The Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, slices 277 miles through the forest and high desert of northern Arizona from east to west, revealing mauve and lavender canyon lands yawning a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. Each year, more than 4 million visitors flock to the Grand Canyon, most visiting the easily accessed lodges and campgrounds in the park's villages near the canyon's east and central regions. A trip to the west side of the canyon, however, takes you off the beaten path, down dusty roads and knee-jarring trails teetering along sheer precipices and dropping hundreds or thousands of feet to campgrounds and backcountry campsites where you can be at one with nature away from the crowds.
Selecting a Campsite
The Havasupai Reservation is home to a mile-long campground stretching between Havasupai and Mooney Falls 8 miles below the canyon's rim. Despite remote access, the campground can get busy in summer, and reservations are required. Within Grand Canyon National Park, Tuweep Campground provides nine first-come, first-served campsites and one reservable group site near a dramatic 3,000-foot cliff that overlooks the Colorado River. You can also reserve backcountry sites descending from various points along the western portions of the Northern Rim where you can camp near waterfalls and descend canyon trails to the shores of the Colorado River.
The western portion of the Grand Canyon is accessed by rugged roads and steep trails not for the faint of heart or weak in knee. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, spare belts and hoses and plenty of water before heading out to the campground of your choice. Access to the Havasupai campground requires driving 60 miles of backcountry road from the nearest services at Peach Springs. You will leave your vehicle behind at a secured lot and hike 8 miles into the canyon.
Tuweep Campground is accessible from the north by car along several graded dirt routes more than 60 miles in length from Highway 389. Some routes may not be accessible during winter, summer storms or spring melt. You can access other points for backcountry camping along the western side of the Grand Canyon through Monument Point, along 45 miles of gravel road. You should be in good shape for 25 miles of hiking with an elevation change exceeding 5,000 feet each way along some of the trails descending to backcountry campsites in the canyon.
No permit, reservations or fees are needed at Tuweep Campground. To camp at any of the designated backcountry campsites accessed from the western side of Grand Canyon National Park, you must get a backcountry camping permit. You can apply for the permit up to four months in advance through the Backcountry Office at both the South and North Rims of the canyon. At Havasupai Campground, reservations must be made in advance by calling the tribal office, or you will be charged double for your campsite.
Depending on the elevation, temperatures can heat up to more than 100 degrees F as early as May. If hiking in to a backcountry campsite from the Northern Rim, be sure to begin at first light as you will be exposed to the sun on the south-facing rockface for the duration of your trip. May and October are the busiest months at Tuweep, when weather is mild. July and August bring summer monsoon rains to the canyon, with thunderheads building throughout the day and dropping heavy rain, thunder and lightning by late afternoon. Temperatures can drop dramatically, so bring a lightweight fleece jacket and storm gear even if you are camping in a hot area. Camping is available year-round, but access to the Northern Rim areas can sometimes be difficult during snowstorms from January through March.