Guide to Planning a Grand Canyon Hiking Tour

National Parks
Feb 2019
Ribbon Falls North Kaibab Trial Grand Canyon.


The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of The World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In all of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, the Grand Canyon is second to none. However, planning a Grand Canyon hiking tour takes careful thought and preparation. Whether you decide to do it on your own or go with an adventure company, it’s important to do your research before you head to this Arizona treasure.

When visiting the Grand Canyon, you enter a one-of-a-kind chance: the best stone architecture that Earth has ever designed. Written in the walls of the mile-deep canyon is a colorful story of time that you can unfolds before you like a good book. Here, you have the opportunity to time-travel back as far as 1.75 billion years to see how ancient oceans moved, changed, and dried up to create the sedimentary rock layers before you.

Visiting the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Fees

All Grand Canyon visitors pay an entry fee that helps support the preservation of the park and its public facilities.

  • You can buy your pass online here or at the gate. Passes are valid for 7 days.
  • If you plan on visiting three or more national parks this year, we recommend that you buy the annual pass to save money for your next adventure.

What to Do at the Grand Canyon

There is something for everyone to explore at Grand Canyon National Park. Visitors can enjoy a hearty meal and a cold drink at one of the Grand Canyon Hotels like the famous El Tovar or get their thrills while rafting on the Colorado River like the legendary explorer John Wesley Powell. You can take a helicopter tour over the canyon or embark on a Grand Canyon mule ride to the bottom or along the rim.

Many people are interested in taking Grand Canyon tours from Las Vegas, but these tours are often short bus tours that don’t allow you to see very much of the canyon itself. Consider making your Grand Canyon vacation at least a few days long so you can take the time to enjoy the hiking trails and iconic sights of Grand Canyon National Park. With a landmark this size, it’s not hard to find a beautiful canyon viewpoint while driving along the rim.


Where to Go at the Grand Canyon

There are a few different areas where you can visit the Grand Canyon. The National Park has two main destinations, the North Rim and the South Rim. Most people visit the South Rim of the Canyon because it is the easiest to get to and has the most facilities. You may have also heard about amazing Grand Canyon waterfalls and hope to see those on your visit, those are the Havasupai falls and they are located outside of the National Park.

Popular Areas in Grand Canyon National Park

South Rim

Most visited, most facilities, museums, and accommodations. Open year round.

North Rim

Remote and scenic, higher elevation and cooler temperatures, farther from major airports. Only open from May – October.

Popular Areas Near Grand Canyon National Park

Havasu Falls

Grand Canyon’s most famous waterfalls are on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. This area is permit protected and very difficult to access. See more info here.

Glass-bottom Skywalk

This is at the Grand Canyon “West Rim” on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. This area is the part of the canyon closest to Las Vegas. There are no hiking trails and very few facilities at the West Rim.

How to Get to Grand Canyon National Park

It’s a good idea to rent a car and drive to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas or Phoenix. Both cities have their own appeal if you want to spend a few days at a resort before or after your Grand Canyon vacation.

Flying into Las Vegas

  • Drive to the South Rim = 4.5 hours
  • Drive to the North Rim = 5 hours

Flying into Phoenix

  • Drive to the South Rim = 3.5 – 4 hours
  • Drive to the North Rim = 6 hours

Grand Canyon Hiking Trails

If you are up to the challenge, explore the Grand Canyon hiking trails. Trail-junkies will drool over the whopping 358 miles of trail in Grand Canyon National Park. That is plenty of space to get out and away from it all if you plan properly and are prepared.

Many hikers will take a short day hike out to Ooh Aah Point from the South Kaibab trail for a grand vista, or if you have a bit more time and energy, hiking to Indian Gardens on the famous Bright Angel trail is the perfect way to experience the Grand Canyon’s jaw dropping scenery on a longer hike without going all the way to the bottom.

Only very experienced hikers should make the trip to the canyon’s floor. Such an adventure demands a night’s rest at the bottom before ascending the 4,800 ft gain back to the South Rim. You can stay at Phantom Ranch with a reservation or at one of three backcountry campgrounds like the Bright Angel Campground with a backcountry permit.

