Enter one of the seven natural wonders of the world, a rocky ravine that stretches down 6,000 feet and goes across 277 miles of desert, forest and flatland. The Grand Canyon of Arizona is truly awe-inspiring. If you are wanting to see the best of this vast ravine and step foot onto its hiking trails, then you'll need to do some serious planning to start. All hiking trails are not created equal, and the Grand Canyon is unforgiving to hiker newbies who want the "experience" without, well, experience. Before we begin our journey of narrowing down hiking spots, we need to ask a few questions.
Grand Canyon Hiking Questions
- How many days do I plan to stay at the canyon?
- How far can I hike in a day?
- Beginner: 5 miles
- Intermediate: 6-10 miles
- Expert: 10+ miles
- Do I enjoy cold or hot weather? If cold, then do I have the right equipment for cold nights (no fires allowed in the canyon)?
- Do I only want day hikes, or am I prepared to camp overnight?
- Do I prefer mountainous, green forests or expansive, bright rock structures?
- How many different types of scenery do I want to explore?
- Do I enjoy history or nature more?
And the list goes on. However, providing solid answers to these questions will give you a better understanding of what you will come up against in the canyon, and it also provide focus to an enormous venue of outdoor exploration. We can't cover every hiking trail in this article, but we'll stick with some of the best ones. Again, "best" will ultimately be defined by your own preferences and/or limitations.
Havasupai Hiking Trail
Credit: Matthew SmithThough not the most popular among trails along this south rim, this trail provides some of the best of scenery, culture and terrain. Bring a hiking pack with you - this trail is 8-10 miles one way, depending on how far in you want to stay. Eight miles in, hikers will walk through Supai village, part of an Indian reservation that has been established for many years. Quite a few villagers live there and you can observe their simple way of life. Beyond the village lies three enormous, gorgeous waterfalls - Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls. They cannot be compared to one another, as each has its own unique beauty and surroundings. Because of the high mineral content, these waters remain a deep, coral blue year around. Two miles beyond the village, hikers will enter the campsite (as with all campsites you visit, be prepared to reserve ahead of time and pay). You can fill up your water bottle at the campsite and pick among dozens of places to camp, including right beside the soothing Mooney Falls. The path to the Colorado River lies many miles beyond, so unless you plan to stay for some time, don't count on adding this leg to your journey. Once you decide to leave, be prepared for a challenging hike; it's almost all uphill, albeit slightly.
North Kaibab Hiking Trail
Enter the north rim, where you'll be greeted by different wildlife and a change of scenery. Think Colorado mountains on steroids. Along this 14-mile one way trail, you'll veer along the edge of the rim where you can gaze for minutes without penetrating the vastness of the enormous green forests beyond. If you come during fall or winter season, prepare for freezing temperatures during the day and night. The North Kaibab hiking trailhead intersects with the Ken Patrick Trail and Uncle Jim Trail, both of which are recommended day hikes. Hikers will need plenty of strength in their legs as the terrain has many ups and downs, especially the top section. Pack a light load and don't push too hard. If you went to the south rim before this hike, you'll find it pleasantly quiet, as only about 10% of the five million hikers that go to the Grand Canyon each year make it up to the north rim.
Cape Final Hiking Trail
North rim hikers that want an easy day hike with lush forest and a long glimpse at the canyon should choose Cape Final. With just four miles to walk roundtrip, this path works great for beginner hikers or those in the mood for a less intense experience. On the downside, this particular trail does not offer any water, so bring some along (as you should with all hiking trails). Keep an eye out for the North Kaibab squirrel, mule deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife that you may see. A scenic outlook is available two miles in where you can view the eastern face of the Grand Canyon. Return the same way you came in, and look for beauty you didn't notice the first time.
Hermit Hiking Trail
Returning to the south rim, you can engage in a challenging but ultimately rewarding hike. From the trailhead to the campsite runs approximately seven miles, but the descent is not for the lighthearted; it drops approximately 2,000 feet after 2.5 miles. Hermit is an old trail, first starting in early 20th century and maintained by the Santa Fe Railroad until 1930. Hikers will discover Santa Maria Springs as they head in, which provides needed shade and trickles with water most of the year. The descent steepens a bit further at the Cathedral Stairs, composed of winding switchbacks and jutting canyon walls, all beautifully crafted by ancient waterways and rock erosion. Continue to watch your footing, and look for the Tonto Trail intersection, where you can follow Tonto to the Hermit Creek campsite. After a small amount of exploration, you'll find stunning, Tapeats gorge - a wonderful reward for your hard descent.
These are not the most well-traveled trails in the Grand Canyon, but they provide the best mix of scenery and experiences. In the case of hiking, it's advisable to try the best first, not last. Plan well, and enjoy one of the most beautiful creations ever made by Mother Nature.