Photography by Mike Buchheit

Class FAQs and Resources

Photography by Mike Buchheit


With almost three decades of experience running educational classes, hikes, programs, and tours at Grand Canyon National Park, we know you have questions.

We're here to help!

Below, we've assembled the questions we're asked most frequently by those joining our classes and tours.

Choosing your class

Class? But I'm on vacation!
What is the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute?
Do I need to be a supporter of Grand Canyon Association to take a class?
How long are the classes, trips, and tours?
How are the trips rated?
How hard will the hiking be?
What’s involved in backpacking trips?
How old do I have to be?
What is the age range of people in Field Institute classes?
What is the typical class size?
Who are the instructors?
How do I register?
How far in advance do I need to register for a class?
What is included in my tuition?
Can the Field Institute arrange a special guided hike for my group?
Can I give a Field Institute class as a gift?
What if I have to cancel?
Do we have a Privacy Policy?

Class? But I'm on vacation!

Since 1993, it has been the Field Institute’s mission to share the rich cultural and natural history of Grand Canyon National Park with park visitors. We use the term “class” to highlight the educational component our recognized expert instructors include in every outing, but there is an equal emphasis on fun.

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What is Grand Canyon Association Field Institute?

Grand Canyon Association Field Institute is the educational program of Grand Canyon Association that was established in 1993 at the request of Grand Canyon National Park to share the natural and cultural history of the park. The Field Institute offers everything from short half-day rim tours to 18-day river trips to over 3,500 participants of all ages each year.

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Do I need to be a Supporter of Grand Canyon Association to take a class?

No, but Grand Canyon Association supporters do receive discounted tuition on most Field Institute classes. Supporters also receive invitations to special classes and events, and qualify for early registration. Become a supporter now.

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How long are the classes, trips, and tours?

Our programs include half-day lectures and walks on the rim, one day guided day-hiking classes and tours, and extended multi-day backcountry trips that last up to ten days.

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How are the trips rated?

We use a simple scale for our classes & tours:

  • Easy – Short day hikes into the canyon or long walks along the rim.
  • Moderate – Slower-paced backpacks to established campgrounds on developed trails.
  • Difficult – Aggressive backpacks on rough, often unmaintained trails.
  • Very Difficult – Lengthy backpacks in remote regions over rough, steep terrain on unmaintained trails.
  • Expert Only – Lengthy backpacks negotiating off-trail terrain requiring frequent rock climbing and precautionary belays.

Additional factors may affect the rating, such as the number of consecutive days of hiking and if extreme high or low temperatures are forecasted. Learn more about hiking levels

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How hard will the hiking be?

Hiking is an integral part of practically every class, so you must be in good physical condition to attend. Backpacking outings require an even higher level of fitness. If you wish to attend a backpack or river trip, you will be required to complete a Health Questionnaire (see one here) before your space in the class can be confirmed.

Temperatures range from below freezing in the winter to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Elevations range from as low as 1,500 feet at the bottom of the Canyon to 8,800 feet on the North Rim.

For any outing, if you are unprepared or appear physically unable to complete the required activities, trip leaders have the right to ask you to leave the class in order to ensure the safety of the remaining members of the group. We strive to accurately represent hiking distance and elevation changes within the class syllabus.

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What’s involved in backpacking trips?

It is imperative that you come well prepared for a hiking trip. If you are backpacking for the first time, we highly recommend that you read a backpacking book and/or find some informational videos online see the Hiking Grand Canyon Video at the NPS website in advance. Backpacking trips are planned for all levels of skill, ranging from physically fit beginners (or for those wanting to refresh their skills) to advanced hikers who are in excellent physical condition and have previous multi-day backpacking experience.

Typically our classes have an initial orientation day, which allows us to get to know each other and go over the class, gear, and food. Hiking days normally involve comfortable distances of up to ten miles. Our instructors aim to have the group arrive at camp each day with plenty of time to hold a short lecture and perhaps an evening stroll. Often a base camp is established, allowing the class to embark on a series of educational day hikes.

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How old do I have to be?

As a rule, for all of our Backpacking Classes and Trips and most of our Multi-day Rim Classes and Tours, participants must be at least 18 years old. For our Day Hike Classes and Tours, participants as young as 8 years old may attend. We do have some discretion concerning ages. Please contact us to inquire.

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What is the age range of people in Field Institute classes?

Participants in rim-based programs can range from 8 to 80 years old. Participants typically range from 30s to 60s for our multi-day backpacking or rim-based class.

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What is the typical class size?

Our backpacks typically accommodate 9 people, our rim-based classes up to 10, and our day hikes up to 7 people.

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Who are the instructors?

Field Institute instructors are leading Grand Canyon scientists, authors, researchers, historians, and naturalists. You can Meet Your Canyon Expert within each of our classes and tours details.

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How do I register?

  • Online
  • By phone: (866) 471-4435

Registration for our multi-day classes and trips opens in November for the next year’s classes. Many classes fill quickly, but there are often openings throughout the year for classes.

