Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry FAQ

Inner Canyon / Backcountry Backcountry Hiking

Q: How long will my hike take?

A: Most first-time Grand Canyon hikers walk uphill at an average speed of one mile per hour, though hiking times will vary. Hikers should monitor the amount of time it takes to get down to a location and plan for the return hike to take twice as long.

Q: Which is easier the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail ?

A: Both trails are very strenuous and involve hiking numerous switchbacks. If you are hiking from the South Rim to Bright Angel Campground and back, a popular option is to take the South Kaibab Trail down, and the Bright Angel Trail up, thereby completing a 'loop hike'. The South Kaibab shuttle bus will transport you to the start of this hike. It is advantageous to take the Bright Angel Trail from the Bright Angel Campground to the South Rim because there is water available at Indian Garden Campground . Indian Garden Campground is roughly half way, has a water faucet with potable water and a place to sit in the shade. It is a wonderful rest stop during the strenuous uphill hike. In May through September, on the Bright Angel Trail, water is usually available at 3-mile and 1 1/2-Resthouses. The South Kaibab Trail has no water.

Q: How long will it take to get to the bottom?

A: South Kaibab trail is 7 miles long and Bright Angel is 9 miles. It will take most hikers between 4 and 5 hours to get to the campground on either trail. Oddly enough, very few will ask how long the return hike will take. This may indicate that many people underestimate the hike. The return hike may take twice as long, though 7 to 8 hours seems to be average. Underestimating the elevation change and the bodies dietary needs can easily add a few hours to those averages. Q: Can I go to the bottom and back in one day?

A: Some have tried and made it, others have tried and died. (top of page)

Q: Should I hike alone?

A: Risks are greater for those who hike alone. There is no one to assist you if you become lost, ill, or injured. Hikers traveling alone are at greater risk of attack. Be sure to keep your group together, a good plan is to have your most skilled members at the front and rear of your group with the novices in the middle. Q: Where do I park my vehicle(s)?

A: With regards to backpacking the Kaibab/ Bright Angel Loop, visitors should park in Backcountry Information Center lot and take the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead.(top of page) Backpackers with permits in the Boucher and Hermit areas are given the gate combination for the Hermit's Rest Road. Drivers must yield to shuttle busses and observe posted speed limits. They should also be advised of high pedestrian traffic and wildlife that walk onto the roadway from the rim and surrounding forest.

Q: How can I get my stuff carried out on a mule?

A: The Bright Angel Lodge works directly with mule outfitters to provide all the pack animal services. The service is arranged from above the rim only. Q: Where can I go to find the more remote trails?

A: For first time Grand Canyon hikers, this search best begins at the bookstore. It is fair to say that most of our backpackers would like to visit the canyon without seeing other people on the trails and in the campsites, and most of the canyon offers visitors the chance to have a very remote wilderness experience. We have a responsibility to gather information about a groups experience and conditioning so that we can help them find the trip that best suits them. The corridor has been very popular for over a century because it offers the most dramatic views of the most familiar monuments, where a hiker can enter the deepest exposed rock layers of the Inner Gorge and cross the Colorado River to the North side. It is popular for a reason. (top of page)

Q: Are there toilets in the canyon?

A: Toilets are available in ecologically sensitive areas with high visitation. Not all of the designated campsites have toilet facilities. Hikers and backpackers should always carry toilet paper and be prepared to dig cat holes. Holes should be a minimum of 6 inches deep and at least 100 feet from trails, campsites, and water sources. Toilet paper is considered litter and must be packed out rather than burned. Due to the high volume of water in the Colorado River, hikers should urinate directly into the river if toilets are not available.(top of page)

Equipment Questions

Q: Do I need a map?

A: A map is essential for planning a trip and staying oriented during a hike. Corridor hikers will be able to hike safely with the general map they will get with their permit but topographic maps are needed anywhere else. Grand Canyon topographic maps are available through the Grand Canyon Association .

Q: Do I need a tent?

A: When hiking the Grand Canyon, it is desirable to travel as light as is reasonable. Even though it's a desert, it does rain occasionally in the canyon. Rain is most likely to occur in July and August. A tent can offer protection from rain, but due to mild nighttime temperatures, cold protection is not a factor during summer. Consider taking a lighter sleeping bag (or even a sheet) to save weight if you decide to carry a tent. Another option is to take only the rain fly or a bivy sack as shelter. During winter, tents are desirable equipment.

Q: Do I need a stove?

A: Hikers need to balance the weight of stove and fuel against the value of a hot meal. During the heat of summer, cold meals are often more appetizing. During cold weather, a stove may be important for survival. Fires are prohibited throughout the backcountry.

Food Water Questions

Q: How much water do I need?

