Photography Hikes: The Grand Canyon
If you use the word “hike” and the country “USA” in the same sentence, the likelihood is you will end up talking about the Grand Canyon.
For hikers around the world, this is the holy grail of locations. Incised by the Colorado River, the canyon itself spans a massive 277 miles, averaging 4,000 feet deep for the majority, and 6,000 feet deep at its lowest point.
With its gorgeous scenery and momentous natural structures, it’s also become a must-visit for photography hikers.
So how do you take advantage? To help you make an Insta album or Instagram photo book the Grand Canyon deserves, below is our full photography hiking guide that will tell you exactly where to go and what to capture.
The Hiking Trail: The Grand Canyon
As we mentioned, the Grand Canyon spans around 277 miles, so there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from. One of the best, in our view, is the Bright Angel Trail, on the South Rim.
At 8.8 miles, this is a hike that will take you past the best of the Grand Canyon, including 2 billion years of geology showpieces and rock towers made from layers of white, rust, rose, and red.
It starts just west of Bright Angel Lodge, and ends in the otherworldly oasis of Indian Garden, with free shuttle buses available to the trailhead, and even a restaurant at the start so you can fill up before for your journey!
Why It’s Good
Over the years, this has become one of the most popular hiking trails in the Canyon, not least because it’s easy to follow, well-maintained, and efficiently signed.
It’s also one of the safest trails you can take, with several park rangers patrolling at regular intervals. For photographers, it takes you to all the best viewpoints, allowing you to take in the enormity of the Canyon in just five hours.
What To Look Out For
The wildlife on display in the Grand Canyon is just as marvelous and varied as any other hiking location in the US. While you’re walking the Bright Angel Trail, you’re likely to come across several animals you can photograph, including:
- Bighorn Sheep
- Mule Deers
- Rocky Mountain Elks
- California Condors
- Bald Eagles
- Kaibab Squirrels
Of course, because the park is considered to be a semi-arid desert, you’re going to come across plenty of creepy crawlies and, most likely, snakes. The most common snake to be found in the Grand Canyon is the rattlesnake. We would recommend bypassing a photograph with this one, but if you do want to take a picture, make sure you prioritize your safety and remain a good distance away.
Every hiking trail has its challenges, and the Canyon adds about ten thousand on top of them! For this reason, we’ve listed three crucial photography tips to help you out:
Movement Is Essential
Because the Canyon has so much to offer, try not to stay in one place too long. Throughout the day, the scenery changes with the light, with specific magic hours available at different viewpoints -- if you spend too much time at one of them, you’re going to have less time to get the most out of the others.
Spend Time Picking Your Season
You might be reading this and thinking: Great, I’m going to visit the Grand Canyon next week! But just as the Grand Canyon changes with the light, it also changes with the seasons. In the winter, snowfalls can frost the canyon and soften the effect of the colors, while in the summer, monsoons can deliver dark clouds and a more deep, dramatic texture. Decide what aspect of the Canyon you want to photograph, and visit during the appropriate season.
Bring Your Smartphone Know-How
Many people will tell you that a DSLR camera is better than a smartphone for the Grand Canyon, but that just isn’t true. In 2023, smartphones are just as good as cameras, you just need to know what you’re doing. When you’re at a good viewpoint, make sure to turn on panorama mode, and keep the phone as steady as possible – bringing a tripod is a must. Try to angle the camera down if the sky is uninteresting, and make the most of the Canyon’s colors without zooming in – even with modern smartphones, zoom eliminates the sharpness.
If you want to test yourself on this hike – although we rather think the heat and snake hazards will be enough of a test! – here are some challenges to add to your itinerary, perfect for pushing your photography the extra mile:
Become One With The Canyon
If you obtain a permit, you can actually camp out in the Grand Canyon, and doing so will give you some brilliant opportunities to capture the Canyon in its best lights – from sunrise, to sunset, to nighttime. There are several campsites to choose from, so make sure you do your research and bring all the necessary supplies to stay safe in the harsh climate.
Take The Viewer From Foreground To Background
Because the Grand Canyon is so magnificent, many photographers simply take pictures of the view, and forget all about the photography basics. But even the most beautiful spots can be boring if no thought has gone into capturing them. When you’re out there, try to find an eye-catching subject in the foreground, like a bighorn sheep or a Kaibab squirrel. Angle yourself down and capture the subject in the foreground, with the scenery as the background. This will give the Canyon dimensions that could easily be lost without a point of reference, and add several more layers to make it interesting. It might be a little difficult – animals like to move! – but when you post those pictures on Instagram or upload them to our photo book maker, you’ll see that it's worth it.
Find Mary’s Fireplace
Lastly, the Grand Canyon is famous for being the setting of Mary Colter's “parkitecture” – architecture inspired by the scenery of parks and designed to blend in. Around the park, there are plenty of examples of Colter’s work, including the massive fireplace made from layers of rock at Bright Angel Lodge. Try to add just one of these designs to your list of things to see, and you’ll be rewarded with a blend of artificial and natural beauty at its best!