If you are willing to plan ahead, there is no better way to experience the Grand Canyon than camping overnight and hiking ‘Rim to Rim’ on the South Kaibab and North Kaibab Trails. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon attracts nearly 5 million visitors annually, but there are only a limited number of daily camping spots available (backcountry permit required).
• National Park Services – Backcountry Permit Request Form (PDF)
Bright Angel Campground | Cottonwood Campground | Indian Garden Campground
• Download National Park Services Trail Planner (PDF)
With my backcountry permit in-hand, I began my two day hike at the South Kaibab Trailhead, descending the steep 7.1 miles all the way to the bottom, camping at Bright Angel Campground. The next day I ascended 14 miles, following the North Kaibab Trail where the first 8.5 miles are manageable, however this cannot be said for the last 5.5 miles! Once at the top, I pitched my tent at the North Rim Campground.
Please note that if you are unsuccessful with securing a camping backcountry permit, there are various lookouts that can be reached in a day hike.
South Kaibab Trail The 7.1 mile descent to Bright Angel Campground follows a well maintained trail, with multiple switchbacks for the first 2 miles, leading to a natural ridge line that unravels all the way down to the Colorado River. An average of 1 mile in depth from top to bottom, you will experience a whole new world of elevation changes whilst hiking the Grand Canyon!
South Rim Trailhead – 7,260 feet
Bright Angel Campground – 2,480 feet
North Rim Trailhead – 8,240 feet
Lookout 1 – ‘Ooh Aah Point‘
• Just under 1 mile (1.8 miles return) hike from the trailhead
• Great hike with a spectacular view if you are short on time
• There is no water or restrooms facilities available
Lookout 2 – ‘Cedar Ridge‘
• 1.5 miles (3 miles return) from the trailhead
• Ideal hike for casual hikers and late starters
• Beautiful plateau that over-looks the canyon – great spot for lunch!
Lookout 3 – ‘Skeleton Point‘
• 3 miles (6 miles return) from the trailhead
• Catch your first glimpse of the Colorado River
• The NPS advise that you should not travel beyond this lookout on a day hike.
North Kaibab Trail
Known as the most difficult trail in the Grand Canyon, the North Rim is often overlooked with 90% of visitors not venturing outside of the South Rim. At 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and covering twice the distance, what it lacks in expansive 360 degree views it makes up for with a variety of ways from the ecology to waterfalls, bridges and its wildlife.
The North Kaibab Trail descends steeply down into the valley via a series of seemingly endless switchbacks. This top portion of the trail (down to Roaring Springs) is the most challenging part of the hike as you descend almost half of the drop in the first 5 miles.
North Rim Trailhead – 8,241 feet
Roaring Springs – 4,800 feet
Colorado River – 2,425 feet
Lookout 1 – ‘Coconino Outlook‘
• 0.7 miles (1.4 miles return)
• A short hike offering a different perspective of the canyon and a great view of Roaring Springs Canyon.
Lookout 2 – ‘Supai Tunnel‘
• 1.7 miles (3.4 miles return)
• A good day hike, experiencing an elevation change of 1,440 feet
Lookout 3 – ‘Roaring Springs‘
• 5 miles (10 miles return)
• Start early in the morning for an enjoyable and strenuous hike
NB: NPS advise that when planning a day hike, it is not recommended to go further than ‘Roaring Springs’ as it is a tough climb to the top due to the extreme elevation changes.
> Take plenty of food and high-energy snacks as once you start hiking, there are no facilities to buy extras (unless you booked in advance at Phantom Ranch).
> Take plenty of water with you as there is no water available along the trail.
> The hike is strenuous and it will take you twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down.
> Take lots of layers to accommodate for the wide range of weather conditions.
> Start early to stay in the shade and give way to mules – yes, mules!
> Phantom Ranch is the only place at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to purchase breakfast, sack lunches and a hot dinner (you do not have to be a guest at Phantom Ranch). You can pre-order online and make sure you book well in advance as there are a limited number of meals available.
Camping at the Grand Canyon National Park
If you are travelling on a budget, there are a few camping options available on the South Rim and North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Mather Campground, South Rim (elevation of 7,000 feet)
Location: Grand Canyon Village, South Rim
+ The only campground within Grand Canyon Village
+ Free shuttle available around Grand Canyon Village (stops at the campground and the Trailheads for the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails)
+ Campsites include a campfire ring with a cooking grate, picnic table and room for three tents
+ Hot showers and a lot of laundry facilities
+ Other facilities include flush toilets, group cooking facilities and pay phones.
Bright Angel Campground Grand Canyon (elevation of 2,480 feet)
Location: Bottom of the Grand Canyon, 9.9 miles from the South Rim and 14 miles from the North Rim
+ Great campground with spectacular scenery, alongside Bright Angel Creek
+ Campsite has a picnic table, pack pole, and metal food storage can
+ Facilities include a ranger station, emergency phone, pay phones, year-round potable water, and toilets
+ Snack items and meals are available at Phantom Ranch Lodge
+ A backcountry permit is required to stay here – apply for this well in advance with the National Park Service
The North Rim Campground, North Rim (elevation of 8,000 feet)
Location: North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park
+ Large campground with a wide range of facilities, including hot showers
+ Well stocked shop with free Wi-Fi
+ Free shuttle to The Grand Canyon Lodge, where you can book a sit down dinner. There is also a cheaper option available in the diner at the front of the main entrance