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Backpacking Grand Canyon: The Ultimate Rim to Rim Experience

Program Number: 2113RJ
Start and End Dates:
9/6/2015 - 9/12/2015; 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: $1,045.00 - 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; Gluten Free    

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
   Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
   Grand Canyon Campground
  Grand Canyon, AZ 4 nights
   Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites
  Flagstaff, AZ 1 night
 Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites
Type: Hotel
  Description: Four floors with 2 elevators, 128 rooms. Conveniently close to shopping. One quarter mile to Northern Arizona University. 2 miles to historic downtown Flagstaff. Wide range of cuisine available at nearby restaurants.
  Contact info: 2015 S Beulah Blvd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001 USA
phone: 928-556-8666
  Room amenities: Free WIFI, dataport phones, premium cable channels, coffee maker, hair dryer, clock.
  Facility amenities: Seasonal outdoor pool and spa, fitness center. Deluxe continental breakfast. Guest coin operated laundry available. Free local calls. Participants requesting a refrigerator for medicine can have access to a locked refrigerator that is located in the hotel lobby area. Lobby microwave available to guests 24 hours. Safety deposit box at front desk available to all guests. Roll away beds for $10.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: Seasonal Call local La Quinta for the rates available during your stay (928) 556-8666. NOTE: When they get the pre-recorded information they must hit the "6" option, to connect with group sales, which has the information about Road Scholar groups.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM
  Additional nights after: Seasonal Call local La Quinta for the rates available during your stay (928) 556-8666. NOTE: When they get the pre-recorded information they must hit the "6" option, to connect with group sales, which has the information about Road Scholar groups.
  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 Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites that night.
  End of Program:
Program ends after breakfast, 8:00 AM You will be staying at Flagstaff La Quinta 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 minute 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.


Flagstaff, AZ to/from Phoenix Sky harbor Airport #2111, #2113, #2114


From Airport




Commercial Van/Shuttle
Van Go Shuttle
phone: 866-448-2646
Advanced Reservations Required


Per Person/One Way:


$45 one way, $90 Round trip. Price does not inlcude customary gratuity
Prices are subject to change.


Travel Time:


About 3 hours (from Phoenix). 




151 Miles


Van Go times shuttles to mesh with program start/end in Flagstaff. Best to arrive in Phoenix Sky Harbor airport by 12 noon and book departures from PHX after 2 PM. Call Van Go PRIOR to booking flights to aid in ease of travel transfers as Van Go offers just one shuttle departure time. Van Go picks up from all terminals at Phoenix airport and nearby airport hotels, and drops off at program hotel. Return shuttle departs immediately upon conclusion of program from Flagstaff La Quinta Hotel.

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(internal or external), 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: Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
(Sunday, September 6)
 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 begin at 4:15 PM.
You need to be in excellent condition for this program - meaning able to climb, with 35 lb pack, 4500 ft in a day (3 Sears Towers, 4 Eiffel Towers, or 341 stories.) Longest hike approx. 8 miles. If you are not sure you are ready for this trip, we strongly recommend you consider taking #8144 or #7704 first. Any questions, call the provider.The Provider, Northern Arizona University, at (928) 523-2359; or;; and
 Dinner: Dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: After dinner Program Orientation continues.
Accommodations: Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Canyon Rim Hike, Camp at Indian Gardens Campground
(Monday, September 7)

Note: 4.6 miles 3060 vertical feet with packs. 3 miles 150 vertical feet optional hike without packs

 Breakfast: Breakfast at hotel.
 Morning: Travel by van to the canyon rim. Stretch, review hiking plan, Put on the packs and begin the journey. Hike down The Bright Angel Trail through 500 million years of rock layers, 3000 vertical feet and 4.5 miles. The Bright Angel Trail is the most used trail into the Grand Canyon, and has been used for thousands of years by everyone from animals, archeo-hunters, prehistoric and historic indians, explorers, miners, tourist, even Teddy Roosevelt. Begin discussions about Grand Canyon Geology.
 Lunch: Sack lunch along the trail.
 Afternoon: Arrive at Indian Gardens campground. Set up camp. Optional hike for those wanting additional challenge - a 3.0 mile r/t to the excellent canyon views at Plateau Point and your first view of the Colorado River.
 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 Bright Angel Campground, Canyon Geology
(Tuesday, September 8)

