5 Hikes at Grand Canyon | Challenging Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon

UPDATED January 31, 2024 — Searching for challenging day hiking in the Grand Canyon? Let Grand Canyon hiking expert Dennis Foster show you five of his favorites. Dennis, who’s explored Grand Canyon trails for over 30 years and spoke at the Grand Canyon Hiker’s Symposium, reveals the best day hikes at Grand Canyon.

About Grand Canyon Hiking Expert Dennis Foster

I did my first hike in the Grand Canyon on a short visit in 1977—a tentative walk about a mile down the Bright Angel Trail. I wanted to do more! So, I got various jobs on both rims of the Grand Canyon between 1979 and 1984.

In 1990 I moved to Flagstaff, where I could continue hiking and exploring this amazing natural wonder of the world. I’ve written about many of these trips on my website, www.kaibabjournal.com.

Table of Contents

Pinterest graphic of photo looking down on Horseshoe Meas from a hiking trail above, with text that reads: Challenging Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon"

Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon Can Be Enchanting, but There Are Caveats

postcard with painting or lithograph of tall red butte inside a huge canyon with a camp underneath circa 1910. Today the hike to this camp makes a challenging day hiking Grand Canyon
Fred Harvey postcard depicting the towering cliffs above Hermit Camp | Public domain via Wikimedia

Day hiking in the Grand Canyon can be quite enchanting, but there are caveats. First, be adequately prepared—take plenty of water.

In the summer, it will be very hot; in the winter, it will be cold, and the upper portions of these trails will be icy. 

RELATED: Day hiking in the Grand Canyon—Preparation and safety
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Considerations for Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon

woman with large, wide brimmed hat and large day pack sits facing away from the camera an towards the canyon while hiking in the Grand Canyon
Prepared day hiker with hat and hydration pack stops on South Kaibab Trail while hiking in the Grand Canyon

Even seemingly short hikes down from the rim involve serious elevation changes of hundreds, or thousands, of feet. So to finish a day hiking in the Grand Canyon, you must hike back uphill. 

If you are counting on one of the inner canyon water sources, check with rangers first to ensure they are still operational. 

Be sure to download and read the Grand Canyon National Park’s informational guidelines for day and overnight inner canyon hikers.

Five favorite day hikes Grand Canyon

The first four out-and-back hikes at Grand Canyon are from the more popular South Rim, and the fifth starts from the North Rim, which is closed during the winter.

1.) Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point

Montage of 3 photos depicting the canyon view, the trail and sunny surroundings on these Grand Canyon day hikes
Day hikes include Bright Angel Trail Grand Canyon to Plateau Point | Dennis Foster photo

The most well-known trail at the Grand Canyon is certainly the Bright Angel Trail. It begins near the Bright Angel Lodge on the rim of the canyon.

Hike into Grand Canyon following a geologic fault line that stretches to the canyon’s north rim. The Bright Angel Trail Grand Canyon is largely shaded down to/below the Three-Mile Resthouse. Then it’s exposed to the sun for the remaining distance to the historic Havasupai Gardens (formerly known as Indian Garden Campground) at 4.8 miles/ 7.7 km and Plateau Point at 6 miles/ 9.6 km with stunning views of the Colorado River.

Insider tip: Keep a lookout for ancient pictographs just below the first tunnel and just before the Two-Mile Corner.

Logistics: There is plenty of parking near the trailhead, especially at the nearby Maswik Lodge and the Backcountry Information Center. If parked at the visitor center, catch a bus to the Bright Angel trailhead area.

Water: You’ll find water at the trailhead and 1.5 miles, 3 miles, and 4.5 miles down the trail during most of the year. The upper two water spigots on the trail are shut off during the winter.

Roundtrip Distance: 12 miles/ 19 km

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s Note: This was my first Grand Canyon hike in 1994. A unique thing about this trail is that you can hire a private guide to take you down. The custom hiking adventure is paced to your abilities and includes lunch, snacks and the use of all hiking gear.

2.) South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point

three images of trails for hikes at Grand Canyon with red layered rocks and blue skies
Take this Grand Canyon hike down the Kaibab Trail | Dennis Foster photo

The park service built the South Kaibab Trail in 1925 as an alternative to the Bright Angel Trail. Since it follows along a ridge that well-illustrates the breadth and grandeur of the canyon, the trail is 0ne of the favorite hikes at Grand Canyon.

