I recently just came home from a backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon. It was amazing and I think that everyone should go experience it. The pictures I took, don’t even do it justice. It’s one of those places you can only really experience it, by actually going there and seeing it with your own eyes.
With that said, I am going to write some pieces about our adventure and how we made this dream a reality. Hopefully this information will help you to make this ultimate backpacking trip a reality of yours as well.
This was my first time ever hiking the Canyon and at times we weren’t sure how to prepare or what to expect. I could write one big article about everything, but I think that would be too overwhelming. Instead I’m going to break it down into the separate steps we took to make it happen.
Alright, so the first few steps you need to take…is to plan out your adventure and then apply for a permit.
Planning Your Grand Canyon Adventure
Before you can apply for your permit you will need to know which trails you want to take, which campground you want to stay at, the dates of your trip and the amount of people who will be with you.
When looking at the Grand Canyon trails from a map, it can be a little overwhelming. The Grand Canyon is huge!!! We decided to take the popular trails along the South Rim, down to the Canyon. We did debate whether to do a rim to rim trip, but decided that since this was our first time we would just go on the two most popular trails and enjoy more time at the bottom of the Canyon. So, these two trails that are located along the South Rim, in the Grand Canyon Village is the South Kaibab trail and the Bright Angel Trail. These two trails are very different from each other.
This trail is just a little over 7 miles long. It is the shortest route to the bottom, which also means that it’s steep. Also, there is no water stations located along this trail. For this reason, we decided to take South Kaibab down. We personally, felt better going down the steeper trail versus going up with no additional water. This trail is very scenic and feels as if it’s taking you all over the Canyon.
The Bright Angel Trail
This hiking trail is just over 9 miles long. It is longer but that means that it is more gradual than South Kaibab. It also has numerous areas where water stations can be found. For this reason, we felt it was best to do while hiking up. It’s offers amazing lookout views of the Canyon and will run through some creeks and you may even get to see a waterfall or two, if you’re lucky!
So, we knew these were the trails and the directions we wanted to take them. The South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up.
There are three main campgrounds located within the Canyon. When you apply for your permit, you are also going to be telling them which campground you want. For our trip, we decided that the Bright Angel Campground would be the best. It is located just past the bottom on the other side of the Colorado River. Since we were planning on just relaxing and doing some exploring, this seemed like the perfect place to camp!
There is also Indian Gardens, that is located half way up the Bright Angel Trail. This would be a good spot for those camping back up or for those who are not planning on going all the way down to the bottom. The third campground is Cottonwood, which is located along the Northern portion. There are some other options as well…
Phantom Ranch is located very close to the Bright Angel Campground. This area has cabins and dorms that people can stay in, and you can even purchase food and beer here. There are also areas within the Canyon that are not labeled as campgrounds, but you are able to set up camp. At this moment, I’m not sure where all those areas are located or how to go about obtaining a permit. But I do know it’s another option.
On the permit application you need to put in the dates that you want to do this. So, you have to apply for the permit, four months in advance. If you’re applying in November, then the dates you would be looking at would be sometime in March. So, think about the time of year that you want to go and then apply for the permit four months before that.
The busiest months for the Grand Canyon is in April and October, due to the wildflowers and perfect temperatures. Summer is going to be hot. It’s always warmer in the Canyon, so in the summer temperate can reach up to 120 degrees. During winter it is likely that their will be snow and ice among the upper portion of the canyon, but again it will be warmer in the actual canyon.
We went in March and it was in the 30s at night at the rim and in about the 50s in the Canyon. For staying inside the Canyon, I thought it was a good temperature.
Amount of Hikers
So, this could be one of the most important decisions you make that will either make or break your Grand Canyon backpacking experience. Are you going to have a fun time with the people that you are hiking down with? You don’t want to share this experience with someone who you may find annoying after a few days or someone who complains a lot, and so on. This trip is going to be magical, so make sure you’re with positive people who will enjoy it.
So, think about these things first and do some research before just applying for the permit.
Once you feel confident in your decisions, fill out this permit application request. You will want to submit it on the first of the month (again, you’re applying four months in advance). So, if you want to go in March, then you will be submitting this application on November 1st. Or you can submit it 10 days before the 1st, but the application will still be picked out by random. It’s not a first come first serve operation.
The only way to submit this application is my mail or fax. So, while this does seem like an ancient process…that’s how it works. You will not be charged money for the application but once you are accepted the permit will cost $10, plus $8 a night for every person.
It only took us two tries to obtain the permit. So, hopefully you have good luck with it as well! We first tried to apply for October but were denied. We tried again for a March date and we got it!
So, that’s the one big first step that you have to take. Figure out the plan and then apply! And if you get denied, just keep trying. It’ll be worth it!