The Arizona Trail (AZT) is one of just a handful of National Scenic Trails that allows for mixed-use; hikers, bikers, and equestrians are all welcome on the AZT. That said, the route that hikers and bikers on the Arizona Trail follow varies due to the prohibition of bicycles on trails in wilderness areas and national parks.
All but one of the wilderness areas and national parks have bicycle reroutes that more-or-less parallel the hiker AZT. The one exception? The Grand Canyon.
What to Do at the Grand Canyon
The Arizona Trail descends into the Grand Canyon via the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River. From there, it climbs the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim – which sits approximately 1,000 ft / 305 m higher than the South Rim. AZT bikepackers have four options when reaching the South Rim of the Grand Canyon):
- End their trip (Mexico to the Grand Canyon is far enough, right?)
- Pay someone to (or have a very nice friend) shuttle their bike to the North Rim (which is not always open to vehicles depending on the time of year)
- Ride roads for 213 mi / 343 km from the South Rim to the North Rim (this increases the length of the AZT by 25%)
- Carry their bike and hike 23 mi / 37 km through the Grand Canyon, following the Arizona Trail (by no measure an easy task)
The most common choice, at least so far as I can tell from having spoken to other bikepackers, is to carry your bike through the Grand Canyon. Is it easy? No. Will it hurt? Probably. Does it ultimately make the most sense? Yes.
Mailing Gear to the Grand Canyon
If you're not bikepacking the Arizona Trail with a backpack capable of carrying your bicycle through the canyon, you'll need to get yourself one before setting off on what could possibly be the most difficult day of your trip (unless you plan to just carry your bike with your hands like a beast).
In addition to a backpack, you'll also need to get whatever straps or attachments you'll need to carry your bicycle (that you don't already have), and possibly a pair of shoes suitable for hiking in with a heavy load on your back (unless you're riding flats with said shoes or you really love your cycling shoes).
To mail yourself a package at the Grand Canyon, use the following address:
Name (use the name on your ID, not a trail name)
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
The South Rim Post Office is located here (it's not too far out of the way). It is open year-round on weekdays from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. It is closed on weekends and holidays. According to the contact page on the Grand Canyon's website, you need two valid pieces of identification to pick up a package mailed General Delivery. They only asked me for my license. The phone number for the Grand Canyon Post Office is +1 (928) 638-2512.
The city of Flagstaff isn't too far south of the Grand Canyon, and it's home to many bicycle shops, outdoor gear shops (including an REI), post offices, and hotels. If you wanted to purchase or mail yourself a pack in/to Flagstaff and just ride with it to the Grand Canyon, this could also be an option.
Wondering what to do with your gear once you make it to the North Rim? During the season, there is a post office that operates at the North Rim (located in Grand Canyon Lodge). This is the only post office between the Grand Canyon and the northern terminus; there are no postal services in Jacob Lake. However, the trail between the North Rim and the northern terminus is relatively easy (especially if you've biked the entire AZT northbound up until this point), and there's no reason you couldn't just keep/wear your backpack until the end of your trip.
FOR SOUTHBOUND BIKERS: If you're bikepacking the Arizona Trail heading southbound, I suggest you begin your ride with everything you'll need to hike through the Grand Canyon. You can then mail whatever you won't be using for the remainder of the ride (e.g. backpack, shoes, straps/clips) back home (or wherever) from the post office located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (open 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM weekdays, closed weekends). The South Rim Post Office operates year-round.
There is a post office located in the general store in Tusayan (south of the Grand Canyon), but they do not accept general delivery packages and are cash only. They only carry small boxes, so if you're looking to mail back something large (like a backpack) you're better off doing it from the post office in the park (or just ask nicely at a nearby business to use a discarded box). The phone number for the post office in Tusayan is +1 (928) 638-9228. They are open weekdays from 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM (closed weekends).
NOTE: There is no post office at Jacob Lake (north of the Grand Canyon).
How to Carry Your Bike
As alluded to above, no reasonable alternative exists to avoid crossing the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail.
Traveling from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon via bicycle is a 213 mi / 343 km trip. Traveling from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon via foot is a 23 mi 37 km hike.
If you are planning on carrying your bike through the Grand Canyon, let me be the first to warn you that this hike should not be underestimated. I went into this with the attitude of, “hiking through the Grand Canyon is going to be fairly chill – I've hiked hundreds of twenty-something-mile days and this will just be doing the same thing but with a heavy pack on.” I did the entire Rim to Rim hike in a single day and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
My recommendations for a successful carry of your bike through the canyon are as follows:
- Get yourself a heavy-duty pack with a frame, if you can – think Osprey Atmos AG (Men's) or Ariel AG (Women's); ultralight and/or frameless backpacks are not your friends.