A: In warm months and in addition to replacing electrolytes, each hiker should carry and drink a minimum of 1 gallon (4 liters) of water replacement each day. Hikers should drink enough so that urine frequency, clarity, and volume are normal. A hiker is not drinking enough water if their urine is dark, small in quantity, or non-existent in the course of a day's hiking. In addition eating adequate amounts of food will help you replace the electrolytes (salts) that you are sweating. If you replace the water, but not the salts, you can develop a serious and dangerous medical condition known as hyponatremia (water intoxication). If left untreated, hyponatremia can lead to seizures and possibly death. In the hottest months of the year fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed two quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Because the inner canyon air is so dry and hot, sweat evaporates instantly making its loss almost imperceptible. It is this evaporation of sweat that allows our bodies to lose heat and stay cool. Do not wait until you start feeling thirsty to start replacing lost fluid. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated ! Your body can absorb only about one quart of fluid per hour. Drink one-half to one full quart of water or electrolyte replacement drink each and every hour you are hiking in the heat. Carry your water bottle in your hand and drink small amounts often.(top of page)

Q: Where can I find water?

A: Purified drinking water is available at the campgrounds and rest houses on the Corridor trails. During winter months the pipelines to all rest houses and Cottonwood Campground are shut off. Pipelines in the canyon are subject to breaks at any time of year, but are most common during monsoon flooding. Water may be obtained directly from the Colorado River, creeks and potholes, but should be treated before drinking. (top of page)

Q: How do I treat my water?

A: The 3 common methods for treating water are boiling, using iodine tablets, and filtering. Because of occasional pipeline failures, it's a good idea to be prepared with one of these methods when hiking corridor trails. Hikers should also be prepared to let high sediment loads from the Colorado River settle out overnight during spring floods.

Q: How much food should I take?

A: Lots. The dietary needs of a Grand Canyon hiker are similar to those of a runner in a marathon. A hiker can burn more than a thousand calories per hour. Eating snacks and meals is one of the easiest ways to make your trip safer and more enjoyable. Hikers should carry and consume high-energy snacks at every opportunity to give them a chance at staying out of the deficit. It is important that they eat foods that have worked well for them in the past rather than trying to experiment with new foods that offer the right nutrition, but won't be eaten because they are not appetizing. Nutritional supplements work great and may even be necessary, but they are designed as a supplement to the hikers existing diet. While on the topic of food, backpackers are entering a wild area that comes complete with wild birds and rodents that survive using opportunistic instincts. Opportunity lies in tents, backpacks and pockets, all of which are easy to chew through. The easiest way to minimize negative contacts with these animals is to keep a clean campsite, stow food in rodent proof containers, and encourage other campers to do the same.

Safety Questions

Q: What should I tell family/friends/employer about my trip?

A: Your hiking itinerary (include name of the trip leader/ permit holder if not you), your rim destination after the hike, and the date of your return home. If you indicate you'll contact them once you're out of the canyon, BE SURE YOU DO SO! You are accountable for costs associated with search and rescue efforts on your behalf, and while the National Park Service has your life and safety as its highest priority, it is irresponsible to initiate such efforts frivolously.

Q: Is there someone I can check in and out with just to be safe?

A: There is no formal check in or check out service we provide to the public. We encourage hikers to notify a friend or family member of their hiking itinerary including the name of the trip leader, destination after the hike, and the date of their scheduled return home. A call to a friend or family member at the conclusion of a hike seems to work adequately. If a hiker is reported missing, they are accountable for all costs associated with search and rescue efforts on their behalf. While the National Park Service holds their life and safety as its highest priority, it is irresponsible to initiate a search frivolously.

Q: In case of emergency, how do I contact a ranger?

A: Ranger stations are located at Indian Garden , Bright Angel , and Cottonwood (Cottonwood is staffed only in the summer season). There are emergency phones at the ranger stations and along Corridor trails at the Bright Angel Trail rest houses, the junction of the South Kaibab and Tonto trails, and at Roaring Springs on the North Kaibab Trail . These phones are connected to the park's 24-hour dispatch center and do not require coins. There may be times when these phones do not function. Trip leaders should be prepared to send a member of their group up or down the trail to request emergency assistance. It is recommended to send two people for help in case of injury of those seeking help. Fatigue is seldom considered an emergency. (top of page)

Q: If I get into trouble and need to be rescued, who pays expenses for my rescue?

A: You will be charged for rescue expenses.

Q: Is there an emergency phone number I can leave with a contact back home?

A: 928-638-2477. Tell your contact person your hiking itinerary (including name of trip leader/permit holder if not you), your rim destination after the hike, and the date of your return home. If you indicate you'll contact them once you're out of the canyon, BE SURE YOU DO SO! You are accountable for costs associated with the search and rescue efforts on your behalf, and while the National Park Service has your life and safety as its highest priority, it is irresponsible to initiate such efforts frivolously. Q: Should I be concerned about snakes and scorpions?

