Backpacking through the Grand Canyon

I’ve been itching to go backcountry backpacking ever since my first experience in the Grand Canyon. I tried a year ago in Yosemite, however it rained me out so I just had to car camp. As I sit here and try to plan out my next backpacking adventure, I thought I’d share my Grand Canyon backpacking experience with you all. If you have never camped in the backcountry, you are in for a treat. It’s remote, quiet, and stunning. My favorite part of backcountry camping is that you see so many beautiful sights beyond what your mind could imagine. It’s preserved and less traveled, which makes it special and adventurous.

My first experience began when a childhood friend of mine called me up and said he was making his way to the Grand Canyon (he moved to the Midwest) and wanted to go backpacking. He asked if I wanted to join him. At this time, I had just returned home from playing professional basketball in Romania. So I thought, “Sure! I’m a professional athlete, great shape, this should be fun!” But was I in for a surprise! hahaha

He showed up at my house with an extra backpack, all the travel sized cooking equipment, a water filter, and freezer dried food. He repeatedly told me to pack “light” since I would be carrying everything on my back into the canyon in addition to water (which is surprisingly heavy). Being my first time, I didn’t want to be unprepared, so I packed a jacket (it was May in Arizona, what was I thinking?), several sets of clothes, regular sized bottle of sunscreen, water Teva sandals, and extra snack food. He only packed a couple pairs of shirts, one pair shorts, socks, undergarments, and a travel sized sunscreen. He carried our tent, his sleeping bag, and the cookware (basically everything!), while I had a week’s worth of clothing, extra food, my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, a full bottle of sunscreen, and I can’t remember what else but I’m sure I packed a bunch of other unnecessary things.

We arrived at the top of the Grand Canyon and Hermit’s Trail Head in the afternoon, where we walked along the south rim trails and viewpoints. That evening we decided to camp in our car because we wanted to get an early start and not have to pack up everything in the morning.

NOTE: The temperature at the top of the canyon is a lot cooler than at the bottom of the canyon. Needless to say we packed for the bottom of the canyon and FROZE in our car the night before! Just something to think of…

Our itinerary had us camping at Hermit’s Rapid the first night, then Boucher Creek the second, Slate Creek for the third, then backtrack to Boucher Creek and Hermit Creek before heading back to our car. Day one we totaled 9.7 miles, which felt like 20 miles carrying a 50 pound pack on my back! This is when I had to tell my friend he was right, and I finally understood why he said “pack light”. Between the 50 pounds on my back, the beating sun, and my fairly new hiking shoes, I was dying about 3 miles into the hike. It was a beautiful hike, along the edge of Grand Canyon. We joked about the “never ending” trail because we would round a corner and think we were close to our decent, however it was a constant trick. We hiked about 7 miles before actually making our way down into the canyon and towards the Hermit Rapids and Colorado River. There were parts that would decline and we thought we were headed into the canyon, but then we would turn the corner and climb right back up again.

Although I was tired, had blisters, and sore from carrying a heavy pack, I remembered to stop and look at my surroundings. I was IN THE GRAND CANYON! This majestic and enormous Canyon made from thousands of years of erosion from the Colorado River. It was one of those moments again…I was awestruck!

At about 2pm, we finally arrived at the Hermit Rapids and found a spot to set up camp. Due to the heat, we couldn’t rest in the tent because the canyon radiated heat; from the sides of the canyon to even the sandy ground. So instead we played and relaxed in the cold refreshing Colorado River, watching groups of river rafters maneuver the rapids. The cold Colorado River was however, a great ice bath where I was able to soak my sore body. That night we made sure to stack up on carbs and water for our hike the next day.

The next morning we slept in, which was a HUGE mistake! We didn’t get started on our hike until roughly 10am when the sun was already out and beating on us, mind you the hike was another 9 mile full day hike. TIP: If hiking the Grand Canyon during the hot season, make sure you get an early start in order to beat the sun. We hiked back towards the Hermit Creek Campground and missed the turn off toward Boucher Creek. Instead we hiked all the way back to the beginning of the spring, a dead end. It was beautiful and a challenging hike (I’m sure due to it wasn’t really a trail, haha)-one of those wonderful unplanned adventures! Along the way we found a baby water fall and pool where we were able to cool off and fill up with water (pictured below).

We eventually made our way back to where the Hermit Creek Campground was and found the Boucher Creek trail. From then on, we we suffered from the heat of the sun because the rest of the hike had no shade cover.

NOTE: Heat Stroke and Heat Cramps are extremely common in Arizona, making hiking dangerous. It’s vital you hydrate throughout your hike. Don’t think you need to ‘save’ some water for later. When you realize you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. So drink up! If you find it hard to hydrate, try doing what my friend did. He added gatorade powder to his water, making it more enticing to drink.

We didn’t make it to Boucher Creek until right before sunset. We popped up our tent before dark and chowed down on some carbs and protein. Even with the sun being down, the tent was scorching yet again, due to the heat that was trapped in the sand and stone walls surrounding us. So we sat in the refreshing stream to cool down and relax after a long, exhausting hike.

That night we looked at the map for our hike the next day to Slate Creek. After such an exhausting day we decided to turn back and camp the next night at Hermit’s Creek Campground, making our way to our car. Slate Creek didn’t have much water so we didn’t want to risk not being hydrated for our trek back to the top. It was a great call as the next morning we work up at 4am (the stars were still out) and packed up in order to beat the sun for our 9mile hike back to Hermit Creek Campground. Without the sun beating down on us, we cruised and made it in 5 hours-arriving around 9am at the campground. This was the best day yet, because we had the entire day to play and explore, instead of spending the entire day hiking. We relaxed in the refreshing cool water and explored up stream.

Our final day we packed up, once again early (5am), and hiked out of the canyon. It was a much easier hike since we were in the shade for the entire hike until the last mile and a half. I’m glad to say the end of the trip was much more enjoyable than the beginning, but it was all due to trial and error. Discovering that it’s best to wake up early and hike in the morning rather than in the middle of the day. After getting back to our car, we both agreed we didn’t intend to do that hike again for a very long time….however a month later we reminisced and said we were ready for round two! In all, it was an incredible experience and a great workout! I definitely want to do it again now that I learned the following lessons:

  1. Pack LIGHT! There aren’t showers, you can survive with 3-4 shirts, one pair of shorts, undergarments, and a hat. A travel sized sunscreen, and carefully planned food portions.
  2. Wake up EARLY! Hike in the early morning, relax and recover in the afternoon.
  3. Make sure you have a GREAT Map with elevation gains and carefully marked turnoffs, so you don’t get lost and add to your already LONG hike.
  4. Final don’t forget where you are. Look up and enjoy the majestic views of the Grand Canyon! 

I hope you get the chance to backcountry camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! It’s a bucket list item! Just make sure you are properly prepared and know your route! Also it would be best to hike before May!

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