The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, I was terrified of hiking into it. Mainly due to being horrendously unfit, and a real lack of hiking experience.
Even the word ‘hiking’ scared me – could I just take a nice leisurely walk instead, please?
I was afraid I’d get stuck at the bottom and need a $3k helicopter rescue, afraid I’d hold the enthusiastic group of keen hikers I was with back. Surprisingly, not so much afraid I’d fall INTO the Canyon, mind you.
On my second visit, not quite as unfit with a little more hiking experience under my belt, I decided I needed to do it. I was still a little nervous about not being able to get back up again, but I sure as hell went for it. And y’know what? It was AWESOME. And, much easier than I’d got my head all worked up about.
If you’re an inexperienced or beginner hiker, but want to enjoy the views and experience you’ll get hiking down into the Grand Canyon, read on…
South Kaibab Trail – Ooh Ahh Point
This was the original trail I chickened out of, which made me more determined to do it second time around.
The whole South Kaibab trail goes down through Skeleton Point to Phantom Ranch, a 7 mile trail that isn’t advised as a day hike. However, there are points down the trail that are more achievable to reach for an inexperienced hiker.
We hiked just under a mile down to Ooh Ahh Point, a great vantage spot that allows you to look out over the Canyon with limited walking effort. And the views are something special. We decided to turn around after reaching the Point, but if you’re up for a slightly further adventure, you could also hike a half mile further to Cedar Ridge.
Surprisingly, I didn’t struggle too much with the uphill return. To begin with, my legs felt a bit weird, but that was probably due to a change in muscle use going from downhill to upwards walking. Once I’d got into my stride, though, it didn’t feel too tough. And a whole load of endorphins hit when I reached the top, leaving me feeling pretty epic for the rest of the morning.
Bright Angel Trail
Probably the best-known of the Grand Canyon’s hiking trails, and the most-travelled.
The Bright Angel Trail is 8 miles in total, down to the Colorado River – but for inexperienced hikers, there are some great trail stops further up.
If you just want to test the waters with a short, half hour walk, the first tunnel is easy to get to, and provides a pretty cool photo op. A little afterwards, the trail starts getting steeper, and goes down some switchbacks to the 1.5 mile resthouse, where there are water points and toilets available. It’s a great turnaround point for casual hikers, while still experiencing a good length of trail.
The Grand Canyon Rim Trail
If you’re not comfortable walking down into the Canyon, that’s cool. You can still take advantage of your location by taking a relaxed stroll around the Rim Trail.
The whole Rim Trail is 13 miles long, from the South Kaibab trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. But if you don’t fancy walking it all, you can get the free shuttle bus and do just a section.
Tips For Your First Time Hiking The Grand Canyon
- Allow twice the time to come back up: Unlike a lot of hikes, at the Grand Canyon, you go down first, rather than up. So allow extra time for the ascension at a slower pace, in case you need to stop and catch your breath.
- Plan your hike: Work out the maximum distance you’ll realistically be able to do, the time it’ll take to do it, and stick to it.
- Go early: To avoid the busiest times and the hottest heat.
- Take plenty of water: Some of the trail points will have water stops, but not all. The visitor centre has a great guide to the trails, and how much water you’ll need for them.
- Carry food/snacks: Energy bars are a great mid-hike snack.
- Wear decent shoes: For shorter trails, a pair of sturdy trainers will suffice; although hiking boots can be an advantage on the rocky paths of the South Kaibab Trail.
- Always hike with someone else: Ideally someone who knows if you lack experience, and will be happy to go at your pace.
- Be aware of the temperature: As you make your way into the Canyon, it gets hotter. Make sure you’re prepared at the top, by wearing thin layers you can remove as you go down.
- Wear sun cream: And carry it with you on the hike, especially for the sections of trail where you’re completely exposed. Also useful – a cap and sunglasses.