By Michael Lanza
“The best backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.”
That was what a longtime backcountry ranger I’ve interviewed in the past, who’s hiked every mile of trail in the park, told me about the 74-mile hike from the South Kaibab Trailhead to the Tanner Trailhead, including the Escalante Route and Beamer Trail. That assertion had struck me as bold and debatable when I first read those words in an email from him—given the magnificence of any Big Ditch hike. But having just completed it, I find myself inclined to agree with him. I think you’ll see why in these photos.
I recently returned from backpacking that route with two friends, and it delivered the full Grand Canyon experience: mind-blowing scenery, wonderful campsites from the Tonto Plateau to the Colorado River, and even more challenge than we expected. I make that observation from the perspective of having also done five of the canyon’s other premier backpacking trips (see links to my stories about those trips below the photo gallery), as well as having dayhiked the canyon’s most popular backpacking trails, the various combinations for hiking rim-to-rim and rim-to-river-to-rim (including dayhiking rim to rim to rim over two days most recently last October).
Note that if you’re thinking about a backpacking trip this fall—an ideal time to visit—you should be looking into a backcountry permit right now for a trip in October, because available permits for popular trails and campsites get claimed very quickly.
Do this trip right. Get my expert e-guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim
or my expert e-guide to dayhiking rim to rim.
Few places boggle the brain so tenaciously as the Grand Canyon. A twisting gorge 277 miles long and averaging about 10 miles wide and a mile deep, and one of the largest national parks at more than 1.2 million acres, its vastness overwhelms you. And yet you can never see more than a fraction of it at any moment.
As I have experienced on every GC hike going back many years to my first one, walk any significant distance here and you will observe the perspective-bending phenomenon of rock monoliths and temples thousands of feet tall expanding like a dirigible inflating until they dominate your field of view, and then shrinking as you walk away until they disappear into the larger landscape. The unforgiving heat and aridity seems ill-suited to any life, but beautiful wildflowers bloom in the open desert, and lush gardens of greenery blossom in narrow, shady side chasms with perennial streams.
In the words of John Wesley Powell: “You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.”
You may not have months free to toil through the Grand Canyon’s labyrinths, but a few days or a week can give you a pretty good sampler of the place.
I’ve helped many readers plan an unforgettable backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. Want my help with yours? Find out more here.
My gallery of photos below include all of the backpacking trips and long dayhikes (routes normally done as backpacking trips) that I’ve taken in the Grand Canyon; the first several photos are from the South Kaibab to Tanner hike. See links below the gallery to my stories about those trips at The Big Outside.
Watch for my upcoming feature story about backpacking from the South Kaibab Trailhead to the Tanner Trailhead, including the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon.
See all of my stories about Grand Canyon National Park, including:
Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.
Tell me what you think.
I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.