How Big is the Grand Canyon?
Visiting Grand Canyon can be a nearly overwhelming experience. Standing on the rim a peering out over the vastness is a legitimately humbling experience. Take it from those who have spent a lifetime here; this place is as awe-inspiring as it is mind-blowing. Simply attempting to comprehend its scale is something that most of us struggle with every time we go, no matter how many times we’ve been. Numbers are just numbers and provide no real context to the vastness to every dimension of Grand Canyon. Oftentimes our guests find it helpful to put context on these numbers, which has been done here. Keeping it simple can be slightly difficult, as even some contextual visualizations escape comprehension. For instance, did you know that the Grand Canyon has a volume of 7,345,724,462,194 Olympic-sized swimming pools?
While that’s an interesting fact (I suppose), it’s nonsensical and uninformative. How in the actual hell would you possibly be able to picture that many swimming pools? A better way to put it might be that if we filled Grand Canyon to the brim with water, the volume contained within it would be enough to flood the entire European continent 1-foot high. Hmmmmm….
Let’s Think About This for a Minute….
Stand on top of the tallest building in the United States, One World Trade Center in New York City. Realize that at the top of this tower, 1,776 feet, you are standing roughly 1/3 of the way up the height of Grand Canyon’s walls of stone. Stack two more of those babies on top and you’ve got yourself a start. Look out over the landscape from One World Trade. On a clear day you can see all of Manhattan, into New Jersey, and well out into the Atlantic Ocean. This view presents one with about 1/4 of the space you can view from Zoroaster Temple, a 5000ft mountain located INSIDE Grand Canyon.
In short, the Grand Canyon is big. By every measure, it is big. Just how big? Well, that’s all relative my Dear Watson. Perhaps the most iconic National Park in the world, Grand Canyon is statistically astounding in its size, overwhelming in its scale, and humbling in its grandeur. I’ve picked out a few of the distinctions that make it big; time, space, the river the courses through it, its status as a National Park, its human history, and its future.
Really Rad, Huge Facts About Grand Canyon
- The widest point of the Grand Canyon is 18 miles as the crow flies. This is the same length as stretching from Lower Manhattan north 7 miles into New Jersey. In contrast, Grand Canyon is just 4 miles wide at its narrowest. To put that in perspective, some of Arizona and Utah’s most famous slot canyons are just 5 feet wide, such as Spooky Gulch or the Buckskin Gulch. The best way to traverse the chasm is hiking rim-to-rim or to the river-and-back, but trust us, you still have more than a little to explore. With over 400 miles of known trails in Grand Canyon, you could hike from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the same amount of mileage.
- Grand Canyon is 277 miles long from Marble Canyon to Pearce Ferry and the Grand Wash Cliffs just east of Las Vegas. Hoover Dam is its official modern end, though that only came into existence in 1933, nearly 6 million years after the Grand Canyon began to be carved by the Colorado River! If you wanted to jump in the car and drive, 277 miles will get you from Washington, D.C to north of New York City.
- Size is measured in three dimensions, so in addition to its length and width, Grand Canyon also has depth. One mile of depth to be exact. That’s 5,280 feet, or 1,610 meters for you metrically-inclined folks. For perspective, you could stack 4 Empire State Buildings, both Petronas Towers, 3 CN Buildings, 7 Eiffel Towers, or 22 Statues of Liberty on top of each other to reach this depth. The Goat’s advice: try walking all the way up ONE of these; that should give you some appreciation.
- There are approximately 5000 individual canyons that come together to make Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is not so much one giant canyon as it is a tapestry of chiseled dissections in the earth.
- Rocks in Grand Canyon record 1.9 billion years of Earth’s history.
- The Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon is composed of some of the oldest rocks in North America. At 1.9 billion years old, the Vishnu Schist metamorphic complex are the remnants of the North American continent being formed and great mountain ranges being thrust into the sky, nearly 6,000 feet tall.
- The oldest-recorded signs of life in Grand Canyon are 500 million years old
- The canyons began to form 5-6 million years ago as the Upper and Lower Colorado Rivers became integrated after action along the San Andreas fault opened the Gulf of California
The Mighty Colorado
- At the bottom of Grand Canyon lies the river responsible for cutting it, the mighty Colorado. Though it seems like a lazy river and prime for a swim, The Goat advises against it. The average current in the Colorado River flows at over 16,000 cfs (cubic feet per second).
- This is the equivalent of being bombarded with 16,000 basketballs every second. Try swimming against that current. Some of the most challenging rapids found on the Colorado River lie within Grand Canyon, and many early pioneers were shipwrecked and marooned in the Grand, barely escaping with their lives.
- Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1964 and has tamed it somewhat, but the river is still a dangerous proposition. The trade-off with the “taming” is that that water in the Colorado River stays between a brisk 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit, drawing water from the bottom of Lake Powell. In waters of these temperatures, hypothermia can set in within 30 minutes. Not cool.
- The first peoples known to have explored Grand Canyon arrived about 12,000 years ago, after the most recent Ice Age.
- Ancestral Puebloans – ancestors of the Paiute, Hopi, Zuni, and Anasazi – arrived roughly 5,000 years ago.
- The Havasupai, descendants of the Puebloans, were first recorded in Grand Canyon roughly 800 years ago.
- Spanish Explorers, with Hopi Guides, arrived in 1540 searching for the Lost City of Gold.
- Joseph Christmas Ives, soldier and botanist, was the first known European to explore and document Grand Canyon.
