The importance of following Grand Canyon safety advice cannot be understated. The Grand Canyon’s harsh desert environment and high elevation can cause problems for even the most physically fit visitors. Falls, dehydration and accidents have made casualties out of too many visitors who failed to heed safety recommendations.
Because Grand Canyon National Park is in a remote location, you may not have easy access to water, food, medications or cover from inclement weather. It can also take time for a park ranger to reach you in the event of an emergency. Therefore, it is best to prepare for hazardous situations as much as possible. Review the following sections to learn about some of the most common roadblocks to a safe and healthy visit.
Grand Canyon Preparation Tips
In 2018, the Grand Canyon National Park Service recorded 1,054 emergency medical service incidents, 265 search and rescue incidents and 17 park fatalities. Some of these incidents may have been avoided if visitors had arrived at the park better prepared to face its sometimes harsh conditions. Follow these tips when preparing to visit the Grand Canyon, even if you do not plan to engage in any strenuous activities.
- Make sure your vehicle is in good repair, the gas tank is full and you have an extra set of keys. It can be a long wait for a locksmith, and only the most minor auto repairs can be done inside of the park.
- Carry water in your car, especially during the summer months. One gallon per person is ideal.
- Bring snacks, prescription medications and a first aid kit that includes ibuprofen, acetaminophen and allergy medication.
- Bring a rain poncho and a lightweight jacket for each family member. Rainstorms can pop up quickly, and the temperature plummets fast at sunset.
- Bring sunscreen and aloe gel. It is easy to get a sunburn in the desert.
- Bring an external power charger for your cell phones, but keep in mind that service can be spotty in the park. Consider investing in a SPOT satellite location device or an emergency locator beacon to help park rangers find you if necessary.
- Plan to arrive early in the day, to avoid the biggest crowds and highest temperatures.
High Altitude Sickness
The Grand Canyon altitude can cause problems for people who are susceptible to altitude sickness. Because the rims’ elevations are 7,000 feet (South Rim) and 8,000 feet (North Rim), there is less oxygen available than most people are used to. This can cause high altitude sickness, with symptoms of headache, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath.
Altitude sickness medication is rarely needed at these elevations. If you feel unwell and suspect altitude sickness, descend to a lower elevation as quickly as possible and consult a physician. Most people acclimate easily to the Grand Canyon’s altitude within a few days.
Grand Canyon safety tips must include a mention of the dangerous and potentially deadly lightning that accompanies heavy thunderstorms that appear from July through September. Seek shelter immediately when you become aware of an impending storm. If you are hiking and there is no shelter nearby, avoid the following:
- The Canyon’s edge
- Rocky outcrops
- Lone trees
- The tallest trees
- Metal railings
- Bodies of water
Try to spread out from other people and crouch on the balls of your feet. Keep your head down, cover your ears with your hands and do not lie flat on the ground. If your hair stands up or your skin prickles, that means an electric charge is building beneath you and you are at high risk of being struck by lightning. Move immediately.
Hiking Safety Tips
It is important to hike smart whenever you venture onto Grand Canyon trails. Bring a SPOT device and make sure your phone is charged. Do not consider hiking unless you are physically fit enough to make your way back up the trail.
Keep in mind that distances and temperatures can be deceiving at the Grand Canyon. You must allow plenty of time for your hike and be prepared for heat or cold. It is not safe to hike the Grand Canyon at night, so make sure you end your hike well before sundown.
Hiking views are breathtaking, but you must not get distracted while actively moving along the park’s trails. Look down often to see where your feet are. It can be dangerously easy to get too close to the rim’s edge in some locations. To avoid falls, always keep a safe distance from the trail’s edge.
Drink plenty of water and stop for a salty snack on a regular basis. This replenishes low blood sodium lost to sweating. A Grand Canyon park ranger recommendation is to sit down, prop your legs up and take a 10-minute break at least once an hour. Refill your water bottle every time you see a water filling station.
If you encounter wildlife on the trail, maintain a safe distance from the animal. Never feed wild animals. Not only is it bad for them, but it could be dangerous for you. Finally, never swim in the Colorado River. Its cold temperatures and dangerous currents can be deadly.
Safety Tips for Visitors with Children
Visiting the Grand Canyon with kids is a fun experience, but you must plan a bit more to ensure their safety. Use a stroller, baby carrier or harness to keep small children safe from wandering too close to cliff edges, and warn older children of the dangers of falling.
Pack extra baby formula, diapers, snacks and water for each child. Kids will need a jacket in the Grand Canyon at night and flashlights or glow sticks will help keep them safe after dark.
Grand Canyon Emergency Services
If you need Grand Canyon emergency services, rest assured that rangers and first responders are well trained in SAR rescue (search and rescue) procedures, firefighting and emergency medical services. Call 911 whenever you need help. If you do not have phone service, send a companion to locate the nearest Grand Canyon ranger center or ranger station.