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Backpacking Grand Canyon: The Ultimate Rim to Rim Experience

Program Number: 2113RJ
Start and End Dates:
9/21/2014 - 9/27/2014; 5/15/2016 - 5/21/2016; 5/23/2016 - 5/29/2016; 9/11/2016 - 9/17/2016; 9/18/2016 - 9/24/2016;
Duration: 6 nights
Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
Price starting at: $1,025.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Walking/Hiking; National Parks; Natural History Activity Level: n (see description)
Meals: 17; 6 Breakfasts, 5 Lunches, 6 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

Backpack the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Encounter streams and waterfalls, secret groves and majestic scenery every day. Trek through five life zones and half of earth’s history as you backpack 24 breathtaking miles from the heights of the rim to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch below and up the other side.


Camp four nights under the stars below the canyon’s rim and experience the wonders of the Inner Canyon.
Spend a day along the Colorado River at historic Phantom Ranch while exploring the canyon’s Inner Gorge.
Learn on the trail from seasoned wilderness instructors.

Activity Particulars

Strenuous hiking 5-8 miles a day with packs weighing 30-35 pounds at elevations of 2,400-8,200 feet; elevation changes of 1,400-4,200 feet; uneven, sometimes rocky terrain.

Hike permits acquired four months before start date. Dates may shift. Call Road Scholar before reserving air.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Flagstaff, 1 night; Grand Canyon camping, 4 nights; Flagstaff, 1 night; departure.

Coordinated by Northern Arizona University.


Nestled at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona, Flagstaff is a perfect departure point for trips to the Glen and Grand canyons or Sunset Crater National Monument. At 7,000 feet in elevation, this cool mountain city is one of the highest in the nation.

Grand Canyon National Park

Within the borders of its 1.2 million acres, this World Heritage Site offers bikers, hikers, rafters and campers everything from breathtaking vistas to high adventure. Its 277 miles of raw rock and water continue to amaze generations of visitors.

Flagstaff: Hotel with pool/spa. Grand Canyon: Developed campgrounds.

Road Scholar Instructors
These instructors are participating on at least one date of this program. Please note that changes may occur.
Mike Young

Mike Young has lived in Arizona for 40 years, and taught math and geology at Yavapai College prior to his work with Road Scholar. To convey the Arizona landscape, Mike uses a broad range of topics including botany, natural history and geomorphology. He has worked as a commercial boatman, designed and constructed his own home, and conducted field exercises throughout the intermountain west. He is an accomplished hike leader who challenges hikers of all skill levels.
Richard Stephens

Rich has been director of Northern Arizona University’s highly popular Road Scholar programs since 2001. He previously spent many years in the field as a program coordinator and group leader, where he honed his skills and learned the importance of detailed, pre-trip planning. Before making his home in Arizona’s spectacular red-rock country, Rich spent 10 years in Yosemite National Park and the Santa Cruz mountains as an environmental educator.
Mike Masek

Mike Masek is a wilderness skills instructor, herbalist and ethnobotanist living in Flagstaff, Ariz. In addition to his current work with Road Scholar, he is adjunct faculty at Northern Arizona University where he teaches traditional uses of native plants and outdoor survival skills. He also teaches programs at the National Parks and Coconino Community College. He has spent a lifetime exploring the canyons and deserts of the American Southwest and loves to share these treasures with others.
Jeff Strang

Jeff Strang's knowledge of the environment stems from over 35 years of hiking, paddling, and photography in the outdoors, his extensive experience as a naturalist, as well as from his education at the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. In 1987, Jeff filed a precedent-setting lawsuit against Oregon polluters under the Clean Water Act. Jeff has been leading Road Scholar programs since 2002. In his free time, Jeff enjoys biking to work, hiking, kayaking, outdoor photography and studying geology.
Michael Wichman

Michael Wichman's first trip below the rim in Grand Canyon was in October 2004 and he hasn’t looked back since. He's passionate about the Southwest, and especially Grand Canyon, with a love of hiking, climbing, and paddling on and below its rims. He's dedicated to lifelong learning: an avid reader of all things associated with Grand Canyon, his favorite topics are geology, canyon inhabitants, and river stories. He also loves meeting new people — of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and origins. He finds shared group experiences extremely enriching especially when that experience is in nature. Michael earned a B.A. in psychology from UCLA, where he worked with children with autism. He also studied at Northern Arizona University, focusing on environmental science and policy in the Southwest. Michael looks forward to the opportunity to share an adventure with you!
Meals and Lodgings
   La Qunita Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
   Grand Canyon Campground
  Grand Canyon, AZ 4 nights
   La Qunita Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
 La Qunita Inn & Suites
Type: Motel
  Contact info: 2015 S Beulah Blvd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001 USA
phone: 928-556-8666
  Room amenities: 25" satellite TV, AM FM clock radio, electronic locks, telephone with voice mail and data port, free local telephone calls, iron and board, coffee maker, internet.
  Facility amenities: Outdoor pool, Jacuzzi; exercise room, guest laundry, wi-fi available in lobby.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Check out time: 12:00 PM