- The first person of European descent to successfully navigate the Colorado River through the entirety of Grand Canyon was Major John Wesley Powell in 1869. The head of the United States Geological Survey at the time, Major Powell coined its name, referring to it as “The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River”. He is also responsible for naming several other features along the length of the Colorado, including Glen Canyon, The Flaming Gorge, and the Gates of Lodore.
Grand Canyon as a National Park
- The geographical size of Grand Canyon National Park is 1,902 square miles. The State of Rhode Island is 1,212 square miles, and the State of Delaware is 1,952 square miles. So yeah, Grand Canyon is the size of a couple of our States.
- President Benjamin Harrison designated it a forest reserve in 1893.
- Grand Canyon became America’s 17th National Park in 1919, elevating it from a National Monument designated by Theodore Roosevelt as such in 1908 using the Antiquities Act of 1906.
- The population of the State of Arizona is roughly 7 million, with roughly 6 million of those people residing in and around Phoenix. 2016 visitation to Grand Canyon topped 6 million for the first time in the Canyon’s history as a National Park.
- Grand Canyon is located entirely within the boundaries of the State of Arizona. Arizona is geographically the 6th-largest state in the Union, and was admitted on Valentine’s Day of 1912. Love it!
What does the future hold for Grand Canyon as a Natural Feature?
Grand Canyon, like most landscapes on the Colorado Plateau, is extremely dynamic. It is not done forming, and at only 5-6 million years old, perhaps has only just begun. The Colorado River must still remove between 2000-3000 feet of rock before it levels itself with its outlet at the Sea of Cortez. One final BIG fact can be found here; the amount of sediment already removed from Grand Canyon, thought to be between 12000-15000 feet (most of the rocks in the Grand Staircase once covered this area, too), would be enough to fill (get ready for it) 17 million olympic-sized swimming pools!
Perhaps now you have a better feel for just how big Grand Canyon really is. The best part, though? It’s getting bigger. With every rainstorm, with every flood, with every second the river flows, with every rockfall, every single second of every single day that the forces of erosion act upon it, Grand Canyon gets bigger. It gets wider, deeper, longer. Every single grain of dirt, clay, mud, or dust removed by wind, water, and time continues daily to shape this magnificent place.
Go impress your friends with your stupendous knowledge of Grand Canyon! Go now! If you don’t go now, the canyon will change! You don’t need to run, I suppose, you may yet have a few years. I can promise that during your lifetime, Grand Canyon will remain much the same as it does today, However, wild places require constant vigilance. The building of Glen Canyon dam forever changed the character of Grand Canyon, and so too do future projects threaten the canyon’s wilderness. Development, industrial tourism such as helicopters and jeeps, and even mining interests still today stand at the gates of Grand Canyon, waiting. Learn more about preserving Grand Canyon and other wild landscapes here.
The best way to appreciate places like Grand Canyon is to get there and explore them. Hiring a guide service or outfitter can significantly enhance your experience, as the depth of knowledge and appreciation contained within the collective of these services is astounding.
May your trails be winding and crooked, the breath in your lungs pure, the sights in your eyes unspoiled. Go!
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How Do I Win the Wave Lottery?
It is called “The Hardest Permit to Get in the USA” by Outside and Backpacker Magazines. Your chances stand at roughly 3% on any given day. People enter month after month for, in some cases, years before winning (if they ever do). No doubt that The Wave of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona is one of the most sought-after destinations in the southwest, and the BLM’s daily quota of just 20 visitors makes it a tough proposition. Is there a strategy that can be employed to increase your chances? We sent The Goat out to do a hard target investigation. This is what he found:
In order to lend ourselves the best chances, we started by pegging dates that were during the week. We decided on having an average group size (4), and picking presumably less-popular times of the year. We divided our applications between the online lottery and the in-person lottery. The in-person lottery is held daily at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. We had all four people in our “group” apply online, and sent one of our group to the in-person lottery. Our goal was to employ a “blanket” strategy to best monopolize our potential chances. We could also properly calculate what, if any, our success rate might be. Over the course of two months, we employed this strategy following these criteria, and logged our failures and successes.
The Online Lottery
The Wave’s online lottery is where this permit gets it ornery reputation. With the in-person lottery being highly inconvenient for the vast majority of applicants, this lottery is not far from playing the Powerball Jackpot and hoping to win even a modest prize. The BLM splits permits 10/10 for the online and in-person for 20 people each day, so you can imagine what your odds might be. It’s like elbowing through throngs of crazed teenage girls at an NSYNC concert circa 1997. To play this game of chance visit the BLM’s Wave Permit Page.
The In-Person Lottery
The Wave’s in-person lottery, though inconvenient for most, can give the applicant a slightly better chance. For our purposes, we camped near the BLM office and tried to be the first to the door at opening time (8:30am, 7 days a week). In-person permits are typically offered for the next day, although if permits were not filled they may issue you one for the same day.
Kanab Visitor Center in Kanab, UT 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 84741
Playing the Odds
Our success rate at the conclusion of our experiment was quite low, as expected, for the online lottery. Given the cost of the permit ($7/person if you win, with a non-refundable $5 application fee for each application), and the low chances of winning, this strategy is not so much a strategy as a commitment. We spent nearly $500 and obtained two permits for middle-of-the-week in late November, and one in early February. Our final odds of winning, given our failure vs. success rate was a paltry 10%. (20 application, 2 permits).
Though this is higher than the national average, this was our own success rate and not measured against all other applicants. We imagine that the advertised 4% success rate is perhaps even slightly higher than actual. That being said, the thrill of victory is tangible in the face of numerous defeats. Our testers literally cheered and danced when permits were issued. Worth the sacrifice!
