Day hikes in the Grand Canyon are arguably one of the most sought-after National Park experiences in the United States. As one of the best-known parks in America, hiking in the Grand Canyon rises to the top of many bucket lists. In addition to its uncontested beauty, this very large park can be difficult to navigate. With so many options to choose from, you’ll need help narrowing down which day hikes will satisfy all of your Grand Canyon dreams
Before diving into the recommended hikes for your itinerary, it’s important to note the preparation required for hiking in this dramatic and quickly changing environment. The most important thing you can do when hiking in the Grand Canyon is to bring extra water. In fact, bring double what you would normally bring. The heat in this area is no joke; you should be prepared to hike for hours without a fill-up station.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon is a new experience for most visitors as all the hikes start out going downhill. It’s extremely important to account for the fact that your return path will be traveling uphill. This can take twice as long, even for experienced hikers. Leave plenty of time to get out of the canyon before nightfall. In fact, I’d say leave twice the time you think you need!
Now that are sufficiently aware of what you are getting into, let’s get to the fun part – making a plan:
Planning for the best day hikes in the Grand Canyon
With almost 2000 square miles of wilderness, suffice it to say, you do not have time to see it all! I recommend spending some time with this guide, as well as the park’s main website to build an itinerary. This will ensure you get all the best views while challenging yourself enough to feel satisfied at the end of the day. This plan will be different for everyone and will depend on several factors:
Starting location: The park has two main jumping-off points: The South Rim and the North Rim. These locations are roughly 4 hours apart, so it’s a good idea to pick a side and stay on it. The South Rim is the better-known jumping-off point and is home to several hotels inside the park. Here you will find the most well-known trails like Bright Angel and Hermit as well as Mathar Point, home to the most famous view of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is a little quieter and offers amazing views as well as the famous Grand Canyon Lodge.
Experience: Hiking conditions in the park can vary greatly. From flat, paved trails to extremely rugged conditions with steep drop-offs, rocky terrain, and large, uneven stairs, it’s important to read about your intended route before starting your journey.
Destination: Some people have always dreamed of hiking to the bottom of the canyon, while others desire a variety of landscapes and some are just looking for the best view. Decide your priorities upfront so that you can pick the best trail(s) for your goal.
Alright, it’s finally time to start picking your day hikes for what will surely be the trip of a lifetime!
Hikes from the South Rim
South Rim Trail (Easy) – 13 miles. No notable change in elevation
Looking for the best view of the canyon without descending thousands of feet? You’ve found your match! The South Rim Trail is one of Grand Canyon National Park’s best scenic routes. Running 13 miles along the top of the canyon, it connects several popular destinations, including Mather Point, Grand Canyon Village, and the canyon rim at Pima Point. The route is paved, relatively flat, and well shaded for a lovely walk any time of day.
Bright Angel Trail (Difficult) – 7.8 miles, one-way. 4460 ft elevation change.
The Bright Angel Trail is the first of three options to hike from the South Rim to the Colorado River. Invariably crowded, the long and winding trail is nevertheless a favorite of young and old hikers due to its ease of navigation. The Bright Angel Trail will take you as far out into the Canyon as possible, where you can either return by the same route or take the South Kaibab Trail back to the top, creating a loop. As an alternative, you can also hike part of the trail and return the way you came. Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is not recommended unless you are a very experienced hiker.
South Kaibab Trail (Difficult) – 6.3 miles, one-way. 4860 ft elevation change.
The South Kaibab Trail is your second option for hiking to the bottom of the canyon. This trail is strenuous and can get quite hot in the afternoon, so plan to leave early. There are no rest areas in the Canyon, so pack everything you’ll need before you go (plenty of water, snacks). You can combine this trail with Bright Angel to make a loop back to the top of the canyon. As this trail is the steeper of the two, it’s recommended to take South Kaibab downwards and Bright Angel back up.
If you are not an experienced hiker, I’d highly recommend taking this trail part of the way and then returning the way you came. Remember that hiking uphill can take twice as long as hiking downhill.
Hermit Trail (Difficult) – 9.7 miles, one way. 4340 ft elevation change.
