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Ask Me: Which Dayhike or Two-Day Backpacking Trip Should Our Family Take in the Grand Canyon?

Ask Me: Which Dayhike or Two-Day Backpacking Trip Should Our Family Take in the Grand Canyon?

Michael,

What’s your recommendation from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim for a medium dayhike? We’re going to the Grand Canyon over spring break in the last week of March, four of us. We will get there Saturday and have Sunday, Monday morning. Might look into Sunday night backpacking permit cancellations. We have a camping spot for dayhiking at this point.

Lauren
Boise, ID

Hi Lauren,

That’s a great time to be there, though there will be ice and snow at the South Rim. Sometimes there’s such a prominent trough beaten into the snow on the upper South Kaibab that it’s safe to hike without microspikes.

If you’ve never hiked the South Kaibab Trail (lead photo at top of story), definitely do it. It goes down to the river (7 miles and 4,800 feet one way), but you can go down as far as you want and turn back up. It’s scenic every step of the way and very popular. There’s no parking at the trailhead, you have to catch the park shuttle bus from the village. Catch the first bus and you’ll get ahead of the crowds and see the canyon in early-morning light.

My second choice would be the Grandview Trail down to Horseshoe Mesa (three miles and 2,500 feet one way) and back up. Also gorgeous, but steeper and a bit exposed in spots, so far fewer people. It can have ice until mid-April, so microspikes are a must then.

If you’re up for a stunning dayhike of 13.8 miles with nearly 4,000 vertical feet of descent, followed by an ascent back out of the canyon of nearly as much vertical, take the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead, descend the South Kaibab to the Tonto Trail, follow the Tonto to the Bright Angel Trail, and ascend it back to the rim. Fantastic day trip, killer views all the way.

 

My daughter, Alex, backpacking up the Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon.

My daughter, Alex, backpacking up the Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon.

If you’re going to try for a backcountry permit, show up at the backcountry office at least an hour before it opens in the morning, you may get lucky, but it generally requires showing up two or three mornings to finally get a spot. The most popular sites may be impossible to grab, but a couple suggestions that might open up:

1. Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest down to the first camp you can reach, Hermit Creek. We backpacked four days from there over to Bright Angel Trail years ago, but you could overnight it and come back up the same trail, or spend two nights and dayhike to the river.

2. Grandview Trail (you must have spikes) to Horseshoe Mesa or Cottonwood Creek, and come back up or take an extra day and hike around the mesa.

Have fun.

Michael

In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I have read that a good circuit walk is the Hermit, Tonto, Bright Angle, Kaibab, Escalante and Tanner trails, over a week. What are your thoughts on this?

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      Hi Daniel, you’re really describing two different point-to-point hikes. Visit the park website and you can see trail descriptions and mileages. I’ve backpacked Hermit Trail to Tonto and Bright Angel over four days. Tanner Trail to Escalante, Tonto, and South Kaibab would be more than a week, depending on how many miles a day you hike, of course.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    I visited Grand Canyon for the first time last month, and it was a truly wonderful experience. We were blessed with abnormally warm weather for early February, so my group and I were able to do an overnight trek into the Canyon during the weekend that separated our two weeks of training at the Albright Training Center. Bright Angel is one of the more popular trails, I know, but I think our timing was such that it really did not seem that crowded, and we were able to really experience the Canyon. Three of us hiked to Indian Garden Campground, dropped our gear, and then continued to the river. We hung out at the river for about 40 minutes before returning and camping at Indian Garden. We climbed the 4.5 miles back to the rim the next morning. It was just enough to get a taste of what the inner Canyon has to offer, and I long to return and spend 5-7 days beneath the rim. What an adventure.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Jonathan, sounds like you had an enviable experience. It’s not usually easy to even get a permit to camp at Indian Garden. Now you can plan your next visit there! Check out the other stories at this site about the Grand Canyon. Thanks for sharing that story.

      Reply

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