Grand Canyon Backpacking 2014

Did I mention that the Emerald Coast Bikepacking Tour (of 2013) actually started out as a Grand Canyon Hike? Yep. That was the original plan, but we failed to secure the backcountry permits from the National Park Service. You see, Smoky The Bear only allows so many human animals on his trails at any one time and the permitting process is the gauntlet to thin that dangerous herd. So, since a GC hike was already on the bucket list, we had no choice but to re-enter the lottery this year for a chance to walk our own National Park. And win, we did.

We’ve actually been working on this for about one month now and, for nerds like us, that means almost every detail is planned, scripted, measured, weighed, and analyzed. Never fear, though, we’ll continue to find ever more details to research, discuss and decide. But the big decisions have been made and I’m confident enough to share.

The dates of actual hiking is 15-18 May. My daughter was shocked that we’d wait so late in the year because it is a frickin’ desert and it’s going to be crazy hot. Right? Well, May 15 is the first date that the North Rim opens after closing on October 15 for the Winter. At an elevation of 8500 feet, Winter is a big deal. According to the Grand Canyon Lodge FAQs, we “can expect highs is the upper 60s and lows in the 40s” at that time of year. Whaddayaknow? (See more about the climate of the Grand Canyon here.)

Our overall itinerary follows this map (reference the red numbers on the map)…

Grand Canyon Corridor Trails Map

May 15 (morning)

We’ll be flying from Huntsville to Phoenix very early in the morning and will arrive at 7:30am. We won’t be able to fly with our camp stove fuel so one of the morning activities will be to find that. I use an alcohol stove so I can get denatured alcohol at any Wallyworld, Lowes, Home Depot, or auto parts store. Daryl will be using a stove that requires canister gas so we’ll need to find an outdoor store to source that.

We’ll then drive 2 hours to Sedona for lunch and maybe a bit of sightseeing.

May 15 (afternoon)

From Sedona, we’ll drive another 2 hours to the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor’s Center (see #4 on the map) where we will check in. (There’s a Back Country Information Center where, I think, we’ll actually have to check in.) There are several campgrounds at the South Rim so we’ll be staying at one of them for the night of the 15th.

May 16

Day 1 Route

Day 1 Route

Start: South Kaibab Trailhead
End: Bright Angel Campground
Distance: 7.0 miles
Elevation (loss): 4,780 feet

On the morning of the 16th, we’ll leave our rental at the South Rim Visitor’s Center and board the free shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead (see #1 on the map). From what I understand, the South Kaibab Trail is less traveled than the Bright Angel Trail so we’re planning to descend into the canyon via this trail for some variety (rather than leaving and returning via the same Bright Angel Trail).

After crossing the Colorado River (suspension bridge), we’ll arrive shortly at the Bright Angel Campground (see #2 on the map) where we’ll spend the night.

May 17

Day 2 Route

Day 2 Route

Start: Bright Angel Campground
End: North Rim
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation (gain): 5,761 feet

This will be our most challenging day with a 14 mile hike climbing over 5700 feet via the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim Vistor’s Center (see #3 on the map). It is the thought of this day that will fuel my training over the next 90 days. We’ll camp at the North Rim Campground on the evening of the 17th.

There is a general store at the North Rim so we’ll be able to resupply. Daryl is currently planning to carry all of his food, but I may choose to carry two days (plus one day emergency) of food and resupply just so I’m not hauling extra weight up the climb on the North Kaibab Trail.

May 18

Day 3 Route

Day 3 Route

Start: North Rim
End: Bright Angel Campground
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation (loss): 5,761 feet

After climbing the North Kaibab Trail the day before, we’ll turn right around and descend back into the canyon by the same route. In some ways, going downhill is worse so this will be no walk in the park; harder on the muscles while easier on the heart and lungs. We’ll camp in the Bright Angel Campground for the second time on the night of the 18th.

May 19 (morning)

Day 4 Route

Day 4 Route

Start: Bright Angel Campground
End: South Rim Vistor’s Center
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation (gain): 4,380

On our final day of hiking, we’ll return to the South Rim Visitor’s Center via the Bright Angel Trail with 9.5 miles of hiking and 4,380 feet of climbing. That’s quite a hike in itself, but after the previous two days, it looks to be very challenging.

May 19 (evening)

We hope to be off the trail by 5:00 pm. From there, we’ll drive 2 hours back to Sedona and camp in one of the nearby campgrounds just to cut down on the drive time to Phoenix the next day.

May 20

We have a 1:14 pm flight time from Phoenix so the day shouldn’t be too rushed. We’ll have to pack all our gear very well so we can check it in as luggage. From Phoenix, we’ll fly back home (via Atlanta, of course) to arrive by about 10:00 pm.


In summary, we have over 44 miles of backpacking over 4 days with over 10,000 feet of ascent and over 10,000 feet of descent. This is going to be a tough physical challenge for which we’re going to have to train. I think the aerobic conditioning of cycling will serve me well so I’ll be hitting the bike hard once the weather improves a bit. But the muscles used in cycling are not the same as those used in hiking so there will be no substitute except to get out and hike. We’ve issued a hiking challenge in our department at work to complete 8 training hikes in the area. But none of the local trails have the elevation change we’ll get so a training hike in the Smoky Mountains mid-to-late April will be required.

That’s the overall plan and the end of this post. I’ll put up my packing list and meal plan in future posts. Stay tuned and buckled in because this promises to be an exciting ride.

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