Women Backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14410A, Backpacking


  • Take in views of the Canyon from the top, middle, and bottom
  • Enjoy a week of backpacking through one of the World’s Natural Wonders
  • Experience a challenging, varied backpack across broad mesa, into narrow canyons, and along sandy beaches


  • Tried-and-true backpacking skills tailored to the Grand Canyon
  • Tasty and hearty lightweight meals
  • Group cooking gear


DatesMar 29–Apr 5, 2014
Difficulty4 (out of 5)
StaffJulie VanTilburg

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Trip Overview

The Trip

PLEASE NOTE: Because of Grand Canyon National Park rules, a backcountry permit cannot be applied for until November 1, 2013. Dates and/or itinerary may have to be changed to obtain a permit. Final dates and itinerary should be solidified by early December 2013.

Join other adventuresome women on a week-long backpack through the challenging, inspiring, and empowering Grand Canyon, rightfully one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. The canyon may seem impressive when viewed from the rims. However, not until you drop below the rim, touch the Colorado River, experience a sunrise and sunset from the depths of the canyon, hear the hooting of owls nesting in the Coconino Layer, smell the wildflowers freshly in bloom, and slowly hike back out will you truly experience the magic and magnitude of this incredible canyon.

Over 4.5 million people visit the South Rim each year, but only two percent dare to enter the Canyon’s depths and spend the night. These are the lucky ones. Nearly 2 billion years of the planet’s history is exposed in the Canyon’s layers. During our week of traveling through the Canyon, we will explore and experience the geological and archaeological history of the canyon while admiring the animals and plants that live in this challenging environment. The leader will share her knowledge of backpacking, especially in the canyon, and her limitless passion for this natural treasure.

The demands of the trip require very good physical conditioning. This is an absolute must for this trip. A flexible attitude and a sense of adventure are helpful and necessary traits, too. Due to the level of difficulty of this trip, recent (within the past year) backpacking experience is required to participate.


During our adventure we will cover approximately 35 miles of trails, and a few miles off-trail while exploring. We will experience the Tanner, Escalante, Tonto, and Grandview Trails. Distance covered each day will usually be 5-6 miles. Our planned route spreads the descent into the canyon across two days to reduce impact to our knees. Our ascent out of the canyon will be spread over three days, giving us opportunities to rest and to explore. The leader likes to take a slower but steady approach to backpacking. Her goal is not to set any speed records, but to appreciate and relish the beautiful country through which we will pass. As time permits, participants may explore side canyons, search for wildlife, listen to the roaring Colorado River, take photographs, or simply stay in camp to relax, read, or write.

On a typical day, we will rise at 6:30 a.m., dine on a hearty breakfast, break camp, and be hiking by 8:30 a.m. We will strive to be at camp mid afternoon, with time to erect tents and clean up a little before dinner. However, some days may be long, meaning we may not get to camp until 5:00 p.m. or possibly later.

The following is our itinerary for the week. Consider it approximate as weather, the group’s pace, and the National Park Service’s permitting requirements may necessitate modifications.

Day 1: The official start of our trip is 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 29, at the Maswik Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We will discuss some basics about the outing, and distribute the commissary. (Lodging and dinner not included)

Day 2: We will meet at 8 a.m. to caravan to our trailhead at Lipan Point, leaving a couple of cars at our exit trailhead. Finally, we will be off on our adventure, backpacking into the Canyon four to five miles and down 2,000 feet. Our first night will be spent about halfway down the Tanner Trail near an overlook, providing expansive views of the Colorado River and enormous, colorful walls of sandstone and limestone by day and unobstructed views of the starry sky by night. (Breakfast not included)

Day 3: On the third day of our journey, we will descend the final 3,000 feet into the Grand Canyon, arriving at the Colorado River early afternoon. After soaking our weary feet in the refreshingly cool river, we will begin our westward journey along the Escalante Route for three miles over undulating terrain to our camp along a quiet sandy beach. Total mileage is approximately seven miles, four challenging downhill miles followed by three rolling miles.

Days 4-6: For the next three days, we will continue west along the Escalante Route to Red Canyon, where we will pick up the Tonto Trail to Hance Creek. These 15 miles will take us through some terrain that our legs and eyes will find incredibly varying! Our trail will begin along the Colorado River, then it will climb steeply to a long traverse, one that is sometimes narrow. The traverse ends at an incredible vista. We will drop into and climb out of several side canyons, one of which we will slowly meander down, giving ample time to admire the blue and pink tones in the unusually shaped rocks that form its walls.

