Exploring the Grand Canyon
NOTE: This information applies to trips that are 6 days or more. For information about side hikes on 3 day trips, click here.
Grand Canyon rafting trips have thrilling whitewater, beautiful scenery, and epic campsites, but what people don’t always expect are the sights they see by hiking away from the river. Waterfalls, swimming holes, ancient pictographs, and slot canyons are just a few of the treasures you may see. These side hikes tend to create some of the most vivid memories for our guests, so we hope the following information will help you prepare for your adventure and get the most out of your trip.
Part of the excitement of a Grand Canyon trip is that no one, not even the guides, knows exactly where you’ll stop on your trip. These trips are expeditions and the guides consider factors such as weather, river miles, and other groups on the river when they make decisions about where to stop. What we can tell you is that all of the side hikes are optional and varied. Before each hike, the guides will describe the hike based on average physical ability, but they cannot determine the exact difficulty for each individual. You will need to assess your ability and communicate with others if you have concerns or questions along the way.
The average side hike is about one to two miles round trip. Some are even less than that, but it’s not usually the distance that makes a hike challenging – it’s the terrain.
Since your hikes are starting at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, most of them have less-than-perfect trail conditions, significant elevation gain/loss and potential cliff-like edges. It is not uncommon to encounter loose rocks and cactus along the way. Sometimes the guides will describe a hike as “scrambly” which means you’ll want your hands free to help you navigate over large rocks. Having a small backpack to carry water and a camera is super helpful.
Many of the side hikes are near or even through water. Surfaces can be wet and slippery, so you’ll want sandals/shoes with good traction. Most people are comfortable hiking in their river sandals for the majority of the hikes we do. For the occasional hike that isn’t around water, we have a community shoe bag where you can store a pair of lightweight shoes and a pair of socks to change into. For more tips about shoes, see our footwear blog.
The vast majority of our guests do not find hiking poles necessary for side hikes. However, if you are used to using them and it’s easy for you to travel with them, you can certainly bring them. The guides will store them for you in a safe spot on the raft. You might only use your poles once or twice due to the narrowness of many trails, but that’s okay.
Most of our trips happen during the hot summer months, and the temperature goes up once we hike away from the cold river. Getting wet will help you stay cool as you explore. Dunk yourself, or at least your hat and shirt, into the river before getting started. We recommend bringing a sarong and/or bandana on your trip as these are great to dip in the river also. Draping one around your neck and shoulders will help you stay cool on and off the rafts and protect you from the sun.
A small backpack or simple drawstring bag will enable you to carry your water, sunscreen, camera, etc. and still use your hands while hiking. Pack one; you’ll be glad you did.
A lead guide will often set the pace with the fastest people in the group, but don’t worry, there is always a guide at the back of the group as well. If you encounter a spot on the trail that makes you uncomfortable, ask for help from a fellow guest or wait for the sweep guide to catch up to you. Since most hikes are out and back, you also have the option turn around and head back to the rafts if you determine a particular hike isn’t right for you. You also have the option of skipping the hike and hanging out by the river. If you think you’ll opt out often, we recommend bringing a book, journal, or sketch pad as some hikes can take several hours.
HOW TO PREPARE
Being physically fit will help you get the most out of your adventure, so we encourage you to get active well before you arrive. Walking on a flat sidewalk is better than nothing, but if you can find a trail with elevation change, that’s much better. No hills near you? Walking flights of stairs or using the incline setting on a treadmill also helps build your leg and core muscles.
Stretching is another great way to help you enjoy your trip. Try toe touches, calf stretches, ankle circles, knee lifts, etc. Climbing on and off the raft multiple times a day can be difficult for some people. The step-up/down is roughly two feet, so practice stepping onto and off of a dining room chair. We encourage you to have a friend assist with balance as you can always ask for a little assistance on the river also.
IMPORTANT NOTE: These are basic physical fitness tips for all trips. Guests on our Hiker’s Special trips and any trip that requires a hike in or out of the canyon need additional conditioning/training.
Hiker’s Special Trips
These trips are offered outside of the mid-summer heat to allow for more exploring, hiking, camping and relaxing. The tips listed above hold true, but you will hike more frequently and the hikes will likely cover more distance. You have a greater chance of additional “dry” hikes, so having a pair of lightweight hiking shoes with wool or synthetic socks is strongly encouraged. Hiking poles are also more likely to be used. Temperatures can vary widely in the early/late season, so be sure to pack layers so you can adjust depending on weather and level of activity. A small backpack is highly recommended since you’ll want to carry extra water, a snack, a camera, and an additional layer for your longer hikes. Additional training will help you enjoy the trip much more.
As always, if you have questions about any of our trip types, please let us know. We’re happy to help!