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Top 5 Grand Canyon Hikes

Grand Canyon Day Hikes Let You Explore the South Rim


It’s hard to believe but the average visitor to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park only stays for a few hours. That might leave enough time to take in the view but certainly not nearly enough to experience this classic national park on a Grand Canyon hike.

The South Rim is no wilderness experience. But even during busy times, Grand Canyon hiking trails give you the opportunity to find solitude and peace.

The fact is that once you’ve walked a short distance from the Grand Canyon’s established viewpoints, the crowds thin out quickly. Even quick day hikes in the Grand Canyon will give you a chance to begin to appreciate the awesome beauty and changing moods of one of the world’s most impressive natural places—a destination that everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime.

That said, there’s no way to fully experience the Grand Canyon. A mile deep and 277 miles long, it’s simply too vast. But head out on a Grand Canyon hiking trail and you can at least begin to get a sense of its scale and grandeur.

Here’s a look at top Grand Canyon day hikes, both along the South Rim and on trails that lead down into the abyss. The South Rim's elevation is nearly 7,000 feet, so weather conditions vary widely during the year. In summer, hot weather is a danger and the threat of lightning also increases. Winter can bring snow and ice, which is especially dangerous on Grand Canyon trails beneath the rim.

1. Hermit's Rest to Grand Canyon Village

Photo © Matt Jaffe, 2011

From March 1 to November 30, access to Hermit’s Rest is closed to private vehicles and limited to shuttle buses only. But you can make the shuttle bus (which operates year-round) work for you by riding it out to the landmark 1914 building designed by noted Grand Canyon architect Mary Colter and then do a one-way hike back to the village. (Or hike for as long as you want then hop back on the shuttle at one of its stops if you get tired). The 8-mile Rim Trail route is mostly level and even paved in sections. It offers views for its entire length—both from prominent overlooks and more remote locations. Highlights include the memorial to explorer John Wesley Powell and the dramatic approach into Grand Canyon Village toward the end of the hike.

2. Grand Canyon Village to Mather Point

NPS Photo by Michael Quinn

Especially in the areas of Grand Canyon Village near El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge, this is one of the more urbanized Grand Canyon hikes. But the 5-mile roundtrip along the Rim Trail to Mather Point provides a good introduction to the park’s cultural history and all sorts of panoramas too. It also offers the option of riding the shuttle back and you can take a break at the park visitor center near Mather Point and watch the 20-minute film, Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, which premiered in 2011. Beyond Mather Point, the Rim Trail continues another 1.7 miles along a less populated stretch to the views at South Kaibab Trailhead.

3. Shoshone Point Trail

Photo © Matt Jaffe, 2011
The short, 2-mile roundtrip to this overlook is the best alternative if you're looking to escape the crowds on a Grand Canyon hike and still get outstanding South Rim views. The trail is unsigned but begins just east of Mile Marker 244 on the north side of East Rim Drive (Arizona Highway 64). The area is used for group events for part of the year (it's still open to hikers) but between October 15 and May 15, you may just have it to yourself. The easy hike travels through a forest and leads to a point that is at the end of a narrow, rocky peninsula that juts into the canyon.

4. South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge

NPS Photo by Michael Quinn

To truly appreciate the Grand Canyon, you need to hike below the rim. A major reconstruction project that began in 2009 has greatly improved conditions along the South Kaibab Trail and enhanced its appeal for day hikes. The trail descends 7.5 miles and nearly 5,000 feet to the Colorado River. But day hikers will be rewarded with a taste of below-the-rim Grand Canyon hiking and terrific views simply by doing the 1.8-mile roundtrip (and 900-foot return climb) to the aptly named Ooh-Aah Point. For a slightly longer option, the hike to Cedar Point is a 3-mile roundtrip with a nearly 1,200-foot climb back to the rim.

5. Bright Angel Trail to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse

NPS Photo by Michael Quinn
A true classic among national park hikes, Bright Angel Trail is the Grand Canyon’s equivalent of a super highway. With mule trains, backpackers, and day hikers, it’s a busy, almost festive trail filled with people from all over the world. Cliffs tower over the trail, which quickly descends down a side canyon and through several layers of rock as it follows the Bright Angel Fault. Even a short hike gives you a far better sense of Grand Canyon geology than you would ever get by staying on the rim. While the verdant line of Indian Garden (a 9.2-mile roundtrip and 3,000-foot climb) and the distant trail out to Plateau Point look inviting, keep your day hike ambitions modest. Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse (water available seasonally) is a 3-mile roundtrip with a 1,000-foot return climb and is an ideal turnaround point for first-time hikers below the rim.

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