On the flip side, the In-Person lottery yielded excellent success. Our employed strategy of having a camper near the BLM office paid off nearly 100% of the time. In fact, the only time it was not successful was when our camper slept through his alarm and ended up being buried in line. The trick to the in-person permit is this: one person may apply for one permit, regardless of group size (up to 10). For example, only three people may apply, but they may each have parties of 4 or more, meaning that only two groups would be successful, and only two people from the remaining group would be issued a permit. For fairness purposes, we gave our permits to those who were behind us. Pay it forward!
The Goat’s Conclusion
Hiking The Wave is a must for anyone interested in wild scenery, challenge, photography, and of course geology. Though winning The Wave lottery can be an adventure in and of itself, it is highly advisable to take the plunge. Persistence, perseverance, realistic expectations, and a disciplined system with a set budget will pay off eventually. If at all possible, the in-person lottery is absolutely the way to go. But, if this is not a possibility for you at all, you must bear the challenge of the online lottery, which even when employed with a strategy can be difficult to win.
How You Can Apply for Permits to The Wave
Permits to Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) and South are issued by lottery, both online and in-person as discussed. For Coyote Buttes North, the cost is $7/person on the permit, and for Coyote Buttes South the cost is $5/person. For other parts of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, as well as the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness just to the north, permits are free and supplied at the trailheads of Wire Pass, White House, and for other areas such as White Pocket. Any overnight stay requires a backcountry permit, obtained either at the trailhead or the Kanab Visitor Center. Be advised there is no overnight camping allowed in the Coyote Buttes permit area.
Permits to The Wave can be applied for four months in advance of your requested date. You have an entire month to apply, and you can apply for up to three entry dates per application. If you are successful you will be authorized for one of the days. There is a non-refundable $5 fee to apply, and you will be notified of the first of the month via e-mail whether or not your application was successful.
Let’s say you wanted to visit Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) in April. Here is the procedure you would follow.
1. Go to the Permit Page between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31.
2. Follow the directions, choosing up to three possible entry dates. If successful, you will only be authorized one date.
3. You will be notified via e-mail the first day in January whether your lottery application was successful or not.
4. After being notified, you will have 14 calendar days to pay for your permit. You can pay online with your credit card. Your e-mail notification will contain a link to a secure web page, where you can go to pay and submit the remainder of your trip information.
5. Your permit will be mailed to you four to six weeks after you have paid your fees, unless you chose the option to pick it up in Kanab, St. George, or the Paria Contact Station when you filled out your permit application.
The way the lottery works essentially nullifies any attempt to be an “early bird gets the worm” type of situation, and you have as good of a chance of winning the lottery regardless of your application date or time. Applications received in the month of April, for example, have equal chances of being selected for permits issued in August regardless of what day in April the application was received by the BLM.
Rules and Regulations
From time to time, people will ask us “can I go to The Wave without a permit?” The answer here is simply, NO. Your permit must be displayed visibly on your pack/person at all times, must account for all people in your group, be paid in full, and for the dates displayed on the permit. Violation of any of these will result in immediate ejection from Coyote Buttes, and a $1200/person fine. Multiple violations can result in lifetime bans, and even federal criminal trespassing charges. But what are the chances you’ll be caught in such a remote place? The Wave, while remote in terms of general ideal, is very popular and highly regulated.
The BLM devotes quite a bit of time and resources to The Wave for safety, environmental study, and conservation purposes. Though they are not “out to get you”, they will enforce regulations. The chances of having your hiking party interact with a BLM Ranger in the Coyote Buttes area is almost 100%. Please, please go through the permitting process. The more people that violate the regulations may result in stricter rules, less permits, and even a shutdown of the area altogether.
Safety and Transportation
Located adjacent to highway 89A near the Arizona/Utah border, The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is one of the most spectacular, wild, and unspoiled places in the American Southwest. Consequently, it is a rugged place that can be difficult to navigate. Do not even consider visiting The Wave, or any other part of Vermillion Cliffs without 4WD (AWD is NOT 4WD), several detailed maps, a compass, GPS (not in-dash), and plenty of water. If heading to White Pocket or Coyote Buttes, be prepared to drive in sand, which can be very challenging if you have not done it before. Many a truck have been lampooned in the sands of Vermillion Cliffs.
So you’ve won the lottery, great job! Now you need to get there and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to its fullest extent. A guide can be an invaluable resource in a place like this, and there a no better than the geologist/guides of Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism. We will help you plan your visit from start to finish and ensure that you see all the highlights of Vermillion Cliffs (more than just The Wave). After your epic adventure we get you back safe and sound, and guarantee an intensely special and memorable experience.
The Final Word
Everybody wants to go to The Wave and The Wave is absolutely worth the visit. It’s a right of passage for many world travelers and backcountry adventurers. However, the lottery and regulations can make it tough to see, particularly if the online lottery is your only possibility. Coyote Buttes South permits are somewhat easier permits to obtain, and still works on the calendar system, giving you the possibility of specifically choosing a date. Your chances are much higher (like 25% higher), and Coyote Buttes South has some astounding and gorgeous scenery.
White Pocket also is among the most fabulous places in the Southwest, and regarded by some as even more spectacular than The Wave and Coyote Buttes North. It only requires a day permit and has no lottery, making it highly accessible. Other areas of the Vermillion Cliffs such as Paria Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch are among the most excellent canyons in the world, with Buckskin Gulch in particular being regarded as the longest, deepest slot in the world. Whatever your choice, rest assured that just because you didn’t score that permit to The Wave you won’t be missing out on some of the best the American Southwest has to offer.