At one place, near Papago Canyon, the Colorado River rushes against a rock outcrop. To bypass the outcrop, we will have to climb up a short rock face and then descend a rockslide. Slow and careful footwork will safely get us to the other side, but hearts will be pounding through this section. Once past this obstacle, we say goodbye to the Colorado River as we begin the steady climb to the Tonto Platform to our camp beside Hance Creek. During this climb, we will witness the beginning of the Inner Gorge: two-billion-year-old, sheer rock walls that plunge into the Colorado River. Eagle-eyed participants may spot desert bighorn sheep in this section, too.

Day 7: Today we continue to climb, covering three to four miles and gaining over 1,000 feet.

After setting up our camp on Horseshoe Mesa, a camp many may vote as their favorite, we will spend the afternoon exploring a multi-room cave, roaming to the end of both arms of the Mesa for beautiful views of the Inner Gorge, or climbing a butte for even more commanding views.

Day 8: We have just three miles to cover this day, but they are all up -- 2,500 feet up. The slow, steady pace that has gotten our group from Lipan Point to Horseshoe Mesa will faithfully get us up the Grandview Trail. After arriving on the South Rim, we will retrieve our cars from the entry trailhead and then return to the Grand Canyon Village for a celebratory lunch. We likely will finish our lunch by 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, but please consider the potential for delays when making travel plans.



Getting There

The Grand Canyon National Park Service maintains a thorough webpage containing information about getting to South Rim (http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/directions_s_rim.htm). The nearest major airports are Phoenix (230 miles) and Las Vegas (275 miles). Flagstaff, AZ has a regional airport with limited flights. Shuttle service is available from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Village via Flagstaff, AZ (http://www.arizonashuttle.com/flagstaff-reservations ). Amtrak goes through Flagstaff. Alternatively, one may rent a car. Carpooling is strongly encouraged and the leader will provide a list of participants so carpools can be arranged.

Accommodations and Food

Meals included: lunch on day 2 of the outing through lunch on the last day of the outing. Responsibility for cooking and cleanup will be shared by trip participants. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners will all be hearty, healthy, and varying. The leaders work hard to make the weight of the food as light as possible to lessen the loads in our packs. Careful attention is paid to ensuring there are sufficient calories with high protein content so our bodies are well-fueled. Organic foods are used as much as possible. We can easily accommodate vegetarians.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated level 4 on a scale of 1 to 5. Everyone will likely feel that the trip is more like a level 5 through some sections of this outing. Recent (within the past year) backpacking experience is required to participate. Total mileage is 35 miles, which might not sound like much, but miles in the Grand Canyon are tougher than other places. We will lose at least 5,000 feet over the first two days and gain at least 5,000 feet over the last 3 days. However, the Escalante Route and Tonto Trail undulate along their westward track, sometimes gaining/losing several hundred feet as they cross each major side canyon. Additional miles and elevation gain/loss are possible on optional day hikes.

This route is along challenging terrain, with sections -- sometimes long -- that are either close to steep edges or that traverse steep slopes on loose rocks. In some places we crouch low to avoid hitting our heads or hug boulders to inch along. Plus there is the short but steep rock climb up and down near Papago Canyon. This is all done while carrying loaded packs and therefore requires a good sense of balance, core strength, and confident footwork. People fearful of heights will not be comfortable on this outing. The first and last miles of the trails may be snow packed or icy. If so, foot traction and walking sticks will be required.

The Grand Canyon is unique in that we will go down, down, down for the entire first day and half of the second day. While we will move at a moderate pace, knees must be prepared for the steady descent under a full pack. To fully participate in this experience, you must commit to a regular aerobic training program with pack weight for the three months prior to our trip. The leader will recommend several practical techniques to prepare for the outing.

Early April usually is an ideal time to be in the Canyon. Inside the Canyon, daytime high temperatures should be in the 70s; nighttime lows should be in the upper 40s. Rain and wind are possible, although rarely persistent at this time of year. But remember that weather can be anything but usual!

Equipment and Clothing

The Sierra Club provides the cooking gear, food, water purification, and a first-aid kit to be used for emergencies only. We divvy up the gear and food provided by the Club, which generally equates to approximately 12-13 pounds each at the start of the trip.

