Most people who visit the Grand Canyon take in its views from the edge, but many choose to explore the vast backcountry below the rim—something that is now putting a strain on park resources and congesting the trails.
In response, park officials are considering policy changes, including creating a permit system for day hikers who venture into the backcountry.
According to park officials, between 30,000 and 35,000 people spend the night in the backcountry each year, causing new problems for the park—hikers face long bathroom lines, high noise levels and trash dumped along the trails.
Officials want a better estimate of how many hikers travel below the rim, and want to monitor activities that could damage the environment like canyoneering, climbing and rafting—activities that weren’t outlined in the 1988 backcountry management plan.
Currently, the park has no rules regarding fixed anchors. To compensate, the park would require day-use permits that show routes and restrict the number of climbers and canyoneers.
The three most popular backcountry trails—Bright Angel, South Kaibab, and North Kaibab—would require a day-use permit for hiking more than 5 miles and at least a $5 fee in order to cut down on overcrowding. The park would also be able to limit the number of hikers on the trails.
Linda Jalbert, the wilderness coordinator for the park, said the plan will help protect the solitude expected in the backcountry.
“This plan is really recognizing our wilderness resources and managing to preserve that wilderness character,” Jalbert said. “We’re not closing off any new areas, we’re just really looking at a different management strategies to better protect those areas.”
Park officials say a final decision on the plan will not be made for at least a year.