 Grand Canyon Campground
Type: Other
  Contact info: In the Grand Canyon
Closest: Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 USA
phone: NA -00---
  Smoking allowed: No
  Bathroom: camp toilets w/i campgrounds

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
Check into hotel after 3:00 PM. Register for program between 4:00-4:15 PM. Orientation begins at 4:15 PM. You will be staying at La Qunita Inn & Suites that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends after breakfast, 8:00 AM You will be staying at La Qunita Inn & Suites the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required.
  Parking availability:
Free at hotel - for entire program.
To Start of Program
  Location:  Flagstaff, AZ
  Nearest city or town:  Flagstaff
  Nearest highway: East - West: I-40, North South, I-17 & US 89
  Nearest airport:  Flagstaff
  From End of Program
  Location:  Departures
Travel Details

From Phoenix Airport - To Flagstaff AZ Airport & Return


To Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
US Air
phone: 800-428-4322
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$140.00 - or less, see comments below.
Prices are subject to change.


USAirways Commuter Air From Phoenix Airport to Flagstaff Airport, taxi to hotel or train station (appx. $12.00). Air fare to Flagstaff much cheaper (exact cost varies) if flight to Phoenix is also on US Air. Phoenix to Flagstaff distance 150 miles; 45 min flight time. Five flights daily.


Flagstaff, AZ to/from Starting Destination


To Train Station




Public Transportation
phone: 800-872-7245
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Varies with starting / return destination
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


From Flagstaff train station to hotel: 5 minutes taxi ride. 




From Flagstaff train station to hotel 2 miles.


Westbound train arrives 8:51 PM and departs at 8:57 PM Eastbound train arrives at 4:36 AM and departs at 4:41 AM. Times subject to change. Check Amtrak for current schedules.


Flagstaff, AZ to/from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Arizona Shuttle
phone: 877-226-8060
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


Approx. $45.00 one way ($41.00 Internet Reservation); $5.00 each way drop off/pickup at La Quinta
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


Approx 3 hours 




150 Miles


Check AZ Shuttle for departure times PRIOR to booking flights. Advanced reservations required. 10+ shuttles daily from/to Phoenix airport. Upon arrival, check-in at shuttle desk in baggage claim area 15 minutes before shuttle departs. Drop off/pick up at Flagstaff La Quinta by advanced reservation only – must call before 6 PM night prior (~$5.00 extra charge each way for hotel drop/pick up for Road Scholar); otherwise, drop/pick up is at Flagstaff Visitor Center/Amtrak; taxi extra charge.

Driving Directions
  Flagstaff La Quinta From I-40 Take I-40 to Flagstaff, exit 195 north for Flagstaff and Grand Canyon. This puts you northbound on Milton Road. At the first stoplight, Forest Meadows, turn left. Left (west) on Forest Meadows for quarter block to next light, Beulah Blvd. Right (north) on Beulah for quarter block to La Quinta on left, 2015 S. Beulah.
  Flagstaff La Quinta from I-17 N on 1-17 until it ends, becoming Milton Rd in Flagstaff. At lst stop light, Forest Meadows, turn left for quarter block to next light, Beulah Blvd. R on Beulah for quarter block to La Quinta on left, 2015 S. Beulah.
Elevation Note: 8,000 ft -those with heart or lung conditions need OK from physician before attending.

Equipment Requirements: Framed, fitted backpack; ultralight (UL) sleeping bag, closed cell or self-inflating foam pad, UL tent, ground cloth; sturdy hiking boots with ankle support and good tread; water bottles or hydration bladders min of 3L; 2 collapsible hiking sticks; more under packing list below.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Registration/Introductions/Program Orientation
(Sunday, September 21)
 Afternoon: Check into hotel after 3:00 PM, register for program between 4:00 -4:15 pm in hotel meeting room or lobby. Introductions and program orientation follows beginning at 4:15 PM. Don't buy airline tickets or commit to other travel arrangements before the final dates of the program are known! Program dates may shift a day or weeks based on group campsite availability at GC National Park. Final dates will not be known until 4 months before the program. Hike direction (north to south or south to north) is also determined by group campsite availability. The Provider(Northern Arizona University) can be contacted at (928)523-2359;; and
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: After dinner Program Orientation continues.
Accommodations: La Qunita Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Scenic drive to North Rim Grand Canyon/hike North Kaibab Trail, Camp at Cottonwood Campground
(Monday, September 22)

Note: 6.9 miles 4240 vertical feet with packs.

