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Though hiking below the rims is the most inspirational way to experience the canyon, it can also be dangerous, especially at midday during summer. Don't underestimate the physical toll that heat and vertical distances can take on even advanced hikers, and be sure to leave any canyon hikes in summer for the early morning. If it's too hot inside the canyon or you aren't up to climbing, consider walking on one of the South Rim's greenway or rim trails. The rim trails are especially nice in the North Rim's forests. However, flash floods can result in the closure of any of the trails.

South Rim

On the South Rim, Bright Angel Trail is the least difficult canyon trail for day hikers. It is well-maintained, proffers shade and drinking water, and is less steep than other canyon trails. Well-prepared hikers will be comfortable traveling 6 miles one-way to the end of Plateau Point Trail, which departs from Tonto Trail just north of where Tonto crosses Bright Angel Trail. If you go any farther on a day hike, there's a good chance that you'll run out of energy and daylight while climbing back to the rim. In summer's heat, day-trippers should not hike farther than Indian Gardens before turning back.

Other popular day hikes on the South Rim include the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs (via the Dripping Springs Trail) or Santa Maria Spring, and Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa. The South Kaibab Trail, because of its steepness and lack of water and shade, is more strenuous than Bright Angel Trail, but it offers panoramic views. The Hermit and Grandview trails, which are not maintained and very steep in places, are even more rugged than the South Kaibab.

North Rim

On the North Rim, the North Kaibab Trail, blessed with seasonal water and abundant shade, is the best option for day hikers descending into the canyon. Day hikers in good shape, as a rule, shouldn't go farther than Roaring Springs, which is 4.7 miles and 3,000 vertical feet below the trail head (check in advance with the visitor center to confirm water availability at Roaring Springs). Even strong walkers may have problems returning to the rim before sunset if they go past Roaring Springs on a day hike.

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The trail descriptions cover many canyon paths, including turnaround points for day hikers. However, I've refrained from writing about some trails (including the South Bass, North Bass, Nankoweap, Tanner, New Hance, Boucher, Thunder River, Bill Hall, and Deer Creek trails) because of their remote locations or rugged conditions. You can ask questions about these trails and obtain free descriptions of them at the Backcountry Information Center (tel. 928/638-7875), located across the train track near Maswik Lodge on the South Rim. The Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim is open year-round daily from 8am to noon and 1 to 5pm, and also offers information over the phone Monday through Friday from 1 to 5pm; the line is often busy, so be prepared to try more than once. Information is also available in the Backcountry Reservations office on the North Rim (about 11 miles south of the North Rim entrance gate or just more than a mile north of Grand Canyon Lodge, and marked by a sign; no phone number), which is open from mid-May to the end of November. For more detailed trail descriptions, look in guidebooks and individual trail guides sold through the Grand Canyon Association (tel. 800/858-2808; www.grandcanyon.org).

Wherever you hike, carry plenty of water and know where the next water sources are. Eat and drink regularly so you don't create an electrolyte imbalance. If you hike into the canyon, allow yourself twice as much time for the trip out as for the descent. Tip: Always confirm with the visitor center or Backcountry Information Center the availability of water on the trails you intend to hike.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.