5 Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips for an EPIC Adventure

Ah the Grand Canyon! One of the seven natural wonders of the world and an absolute must-see for any outdoorsy person. The Grand Canyon is a gem of the National Parks and one of the top visited out of all 63. It’s huge, it’s gorgeous, and it’s HOT! And so worth it to strap on those hiking boots and get into the canyon on a backpacking trip.

In this post, we’re dishing out the goods on epic Grand Canyon hikes and backpacking routes along with some tips for what gear you’ll need to bring with you.

5 Epic Grand Canyon Backpacking Trips

The size of the state of Rhode Island, it’s hard to grasp just how grand this entire canyon truly is. The best way to really experience the vastness and incredible views of the canyon itself is to pull off the scenic roadways above and start hiking below.

While you can definitely experience Grand Canyon National Park through day hiking, a Grand Canyon backpacking trip is the ultimate way to take in the total splendor of the canyon and all its sweeping views. Here are five fabulous Grand Canyon trails for the perfect backcountry adventure for Grand Canyon hikers.  

1. Hermit Trail

**Google Maps is not always correct about hiking time or distance especially taking in elevation gain/loss, temperatures, and how much weight you’re carrying. Always plan out your exact trail on an accurate topographic map!

Difficulty level: Moderate
Distance: 17.5 miles
Suggested # of days: 2
Top highlight: Breezy Point

 This threshold trail is one of the six “rim to river” routes along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trail begins with a steep drop into the canyon along with several switchbacks. Places like Breezy Point or Lookout Point offer spectacular panoramic views of the inner canyon gorge (these are also nice turn around points for day hikers). 

Hermit Creek flows through lots of narrow sections of the trail, with small pools and waterfalls, making for nice variety and beauty along the trail. Many people stay in the Hermit Creek Campground, which is about 1.5 miles from the Colorado River. 

2. Bright Angel Trail 

**Google Maps is not always correct about hiking time or distance especially taking in elevation gain/loss, temperatures, and how much weight you’re carrying. Always plan out your exact trail on an accurate topographic map!

Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult
Distance: 15.3 miles
Suggested # of days: 2 – 4
Top highlight: Plateau Point

One of the more popular hikes into the Grand Canyon, the Bright Angel trail provides stunning views and is a must for a first-time visitor to the park. The trail is well maintained — it’s one of two fully maintained routes into the canyon from the South Rim. This steep trail will be a worthwhile challenge!

The scenes around Bright Angel trail are some of the best of Grand Canyon backcountry, with layers of cliffs surrounding you as you descend. The Havasupai people used this trail for thousands of years and now it has become one of the more iconic ways to travel below the rim. With natural small tunnels amongst snaking switchbacks, it isn’t hard to see why this trail is so popular.

Start at the Bright Angel trailhead. You can choose to take it easy and spend the first night at Indian Garden Campground or go all the way to the canyon base in one day (though keep in mind it’s a gnarly ~7.6 miles). Once at the base, you can continue on to stay at Phantom Ranch in luxury at the Bright Angel Lodge or stay overnight at the Bright Angel Campground right next to (you guessed it) Bright Angel Creek. This trail is shared by the mules who take gear and supplies up and back from the ranch, so you’ll more than likely see a few trotting along the trail.

3. South Kaibab Trail (Stand alone or connecting to North Kaibab Trail)

**Google Maps is not always correct about hiking time or distance especially taking in elevation gain/loss, temperatures, and how much weight you’re carrying. Always plan out your exact trail on an accurate topographic map!

Difficulty level: Difficult
Distance: up to 24 miles
Suggested # of days: 2-3
Top highlight: Ooh Ahh Point & Phantom Ranch

 A true Grand Canyon backcountry trip may not be complete without touching the South Kaibab Trail. It’s the only true ridgeline descent trail in the park, and the journey itself can take backpackers from the North Rim to South Rim or vice versa. 

A South rim to rim hike is usually preferred for this trek, as a Hiker’s Express Shuttle Bus service saves extra miles to and from the trailheads. With 7260’ elevation gain, this is a strenuous hike and is not recommended as a day hike — more as a Grand Canyon backpacking adventure. 