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How far in advance do I need to register for a class?

Class size is always limited. A number of the more popular classes fill quickly, sometimes within a day. We advise you to register as soon as you’ve made your decision. Feel free to contact the Field Institute by phone (866) 471-4435 or e-mail gcafi@grandcanyon.org to receive the latest information on availability for a given class.

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What is included in my tuition?

Your tuition covers the educational content provided by an expert instructor, backpacking and camping permits, camping immediately before or after your class (where applicable), a park entrance-fee waiver, and pre-class guidance (sent digitally) including gear and food planning lists specific to your class. Select premium classes may include meals, lodging, gear, and mule pack service where indicated. Check specific classes for other items covered by your tuition. Transportation to and from Grand Canyon National Park and backpacking equipment are not included unless specifically noted.

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Can the Field Institute arrange a special guided hike for my group?

Yes, we'd be delighted to arrange a program just for your school group, family, and corporate group. We have many years of curriculum development and work with you to design a fun-filled learning adventure. Contact us at gcafi@grandcanyon.org to inquire.

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Can I give a Field Institute class as a gift?

Yes. Please contact our office so we can assist you in giving a Field Institute class as a gift. Gift certificates are available.

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What if I have to cancel?

Unless otherwise specified, you will receive a full refund less an administrative fee of $75 per person if you cancel at least 30 days before the class begins. No refunds will be made for cancellations received less than 30 days before the class start date. As a nonprofit organization on a tight budget, the Field Institute cannot make exceptions to this refund policy for any reason, including personal emergencies or weather. For that reason, we strongly urge you to obtain trip cancellation insurance through your local travel agent.

If the Field Institute must cancel a class, you will receive a full tuition refund. We will notify you at least 30 days before the start date if we find it necessary to cancel. Classes using commercial river outfitters or collaborations with other organizations may have special refund policies that will be set forth in pre-class materials.

We aim to process refunds within five business days. Your credit card company or bank may take additional time.

Check your Confirmation Letter for specifics.

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Do we have a Privacy Policy?

Yes, Grand Canyon Association is committed to protecting the privacy of its donors, volunteers, employees, members, class attendees, and other stakeholders. Read our Privacy Policy.

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Preparing for class

What information will I receive once I enroll?
How do I get to Grand Canyon National Park?
What should I expect from the weather?
What do I need to bring?

What information will I receive once I enroll?

You will receive a confirmation e-mail containing links to important class documents including: a confirmation letter; training, gear recommendations, and food planning list; an Assumption of Risk form; a Health Questionnaire (if pertinent); and a Lodging Reservation form (if pertinent). Thirty days before the start of your class you will receive a second e-mail containing a pre-class letter and entrance fee waiver, syllabus, campground reservation form, and any other last-minute paperwork.

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How do I get to Grand Canyon National Park?

Most Field Institute classes begin and end at Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The South Rim can be reached by plane, car, bus, or train. Many people fly to Phoenix and rent a car for the four-hour drive. Shuttle bus service is available from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Flagstaff, or Williams by calling Arizona Shuttle Service at (877) 226-8060. For those driving to Grand Canyon, the Field Institute encourages ride-sharing with fellow classmates; please call us to explore this option at (866) 471-4435. Also, Grand Canyon Railway runs from Williams, Arizona, once a day.

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What should I expect from the weather?

Expect the unexpected! Weather conditions vary greatly at Grand Canyon, so be prepared for all conditions in all seasons. Classes are conducted rain or shine. For road and weather information, call the NPS information line, (930) 638-7888, and follow the prompts for the most recent road condition updates. Check weather link for Grand Canyon South Rim weather.

Average Temperatures and Precipitation (Fahrenheit and inches) - View

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What do I need to bring?

The gear you'll need for your Canyon adventure is dependent on the class duration, route, and time of the year. Most of our classes require you to bring hiking/backpacking/camping gear and to provide your own food. For each class and tour, we provide detailed gear, food, and menu planning lists. Have a look at the "Additional Notes" section within each class listing and click on the "Download Recommended Gear List" link.

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During your class

Where do I stay?
What about meals?
What time do programs, trips, and classes start and end?
Where can I park my car and store my luggage?
What is L.N.T.?
Are there critters?
Are there bathrooms?
Is there tap water, or will I need a filter?
What kind of footwear do I need?
What are the inherent risks of traveling in Canyon Country?
What about alcohol on trips?

Where do I stay?

We provide complimentary, tent-only campsites (for participants only) for most of our classes at a shared campsite in a developed National Park Service campground. If you would like to camp, you must complete a Campground Reservation form (e-mailed to enrollees with the final class information packet) at least 14 days in advance of the class start date.

On the South Rim, a limited number of hotel rooms at Maswik Lodge or Yavapai Lodge are available for participants of most of our classes. If appropriate for your class, we’ll send you the necessary Lodge Reservation form after you enroll.

For R.V. campers, you must make your own arrangements.

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What about meals?