As always, the best way to experience The Wave, Coyote Buttes, White Pocket, or Wire Pass is with our geologist/guides. See you on the Trail!
May The Goat be always with you
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How long Does it Take to Walk Down the Grand Canyon
Like many of the questions about Grand Canyon, this one has several different and nuanced answers. Will you travel by foot, mule, or helicopter? How much gear might you be carrying? Are you a fit hiker, or is this your first time? Are you approaching from North Rim or South Rim? The Goat is here to break down all of these options!
Let’s begin with the most popular, and easily the most rewarding style of travel in Grand Canyon; a good old-fashioned, one foot in front of the other journey into the depths of time and space.
Some Advice before you Begin
First and foremost, the National Park Service (and The Goat) advises that nobody, under any circumstances, should attempt the hike from rim-to-river and back in one day. Attempting to hike rim-to-river and back in a day has resulted in many deaths over the years, along with countless cases of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and severe dehydration among other delightful afflictions. Before we get into the fun, fabulous parts of hiking in Grand Canyon, we must first be clear about this practice.
Inverted Mountains Are Sneaky
Grand Canyon Hikers must remember one mantra; going down is optional, coming up is mandatory. The NPS must execute hundreds of rescues each year on hikers that run into trouble. Grand Canyon is a hostile, dry, and unforgiving place that yields no mercy. Summertime temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees, there is little water on any trails, and even less shade.
Hiking in Grand Canyon is often referred to as “hiking a mountain in reverse”. That is, your descent comes first, while your ascent is how you must finish. This can fool hikers easily, as walking down is an easy, breezy, view-saturated adventure that can quickly get out of hand. Many hikers that find trouble simply started walking down the trail, suddenly realizing that they are five miles down having barely broken a sweat.
Perhaps the most potentially dangerous thing about undertaking any hike in Grand Canyon is the particular lack of water. Many hikes the world over cross numerous streams, have shade, and/or easy access to clean, potable water. This is not the case in Grand Canyon, as water sources are extremely limited. Two South Rim hikes (Tanner, South Kaibab) have no accessible water source of any kind until the Colorado River.
Other South Rim trails (Hermit, Bright Angel) have access to water along the trail, but not for at least 3.5 miles. Always carry plenty of water when hiking in Grand Canyon. The Goat recommends a minimum of 3L/person, no matter the distance of the hike.
Much like the sneakiness of the inverted mountain, things in Grand Canyon tend to appear much closer than they actually are. At times it feels as though you could literally reach out and touch the Colorado River, or even just a portion of trail beneath you. Go to Desert Watchtower on the East Rim. From the Tanner Trail, you are presented with an astonishing view of the mighty Colorado, a unique rim view in Grand Canyon. Though the river is over 9 miles away by trail, an optical illusion is presented that makes the river feel close.
This is a difficult lesson for many hikers in Grand Canyon. Our destination is just right over there! It looks so close! Believe us, it is not. Between the necessarily winding trail, the relentless sun, the lack of water, and the absence of shade, something that optically appears close becomes seemingly further away in reality. Remember that the scale presented to your senses in Grand Canyon is typically unlike anything you’ve ever experience. Those of us that have spent years in this wondrous landscape are still blown away by its size and space. In Grand Canyon, perception is often NOT reality.
Let’s Start Hiking!
At last, we can actually talk about hiking! Hiking in Grand Canyon is a magical, perhaps even spiritual experience. The colors, sights, sounds, smells, and ever-changing conditions create an intensely dramatic and memorable experience on even short hikes. As you hike though 2 billion years of Earth’s history, the Canyon reveals itself step-by-step, both physically and philosophically. In terms of trails and the time it takes to reach the bottom, here are your options:
The South Rim presents most of the park’s developed trails, has the “shortest” routes to the river at the bottom, and is by a wide margin the more popular of the two rims. There are 4 developed trails from the South Rim, and 1 trail that is undeveloped and unmaintained.
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail in Grand Canyon. It traces the path of the Bright Angel Fault, through Indian Gardens, across the Tonto bench, and down to the river in 9.6 miles. This highly trafficked corridor trail teems with other hikers and rangers aplenty, great for beginners introducing themselves to Grand Canyon hiking. Hikers can reach the river and Bright Angel Campground in between 4-5 hours.
The South Kaibab Trail is the steeper counterpart of the Bright Angel Trail, and plunges to the river in an abrupt 6.4 miles. Holding the distinction as the only trail in the park developed completely by the NPS, it is a more direct route to the river for those looking for speed. Connecting South Kaibab to Bright Angel via the Tonto Trail is a classic backpacking trip that many first-timers find welcoming. Hiking to the river along the South Kaibab Trail typically takes between 3-4 hours.
The Hermit Trail follows a route forged by Canyon pioneer Louis Boucher, also known as “the Hermit of Grand Canyon”. Mr. Boucher led a reclusive life at the bottom of the Canyon for roughly 20 years, guiding tourists, mining, and homesteading. His pioneer route was improved by the Santa Fe Railroad company in the early 1900s, and today presents an excellent alternative to the more crowded corridor trails. The Hermit Trail descends 8.9 miles to the river, and will take the average hiker between 4-5 hours to reach the bottom.
