Camping Around the Grand Canyon

May 6, 2010
Sunrise over the Grand Canyon in winter

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon in winter
Photo by: Nafrea (Stock Exchange)

Hello and welcome to today’s edition of the AllCampgrounds blog.

Today’s trip brings us to hot, flat, sunny Arizona to visit one of the world’s greatest natural wonders: the Grand Canyon.

In certain areas you can actually pitch a tent inside the Canyon, which plunges almost a mile deep from its highest peak to its floor!

Most of the Canyon is encompassed by Grand Canyon National Park, which is one of the oldest, most developed, and most versatile national parks in the United States; comparable with the first, Yellowstone.

A Brief History of a Six Million Year Old Canyon

The Grand Canyon probably began to form over six million years ago, though scientific estimates vary. Erosion by rain and flash floods, combined with occasional freezing, formed the Canyon slowly over all of that time, creating its current 4-to-18 mile width and over 250 mile length. Much later, the Canyon became a favorite spot of “Rough Rider” President Theodore Roosevelt, who first visited around 1903. After over a decade of efforts by the president and others, the area around the Canyon became a national park in 1919, and has been one of the most visited sites in the National Park System since.

What to Know About Camping the Grand Canyon

Usually, there’s good reason to compare camp grounds outside of and around a national park to get the “full experience.” In this case, though, you’d be hard pressed to find any features you can’t get in the park itself; and because of the unique geology of the region, you’ll have to pass through it to get to the “heart” of things. Camping “at large” is allowed in the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the camp grounds; there are also tent camping and RV camping facilities on the South Rim, which is the more popular of the two “sides” of the Canyon for most visitors.

On the North Rim, you can expect fewer people and more wild. Facilities on the North Rim have a short season, from the middle of May to the middle of October, because of the possibility of hazardous weather and sudden road closures. The camp grounds are less accessible, and should generally only be chosen by experienced campers who are familiar with the location and the special concerns of setting up camp in a truly remote area; though the park offers services, for many things “civilization” is all the way in Phoenix.

Going “Below the Rim”

With a permit, camping overnight inside the Canyon itself is possible. The terrain leading down into the Canyon floor is narrow and dangerous, and requires either a horse or a lot of stamina for hiking. Special restrictions prevail; you can’t bring pets below the rim, for example. There are three backcountry camp grounds with over 50 sites total, but the biggest challenge might be getting a backcountry camping permit: park authorities deal with an enormous volume of requests and, at last count, honor less than 50% of them, granting permits for one or two-day stays. Fill out this form and cross your fingers! (Note, the demand for permits is so high that NPS does not accept these requests by email; fax may be your best bet. Request early for best results!)

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