Side Hiking in Grand Canyon
Hiking side canyons is one of the best perks of rafting Grand Canyon. Amongst the desert landscapes are magical grottos, waterfalls, ferns and monkey flowers and views that few get to see. I have been a rafting guide on the Colordao River for 15 years. I love to hike and share the variety of side hikes that Grand Canyon has to offer. Here are five answers to commonly asked questing that will help you prepare for the best explorations possible.
How Difficult is the Hiking?
The answer will depend on your level of fitness, the weather, time of day and your own personal definition of “difficult”. Your guides will often reference previous hikes to help you gauge the difficulty/type of hike before you, However, you have to get that first one under your belt.
Luckily, the majority of side hikes on your Grand Canyon rafting trip will follow the same trail both directions. So you do not have to complete the hike to have a great experience. If you want additional support, I recommend hiking at the front of the group behind the hike leader.
I once had a guest who approached me after a hike and was very upset with me. This particular hike has some exposed ledges we had to cross that we had discussed in advance. She allowed herself to get caught up in the peer pressure and continued the hike even though she was terrified.
Pro tip: Know your boundaries and communicate with your guides!
It’s up to you to know when to push yourself. Your guides do not know your fitness level, your fears or your medical history so do not hand over your power to your guide. Know your limits, know when to ask for help and know when to turn back.
What are the Side Canyon HIkes Like?
Hikes can differ dramatically on your rafting trip. There are hundreds of side canyons to stop at during a river trip and which ones you visit will depend on the length and pacing of your trip.
Here are two different hike descriptions so you can get a feel for yourself how different each hike in the canyon can be:
Nankoweap Graneries Hike
This is possibly one of the most grueling side hikes Grand Canyon has to offer. This is a dry hike, meaning you will not cross any streams or have a water feature waiting for you at the end.
You will gain elevation quickly to see stunning views of the sheer Redwall Limestone and the river carving through the canyon. The hike gradually gets steeper as you traverse back and forth on the switchbacks and can feel quite vertical. The summit brings you to sandstone ledges where the ancient people of the Grand Canyon would store their grain and seeds in granaries.
It is possible to walk right next to these walls but they are extremely fragile and cannot be touched. Although the hike is a challenge, the views and archeology are a tremendous payoff. Round trip you will be hiking for approximately 2-2.5 hours.
You will want your supportive water shoes as you will be hiking through water. After a short walk across a boulder field you will find yourself in a very narrow canyon with vertical black slabs of Vishnu Schist towering above you.
This majestic 1.875 billion-year-old basement rock has been carved by this creek and the walls are polished and smooth. A five-minute walk (with a little wading) will get you to the small pool and waterfall in the back. This is not the best hike for your fancy Cannon or Nikon as the rocks can be slippery and you don’t want to chance a broken camera. This hike is approximately 10 minutes one way.
What Do I Need to Take on the Side Hikes?
I recommend a small backpack so you can be prepared for any length hike. Some outfitters will do longer hikes or pack along lunches.
Packs ensure hands free hiking and you will be able to have all the necessities like water (1-3 quarts), sunscreen, snacks and a camera. I recommend at least 1 quart of water and pre-hydrating by drinking at least a ½ quart before you even start hiking.
If you would like added stability, these hiking poles are the best and offer added support on the uneven terrain. Sarongs and/or buffs offer added sun protection and when wet will cool you down. Gloves can offer sun protection as well as protection from hot rocks on some hikes.
Guides will typically carry a minor hiking first-aid kit if you need any items while hiking. If you want to create your own include band-aids, first-aid ointment, tape (waterproof and duct), tweezers and a couple gauze pads.
How Can I Prepare for the Hiking in Grand Canyon?
To take full advantage of the opportunity to hike in Grand Canyon I highly recommend getting in physical shape before your trip.
The best training for side canyon hikes are steep elevation gains or declines. Getting outdoors and hitting the trails in your area will be the best option to get used to hiking on uneven ground.
If you are in a city and go to a gym, check out the Stairmaster or play with the treadmill working between inclines of 12-15% and declines at 3%. Do this training in the shoes you plan to wear the most on your trip.
We recommend a shoe with good support but that can also get wet as many side hikes require you to cross a stream. If you can break in these shoes in a similar environment, you will have a better idea of what your limitations are and will feel more comfortable on your river trip.
Check out our gear page for our recommended shoes.
What If I Don’t Want to Hike?
No problem. Let your guides know and they can set you up with some snacks/drinks and you can enjoy some alone time by the river. This is a great time to catch up on reading, fishing or napping.
Hiking Havasu Canyon and Falls
One of the most sought-after hikes in Grand Canyon is Havasu Falls. The actual Falls is approximately 8 miles one way from the river and the Havasupai Tribe do not allow river trips to hike up farther than 3 miles. A day stop at this canyon will provide some beautiful small waterfalls and turquoise blue waters.
Everyone wants to stop at this gem and outfitters do their best to make this happen. Factors such as flash flooding and boat parking can be significant safety issues and your boatman will prioritize safety in their decision. Know that if you do not stop here, there is another beautiful canyon to hike a few miles further downstream.
How to Enjoy the Hikes!
Be sure to listen to your guides description of the hike. Know your limits. Wear shoes you are comfortable in and always bring water and a camera. Following these recommendations will help you make the most of hiking in Grand Canyon.
If you have any questions give us a call – we’re here to guide you through! (928) 526-4575.