The Tanner Trail is perhaps the most exciting and more challenging of developed routes from the South Rim. The trail presents sweeping views across eastern Grand Canyon, with views of Marble Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs to the north. The Grand Canyon Supergroup, a suite of tilted, faulted, 1 billion year-old sedimentary rocks that symbolize the Great Unconformity are revealed in splendor here, a perspective unique to this part of the canyon. The Tanner trail is 9.3 miles long, and hikers may reach the river in 4-5 hours.
The South Bass trail, set roughly 25 miles west of the South Rim Visitor’s Center, is easily the most rugged trail from the South Rim. Reached by a 4WD trail, the drive here takes roughly 2.5 hours. The trail itself was carved by William Wallace Bass, and early pioneer and promoter of tourism in Grand Canyon. South Rim solitude is found in droves here, wildlife abundant, and views outstanding. The trail is 12.2 miles long, and will take the average hiker 5-7 hours to reach the river.
The less popular, more contemplative North Rim presents Grand Canyon hikers with opportunities for more challenges, more solitude, and a decidedly different perspective of Grand Canyon. Set at over 8,500 feet above sea level, North Rim is a forested wonderland of rolling meadows, wildflower, and perhaps even a glimpse of one of the iconic symbols of the west, the American Bison. Access requires longer drive times, and trails here retain a fairly rugged character. Like the South Rim, do not even dream of attempting a rim-to-river-to-rim hike in one day. North Rim trails are long, can be challenging, and are generally reserved for more-experienced Grand Canyon hikers.
Much of the Colorado River system that has carved Grand Canyon emanates from the north. Consequently, in contrast to South Rim, North Rim is “set back” from the river, following long, meandering routes coursed by ancient tributaries. South Rim’s dramatic and abrupt cliff faces and 4000-foot plunges are a product of the lack of water flowing into the river from the south, while North Rim landscapes are dominated by softer relief.
Counterpart to the South Kaibab Trail, North Kaibab is North Rim’s most accessible and least rugged trail. It is the only North Rim trail maintained by the NPS. The trail is follows a 28 miles route to the river, and most hikers will find that it takes 2-3 days to reach the river. Keep in mind that this is the least-challenging trail on North Rim.
Notice the use of the word “route”, as opposed to the use of the word “trail” in the name. This is for a reason, as Nankoweap is really not a trail in the traditional sense. It is lightly trafficked, unmaintained, and follows an ambitiously-descending ridge along the East Kaibab Monocline. Hikers descend 14.8 miles along the trail, and average hikers may reach the river in 1-2 days. Get ready. Get set. Go!
The North Bass Trail is, of course, the North Rim counterpart to South Rim’s Bass Trail. William Wallace Bass, pioneer of Grand Canyon, carved this route as part of his efforts to promote tourism in Grand Canyon. The trail follows faults, rock falls, and sublime canyon scenery 14.5 miles to the river. Hikers may reach the river in 1-2 days. This is perhaps the quintessential trail in Grand Canyon, as it contains just about everything hiking here has to offer. Try an exciting Rim-to-Rim backpacking tour on the Bass Trail, complete with a pack rafting adventure!
Seeing Grand Canyon on Muleback
The National Park Service maintains a mule farm on both North and South Rims. Visitors to Grand Canyon may elect to have their gear carried to their campsite by pack mule, a decidedly easier alternative to carrying your own gear. Please consider your choice carefully when selecting a mule outfitter.
Several private companies have been fined and banned from Grand Canyon for animal abuse and cruelty. Check the Park Service’s website for more information about mule rides in Grand Canyon. Contact us to learn more about mule-assisted backpacking tours.
Imbibing in a mule-assisted trip to the river certainly takes a load off, however it does not save time. Hikers must still make their way on foot, or on the back of a mule whose goal is not speed. Mule trips down to the river typically take between 4-5 hours.
See Grand Canyon by Helicopter
One of the fairly new enterprises in Grand Canyon is the proliferation of helicopter tours. They are popular particularly in western Grand Canyon, where helicopters buzz through the air almost constantly. The Goat’s opinion is this — get your butt off your couch and onto your feet. Need more information? Please look elsewhere :). Helicopters create several problems in Grand Canyon. Helicopters create pollution, both noise and exhaust. They destroy any perceived wilderness experience. They damage wildlife patterns, and best of all (sarcasm) they crash! In the past 7 years, there have been 3 helicopter crashes that resulted in fatalities. The most recent of these was near Peach Springs in 2017, when 5 passengers and the pilot died. One woman was rescued, and is scarred for life both physically and mentally. Take my advice — don’t contribute to the proliferation of industrial tourism in Grand Canyon.
Surely you’ve heard this numerous times, but please be in reasonable physical condition. Undertaking any hiking in Grand Canyon is a decidedly physical challenge, and it will increase your enjoyment as well as decrease your chances of trouble if you are in shape. For more information, see our blog post regarding training for hiking in Grand Canyon.
Guided Grand Canyon Hiking Tours
Perhaps the very best way to see and experience Grand Canyon is by hiring a professional guide service. Hiking with people who know the Grand Canyon intimately vastly improves your experience and understanding of this unreal place, and not having to deal with logistics, food, gear, and all that madness only enhances the trip.
Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism provides everything need; geologist/guides with actual geology degrees and professional certifications, backcountry meals inspired by professional chefs, top-of-the-line gear, and outstanding customer service.
The Goat’s Final Word
There you have it, folks. You asked how long does it take walk down the Grand Canyon, and we have outlined virtually every possible eventuality! Whether by foot (awesome), by mule (still awesome), helicopter (not cool), from North or South Rim, by land or bey sea, you now have some idea of how long it takes. Happy Hiking!
