This backpacking trip has it all – a little bit of adventure, steep trails, and climbing mixed in with mellow, sweeping trails that allow you to look up from the trail and appreciate the canyon's awesomeness. The Grand Canyon is like an accordion of rock layers until you reach its creator at its center, the Colorado River. Each time you pull a layer back, a new one with new colors, features and characteristics appears and sometimes presents an obstacle to overcome.

Escalante Route

My partner Jake and I drove 12 hours from Boulder, CO to join six hikers from the Arizona Backpacking, Canyoneering & Hiking Club on their Thanksgiving Backpack. The group welcomed Jake and me warmly, despite the fact that we were distant "outsiders". Our one connection to the group, had fallen ill the day of the trip and cancelled… so we didn't know anyone.

backpacking Escalante Route

Of course, it didn't take long for us to become quick friends. The eight of us spent the next four days, 32 miles, and extreme elevation and temperature changes exploring the folds of the Grand Canyon. On the first day, we lowered from the snowy South Rim down to the agreeable 50-degree hiking weather of the canyon. The second day, we breathed in the canyon's grandeur with wide open vistas and subtle contours. The third day, adventure kicked in with some scrambling, tight canyon-walking, mellow climbing and sliding. The last day, we were rewarded with views from the Grandview Trail's steep switchbacks hardly noticeable with the distracting views (they made no mistake in the name – see photos below for the once-in-a-decade phenomenon we experienced).

To conversational Clams (Jason), quirky hippie Ed, laughing Heather, our leader John, quiet graceful Lucie, dry humor Stephanie and especially flu-ridden Lucky (Dave): COME VISIT US IN COLORADO! And, extra-special thanks to my non-backpacking partner Jake for being open to accepting an invitation to backpack with me and trust me to pack for him. He was comfortable during the chilly nights and flew through the trails with his light pack. On the drive home and again a week after the trip, Jake asked me when and where we could do another backpacking trip like this again… and my inner voice screamed "hooray!"

Check out part 2 for Itinerary, Recommended Gear and Planning Notes

backpacking grand canyon

Itinerary (the Escalante Route):

Please note that this itinerary was manageable for eight experienced and fit hikers on the trail for most of daylight (9 am – 5 pm). I have read several other blog posts detailing longer trips which included both layover days and/or shorter mileage days.


Recommended Gear:

  • Sawyer Water Filter + Plunger - Even for this short trip, we used the plunger, due to the extra-silty water caused by a (rare) controlled flood of the Colorado River two weeks prior. The Sawyer is tough enough to stand up to the muckiness of this water and be easily cleaned as it clogged with silt. I use the ultralight Sawyer Mini Water Filter which sells for only $25.
  • Ice traction devices - Jake and I used CMI ice cleats (4oz/pair) which are much lighter while packing some aggressive traction in comparison to other products. Mine didn't budge under the arch of "waisted" trail runner but Jake had to readjust periodically on his more robust and non-"waisted" hiking shoes.
  • Trekking poles - For those with weak knees, ankles, or that prefer some additional support, the constant elevation changes on this trip make trekking poles useful. As usual, everyone was stunned by the low weight of the Gossamer Gear LT4 hiking poles.
  • Moisturizer - It's the desert!
  • Ratsack - "The mice here are a different breed," said Grand Canyon veteran Ed Dabrowski the night before the trip. I couldn't agree more after witnessing them. We saw mice or evidence thereof at each campsite. One night, there were mouse droppings on the outside of our Ratsack which was hung from a tree using 2mm cord! You may have better luck in more remote campsites (we used the large group campsites which inevitably see more traffic).
  • Ultralight Backpacking Tarp - To avoid condensation (or make it easier to dry) at river campsites.
  • Packraft - Optional for experienced river rats whose blood runs hot. It could be possible to packraft sections of the Colorado River on days 2 and 3 (beware of the giant rapids). We shared a campsite our third night with Aaron and Shannon, the founders of Supai Adventure Gear, who make packrafts in their kitchen.
grand canyon landscape

Planning Notes

  • Recommended hiking times are October through April
  • Remember, there are shorter days in winter months – "backpacker's midnight" was 8pm for us after three hours of darkness.
  • $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (in addition to permit)
  • Permit required. $10/ permit + $5/person/night. For backcountry reservations, see here their website. You must print a form that you submit via fax. Call 928-638-7875 between 1 pm and 5 pm Monday through Friday for detailed information.
  • The forested "town" of Grand Canyon National Park is very rustic and doesn't provide much for nightlife, restaurants or accommodations. Additionally, it's a maze and frequently has traffic. You'd really only want to stay there for a quick night. We stayed at the Maswik Lodge ($90/night for a standard hotel room) which housed a mediocre cafeteria and pizza bar (not health-nut friendly).

This post was contributed by Brand Ambassador Trinity Ludwig.

March 18, 2014 — Brian Fryer