The differences between the North Rim and the South Rim at Grand Canyon are not just contained to Grand Canyon National Park. Unlike the North Kaibab Unit of the Kaibab National Forest, which has hundreds of miles of hiking trails around and go into the Canyon, the Tusayan Unit of the North Kaibab National Forest only has two hiking trails. Despite the sparse offerings, these two trails are very different but both should be strongly considered for an outdoor trek while at the Grand Canyon. Unlike the trails in Grand Canyon National Park, which are strictly off limits for mountain bikes, mountain bikers and horseback riders alike can access the Arizona Trail in the Tusayan Unit of Kaibab National Forest.
Hikers will experience similar conditions in Kaibab National Forest as they will in Grand Canyon National Park. Altitude, terrain, and a lack of water can make hiking difficult. Water found in the park should not be considered potable. Maps can be obtained at the Tusayan Visitors Center. Like in Grand Canyon National Park, you are responsible for your own safety.
Dispersed backcountry camping is allowed within the boundaries of Kaibab National Forest. National Forest requirements maintain that you camp at least 1/4 of a mile from any source of water. You can contact the Kaibab National Forest Tusayan Ranger District for current conditions and fire hazard information at, P.O. Box 3088, Tusayan, Arizona 86023. They can be reached at (520) 638-2443 or you can fax them at (520) 638-2443, and dial extension 126.
Backcountry camping in the South Rim Region of Grand Canyon National Park is very limited to reduce human impact. If you plan to backcountry camp in the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, a backcountry permit will have to be obtained. You can write to the Backcountry Office, PO BOX 129, Grand Canyon, Arizona 86023 to request your permit. You can fill out an online form to print and send to the above address or fax to (520) 638-2125. You can also call (520) 638-7875 to speak with some one in the Backcountry Permit office directly, keeping in mind that they will not be able to take your application over the phone. If you complete the online form you will have to print it out and mail or fax it. The National Park Service has no provisions to apply online for a backcountry permit. Click here to fill out the form
Hikers wishing to go on a waiting list for permits can apply in person at the South Rim Backcountry Office, located at the Ranger Station close to the South Rim Campground. There are no guarantees you will get a slot to hike down if you are on the wait list. Cost for the permit is $20, and there is a $4 per-person User Impact Fee.
Leave no trace ethics and minimal impact camping should be followed in the backcountry. All trash should be packed out, animals will dig up human trash. Toilet paper should also be carried out and any human waste should be buried in cat holes, at least six inches deep. Try to stay on the trails and respect your fellow hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and campers.
If you do plan to backcountry you should notify a relative, friend, or ranger, and use trailhead registers. You should not hike alone. Keep in mind that there is a variety of wildlife in the forest.
Red Butte Trail
Trailhead Location & Access: Heading South from Grand Canyon National Park on US Highway 180, turn off Highway 64/180 onto Forest Road (FR) 320. Travel east for 1.5 miles and turn left (north) onto FR 340. After traveling .75 mile on this road turn right (east) onto a spur road. The trailhead is located at the end of this .25 mile road.
Length: 1.2 miles one way
Hiking Time: 1-1/2 to 3 hours one way
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Description: Unique geological formation on the Coconino Plateau. Considered sacred by the Havasupai American Indians, the only permanent resident within the Grand Canyon. Stay on the trail at all times and show respect. Never take a photograph, audio or video tape of Native Americans, it is considered very disrespectful. If Native Americans are involved in worship at Red Butte, please show the same respect you would ask from them! Mountain bikes and horseback riders are off-limits, and the trail is really to steep for both.
The Butte is made of Kaibab limestone with a cap of dark basalt on the top, signs of prior, ancient volcanic activity. There are also a number of other layers exposed making this a unique site to see. The top of Red Butte offers some of the best 360 degree views of the area, including the distant San Francisco Peaks (also considered sacred to the Havasupai). Caution needs to be taken during the summer months to watch for rattlesnakes, which frequent the trail. Maps and trail conditions can be obtained at the Kaibab National Forest Tusayan Ranger District for current conditions and fire hazard information at, P.O. Box 3088, Tusayan, Arizona 86023. They can be reached at (520) 638-2443 or you can fax them at (520) 638-2443, and dial extension 126.
Trailhead Location & Access: Heading South from Grand Canyon National Park on US Highway 180, at Tusayan, turn east on Forest Road 302 (0.8 miles north of the Grand Canyon Airport entrance [read - if you have come to the airport, you have gone too far]). Follow the signs along this road for 16 miles to Grandview Lookout Tower.
Length: 22.3 miles one way
Hiking Time: 10 to 16 hours, preferably overnight
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Description: The Arizona Trail is actual runs from Flagstaff, Arizona to the north side of the Grand Canyon. The three segments that go through the Tusayan Unit of the Kaibab National Forest total 22.3 miles and probably offer the easiest backcountry hiking in the Grand Canyon region. The trails were originally used for stagecoaches running from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, from 1892 to 1901 (less than 100 years ago!!!). It should be assumed as with most hiking trails in the Grand Canyon area that there will not be any drinking water, any natural water found will need to be treated and/or filtered.
Maps and trail conditions can be obtained at the Kaibab National Forest Tusayan Ranger District for current conditions and fire hazard information at, P.O. Box 3088, Tusayan, Arizona 86023. They can be reached at (520) 638-2443 or you can fax them at (520) 638-2443, and dial extension 126. There are three segments of the trail starting at the Grandview Lookout Tower:
Coconino Rim Segment:
9 miles one way total
Heads southeast from the trailhead at Grandview Lookout Tower. The beginning of the trail is actually an interpretive loop that winds through ponderosa pine and Gambel oak forest with very little elevation change. About 3 miles into the trail, there is an excellent view of the Painted Desert (region of Arizona, not the National Park Unit 150 miles away) from an overlook. From this point the trail stays close to the Canyon rim, offering stunning views to the north. At 7-1/4 miles you will come to a series of steep switchbacks as you cross a steep drainage. If there is flowing water of significant volume you should not attempt to cross. At the 9 mile mark you will come to Forest Road 310, which ends the first segment. If you plan to hike back to the Grandview Lookout Tower, you should not attempt to go any further than this point.
Russell Wash Segment:
8.2 miles one way total
Continuing from Forest Road 310, about 6.8 miles southeast from the Grandview Lookout, you will head south on the trail gradually descending the Russell Wash. At 1-3/4 miles on the trail you will reach Russell Tank which is about the best opportunity for finding natural water on the trail. Water should be treated and/or filtered before drinking. From the tank the trail continues south and east eventually going back to Russell Wash. The trail then crosses Forest Road 320 about 3 miles from Russell Tank, and about 4-3/4 miles from the trailhead at Forest Road 310. Here the trail will climb a ridge, cross under some power lines and then continue in a gradual descent for 5.1 miles to the Moqui Stage Station. Oak and pine forest has now changed to open grassland and semi-arid desert with juniper and sage.
Grand Canyon Segment:
5.0 miles one way total
Continuing from the Moqui Stage Station, the trail heads southeast for another five miles through semi-arid grassland to the Bar Ranch boundary, paralleling Forest Road 301. The trail then leaves the Kaibab National Forest.