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How Hot Does it Get in the Grand Canyon?
With the summer months officially upon us, it has come time to discuss one of the most-asked questions this time of year: how hot does it actually get in Grand Canyon? The answer is one word, three letters: H-O-T. The Inner Gorge regularly sees temperatures hovering over 110 degrees, and the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station, a popular destination any time of the year, has recorded temperatures as high as 116 degrees. Grand Canyon is one hot spot in the summertime, my friends.
Why is it so hot?
Several reasons contribute to temperatures in the depths of Grand Canyon. They may seem fairly obvious, but our bet is that some may be surprising. Many of our guests are not accustomed to traveling in the American Southwest, and are sometimes surprised at the heat. The temperatures may be doubly surprising given that elevations at either rim are well over 7000 feet above sea level. Let’s examine the culprits.
First of all, and most simply, it’s a desert. Grand Canyon sits on the Colorado Plateau, a saucer-shaped uplift in the Earth’s crust. The Plateau is sandwiched between two mighty mountain ranges, the Rockies and Sierras, both of which impound much of the moisture in the region. The Colorado Desert, as it is known to ecologists, lies adjacent to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mojave Desert of California.
Though not as arid as its cousins to the south, the Colorado Desert is a desert nonetheless. Average annual precipitation across the Plateau is just 10″ in the lowest, hottest spots, The region is studded with laccoltith (granitic dome) mountains that receive snow, but the lowlands are hot and dry places, indeed.
Given its desert nature, much of the Colorado Plateau is a wilderness of naked rock. Vegetation in the lower elevations is sparse, lending very little shade. The bare rocks “breathe” heat, inhaling the solar radiation, then exhaling back out into the atmosphere. The darker and more dense the rock, the more inhaling and exhaling take place.
The rocks of Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge, known as the Vishnu Metamorphic Complex, are prime candidates for this breathing action. Their color (very dark, essentially black in most places) and density (metamorphic rocks are extremely dense) make them enormously susceptible to heat absorption. Given their location in the depths of Grand Canyon, it is no wonder why the inner canyon can feel like a blast furnace in the hottest months.
Even the lighter-colored, less dense sedimentary rocks found in Grand Canyon such as sandstone, shale, and limestone, are very inefficient cooling centers. No matter where they are in the canyon, the rocks cannot escape the sun, and hikers in Grand Canyon cannot escape the rocks (yay!).
In essence, Grand Canyon behaves like a giant, incredibly scenic parking lot. The same action that occurs in the vast expanses of concrete jungles known as cities, also occurs here in Grand Canyon and across the naked rock wilderness of the Colorado Plateau.
Grand Canyon is a massive, inverted mountain. The summit of this mountain, the Colorado River, lies at roughly 2000 feet elevation. The base, respectively North and South Rims, are at impressive elevations of 7500 and 8500 feet. As you may imagine, this creates significant differences in temperature. The rule of thumb climbing mountains in in the upward direction is 5 degrees for every thousand feet. This same rule of thumb applies to inverted mountains.
A nice summer day on the North Rim might be 80 degrees. This same day temperatures on the South Rim may be a warm, but still relatively comfortable 85+ degrees Six thousand feet below at Phantom Ranch it will be a balmy 110 degrees. Temperatures in the sun may exceed 130 degrees.
The forested rims, particularly the lush North Rim, are in climate zones more similar to places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain National Park. In contrast, the Inner Gorge lies in a climate zone similar to that of Saguaro and Joshua Tree National Parks which are located in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, respectively.
Is there any way to beat the heat?
Staying in the cool pine forests near the Grand Canyon’s North and South Rims is the best bet to beat the heat in the summer. South Rim regularly sees temperatures in the 90s, but shade is easy to find. Cool breezes often blow through the stands of ponderosa pine, making a picnic overlooking the canyon very pleasant.
The North Rim is cooler, typically seeing high temperatures in the low-to-mid 80’s. Stands of aspen forest tremble in the breeze, and at 8500 feet nights get quite cool. A trip to North Rim is a great way to spend a summer day. Summertime stars at either rim are a sight to behold.
But I still want to hike….
Hiking in Grand Canyon in the summertime, as you may gather, can be a interesting proposition. The Goat’s advice is to get out early. Starting a hike before dawn is a summer rite-of-passage in Grand Canyon. Avoid hiking during the hottest times of the day (10AM-4PM). If you are out on the trail during those times, it is a good idea to seek shade where available. Drink plenty of water (3-4L/person), and eat salty snacks that help your body to retain moisture. Nuts, Jerky, and cheese make a fantastic meal on the trail, but avoid food high in sugar.
Is it a good idea (or even fun) to go backpacking in the summer?
If you are planning a backpacking trip below the rim during the summer, know what you are in for and prepare for it. Following the general hiking guidelines outlined earlier is a great start. Plan your trip so that you will be near water, if possible. Many hikes from the North Rim have water along the trail, and the Colorado River makes a wonderful and very welcome swimming hole.
Packing correctly is quite helpful as well. A wide-brimmed hat is key, along with sunglasses and clothing material that wicks moisture. Synthetic garments work well, and avoid wearing anything that absorbs moisture such as denim or cotton.
What is the best time of year to hike in Grand Canyon?
If you can swing it, Grand Canyon hiking is best enjoyed during the cooler months. October to April are the best times, with November to March being particularly spectacular. Although it may be chilly on the rim, hiking in the canyon during these months presents daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s, absolutely perfect for hiking.
