Planning A Hike To The Base Of The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon hiking trips require advanced reservations and planning. Securing a permit and campsite inside the canyon ensures a successful hiking adventure.

A World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon attracts over 4.5 million visitors each year, yet only 2% of visitors explore the park’s inner canyon trails, according to the Grand Canyon Park Profile. The U.S National Park Service maintains three corridor trails that give backcountry hikers access to the base of the Grand Canyon, which can enhance a hiker’s appreciation of this geologic wonder as well as help visitors avoid the crowds during peak season.

Obtain a Backcountry Permit for Hiking Trips in the Grand Canyon

All hikers wishing to reach the base of the canyon and camp overnight must apply for a backcountry permit, available on a first-come, first-serve basis from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center. When applying for a permit, potential backcountry hikers can submit up to three itineraries, specifying the desired dates and campsites their hiking group wishes to use.

Applications are made available four months prior to the intended departure date and must be submitted by mail or fax. While a limited number of campsites are made available for walk-up reservations the day before, campsites can fill up in advance, and hikers without a valid backcountry permit will not be allowed to remain in the canyon area. Permits should be in possession of the trip leader at all times and are subject to review by rangers on duty.

Potential hikers seeking more detail should consult the Grand Canyon Backcountry Trip Planner, an annual publication by National Park Service freely available to the public.

Campgrounds Inside Grand Canyon National Park

Backcountry travelers hoping to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back should plan on spending at least one night on the canyon floor. Bright Angel Campground, located near the junction of the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails, is a convenient site for groups entering and exiting the canyon using the corridor trails of the South Rim. Nestled among cottonwood trees and adjacent to Bright Angel Creek, campers may find themselves sharing their campsite with local wildlife, taking advantage of the shade and freshwater. Campers also have access to flush toilets and drinking water and are within walking distance of the canteen and ranger activities at Phantom Ranch.

Hikers descending from the north rim, or those planning rim-to-rim hikes, will find the facilities at Cottonwood Campground, along the North Kaibab Trail, an ideal resting stop. Indian Gardens Campsite, the third campsite located along a corridor trail, is located almost halfway down the Bright Angel Trail. Hikers looking to break their ascent into two days may want to consider booking a night in this wooded campground in addition to Bright Angel campground.

Arranging Transportation to and From the Grand Canyon Trailheads

During peak season, the South Kaibab trailhead parking lot is closed to private vehicles. Hikers can take the Hikers Express shuttle bus from either the Bright Angel Lodge or the Backcountry Information Station directly to the trailhead. Shuttles depart as early as 4:00 am in the summer months and as early as 6:00 am in winter. Backpackers planning on returning via the Bright Angel Trail can take advantage of the shuttle by leaving their vehicle parked in the Backcountry Information Center parking lot, a mere block away from the Bright Angel Trailhead.

The Trans-Canyon Shuttle runs between the north and south rims once daily and is the only means of public transportation available to those planning a rim-to-rim hike.

Hiking to the base of the Grand Canyon can be a challenging and rewarding experience. By taking the necessary precautions and arranging accommodation and transportation in advance, backcountry hikers can ensure that the memories they create will be those of exhilaration and triumph instead of the panic and fear that can strike unprepared backpackers.