A Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Hiking: Popular Routes

Of the Canyon's 4.5 million yearly visitors, 90 percent treat themselves to the gorgeous views of the South Rim, while the remaining 10 percent focus their attention on the Canyon's North Rim. [source: National Park Service]. The South Rim is maintained and better suited for the casual vacationer, although both rims have their areas of interest. The South Rim is open year-round for visitors, while the North Rim pretty much shuts down, thanks to snow and inclement weather, during the winter. Neither rim provides a road to the bottom, which is where the hiking part comes in.

The most important thing to know, up front, is that the hike to the bottom of the Canyon is incredibly strenuous. While plenty of people have survived the trek, it presents a unique set of circumstances that challenge experienced hikers. Dehydration, fatigue and the change in elevation, as well as the intense dry heat, all contribute to an experience that is not for the faint of heart. It's expert-level hiking, make no mistake. This, plus the park's limits on visitors and use of resources, means planning ahead is extremely important.

From the South Rim, the "corridor" trails are the most-used and user-friendly routes, whether you're looking for a fun day hike or intend to make it all the way to the bottom. While both major trails are difficult, with switchbacks and infrequent rest stops, Bright Angel is known as slightly more forgiving than the South Kaibab Trail. The former is a bit longer, but has better stops and a less steep grade, while South Kaibab offers little water and very little shade. On the North Rim side, your journey can only descend via the North Kaibab Trail. All major trails meet at the bottom of the Canyon, where the Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground cater to every possible level of comfort, from "roughing it"-style camping to bed-and-breakfast delights.