Be advised that North Rim is open from May 15 – October 15. In the off-season there are no services available, and access is quite limited. In order to access North Rim during the winter, hikers must approach the rim on foot, in snowshoes, or on cross country skies.
Despite summer being warmer, there is no such thing as a bad time to visit Grand Canyon. Simply hiking along the rim to take in the astounding views is a great summertime activity, but hiking below the rim can be highly enjoyable too. Following our hiking guidelines will ensure that your backpacking trip or day hike is a safe and fun experience that yields stories and memories to last a lifetime.
Exploring Grand Canyon with a guide service is hands-down the best way to enjoy the canyon. This is true any time of the year, but is especially true when the temperature starts to rise. Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism’s guides are certified in CPR and backcountry medicine in addition to being degreed geologists. This depth of medical knowledge is the key to keeping our guests safe on the trail, particularly when the conditions are not ideal. Hit us up for more information, or to join an epic backpacking or basecamp hiking tour.
Hiring an outfitter has several benefits. Namely, we worry about all the other stuff while you enjoy your adventure! Food, navigation, top-of-the-line gear, and deep knowledge of the landscape is the coup de gras.
The Goat’s Final Word
Grand Canyon presents the intrepid adventurer extraordinary experiences with unique challenges. Even without the heat, hiking in Grand Canyon can be demanding and requires preparation paired with realistic goals. Summer heat is certainly among the challenges one will find here, but it can be managed fairly easily by hiking smart.
In fact, the heat offers hikers the opportunity to really slow down and enjoy the vistas unraveling before their eyes. Hiking by moonlight is an extraordinary experience that not only beats the heat, but presents an altogether different perspective on this wondrous place. Trust me, wandering through a moonlight-bathed gorge while a Great Horned Owl hoots from the cliffs above is a sublime experience.
Slow down, find some shade, drink some water, and chill. Post up under a sprawling cottonwood tree. Have a well-deserved splash in the river or under a waterfall. Take cues from Grand Canyon wildlife. Do you see them going hard in the heat? No? Then you shouldn’t either. Above all, don’t force anything. If you feel hot, slow down. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself, your body will thank you.
Contact us for information about Grand Canyon hiking, or step into a geologic time machine on one of our epic Grand Canyon hiking tours
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How Long is the Havasupai Falls Hike?
Hiking down to the shimmering waters of Havasu Falls is on the bucket list of most outdoor enthusiasts. Who wouldn’t want to take the plunge into some of the most iconic waters of the American Southwest? Inviting as they seem, however, getting to Havasu Falls is not particularly easy, cheap, or for the faint of heart. The trail is quite long, steep in places, and mostly in the sun. This is not to mention the sometimes dizzying exposures along two ridges.
Here are the best ways to get to Havasu Falls, as dictated by The Goat:
Hiking, as usual, is The Goat’s recommended method of travel. It allows one to truly experience nature and the wilderness was meant to be; unobstructed by whirring motors, and metal boxes on wheels. Though there are other means of travel to reach Havasu Falls (two of which are covered later in this post), hiking is by far the most rewarding. In addition to the physical rewards, the scenery is outstanding, and a multi-day backpacking trip allows hikers to explore the area deeply, which is not to be missed.
Several small tributaries to Havasu creek have carved intricate canyons of their own. Though the waterfalls and turquoise waters are the main attraction, the creeks, chives, falls, slots, and defiles off the beaten path are well worth the time to explore. Here, we outline the particulars of the main hike from its main (read: only) trailhead. Please do not attempt to reach the falls by any other routes or trails.
Length: 10 miles one-way
Difficulty: Strenuous, especially coming out of the canyon in the summer
If you can get a permit, GO! (Read more about Havasupai Permits here). This is one of the most coveted permits in the world, and getting one is no easy task. The best season to go is the date your permit says.
As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has changed and streamlined its permit process. You MUST reserve permits online, there is no longer a number to call.
Once again, the tribe has changed things up a bit. New in 2019, the only kind of trip available to reserve as 4 days/3 nights. You can no longer customize your trip length. The rates are $100/night during the week (mon-thurs) and $125/night on the weekends (fri-sun). This means, on average, a 4 day/3 night trip the Havasu Falls will cost you somewhere between $300-$375 per person on the permit.
Hiking down to the village of Supai and Havasu Falls is absolutely the way to do it. The 10-mile hike from Hualapai Hilltop to the campgrounds is reasonably difficult, so plan on hiking 4-5 hours down, and 7-8 hours back up. The weather can be very warm, and there is NO water along the trail. Bring at least 3 liters of personal drinking water, and remember there is no water until you reach the village of Supai, 8 miles down the canyon.
The trail starts quickly, with 1 mile of switchbacks descending 2000 feet into the canyon. Be aware of mules and horses on the trail as you make your way, they can be unpredictable. Always yield to animals. One of the most unfortunate things along the trail is the observation of animal caracasses; the pack animal situation here has become untenable (more on this later). You may reserve pack animals in the village of Supai, or at the campground. Stay on the side of the trail to avoid spooking the animals, and respect their handlers instructions..
Animals and Wildlife
There can be other wildlife (as if pack animals are wildlife) on the trail the you will want to stay aware of. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and poisonous spiders are part of the desert ecosystem here. Do not put your hands in a place where you can’t see them. Do not, under any circumstances approach or in any way disturb rattlesnakes in particular. The most commonly-treated snakebite injury is on the hand. Would you like to guess how a rattlesnake bites a person on the hand?
