seen them as far as six miles in. Park guides claim they “randomly patrol” South Kaibab Trail, which sounds like code for "pretty much never."

Every time I hike Bright Angel Trail, I discover something new. With a creek that runs along parts of it, old-school phone lines, butterflies, wildflowers, and Indian Garden, a lush stop four miles down the rim to sit and eat lunch, it is arguably the Canyon’s most beautiful path.

There’s a spot near Indian Garden where the trail crosses a shallow creek. Be sure to stop, take your socks off, and dip your swelling feet in the crisp water.

But Don't Get Roped Into Indian Garden
Camping at Indian Garden stinks. It’s muggy, it's hot, and it's full of mosquitoes. It's a great spot to stop for a while, but it's miserable for overnight camping.

Skip the Hike if it Rains
A few days before you descend into the Canyon, keep tabs on the weather. Don't hike after it snows or rains because at best, the muddy trails become a 7,200 feet slip-and-slide-o-rama. If it floods the trail, you’ll walk along wet stone pavers that border it, which in many areas is the only thing separating you and a 400-foot drop.

Read on for the best times of year to tackle the hike — and what you should know about Phantom Ranch.



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