And with viewpoints with names like Ooh Ahh Point, you know that the scenery is going to be jaw dropping at every turn. This trail can take you to Phantom Ranch, the famed historic lodge at the base of the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River.

4. Thunder River to Deer Creek Loop

**Google Maps does show have this trail. This view is on AllTrails, but it’s not perfect.Always plan out your exact trail on an accurate topographic map!

Difficulty level: Moderate to Difficult
Distance: 25 miles
Suggested # of days: 2-3
Top highlight: Deer Creek Falls

Backpacking the Grand Canyon can sometimes be unforgiving. With the steep descents towards the canyon floor, the hot weather, and the distances, hiking here can be simultaneously brutal yet invigorating. 

The Thunder River and Deer Creek Loop is one of those tough and terrific backcountry trails. With increasingly majestic scenery the further you go, the Deer Creek Loop achieves the impossible by revealing more magic at every turn. 

This trail is home to some of the Southwest’s biggest waterfalls and glorious swimming holes. After trekking through the heat of Surprise Valley, getting in the water feels even more enchanting. The Thunder River from above is shocking at first sight, watching a massive, powerful waterfall come bursting off the cliff face.  A backcountry permit is necessary for this trial.

5. Grandview Trail to Tonto Trail Loop

**Google Maps does show have this trail. This view is on AllTrails, but it’s not perfect.Always plan out your exact trail on an accurate topographic map!

Difficulty level: Difficult
Distance: 12.5-mile
Suggested # of days: 2 days
Top highlight: Cave of the Domes

The Grandview trail is a prime example of the evolution of backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Native Americans first used this trail to gather mineral paints on Horseshoe Mesa. Later, miners developed the trail further in the 1800’s. 

Now, this trek follows that historic route to transport copper from the canyon to Horseshoe Mesa. There are wind open vistas throughout this trail that give hikers continual great views of the canyon. If you want to extend your time in the Grand Canyon backcountry, you can tack on the Escalante Route at the beginning and it becomes a multi-day thirty-three-mile end to end trek. 

Right past Horseshoe Mesa there is a spur that leads to the Cave of the Domes — the only cave in the Grand Canyon that is open to the public. There will often be brown bats flying above if you get a chance to explore into some of the front chambers. 

Gear Essentials for Backpacking in Grand Canyon National Park

grand canyon backpacking essentials

To be prepared for everything, there are a few main items you can’t leave at home when it comes to packing for Grand Canyon backcountry camping. There will be other essentials that are helpful for overnight backpacking trips, but this is a good starting point. Over time, you’ll probably develop your own collection of necessary gear for backpacking both in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Shared tent
  • Trekking poles
  • Shared cookware
  • Hiking boots
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • WATER & Water bottle/hydration device
  • Backpacking pack
  • Backcountry Permit! ALL backpacking in the Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit so be sure to sort that out before you set out. (Not into figuring out how to secure your permit? We got you – when you book a Grand Canyon backpacking trip with us, we take care of all the permit requirements.

If you’re looking to take your backpacking skills to the next level, consider attending a backpacking for beginner workshop. This virtual event will help prepare you for everything from pre-departure to breaking down camp with everything in between. If you feel a little uncertain about your backpacking experience, this is a great way to gain confidence in your abilities. 

Once you have your skillset squared away, take the next step by learning the six ways to prepare for your next backpacking adventure.

Think you’re ready to get out in the Grand Canyon? Join other badass ladies for an unforgettable Grand Canyon backpacking adventure with Explorer Chick! 

Explorer Chick Rachel

June 1st, 2021

Spent the last few days backpacking through the Grand Canyon with five amazing badass girls…we killed the Hermit trail, Tonto and Bright Angel. Made our own hot stone massages and mastered the fine art of tarpology. My body hurts but I feel so refreshed and *Bonus* found two Phoenix soul sisters!!

Meet the Writer

abbie

Abbie Synan

Abbie Synan is a freelance writer who focuses on sustainability initiatives within the tourism industry. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has been traveling full time since 2013, hopping the globe, visiting over 95 countries while exploring ways to be a more mindful global citizen. She is the sustainable travel expert for Wanderful, an international travel community, as well as the content co-lead for Impact Travel Alliance, a global organization educating and inspiring travelers.

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