Hikers may also catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, California condors, Red-tailed Hawks, and copious numbers of lizards and rodents such as chipmunks and ground squirrels. Do not approach or attempt to feed wildlife. The rodents may carry the Hantavirus, which is a particularly horrific, Ebola-like virus that can result in death. Also, keeping wildlife wild is what makes wilderness what it is and was meant to be!
Continuing Down the Canyon…..
The hike meanders on the trail for 7 miles before reaching the village of Supai. The first 3 miles of this trek offers very little shelter from the sun. At length, hikers reach the terminus of Hualapai Canyon at the junction of Havasu Canyon, where the famous turquoise waters of Havasu Creek first appear. From this junction, you have just 1.5 miles to reach the village of Supai.
The Village of Supai
The village of Supai, where the Havasuapai Tribe has made their home for the better part of the last 800 years, is a small and quaint place. Services are very limited. There is no cell phone reception (but you probably knew this from the moment your phone lost reception below the canyon rim), and even the mail comes by mule train to this day.
There are some options for supplies, however. In addition to the campground office, there is a convenience store stocked with items like chips, jerky, gatorade/water, and other snacks provisions (bacon!). This a great place to recharge for the last 2 miles of the trek to the campgrounds. There is also a diner, grocery store, and more in the town, so take a moment to explore.
The Last Leg to the Falls
Departing from Supai, hikers descend for an additional 1.5 miles down Havasu Canyon. Come around a bend, and wait for a figurative punch in the face. The outstanding scene around the corner, the famous Havasu Falls, comes into view. Cascading nearly 150 feet over cliffs of travertine, Havasu Falls plunges into the blue-green waters with a thunderous might. This view alone will make every step of the journey worth it.
If you can, pry yourself away from the mesmerizing view and continue to the campground, a short half-mile beyond the falls. The campground has running water and trash receptacles, please use them both responsibly (more on this later). Bringing additional water bladders and water bottles can cut down on the time spent at the faucet. There is but one faucet, and lines will form at any time of year. Be smart, plan ahead, save time.
While at the Campground
Havasu Falls and the surrounding area is a very popular place. Do not come here expecting solitude, or anything that could be considered a “wilderness experience”. While it is intensely beautiful, it is that beauty that makes it very crowded. On any given night, during all times of the year, expect to share the campground with somewhere between 300-400 other people. Also expect a nearly constant din of helicopters landing and taking off, as this has become a very popular method of reaching the falls.
There are several things you can do while at Havasu Campground to minimize your personal impact. Rule one: Pack it in, pack it out. If you bring it, take it the hell out (please). Do not flick cigarette butts, toss napkins or do your dishes in the creek. Do not act a fool. Over the years, especially as the popularity of this place has grown, guests here have acted fools; don’t be them.
There are trash receptacles at the campground itself, along with more in Supai. Don’t be one of the rubes who comes to this beautiful place only to treat it as their personal dumping grounds. Please contribute positively towards a future where everyone that comes here can enjoy its pristine beauty and granduer without having to stare a pools full of popped intertubes, discarded bras, cigarette butts, and beer cans.
Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds – 10 Miles
Hualapai Hilltop to Supai – 8 Miles
Supai to Campground – 2 Miles
Campground to Mooney Falls – 0.5 Miles
Mooney Falls To Colorado River – 8 Miles
Mules and other pack animals such as horses have long been used to transport gear, supplies, and people up and down the canyon walls of Havasu. In recent years, this practice has been adopted by several private outfitters that run trips to Havasu Falls. Due to crowding, jostling, and overall irresponsibility and disregard, this pack animal situation has become untenable. What exactly does that mean? It means that there have been numerous cases of serious animal abuses, from dehydration and starvation, to squalid trail and living conditions, to outright physical abuse and death.
The Goat strongly advises against using any company that offers pack animal-supported tours. The long list of serious offenders (which we won’t mention here out of professional respect), reflects a culture of lack of accountability. There are ZERO companies that offer pack animal-supported tours that have a 100% clean sheet of responsibility. You may contact us directly for more information on this malpractice.
There has been a massive increase in the popularity of getting to Havasu Falls by skipping the hike, instead opting to ride a helicopter. The Goat cannot stress how much he detests this practice, and bids adieu to anyone wishing to do it. You may do what you please, but we cannot and will not instruct, offer information to, or otherwise involve ourselves in an industry that actively degrades and disrespects the sanctity of wilderness. Also, get off your lazy butt and walk down if you want to see something beautiful.
****As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has placed a moratorium on all commercial guiding into Havasu Canyon. Due to overwhelming popularity, overcrowding, and lack of regulation, the tribe thought it best to place a hold on all guided tours until a proper management plan can be outlined. Contact us for information regarding self-guided tours, and other means of support for trips to Havasu Falls.
The Goat’s Final Word
Havasu Falls and the four azure waterfalls that accompany, are some of the most beautiful, unique, and stunning scenes the world has to offer. The journey to reach it is challenging, but extraordinarily rewarding. Please follow and respect the permit regulations and requirements, and once there please have reverence and respect for this truly special landscape. The tribe has significantly altered the permit process, and placed restrictions on commercial guiding companies in order to combat the overrunning of their homeland.
Going to Havasu Falls and exploring the fantasy-like landscape is an absolute bucket list destination; a destination that any hiker who wishes to explore Earth’s most special landscapes would want to check off. However, getting there takes advance planning, commitment, and respect.
For more information on the Permit Process, visit the Havasupai Tribal Website
Like our blog? Check out our guided tours through geologic time to Grand Canyon, Utah Canyon Country, and Arizona Red Rock Country!