Plan to Hike the Grand Canyon? Here are a Few Tips to Help Keep You Safe

The Grand Canyon welcomes 5 million visitors each year

Wednesday, July 15 2009 16:58   Tips & Guides
About 5 million visitors each year go see the wonders of Grand Canyon National Park, and many take the time to do some form of hiking.

Whether you're planning a day hike, or something more ambitious such as overnight hiking, the National Park Services encourages visitors to do some planning even before your feet touch the ground, and once you get started, use some common sense guidelines.

And if you're just going to be walking around Grand Canyon Village, some of the following tips can make your visit more enjoyable.

With thanks to the National Park Service, and the many rangers at Grand Canyon who are there to help you, we provide you with the following hiking tips.

First, Plan Ahead

The difference between a great hike or a trip to the hospital can be up to you.

Your descent marks your entry into a world in which planning and preparation, self-reliance, and good choices are crucial. Don't hike alone. Know what your destination will be and how to get there. Know where water is available. Get the weather forecast. Don't overestimate your capabilities. Hike intelligently. You are responsible for your own safety as well as that of everyone in your party. Stay on the trail and never shortcut switchbacks.

Be Kind to Yourself

Know your abilities, then choose an appropriate hike. You will be hiking at high elevation in hot, dry desert conditions with a steep climb out at the end of the day.

Everyone who hikes in the canyon for the first time reports that it was more difficult than they expected. Be conservative in planning your hike.

If you have asthma, diabetes, a heart condition, knee or back problems, or any other health or medical issue, limit both your exertion and your exposure to the heat.

Summer temperatures on the South Rim, at 7,000 feet, are relatively pleasant with high temperatures generally in the 80s, with temperatures typically warming to over 100 degrees at the river near Phantom Ranch at 2,400 feet.

The altitude, strenuous climbing, dehydration, and intense inner canyon heat will combine to make any medical problem worse. Stay within your training, physical limitations, and abilities.

Be a Lightweight

Remember, the less you carry, the more enjoyable the hike. Travel as light as possible.

The heaviest items in your pack should be food and water. Use hiking sticks to take stress off your legs. Wear well-fitting and broken-in hiking boots. Bring a small lightweight flashlight and a change of batteries and bulb.

Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Bring a map, compass, signal mirror or whistle, first aid kit, and water purification tablets. Keep in mind that all trash (including biodegradable) needs to be carried or packed out of the canyon.

Avoid Huffing and Puffing

If you can talk while you are walking, you are walking the perfect speed. When you huff and puff your body is not getting enough oxygen.

Walking at a pace that allows you to be able to walk and talk means that your legs and your body are getting the oxygen needed to function efficiently.

When your body generates fewer metabolic waste products, you enjoy your hike more and you feel better at the end. At times it may seem like you are walking too slow, but at an aerobic pace (sometimes even baby-sized steps when the trail is steep) your energy reserves will last longer. You will also feel much better that night and the next day.

Take a Break

Take a 10-minute break at least once every hour. A break of 10 minutes helps remove the metabolic waste products that build up in your legs while hiking.

Take a break at least every hour. Sit down and prop your legs up. Eat some food, drink some fluids, and take this time to enjoy and appreciate the fantastic views the Grand Canyon offers. These efficient breaks can recharge your batteries. In the long run, breaks will not slow you down.

No Food, No Fuel, No Fun

Drink frequently and eat often. Eat and drink more than you normally do.

Eat before, during, and after your hike. Eat before you are hungry. Drink before you are thirsty. No matter what the temperature, you need water and energy to keep going. For every hour hiking in the canyon, you should drink one half to one quart of water or sports drink.

Keeping yourself cool and hiking the canyon takes a large amount of energy (food). Salty snacks and water or sports drinks should be consumed on any hike lasting longer than 30 minutes.

Food is your body's primary source of fuel and salts (electrolytes) while hiking in the canyon. You need to eat about twice as much as you normally would to meet your energy and electrolyte needs while hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Your best defense against illness and exhaustion is to eat a healthy breakfast, a full lunch, a snack every time you take a drink, and a rewarding full dinner at the end of the day. This is not a time to diet.

Watch Your Time

Coming back up is hard. Plan on taking twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down.

Allow one-third of your time to descend and two-thirds of your time to ascend. As a courtesy, give uphill hikers the right of way. Bring a small, lightweight flashlight in case you end up hiking in the dark.

Mules and Hikers

Always remember that mules have the right of way. Several recent encounters between hikers and mules resulted in injuries to packers and the death of some mules.

To ensure safety for yourself, other trail users, and mule riders, when encountering mules on the trails: Step off the trail on the uphill side away from the edge.

Also, follow the direction of the mule wrangler. Remain completely quiet and stand perfectly still. Do not return to the trail until the last mule is 50 feet past your position.

A Few Final Words

Hiking in the Grand Canyon is so demanding that even people in excellent condition often emerge sore and fatigued. Yet, small children, senior citizens, and people with physical disabilities all have successfully hiked the canyon.

Mental attitude and adequate water and food consumption are absolutely essential to the success of any Grand Canyon hike, particularly in summer. The day hiker and the overnight backpacker must be equally prepared for the lack of water, extreme heat and cold, and isolation characteristic of the Grand Canyon.

Be sure to check the Grand Canyon's Web site for information on trail updates, closures and restrictions. Visit for news.

Also, the Backcountry Information Center staff answer telephone inquiries at (928) 638-7875 between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time) Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays. This telephone number is for information only, however.


Related Articles