Hike down Grand Canyon three miles to Skeleton Point, atop the Redwall formation. From here, you can get your first view of the Colorado River, still some 2,500 feet below. 

Insider tip: With a pair of binoculars, you should be able to see the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim.

Keen eyes will also be able to make out the Watchtower at Desert View, located at the South Rim’s highest point on the eastern horizon.

Logistics:  Although there is some parking along the highway near the short road that leads to the trailhead, it is easier to catch a bus from the visitor center.

A few special early morning hiker shuttles also leave from the Backcountry Information Center, but it will take two buses to get back there from the trailhead. 

Water: There is water at the trailhead but not anywhere else on the trail.

Roundtrip Distance: 6 miles/ 9.7 km

3.) Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa

Montage of 3 images show canyon wall, the trail paved with uneven white slabs, the trail inside the canyon
Grand Canyon best day hikes include this historic Grandview Trail | Dennis Foster photo

Ten miles east of the visitor center is Grandview Point. From here, in the late 1800s, Pete Berry built the Grandview Trail to his copper mining operation on Horseshoe Mesa, three miles/ 4.8 km from the trailhead and 2,500 feet below the rim. 

The trail is not maintained, and sections are subject to wash-outs. However, much of the old trail construction is still visible, from the built-up areas in the Coconino sandstone to the cobbled trail through the Supai layers. 

Although a more challenging trail, this is a popular day hike down Grand Canyon. On the mesa, you can still see remnants of the old mining operation, and most of the stone cookhouse still stands.

Logistics:  Park at Grandview Point, although the parking area is not especially large. Early arrival improves your odds of getting a parking spot.

Water: There is no water at the trailhead nor on Horseshoe Mesa. There is water many miles away, east of Horseshoe Mesa at Hance Creek and west of the mesa at Cottonwood Creek.

Roundtrip Distance: 6 miles / 9.7 km

4.) Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs

Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs is one of Dennis’s favorite day hikes at Grand Canyon | Dennis Foster photo

The Santa Fe Railroad built the Hermit Trail in 1912 and a camp facility down at Hermit Creek. 

On your way down through the Coconino sandstone, keep a lookout for the prehistoric tracks on a giant slab next to the trail. 

A bit less than two miles down, you will reach a junction where the Dripping Springs Trail heads off to the left, to the other side of this large side canyon. 

In the early 1890s, Louis Boucher built a cabin at the spring and cultivated a small garden for himself and the tourists he entertained. 

It is about four miles to this idyllic spring, which drips off the ceiling of a large overhang and makes this trek one of the most alluring hikes at Grand Canyon.

Logistics:  During most of the year (March-November), you must take the Hermits Rest shuttle. It will take a while to reach the end of the 8-mile road, so factor that into your time allocation. Be sure to get back to Hermits Rest before the last bus heads back to the village. 

Water: Find water at the restrooms by Hermits Rest. There is also water at Dripping Springs, but as with any flowing water found while day hiking in the Grand Canyon, you should treat it. (You need not treat tap water unless labeled so.)

Roundtrip Distance: 7 miles/ 11.3 km

5.) North Kaibab to Roaring Springs

montage of 3 vertical photos depicting the trail, ribbon of falling water and a canyon overview that makes this one of the favorite Grand Canyon North Rim hikes

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is much higher, less uniform, and more rugged than the South Rim. There are not many trails here, and the ones here are many miles away from each other over dirt roads. 

However, the North Kaibab Trail, which the park service maintains, is close to the lodging facilities and is a popular trail for cross-canyon backpackers and runners, as well as day hiking in the Grand Canyon.

For day hikers, a 4.7-mile trek down some 3,000 feet to Roaring Spring can be quite rewarding. The water from this spring serves visitors on both rims of the Grand Canyon.

Logistics:  The trailhead is about 1.5 miles from the lodge. There is limited parking at the trailhead, so an early start is best. However, one can also park near the campground, and it is only about a half-mile walk to the trailhead. 

Water: Drinking water is available at the trailhead, the Supai Tunnel (1.7 miles down), and the rest area at Roaring Springs (4.7 miles).

Roundtrip Distance: 9.4 miles/ 12 km

Enjoy this article by Dennis Foster, publisher of the Kaibab Journal? Then share the Grand Canyon day hikes with your friends using the red and blue buttons below:

You can hire a guide for a Grand Canyon hiking trip in Flagstaff or online at Viator.

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was NOT provided with accommodations, meals or other compensation for the purpose of this guide. The Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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