You are responsible for everything else that you want/need. The leader will provide an extensive list of gear to each of the participants well in advance of the outing. The list will include those items that are essential, such as backpack, shelter, sleeping pad, sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees F, boots, rain gear, and your personal medications. The list will also include optional items, such as camera and reading material. The goal is to keep your personal gear and three quarts of water to a weight of 25 pounds or less and make sure your backpack has enough capacity for the extra group gear, which will be the size of approximately two one-gallon milk cartons.

This means you’ll be carrying a total pack weight (personal and group gear, and three quarts of water) of around 38 pounds. Packs will be weighed at the trailhead. Total weight of each pack (personal and group gear, and three quarts of water) is required to be no more than 42 pounds. However, to make the trip even more enjoyable, the leaders will work with you to keep your personal gear weight at or below the 25-pound goal.



  • For an overview of the Grand Canyon, the Trails Illustrated Grand Canyon National Park map is good. Available online from many sources.
  • For an overview of the Grand Canyon National Park located to the east of Hermits Rest, a good map is Grand Canyon National Park Trails, available from www.amazon.com or at the Grand Canyon.
  • For detailed coverage, the U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute topographical maps have all the detail. These are not required but are perfect for the map enthusiast. Our route will be along 2 quadrangles: Desert View and Cape Royal. Available from www.usgs.gov.


  • The National Park Service maintains a website for each of the national parks. The website for the Grand Canyon is especially complete, up-to-date, modern (podcasts, webcams), and informative. Regularly visit www.nps.gov/grca for information or just to look around.


  • Ranney, Wayne, Carving the Grand Canyon. An book on the theories of how the Grand Canyon has been formed.
  • Kolb, Ellsworth L., Through the Grand Canyon. The account of brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb’s trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1911-1912. Beautifully written prose depicting life 100 years ago.
  • Butler, Elias and Tom Myers, Grand Obsession. A look at Harvey Butchart’s tireless pursuit to find routes from the Rim to River in the Grand Canyon.
  • Fletcher, Colin, The Man Who Walked Through Time. An account of Fletcher’s non-stop walk along the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.


The real purpose of Sierra Club outings, which began in 1901, is to follow John Muir's example of bringing more people into the fold of protecting the earth's ecology. Muir wrote "if people could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish."

During our week in the wilds, we will discuss and practice minimal-impact techniques and take on minor tasks to erase the signs left behind by less knowledgeable campers.

The Grand Canyon National Park is not designated as a wilderness area. We will discuss what wilderness protection means, reasons for protecting more land as wilderness, and what can be done to improve this protection. We'll also discuss the importance of your involvement and how to relay your concerns about the protection of wild lands. Additionally, we will discuss three current issues especially of importance to the Grand Canyon. Topics may include noise from aircraft, the impact of lead in ammunition on the California Condors, and uranium mining. You are encouraged to come prepared and introduce topics of interest to you.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Grand Canyon National Park.



Julie VanTilburg went from athlete to explorer when she moved from Indiana to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998, and began developing her love for the outdoors. She is a financial planner and analyst by profession. As much as she enjoys her vocation, communing with the wilderness, land, and sea feeds the soul, and she looks forward to offering the joy, solitude, and camaraderie of such special places with the Sierra Club. Her explorations have included Grand Canyon, Mt. Lassen, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks, Ansel Adams and Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wildernesses, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Na Pali Coast in Kauai. Julie is a Wilderness First Responder, certified by Wilderness Medicine Institute.

Assistant Leader:

A San Francisco Bay Area native, Evangelita (Vangie) Crump grew up developing a passion for exploring the outdoors. Her recent backpacking trip experience to the Grand Canyon furthered that passion. Wanting to make it possible for others to do the same, she joined the Sierra Club National Outings as a leader. In addition, Vangie enjoys leading trips because it allows her to combine her two personal passions: backpacking and food preparation (especially with wholesome organic foods). Her outdoor interest includes, running, rowing, boot camp, snow shoeing, swimming, and volunteering with non-profit organization with the emphasis on teaching school age elementary girls the benefits of playing outdoors. She loves to share experiences and learn from others. Vangie is a Wilderness First Responder, certified by Wilderness Medicine Institute.

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