A: The canyon is home to a variety of snakes and scorpions, some of which are poisonous. Visitors should always be aware of where they place their hands and feet. Snakebites are rare, occurring almost exclusively to people attempting to handle snakes. Attempting to approach any wildlife can be dangerous. If bitten, a visitor should contact a Ranger by signaling or sending someone for help. Although snakes often do not inject venom when they bite, any animal bite should be examined by a physician and monitored for signs of infection. Scorpions are common in the canyon though they are rarely seen. While scorpion stings are painful, they rarely cause serious health problems. The elderly and very young children are most susceptible to their venom. When stung, a victim should apply cool compresses to the sting site for pain relief and try to recognize any harmful symptoms. It is rare for an evacuation to be necessary outside of cases involving severe allergic reactions. Scorpions are small and their tan color makes them difficult to see. Visitors can best avoid them by shaking out their boots and clothing before dressing. It is also good practice to wear shoes in camp and to check sleeping bags before entering them.

Permit Questions

Q: What should we do if we can't get a permit?

A : The day hiking recommendations in The Guide should be emphasized since hiking the canyon is a challenge they are ready to try.

Q: Can I get a discount if I hike at Grand Canyon a lot?

A: A visitor who purchases a $25.00 Frequent Hiker Membership will not have to pay the $10.00 permit processing fee for one year after the membership was purchased. The membership is cost effective if the visitor buys three or more permits a year. Hikers with this membership have no special advantages aside from discounted fees. Hikers can join the Frequent Hiker Membership by checking the box on the payment section of the permit request form.

Q: Can I deviate from my permit itinerary?

A: No. Hikers are required to follow the itinerary printed on their backcountry permit. The use areas and campsites give us an indication of where a group can most likely be found in the event they are reported overdue. The permit system has been designed to give visitors the best experience possible while protecting the resource from the damaging effects of overuse.(top of page) Q: Can I get a refund for my backcountry permit?

A : No. Backcountry permits are non-refundable. The intent of this policy is to deter people from buying permits that they are not going to use. Competition for permits can be fierce. We want space that is not going to be used to be available for other visitors. Hiker Credit is available for permits cancelled at least three days in advance, minus a $10 cancellation fee. Hiker Credit can be used to purchase backcountry permits at Grand Canyon National Park and is good for one year. You can notify us of cancellations in person, by mail, or by fax. However before Hiker Credit can be issued we need the physical copy of the permit returned to us in person or by mail.

Q: Are there penalties for backpacking without a permit?

A: Yes. Regulations regarding backcountry use are enforced by park rangers. Violations may result in fines and/or court appearances. Review all regulations listed on your permit and feel free to ask a ranger for clarification, if needed, before beginning your trip. Each individual hiker on your trip is as accountable as the trip leader for abiding by rules and regulations.(top of page) Hikers using other trailheads should use the suggested parking instructions on the route description sheets. Off-road travel is prohibited, and drivers should not block another vehicle, or otherwise obstruct traffic when they park. Valuables should be secured out of sight and glove compartments can be left open for inspection to deter thieves. The Bright Angel Lodge offers a storage service for valuables if space is available.

Q: Why can't a large group split into two small groups?

A : Large groups tend to cause a disproportionately higher amount of damage to the canyon. Large groups also tend to adversely impact other visitors seeking solitude. For these reasons we have a cap on the number of large groups per night in any given area. We also limit the number of people in a large group. The largest large group we can accommodate in any camping area is 11 people. We believe the majority of people visiting the canyon's backcountry are seeking a quality 'wilderness' experience. Solitude is often a big part of this experience. When a large group splits into two smaller groups and camps in the same area on the same night, they are in effect circumventing the large group limits we have put in place to help protect the canyon and provide for a quality experience of other visitors. We know a large group split into two smaller groups, camping in the same area on the same night, still typically acts like one large group. In addition, Social trailing between campsites is often an issue. Also, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the world's premiere backpacking destinations. Competition for permits can be fierce. A large group split into multiple smaller groups can effectively 'monopolize' campsite space. We want all backcountry permit requests to treated fairly and equally.

Other Questions

Q: What do I do with my trash?

A: Hikers are required to carry out all trash to the rim. Litter left in camp will be scattered by wildlife that may die from eating the synthetic materials food items are kept in. Hikers are required to carry out all toilet paper and hygiene products in areas that do not have toilet facilities.

Q: Will my cell phone work in the canyon?

A: A few hikers have been able to call South Rim numbers from the Tonto Platform, though cell phone service throughout much of Northern Arizona is difficult to maintain. It is nearly impossible to get and keep a signal at Grand Canyon, Marble Canyon, Arizona Strip and area Tribal Lands. Satellite phones are being tested with some success in places outside of the narrowest portions of the canyon where the necessary three satellites can't be hit simultaneously.

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