Unless specified in the class description, you are responsible for bringing and preparing your own food. For each class and tour, we provide detailed gear, food, and menu planning lists. Have a look at the "Additional Notes" section within each class listing and click on the "Download Recommended Gear List" link.

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What time do programs, trips, and classes start and end?

The start times vary depending on the type of class and start location. For all classes that begin and end on the South Rim, we aim to begin the first day of class at 10 a.m., and participants can use www.arizonashuttle.com to get to the park instead of driving. (Rim-to-Rim classes excepted; these start at 8 a.m.) If you need help planning your travel, please give us a call at (866) 471-4435 or send an e-mail to gcafi@grandcanyon.org to inquire about specific start times.

The end times vary from class to class. Most of our well-traveled corridor trips returning from Indian Garden or Bright Angel Campground end mid to late afternoon. Some of the more remote classes might not have you back until early evening. Nearby lodging recommendations accompany all the class details so you can rest before starting home.

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Where can I park my car and store my luggage?

You are welcome to park your car close to the Field Institute’s classrooms at the nearby Backcountry Information Center parking lot. No fee is charged. Extra luggage can be stored at the Field Institute office. We have lockers available for smaller valuables such as laptops, cell phones, keys, wallets, and purses.

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What is L.N.T.?

At Grand Canyon National Park we consider understanding and following of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles to be key:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns, or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
  • In popular areas: concentrate use on existing trails and campsites. Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy. Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
  • In pristine areas: Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

See more at: Leave No Trace

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Are there critters?

The most common critters are rock squirrels, ringtail cats, mice, and ravens - all of them are looking for your food. We have critter sacks available to store your food at camp. Cottonwood, Bright Angel, and Indian Garden Campgrounds have metal containers in which food can be stored.

Grand Canyon is home to biting and stinging critters, from red ants to rattlesnakes to scorpions. It is extremely rare to see such animals, let alone be bitten or stung, if you follow good Leave No Trace practices. Your instructor can provide specific guidelines.

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Are there bathrooms?

Composting pit toilets are available in Grand Canyon backcountry. Toilets can be found at most Grand Canyon trailheads, along the main Corridor trails, and at some of the remote backcountry camp areas. Most of Grand Canyon National Park is, however, without any toilet services. Solid human waste needs to be buried in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from water, camp areas, and trails. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished. Bring extra plastic bags to pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. If you have any questions, speak with your instructor at the beginning of your class.

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Is there tap water, or will I need a filter?

Overnight Trips—There is potable tap water along the main Corridor trails, including at Cottonwood, Bright Angel, and Indian Garden Campgrounds. The pipeline that supplies the water is 40 years old and does break occasionally. At more remote camps, a pump-style filter is suggested, with chemicals as a backup.

Day Trips—During the peak spring/summer/autumn period, potable water is available at a number of inner-canyon locations:
North Kaibab – trailhead, Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs, Cottonwood Campground, Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Campground
South Kaibab – trailhead
Bright Angel – trailhead, Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, Three-Mile Resthouse, Indian Garden, and Plateau Point.

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What kind of footwear do I need?

Sturdy hiking boots that are well broken-in are necessary for all backpacking and multi-day trips. Buy them one-half to one size larger than your street shoes to allow for swelling and thick socks. Sneakers with good traction are suitable for our family day classes.

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What are the inherent risks of traveling in Canyon Country?

Most Field Institute classes involve travel through rugged terrain in which there are real dangers. The Field Institute takes the management of our activities with respect to these dangers very seriously. Good physical conditioning and a positive mental attitude are essential. Each student plays an important role in the success of a Field Institute class.

With few notable exceptions, all overnight classes in the backcountry require that you carry your own gear, sleep outdoors, prepare your own meals, and care for yourself in weather conditions that can be extreme. Wilderness activity involves hazards to even the most experienced hiker/backpacker: rockfall, flash floods, and lightning strikes (to name a few) can happen with little or no warning. Activities ranging from simple day hikes to multi-day backpacking can, due to error in judgment or the unpredictable forces of nature, become dangerous and potentially life threatening.

Our classes are often conducted in remote areas in which travel can create complex emergency situations that have no simple solutions. Many medical incidents may be treated in the field (sprains, blisters, diarrhea, etc.). A more serious incident, such as a fracture, will require evacuation of the patient to a medical facility at their own expense.

Most Field Institute backcountry classes are equipped with electronic communication devices for life-threatening emergencies, but this does not guarantee reliable communication from the field. Radios and portable phones can be unreliable depending on terrain, atmospheric conditions, and other variables. Classes that are within a two-hour walk/drive to emergency phones do not typically include an electronic communication device.

It is important that you understand that there are risks. Some adventure programs say that they can guarantee your safety. The Field Institute does not. The risk of injury, even serious injury or death, is unavoidable in the outdoor environment in which we teach. We strive to teach students how to identify hazards and adapt behavior during each class, as well as for a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors.

Before you arrive, thoroughly read all materials we send you and do not hesitate to call us if you have questions: (866) 471-4435.

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What about alcohol on trips?

We strongly advise against bringing alcohol on trips.

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