 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel.
 Morning: Get up early. Travel by van to the canyon rim, driving past the San Francisco Peaks, the Vermillion Cliff, part of the Painted Desert, and the Kaibab Plaetau. Stretch, review hiking plan, Put on the packs and begin the journey. Hike down The North Kaibab Trail Trail through 500 million years of rock layers, 4240 vertical feet and 6.9 miles. The North Kaibab Trail is one of the most spectacular trails into the Grand Canyon. Begin discussions about Grand Canyon Geology. Arrive at Cottonwood Campground with its shady Cottonwood and Live Oak Trees.
 Lunch: Sack lunch along the trail.
 Afternoon: Arrive at Cottonwood campground. Set up camp. Begin to absorb the beauty and wonders of the Canyon.
 Dinner: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Evening: After a trail prepared dinner, kick back and relax under the stars.
Accommodations: Grand Canyon Campground
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Hike to Bright Angel Campground/Canyon Geology & Biology Presentation/NPS Ranger Presentation
(Tuesday, September 23)

Note: 8 miles 1600 vertical feet hike

 Breakfast: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Morning: Following breakfast, break camp, put on packs and continue hiking down the North Kaibab Trail; Stopping at Ribbon Falls, sacred to the Zuni Indians; through the Box composed of 1.8 billion year old Schist and Granite.We then hike to Bright Angel Campground. We hike about 7.6 miles and 1600 vertical feet down.
 Lunch: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Afternoon: Arrive in campground, set up camp. Free time to explore the Bright Angel Creek/ Phantom Ranch area. Continued discussions on Canyon geology and biology.
 Dinner: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Evening: After dinner, a presentation by NPS ranger. Optional trip to the canteen at Phantom Ranch.
Accommodations: Grand Canyon Campground
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Layover Day
(Wednesday, September 24)
 Breakfast: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Morning: Layover day. Short easy hike with fanny pack on bridge loop about 2-3 miles, and ~200 vertical feet. Discuss river ecology and the effects of the dams on the Grand Canyon.
 Lunch: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Afternoon: Free time to hang out in camp, sit with your feet dangling in Bright Angel Creek, hike up the Clear Creek Trail, explore Phantom Canyon, go to the afternoon ranger program, and/or visit the Phantom Ranch Canteen for its ice cold lemonade and beer.
 Dinner: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Evening: Free time to hang out in camp, go to the evening ranger program, and/or visit the Phantom Ranch Canteen.
Accommodations: Grand Canyon Campground
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Hike to Indian Garden Campground/Hike along the River Trail, ascend the Devil's Corkscrew, Tapeats Narrows, optional hike out to Plateau Point
(Thursday, September 25)

Note: 4.7 miles 1400 vertical feet hike, with an optional 3 mile hike to Plateau Point.

 Breakfast: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Morning: Break camp after breakfast and begin the ascent, rising 1400 ft over 4.7miles. We hike along the River Trail up the Devil's Corkscrew and into the Tapeats Narrows, where we can see the Great Unconformity, a 1.2 billion year gap in the Geologic record.
 Lunch: Lunch on the trail, or in camp at Indian Gardens.
 Afternoon: Enjoy an Optional 3 mile round trip hike out to Plateau Point, with views straight down to the Colorado River.
 Dinner: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
Accommodations: Grand Canyon Campground
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Hike to S Rim/Scenic ride through Grand Canyon back to Flagstaff
(Friday, September 26)

Note: 4.7 mile 3060 vertical feet hike.

 Breakfast: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Morning: After breakfast and early camp break, begin the final climb to the S Rim. It is only 4.7 miles and 3060 vertical feet and you are ready for it.
 Lunch: Lunch on the trail or on the rim.
 Afternoon: Enjoy the scenic drive back to Flagstaff and a well deserved shower.
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: After a hot shower in the hotel, dinner at the restaurant, program wrap-up and farewells.
Accommodations: La Qunita Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Departures
(Saturday, September 27)
 Breakfast: Continental breakfast at hotel.
 Morning: Check out.
Meals Included: Breakfast

Free Time Opportunities
  Flagstaff, AZ Flagstaff Area
Points of Interest w/in 2 hours of Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon NM, Wupatki NM, Sunset Crater NM, Museum of Northern Arizona, Downtown Flagstaff & old Route 66, Lowell Observatory, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona Red Rocks and the Secret Mountain Wilderness, Montezuma’s Castle NM, Tuzigoot NM, Jerome, AZ Ghost Town, San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Wilderness, Hopi & Navajo Reservations, La Posada Hotel / Restaurant at Winslow, AZ, Grand Canyon Railroad @ Williams, AZ and the Grand Canyon National Park. For additional information, visit
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery

Author: Ranney, Wayne

Description: Ranney explains how rivers in general can physically carve canyons, looks chronologically at the numerous theories that have been presented by successive generations of geologists regarding the Grand Canyon's formation, and describes a plausible sequence of geologic events that could create such a landscape. Numerous color photographs, detailed illustrations, and maps are provided. Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR 160pp; 2nd edition 2012.

