Picnic & Camping Supplies -- To maximize your dollars, stock up on camping items at a grocery store in a larger city, if possible. In general, prices are lowest in Flagstaff and rise steadily as you near the canyon, peaking at the Canyon Village Marketplace inside the park.
The park's three backcountry campgrounds -- Bright Angel, Cottonwood, and Indian Garden -- are deep inside the canyon and accessible only via hiking trails. To stay at these campgrounds, you must be willing to hike long distances into the canyon carrying the necessary clothes, shelter, food, and water -- and then hike back out with everything (including your trash). You will also need a permit from the park's Backcountry Information Center. If you lack either the necessary incentive or the necessary permit (or both), camp at one of the car campgrounds in the park's developed areas. There, you can sleep under the stars, a few feet away from your loaded vehicle.
Bright Angel Campground -- The River Trail (which begins at the foot of Bright Angel Trail), the South Kaibab Trail, and the North Kaibab Trail all converge below Bright Angel Campground, which lies on the Colorado River's north shore. The River Trail crosses the Colorado River on the Silver Suspension Bridge just west of the campground; the South Kaibab Trail crosses on the Kaibab Suspension Bridge just east of the campground. The North Kaibab Trail's lowest section parallels the campground on the opposite side of Bright Angel Creek. The campground lies 14.1 miles from the North Kaibab trail head; 9.3 miles from the Bright Angel trail head; and 6.8 miles from the South Kaibab trail head.
This long, narrow campground occupies a purgatory between the cool waters of Bright Angel Creek and the black cliffs of the Vishnu Formation, which, in summer, are hot as grills. A half-mile away, the Colorado River rumbles past, eddying against a beach that is a popular stopping point for raft trips. A walkway divides the campground, which is open year-round. Roughly half of the 32 campsites are on the cliff side; the other sites, which are nicer, are on the creek side. Most are shaded by cottonwood trees, a few of which Civilian Conservation Corps workers planted in the 1930s (though most of the CCC-planted trees washed away in a 1966 flash flood).
Phantom Ranch is a half-mile to the north. Though all three of the campgrounds inside the canyon boast lovely surroundings, the proximity of Bright Angel Campground to the Colorado River makes it especially stunning. The campground includes toilets, water, and a ranger station.
Cottonwood Campground -- As you hike up the North Kaibab Trail from the Colorado River, Bright Angel Canyon's walls part like the Red Sea below this campground. Between them rests a valley floor soft and damp enough to support a few cottonwood trees, most of which grow near the ranger station. Most of the 11 campsites are surrounded by shrub oak, whose low-slung branches barely shade the sites and picnic tables. Bright Angel Creek flows past the campground's west side. On a hot summer day, it's the only cool place around.
Halfway between the North Rim and the Colorado River, Cottonwood Campground is a great place to camp while en route to (or from) the waterway. As part of a 4-day hike from the North Rim, schedule a night here, a night at Bright Angel Campground, and another night at Cottonwood. But don't underestimate how hard it is to get here: The walk from the North Kaibab trail head to Cottonwood Campground covers 6.8 miles and drops 3,170 feet -- nearly a half-mile longer than the entire length of the South Kaibab Trail, with nearly three-quarters of the vertical drop.
Cottonwood is the last camp in the canyon before you ascend to the North Rim. It lies 16.6 miles from the South Rim's Bright Angel trail head. It remains open year-round, though the ranger station is closed from November to April. There are toilets here; water is available seasonally.
Indian Garden Campground -- You can use this campground, 4.6 miles from the Bright Angel trail head and 3,100 feet below the rim, to break up hikes from the South Rim to the Colorado River. Its 15 sites are surrounded by lush riparian vegetation fed by Indian Garden Spring, just a short walk down the canyon. Toilets, water, and a ranger station are here. For a great 4-day hike from the South Rim, schedule 2 nights here and 1 night at Bright Angel Campground. Once you arrive at Indian Garden, you can hike to Plateau Point and enjoy marvelous vistas, or hike on the Tonto Trail.
Camping with a Car
This section focuses on camping with a vehicle -- that is, camping in or near an RV or automobile. Most car campgrounds have individual parking pullouts, sites for tents, picnic tables, fire rings or grills, toilets, and drinking water. Campgrounds inside Grand Canyon National Park now have recycling bins, as well. A few so-called "primitive" campgrounds lack running water. Located in remote areas, these often consist of little more than open space and a pit toilet. In addition to car campgrounds, the Grand Canyon area is home to a handful of RV parks, where recreational vehicles can tap into water and electricity during overnight stays.
Numerous car campgrounds and RV parks are available in and near the national park's developed areas (as well as one primitive car campground near the western canyon). Within the park, camping is permitted at designated campsites only. Make reservations well in advance -- spaces fill up fast. In addition to the campgrounds listed, many other car campgrounds and RV parks are available farther from the canyon, in Flagstaff, Williams, and Kanab.
Camping in Kaibab National Forest
Park visitors can camp for free in Kaibab National Forest. The Forest Service's rules are simple: Camp in designated areas away from paved roads and water, and at least a mile from designated campgrounds. (No camping is allowed near Hull Cabin or Red Butte.) Pack out your garbage, including used toilet paper, and remove any signs that you've been there. Bury human waste in holes 4 inches deep, 6 inches across, and at least 100 yards from water or creek beds. Where fires are allowed, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Completely douse campfires before leaving. If the forest seems dry, check with a local Forest Service office about campfire restrictions.
The dispersed camping in the National Forest on the North Rim is among the best anywhere. A number of Forest Service roads lead to canyon overlooks close to where you can spend the night, such as Crazy Jug Point and Parissawampitts Point, which offer lovely views of the central Grand Canyon but require long, bumpy drives.
For maps and information on dispersed camping on the North Rim, visit the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center (tel. 928/643-7298) in Jacob Lake, open daily 8am to 5pm from mid-May to mid-October.
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.