Note: 4.7 miles 1400 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 Bright Angel Trail, through the Tapeats Narrows, past the Great Unconformity, along Garden Creek and Pipe Creek to the River Trail. We then hike to Bright Angel Campground. We hike about 4.5 miles and 1800 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 at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
(Wednesday, September 9)
 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 Cottonwood, Begin Ascent, Hike Box, Visit Ribbon Falls
(Thursday, September 10)

Note: 8 miles 1600 vertical feet hike

 Breakfast: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
 Morning: Break camp after breakfast and begin the ascent, rising 1600 ft over 7.6 miles. We hike through "The Box", A Narrow gorge carved by Bright Angel Creek through 1.8 billion year old Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. Once out of the Box, the canyon opens up as we enter the Grand Canyon Supergroup of rocks, and we approach Ribbon Falls.
 Lunch: Lunch on the trail.
 Afternoon: Continue hiking, with a stop at Ribbon Falls, an amazing waterfall onto a travertine pillar surrounded by a relaxing grotto, that the Zuni Pueblo Indians hold sacred. After Ribbon Falls, we continue on to Cottonwood Campground with its shady Cottonwood and Live Oak Trees.
 Dinner: In-field meal prepared by staff and participants.
Accommodations: Grand Canyon Campground
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Hike North Rim, Scenic Grand Canyon Excursion
(Friday, September 11)

Note: 6.9 mile 4240 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 N Rim. This is the big climb which will become one of your favorite war stories in the retelling. We will hike up about 4200 vertical feet in about seven miles through some of the most spectacular scenery the Grand Canyon has to offer.
 Lunch: Lunch on the trail.
 Afternoon: After lunch, hike to the North Kaibab Trailhead, (and enjoy a stop at the N. Rim Lodge if we get out early enough), relax and ride back to Flagstaff through the Kaibab Plateau, Vermillion Cliffs, Marble Canyon, Echo Cliffs, the Painted Desert, the Little Colorado River Valley, Cameron and the San Francisco Peaks.
 Dinner: Celebratory dinner at local restaurant.
 Evening: After a hot shower in the hotel, dinner at the restaurant, program wrap-up and farewells.
Accommodations: Flagstaff La Quinta Inn & Suites
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Program Concludes
(Saturday, September 12)
 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

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

Breaking Into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon

Author: Teal, Louise

Description: In 1973, Marilyn Sayre gave up her job as a computer programmer and became the first woman in twenty years to run a commercial boat through the Grand Canyon. Georgie White had been the first, back in the 1950s, but it took time before other women broke into guiding passengers down the Colorado River. This book profiles eleven of the first full-season Grand Canyon boatwomen, weaving together their various experiences in their own words. Breaking Into the Current is a story of romance between women and a place. Each woman tells a part of every Canyon boatwoman's story: when Marilyn Sayre talks about leaving the Canyon, when Ellen Tibbets speaks of crew camaraderie, or when Martha Clark recalls the thrill of white water, each tells how all were involved in the same romance. All the boatwomen have stories to tell of how they first came to the Canyon and why they stayed. Some speak of how they balanced their passion for being in the Canyon against the frustration of working in a traditionally male-oriented occupation, where today women account for about fifteen percent of the Canyon's commercial river guides. As river guides in love with the Canyon and their work, these women have followed their hearts. "I've done a lot," says Becca Lawton, "but there's been nothing like holding those oars in my hands and putting my boat exactly where I wanted it. Nothing." 178pp

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

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.

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

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

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

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