An Introduction to Grand Canyon Ecology

Author: Houk, Rose

Description: 56pp

An Introduction to Grand Canyon Prehistory

Author: Coder, Christopher M.

Description: People have inhabited Grand Canyon for the past twelve thousand years. Evidence of their lives exists throughout the canyon; but it is up to their ancestors and archaeologists to interpret those remains for us. This book provides a popular look at the architecture, art, and tools of prehistoric Puebloan peoples, as well as information about modern-day Native American tribes. With illustrations and color photographs.

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West

Author: Stegner, Wallace

Description: Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell's struggle against western geography and Washington politics. We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell's distinguished career, and appreciate his unparalleled understanding of the West. "Stegner's most exciting work." (San Francisco Chronicle) 496pp

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Author: Reisner, Marc

Description: The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecologic and economic disaster. In Cadillac Desert Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the competition to transform the West. Based on more than a decade of research, Cadillac Desert is a stunning expose and a dramatic, intriguing history of the creation of an Eden--and Eden that may be only a mirage. 608pp

Field Guide to the Grand Canyon

Author: Whitney, Stephen R

Description: This book describes and illustrates the area's plants and animals, and offers fascinating in-depth information on the natural history and geology of this dramatic region. 272pp

Grand Canyon Geology

Author: Beus, Stanley

Description: This second edition of the leading book on Grand Canyon geology contains the most recent discoveries and interpretations of the origin and history of the canyon. It includes two entirely new chapters: one on debris flow in the Canyon and one on the impact of water flow releases from the Glen Canyon Dam. All chapters have been updated where necessary and all photographs have been replaced or re-screened for better resolution. Written by acknowledged experts in stratigraphy, paleontology, structural geology, geomorphology, volcanism and seismology, this book offers a wealth of information for geologists and general readers interested in acquiring an understanding of the geological history of this great natural wonder. 423pp

Hiking the Grand Canyon’s Geology

Author: Abbott, Lon, and Cook, Terri.

Description: Geologists Abbott and Cook (Prescott College, Prescott, AZ) present the Grand Canyon though scientists' eyes for rim walkers, day hikers, and serious backpackers. An overview introduces readers to the area's geological history, followed by detailed narratives of 18 hikes. For each hike the authors explore a geological theme, focusing on aspects of the canyon's evolution that are particularly well-illustrated along its length. Basic information such as trail length, elevation change, and difficulty level starts each chapter. Thoroughly illustrated with b&w photos and diagrams as well as 20 color plates. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR 304pp

Introduction to Grand Canyon Geology

Author: Price, L Greer

Description: This overview of Grand Canyon geology is perfect for the first-time visitor or the seasoned Grand Canyon traveler. Chapters cover the basic priciples of geology, the history of geological exploration at Grand Canyon, the canyon's structural features, and the Colorado River. Includes over 70 photos and illustrations, an index, and glossary. 63pp

Life in Stone: Fossils of the Colorado Plateau

Author: Sadler, Christa

Description: Like pages in a book, the layers of sedimentary rock that are exposed on the Colorado Plateau tell us much about the diversity of environments that have come and gone over a period of hundreds of millions of years. This region is recognized as one of the finest earth-science laboratories in the world. Analysis of the fossil record and new discoveries across the plateau are answering questions, solving mysteries, and making connections that help us understand the history of life worldwide. "Life In Stone" tells the story of past environments and current discoveries with numerous illustrations and lively text written for a general audience. 72pp

Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters, and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region

Author: Anderson, Michael F

Description: A comprehensive look at the pioneer history of the Grand Canyon Region, from its earliest residents to the creation of the national park at the end of the pioneer era (circa 1920). Included are close to two hundred historic photographs, many never published before, and 12 custom maps of the region. 184pp

The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons

Author: Powell, John Wesley

Description: Full text of Powell's 1,000-mile expedition down the fabled Colorado in 1869. Superb account of terrain, geology, vegetation, Indians, famine, mutiny, treacherous rapids, mighty canyons. 240 illustrations. 432pp

The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon

Author: Fletcher, Colin

Description: The remarkable classic of nature writing by the first man ever to have walked the entire length of the Grand Canyon. 256pp

What’s included in this Road Scholar program?

Except for the occasional meal on some programs, Road Scholar programs are all-inclusive. That means there are no extra “options,” no passing the hat for tips and no surprises. From lectures and field trips to gratuities and accommodations – the price you pay up front is the price you pay.

Specifically, this program includes:

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