The sheer beauty and vast wilderness of the Grand Canyon make it a terrific choice for an adventure. While many people visit for the day, there are also those that want to spend more time exploring it in depth, over the course of a few days or more. Because of this, many adventurers want to know if it’s possible to backpack the Grand Canyon.
There are several backpacking trails all around the Grand Canyon. You can choose trails that suit your experience and fitness level, as well as access to park facilities. Permits from the Backcountry Information Centre are required for overnight stays or more in certain locations.
With all the trails available and safety considerations involved for backpacking the Grand Canyon, it’s important to read up in order to be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
Table of Contents
How to Backpack the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is over 6,000 feet deep, and 18 miles long of majestic natural formations that started 2 billion years ago. These rocks come in a range of colors: rust, burnt orange, red, and white colors contrast beautifully yet remain well-preserved thanks to the dry air of Arizona.
The Grand Canyon can be accessed from either the North or South Rim. The North Rim’s elevation averages at 8,000 feet, and is around a thousand feet higher compared to the South Rim. The elevation changes make this desert a prime spot for diversity, and there are 5 life zones found here.
No matter when you decide to go, it’s always best to check with park rangers first if the conditions are safe for backpacking. Rescues are common in the Grand Canyon and so are cases of dehydration and hyponatremia, which is why safety should always be of top importance. You can opt to hire a guide which is recommended for inexperienced desert backpackers or hikers though it also provides you with the added benefit of being able to sightsee more with a limited time.
For first-time backpackers to the Grand Canyon, it’s recommended to start by hiking the corridor trails to get an idea of the environment.
To successfully backpack and hike the Grand Canyon, one must prepare and train well in advance. The best way to get in shape for your backpacking trip is to hike on a trail as often as you can because this will strengthen your ankles especially for walking on loose rocks. You’ll also need to improve core strength and muscle endurance.
Depending on your chosen backpacking trail, you should prepare to hike uphill for an average of 8 hours a day. A backpacking trip is physically strenuous and challenging, so train 6 months ahead of your start date.
Permits need to be applied for at least 4 months ahead of your start date. Permits are required for camping anywhere within the Grand Canyon National Park unless you’re staying in developed campgrounds located in the North or South Rim. Additionally, backcountry permits are required for overnight camping in areas that are outside of the North Rim Campground, Desert View Campground, or the Mather Campground; camping in all locations in the Tuweep Campground, and anywhere in the North Rim from November 1 to May 14.
On the other hand, backcountry permits are not required for day hikes including nighttime day hikes, overnight camps at the Desert View Campground and the Mather Campground, overnight camps at the North Rim Campground from May 15 to October 31. Permits are also not required for those doing overnight stays at accommodations located in Phantom Ranch.
Reserving accommodations in both the North and South Rim are always recommended, whether you decide to stay at a campground or a hotel. Some hotels can also be found outside the park, which may be a good option if you decide to book last minute during a busy period. There are numerous options to cater to all travel styles and budgets.
Food and Hydration
Bring a minimum of 3 liters of water, and continue to refill it every chance you get. If you decide to visit during the summer months, 4 liters of water is recommended. Using a hiking backpack with hydration can make this much water a lot easier to carry.
Additionally, pack a lot of salty snacks because your body will get rid of salt every time you sweat; consuming salty food will also help prevent hyponatremia.
The Grand Canyon is geographically divided into use areas, all of which are rated on its overnight capacity according to its size, the number of campsites, and environmental sensitivity among others. Use areas can be smaller or larger than others, and they are further classified into Corridor Zones, Threshold Zones, Primitive Zones, and Wild Zones.
Corridor Zones are the easiest to hike and backpack of all because of the trails are well-maintained and paved. They are equipped with purified water stations, toiles, signages, ranger stations, and emergency phones.
Threshold Zones are ideal for experienced backpackers of the Grand Canyon because there are no maintained trails. The water sources are rare, while getting to the trailheads requires crossing dirt roads.
Primitive Zones are only suitable for advanced backpackers and who have significant skills in finding routes. None of the trail are maintained, and the roads to the trail heads are extremely rough. There are a few signs but no other amenities and developments to be found here.
Wild Zones are the most challenging of all; they are only recommended for advanced backpackers who have proven abilities in finding routes. Water sources are nearly scarce and there are no developments of any kind in these zones.
When Is the Best Time to Backpack the Grand Canyon?
The spring and fall months are the best times to backpack the Grand Canyon. Avoid it from June to August, which is when the heat in the canyon interior can rise to dangerous temperatures unless you already have significant experience with desert hiking, or booked with a reputable tour guide service.
However, if visiting during the summer is the only time you can make it, the North Rim is advisable because its elevation is at 8,297 feet, and the temperatures here are around 10 degrees cooler compared to the South Rim. Additionally, the park amenities within the North Rim are shut down from November to April, and the road that leads into the park is closed in December as soon as snow falls but the South Rim is more accessible and open all year round.
If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is from December to February. The winter backpacking and hiking conditions are perfect during these months but aside from that, you’ll also be rewarded with the magnificent views of snow that contrast with the canyon’s colors.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to backpack the Grand Canyon?
Backcountry permits cost $8 per person per night camping for either under or above the rim, and an additional $10 per permit. The campgrounds cost around $22 a night, dorm beds cost around $60, and cabins good for two cost around $170 a night. Admission costs $20 for each individual, while vehicle admission requires a $35 permit.
Backpackers should allocate around $130 a day for their trip; $40 a day on meals, and $30 for local transportation. Though optional, it’s recommended to purchase travel insurance before your trip to the Grand Canyon because it will protect you from injury, illness, cancellations, and theft.
It’s also good to note that each use area has a maximum of 7-night trips though if you intend to explore the Grand Canyon for longer than this, you can move around to other use areas. There is no limitation in overall trip lengths for as long as you secure the proper permits and have the budget allocation.
What is the best backpack for the Grand Canyon?
There are many suitable backpacks that will comfortably carry everything you need for a multi-day backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon. Here are some top-rated examples that you can check the specs and compare with our comparison tool:
- Osprey Atmos AG 65 Men’s Backpack
- Deuter Aircontact 65+10
- Teton Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame Backpack
- Loowoko Hiking Backpack 50L