Your third and final option for hiking to the bottom of the canyon is Hermit Trail. This is one of the most rugged trails in the park. This is not a Grand Canyon hike for the faint of heart. The Hermit Trail drops 2,000 feet within the first 2.5 miles! This will make your return trip extremely difficult. However, this route reaps terrific rewards, including spectacular views and a unique perspective on the Canyon’s history. Hermit Trail is primarily used to access Dripping Springs, with spectacular views of Hermit Creek Canyon below.
If you are planning on a multi-day hike, you can use the Tonto trail, which runs through the bottom of the canyon, to connect with either the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. This route can not be completed in one day.
Grandview Trail (Intermediate) – 9 miles, roundtrip. 3100 ft elevation change.
Grandview Trail is one of the lesser-known hikes in the Grand Canyon, offering both an amazing landscape and historical experience. Shortly after moving to the area, Pete Berry built it to access the copper mines operating in the Canyon. It quickly grew in popularity when word got out about his plans to build a hotel at the trailhead. This route crosses through various terrain and terminates at a stunning viewpoint, overlooking Horseshow Mesa.
While the elevation and length of this hike may look mild, please be aware that the trail conditions are very rugged, meaning this hike will likely take longer than some of the more established trails in the park.
Hikes from the North Rim
North Kaibab Trail (Difficult) – 14.2 miles, one-way. 5850 ft elevation change.
The North Kaibab Trail is the only route to the bottom of the canyon, starting from the North Rim. It offers some incredible views, particularly up into Roaring Springs Canyon, through which it descends. After crossing Roaring Springs Canyon, North Kaibab Trail is a hike down a wide corridor until it enters Cottonwood Creek’s much narrower Canyon. It ends at Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon. In order to return to the North Rim, you will need to go the way you came. This hike is extremely difficult to complete in one day, it’s recommended to either turn back partially through the hike or camp at the bottom of the canyon.
Bright Angel Point Trail (Easy) – .5 miles, round trip. No notable elevation change.
Bright Angel Point Trail is an easy, paved path with a surprising variety of ecosystems. It provides an accessible half-mile trail leading to arguably the best views of the canyon. This trail is home to one of the Grand Canyon National Park’s most famous and photographed vistas. The trailhead begins at the Visitor’s center at the North Rim and makes for a leisurely walk to catch the sunset after a full day in the park.
Widforss Trail (Intermediate) – 9.6 miles, roundtrip. 1000 ft elevation change.
The Widforss Trail is a relatively flat, out and back hike from the North Rim to Widforss Point. The route passes through forest and meadows, ending at Widforss Point with a panorama of the southern Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau. Widforss Trail is a beautiful and quiet hike with breathtaking views. The cooling effect of the high elevation brings hikers out at dawn and dusk, chasing wildlife to avoid the desert heat radiating off the rocks of the Canyon.
Cape Final Trail (Easy) – 4.2 miles, roundtrip. No notable elevation change.
Cape Final Trail is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an easy and scenic hike along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. The trail winds gently blow through a ponderosa pine forest, with breathtaking views of Transept Canyon and Marble Canyon. Hikers will find the most inspiring ideas at the trail’s end, where the Colorado River can be seen winding around the bend.
Hiking Rim to Rim (not really a day hike)
Rim-to-Rim Trail (Difficult) – 24 miles, one way. 5850 ft elevation change.
The Rim-to-Rim hiking experience is one of the most popular hikes in the Grand Canyon. You can hike in either direction, combining the North Kaibab Trail with either Bright Angel or the South Kaibab Trail, however, the recommended route is North Kaibab to Bright Angel. This amazing hike crosses through forest and desert landscapes over streams and rivers (a rarity in dry Arizona). This hike is not for beginners. You should expect a major challenge, including ending your day with a massive uphill climb. Still, hiking from rim to rim will afford you some major bragging rights, and is a feat worth the effort!
Conclusion on day hikes in the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a national treasure worth the trip, but it’s best to plan to make the most of it without doing too much damage to your feet. Take some time to plan where you want to go and what to see. This adventure will undoubtedly provide a wonderful experience that is both challenging and fulfilling.
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