- Voile straps are your friends. I used a combination of voile straps to connect my wheels. I then connected my wheels to my frame, and finally, my frame to my pack.
- You can also use something like a combination of Heroclips to get your bike attached to your pack.
- NRS Straps can also be a solution for putting together your bike and getting it on your back (you could even make some makeshift load lifters with these if you wanted).
- If you're not riding flats with a pair of shoes you're comfortable hiking in, be sure to ship yourself a pair of shoes to hike the canyon in (I hiked it in my Speedgoats).
- I stopped and readjusted my bike multiple times during my hike. I ended up with my seat/handlebars down so that I could set my pack/bike down without having to worry about my derailleur (but I had to be careful next to canyon walls since my derailleur was pointed out to the side). I started with my derailleur pointed straight up and bars down, but my handlebars would hit my leg/foot.
Where to Camp
Assuming you're going to be carrying your bicycle through the Grand Canyon, bikepackers have a few options when it comes to camping logistics.
Camping is available to hikers at the South Rim, below the rim (i.e. within the canyon), and at the North Rim. Logistically, the easiest option is to hike from the South Rim to the North Rim in a single day because it can be difficult to secure a campsite below the rim. However, physically, this is far from the easiest option.
Here's what's up with each.
The South Rim
The land just south of the Grand Canyon National Park boundary is Kaibab National Forest.
Dispersed camping is allowed in the Kaibab National Forest so long it's not expressly prohibited because of proximity to developed campgrounds or resource concerns. I recommend heading down Forest Service Road 328, past Apache Stables (where camping is prohibited), and finding somewhere nice to sleep before your hike down into the canyon. More on Kaibab National Forest dispersed camping here.
It's around 8 mi / 13 km down mostly flat and paved paths from this area to the South Kaibab Trailhead at the South Rim. Alternatively, there is plenty of accommodation located in the town of Tusayan (just south of the park entrance).
If you prefer, you can try your luck at Mather Campground within Grand Canyon National Park. It's just over 3 mi / 5 km from Mather Campground to South Kaibab Trailhead. There are communal hiker/biker sites available at Mather Campground for $6. These are first-come, first-served and are only available to people traveling via foot or bicycle.
For “regular” Mather Campground campsite reservations check here; campsites are between $18 and $30 per night. There are toilets, trash cans, and potable water available at Mather Campground.
There are also toilets and trash cans located at the South Kaibab Trailhead (where the AZT drops into the canyon).
Below the Rim
The Arizona Trail passes through the area known in the Grand Canyon as the Corridor.
Essentially, the Corridor is the most popular area of the park and contains maintained trails, water stations, paved roads, toilets, signs, emergency phones, and ranger stations. The Corridor is basically where someone who is “going to go visit the Grand Canyon” would find themselves.
This means that camping below the rim on the AZT can be logistically difficult since you're only permitted to camp within one of two developed campsites along the AZT. There is no dispersed camping permitted below the rim along the Arizona Trail.
The two options for camping below the rim are Bright Angel Campground and Cottonwood Campground. Bright Angel Campground is located just north of the Colorado River, across from Phantom Ranch (and has flushing toilets). Cottonwood Campground is located further north, 6.8 mi / 10.9 km below the North Rim (pit toilets only).
Grand Canyon backcountry permits are incredibly frustrating to get in advance as they only accept permit reservation requests by mail or fax (that's right, no phone or online reservations). If you would like to request a permit, use this form. That said, there are last-minute walk-up permits available. These can be obtained from the Backcountry Information Center at the South Rim or North Rim. There is also a waitlist for campsites you can join at the backcountry offices.
Find more information on backcountry Grand Canyon camping permits here.
The North Rim
Because the North Rim is less popular than the South Rim, camping here isn't as complicated.
There is a hiker/biker campground at the North Rim Campground. During the winter (typically between December 1 and May 15), you can obtain a permit for the hiker/biker campground in advance via the backcountry permit office (fax/mail/in-person). Additionally, during winter, dispersed camping is permitted between the North Kaibab Trailhead (but not at the trailhead) and the park's northern boundary.
While the North Rim is open, sites at the hiker/biker site are available on a first-come basis and you can obtain your permit at the campground. If you prefer to reserve a space in the North Rim Campground, you can do so here (only when the North Rim is open).
- Grand Canyon backcountry permit information
- Grand Canyon backcountry permit request form (pdf)
- Grand Canyon National Park current closures
- Grand Canyon National Park rules and regulations
- Mather Campground reservations (Recreation.gov)
- North Rim Campground reservations (Recreation.gov)
- Grand Canyon Corridor availability report (pdf)
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