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Backcountry Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about hiking in the backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

"I envision national parks as . . .
models of respect for all land and water and all of life."
Michael Frome

Q: How long will my hike take?
 Most first-time Grand Canyon hikers walk uphill at an average speed of one mile per hour. Monitor the amount of time it takes you to get down to any location; it can take twice that amount of time to cover the same distance going out. This "rule of thumb" seems to work well regardless of individual fitness, age, and/or length of stride.

Q: How much water do I need?
 In warm months, each hiker should carry and drink about a gallon (4 liters) of water per day. Watch your "ins and outs." Drink enough so that urine frequency, clarity, and volume is normal. You're not drinking enough water if your urine is dark, small in quantity, or non-existent in the course of a day's hiking.

Q: Where can I find water?
 Purified drinking water is available at only a few locations in the canyon. NOTE: During winter months the pipelines to all rest houses and Cottonwood are shut off; all pipelines in the canyon are subject to breaks at any time of year thus cutting off water supplies. Always carry water with you.

Water may be obtained directly from the Colorado River and Bright Angel Creek, but must be treated before drinking. Most other water sources in the canyon are intermittent and unreliable.

Q: How do I treat my water?
 There are 3 common methods for treating water: boiling (stove), iodine tablets, and filters. Because of occasional pipeline failures, it's a good idea to be prepared with one of these methods even when hiking Corridor trails.

Q: How much food should I take?
Lots. Eating is equally important to both day hikers and overnight backpackers. Carry high energy snacks as well as meals. The hike out is much easier when you provide your body with enough calories to support the extreme physical activity you're engaged in. When you make camp, or any time you leave your pack unattended, be sure to hang your food and trash in nylon stuff sacks or place in food storage containers (ammo boxes) when provided. There are many small animals who will damage your pack and eat your supplies if not secured properly. DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE! Improper food storage and feeding harms wildlife. Violators will be cited.

Q: In case of emergency, how do I contact a ranger?
 Ranger stations are located at Indian Garden, Phantom Ranch, and Cottonwood (Cottonwood is staffed only in the summer season). There are emergency phones at the ranger stations and along Corridor trails at the Bright Angel Trail rest houses, the junction of the South Kaibab and Tonto Trails, and at Roaring Springs on the North Kaibab Trail. These phones are connected to the park's 24-hour dispatch center and do not require coins. There may be times when these phones do not function: be prepared to send a member of your group up or down the trail to request emergency assistance and consider carrying a signal mirror. Please remember that fatigue is not an emergency.

Q: If I get into trouble and need to be rescued, who pays expenses for my rescue?
 You will be charged for rescue expenses.

Q: Should I hike alone?
 Risks are greater for those who hike alone. There is no one to assist you if you become lost, ill, or injured. Mountain lions do inhabit the Grand Canyon. Hikers traveling alone are at greater risk of attack. Be sure to keep your group together, a good plan is to have your most skilled members at the front and rear of your group with the novices in the middle.

Q: What do I do with my trash?
 You are required to carry out all of your trash, including toilet paper, to rim disposal facilities. To do otherwise is littering. When in camp, be sure to hang your trash with your food sack to prevent its being scattered by wildlife. Enclose all plastic and aluminum in nylon stuff sacks; wildlife will eat plastic and aluminum that smells of food, and they often die from resulting health problems.

Q: Are there toilets in the canyon?
 There are very few. Be prepared to provide your own toilet paper. Where toilets are available, you must use them. Only human waste and toilet paper should be deposited in the toilets. Where toilets are not available, you must carry out your used toilet paper (a plastic ziplock bag works well) and bury feces in a small hole about 6 in/15 cm deep. Be sure you are at least 100 ft/30 m from trails, campsites, and water sources. Along the Colorado River, urinate directly into the wet sand at the river's edge.

Q: Do I need a map?
A map is essential for planning your trip and staying oriented during your hike. Grand Canyon topographic maps are available through the Grand Canyon Association.

Q: Do I need a tent?
 When hiking the Grand Canyon, it is desirable to travel as light as is reasonable. Even though it's a desert, it does rain occasionally in the canyon. Rain is most likely to occur in July and August. A tent can offer protection from rain, but due to mild nighttime temperatures, cold protection is not a factor during summer. Consider taking a lighter sleeping bag (or even a sheet) to save weight if you decide to carry a tent. Another option is to take only the rain fly or a bivy sack as shelter. During winter, tents are desirable equipment.

Q: Do I need a stove?
 You need to balance the weight of your stove and fuel against your desire for hot meals. During the heat of summer, cold meals are often more attractive. During cold weather, a stove may be important for survival. NOTE: Fires are prohibited throughout the backcountry.

Q: What should I tell family/friends/employer about my trip?
 Your hiking itinerary (include name of the trip leader/ permit holder if not you), your rim destination after the hike, and the date of your return home. If you indicate you'll contact them once you're out of the canyon, BE SURE YOU DO SO! You are accountable for costs associated with search and rescue efforts on your behalf, and while the National Park Service has your life and safety as its highest priority, it is irresponsible to initiate such efforts frivolously.

Q: Can I deviate from my permit itinerary?
No. You are required to follow the itinerary authorized on your backcountry permit. Itineraries are controlled by use limits designed to protect the fragile environment of the inner canyon against the damaging effects of overuse.

Q: Are there penalties for backpacking without a permit?
 Yes. Regulations regarding backcountry use are enforced by park rangers. Violations may result in fines and/or court appearances. Review all regulations listed on your permit and feel free to ask a ranger for clarification, if needed, before beginning your trip. Each individual hiker on your trip is as accountable as the trip leader for abiding by rules and regulations.

Q: Where do I park my vehicle(s)?
There are parking lots at the Bright Angel and North Kaibab trailheads. A free hikers shuttle operates year-round to the South Kaibab trailhead from Canyon View Information Plaza. Taxi service is also available 24-hours a day. If you have only one vehicle, it is best to park it near the trailhead where you exit the canyon. Be sure not to drive off-road, block another vehicle, or otherwise obstruct traffic when you park.

Valuables should be secured out of sight (in a trunk if possible), glove compartments left open for inspection, and the vehicle locked. The Bright Angel Lodge offers a storage service for valuables for a fee on a space available basis.

Q: Should I be concerned about snakes and scorpions?
 The canyon is home to a variety of snakes and scorpions, some of which are poisonous. A good rule to follow is to always be aware of where you place your hands and feet. Snakebites are rare, occurring mostly when people attempt to handle snakes. Do not attempt to capture or otherwise molest any wildlife. If bitten, contact a ranger by signaling or sending someone for help. Although snakes often do not inject venom when they bite, any animal bite should be examined by a physician and monitored for signs of infection.

Scorpions are common in the canyon and stings occur with regularity. While scorpion stings are painful, they rarely cause serious health problems. The elderly and very young children are most susceptible to their venom. If stung, apply cool compresses to the sting site (for pain relief) and monitor the victim. It is rare for an evacuation to be necessary. Scorpions are small and their tan color makes them difficult to see. Avoid stings by shaking out your boots and clothing before dressing, wear shoes (even in camp), and shake out your bedding before climbing into it.

Further Information

The Backcountry Information Center is open daily for walk-in visitors from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Backcountry Information Center staff answer information telephone lines at 928-638-7875 between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays. This telephone number is for information only.

Backcountry Information Center
P.O. Box 129
Grand Canyon AZ, 86023

The Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry Information Center does not have an email address.