Grand Canyon National Park beckons about 5 million visitors per year to its rim, making it the second most visited U.S. National Park (and, at times, a challenge when it comes to finding a hotel). However, only a small portion of those visitors make it beyond the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and designated viewpoints. While you can certainly enjoy the majesty of the Grand Canyon without putting much distance between you and the park shuttle stops, with some effort, the Grand Canyon–and your experience there–can really open up.
Here are three day hikes, including one off which almost any visitor can bite a significant chunk. First, however, some words of caution: The Grand Canyon is not easy on hikers. Hundreds of people require rescue every year. We personally have witnessed hikers struggling with fatigue and heat exhaustion. Regardless of the hike, pack plenty of water. Period.
Almost every visitor will at least amble along a small part of the 13-mile Rim Trail. This very easy trail (much of it is paved) winds along the canyon’s south rim and can be accessed from any viewpoint. Because many visitors will simply shuttle from viewpoint to viewpoint, the secret to this not-so-secret trail is that the trail can feel very quiet and peaceful in those in-between spots. Even on crowded days.
If you feel like tackling the whole 13 miles (like we did), you can take the shuttle bus to the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail and stroll your way back to Pima Point. Even though you will be passing through several popular viewpoints and shuttle stops, there is not much water along the trail, so pack plenty.
Bright Angel trail
Bright Angel Trail
We call this the time machine hike because you can descend quickly through the geologic layers that the Colorado River has scoured out over the years. (In all, it’s around two billion years of rock layers. But who’s counting?)
On one very hot day, we hiked to Three-Mile Resthouse, which made for a 6-mile round-trip hike. For two guys who often run trails twice as long, six miles felt like it would be too easy. Gladly, we listened to the warnings of the park rangers and didn’t try to do more. This hike is very exposed and the return trip is punishing (but rewarding). If you are not an advanced hiker, we suggest you turn around at the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse; we promise that you will still feel like you conquered the world when you are done.
Again, you’ve got to pack a lot of water. Like a gallon of water. No kidding. On our trek down, rangers were actually stopping hikers to ensure that they were carrying enough water. They required those who hadn’t packed enough to return to the top. Tough love, but it beats dying of heat exhaustion.
Viewfinder Tip: Grand Canyon National Park has very eco-friendly water bottle refill stations but does not sell bottled water. Come prepared with a big water bottle and stay hydrated!
South Kaibab Trail
On our last full day in the park, we took an evening 3-mile round-trip hike to Cedar Ridge. Rangers will remind you that anything beyond Cedar Ridge is not a permitted as a summer day hike, and you don’t want to piss off a park ranger (or die of heat exhaustion), so heed the warnings and don’t go further.
After the steep switchbacks (which feel steeper on the way up), the trail begins to pull away from the canyon wall to reveal some pretty stunning views up the canyon.
There is no parking at the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail, so you have to take a shuttle or walk. As we shared above, we recommend you walk.
Once you’ve descended on the Bright Angel Trail, peered westward through the canyon from the South Kaibab Trail, or seen the sun set from the Rim Trail, you will have little question as to why the Pueblo people consider the Grand Canyon a holy site. It truly is a magical experience and one that we recommend everyone see–just not all in the same summer, please!
What’s your favorite Grand Canyon hike?