Water Availability in Grand Canyon

When hiking in the Grand Canyon, ALWAYS bring at least two liters of water per person and more in the summer. The best rule of thumb is plan to drink one liter of water every hour that you are on the trail. Most people hike at a rate of 2 miles per hour in the canyon, so a 4 mile hike would take about 2 hours and require 2 liters. It’s better to overestimate than under as you may need to factor in extra time spent taking photos or resting in the shade.

Below you’ll find some of our favorite hiking itineraries in the Grand Canyon:

One-Day Grand Canyon Hiking Tours

If you only have one day to tour the Grand Canyon and you want to go hiking, there are an number of different options. There are two main trails on the South Rim, called the corridor trails – Bright Angel and South Kaibab, most hikers start here. Hiking in Grand Canyon is challenging no matter how experienced you are. Start small.

Day Hikes

  1. South Kaibab to Ooh Aah Point – 1.8 miles (2.9km) round trip, -/+ 600 ft (183 m) elevation gain, out and back, day hike, no permit required
  2. Bright Angel Trail to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse – 3.2 miles (5.2 km) round trip, -/+ 1,131 ft (345m) elevation gain, out and back, day hike, no permit required, water available on trail
  3. Grandview Point to Horseshoe Mesa – 6 miles ( 9.6 km) out and back, -/+ 2,500 ft (762 m) elevation gain, out and back, day hike, no permit required
  4. North Kaibab to Redwall Bridge (North Rim) – 6 miles (9.7 km) round trip, -/+ 2,188 ft (667 m) elevation gain, day hike, North Rim is open from May 15th – October 15th, no permit required
  5. Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens – 9 miles (14.5 km) out and back, -/+ 3,960 ft (1,207 m) elevation gain, day hike, no permit required, water available on trail

Overnight Grand Canyon Hiking Tours

Hikers can spend the night at the bottom of the canyon whether it’s in a tent at one of the backcountry Grand Canyon campgrounds or at Phantom Ranch, a cozy little village with cottages, dormitories, and a shared family style dinner served in the evening. In addition, there are also campsites on both the North and South Rim.

Grand Canyon Weather

The temperatures in the Grand Canyon add an extra measure of challenge for hikers. When planning a hike, it is very important to plan for heat and dry desert air. Incidents involving dehydration and hyponatremia are common in the Grand Canyon but can be avoided with the right preparation. Always bring plenty of water and salty snacks.

As you hike into the canyon, the climate changes. Hiking down means going lower in elevation so the air gets warmer. The inner canyon is typically about 20 degrees F (7 C) warmer than the rim.

The best months to hike Grand Canyon are in the spring and fall. If you have the flexibility, aim for April or October. It is possible to see snow on the North Rim in those months, so double check the weather in the days before your trip to see if you should bring Yaktrax for more grip.

Wildlife and Geology

Those interested in plants and wildlife can hardly ask for a more diverse and awe inspiring destination to visit. Because of the changing elevation of Grand Canyon, there are widely diverse “life zones” from hot dry desert in the bottom of the canyon to cold and crisp pine forests on the rims. Explorers interested in geology will be fascinated by the rock layers of the Grand Canyon that date back nearly 1.8 billion years!

Get to know Grand Canyon Geology

The geology of Grand Canyon is very unique. There are not many locations on the planet where you can see so many different types of rocks and geologic forces in one place. Sedimentary rock is created by mud and sand at the bottom of a shallow sea, if the sea dries up, so does the mud, hardening and creating rock. The rock layers here were created this way slowly over millions of years.

Almost forty major sedimentary rock layers are exposed in the walls of the Grand Canyon and as you hike down into the canyon, you are traveling back in time about 100,000 years with every step!

How did the Grand Canyon form?

In a nutshell: about 1.75 billion years ago the exposed layers of the Grand Canyon started to be deposited layer by layer. About 75 million years ago, it was lifted up many thousands of feet to the rim’s current elevation at about 7,000 ft above sea level due to movement of tectonic plates. Somewhere between 5 -10 million years ago, the Colorado River began cutting down into the layers that were deposited. Since it began, it has cut about a mile deep and the canyon is still getting deeper today! It also continues to get wider. Currently 18 miles at its widest point, the canyon erodes outward due to freeze and thaw cycles, rain, and wind.

Hikers along side an overwater bridge in the Grand Canyon.