6 Hazards to Avoid in the Grand Canyon

Follow these tips about viewpoints on the edge, floods, heat and dehydration to enjoy a safe and fantastic Grand Canyon trip.
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Follow these tips about viewpoints on the edge, floods, heat and dehydration to enjoy a safe and fantastic Grand Canyon trip.
The view of Desert View Point from high up in the Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim. Photo by Grant Ordelheide

The view of Desert View Point from high up in the Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim

As you explore the Grand Canyon and other Southwest gems, know the safety hazards. For instance while the Grand Canyon is essentially a 4,000-foot drop-off, most of the park’s ledges are not fenced off. Here are some of the park's top hazards of which you should be aware. 

1. Viewpoints

Because the rim of the Grand Canyon sits about a mile above the Colorado River, there are many places to see incredible views. However, practice extreme caution near any and all edges. And don’t climb past park fences. Sadly, every year visitors fall to their deaths in the Grand Canyon. Some die trying to get a dramatic-looking photo too close to an edge while one in 2016 accidentally tripped. Practice common sense and be aware of where your children are at all times.

Related: How Many People Fall in the Grand Canyon?

2. Flash Floods

Heavy rainfall, even miles away, can cause flash flooding, sending a torrent of water down dry washes and transforming slow-moving rivers to life-threatening channels. In the Southwest, flash flooding is common because the arid, sparsely vegetated ground cannot absorb rainfall. Always check the weather forecast before you go on a hike, especially in summer. At the Grand Canyon, talk to a ranger about flash-flooding danger or check the park service’s “Weather conditions” web page. Change your plans if the potential for a flash flood is real. Know the dangers of each trail and study maps for escape routes. Move to higher ground immediately if you hear or see a flash flood.

Related: Colorado River Dangers in the Grand Canyon

3. Heat

Timing is everything when it comes to safe outdoor recreation. The heat is a very real threat in the Grand Canyon, even to the most seasoned hikers, and can lead to death. Park rangers recommend visitors avoid hiking between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the hot months. While the rim temperatures may feel bearable, temperatures increase as you descend into the canyon. And it’s much more physically demanding to walk up out of the canyon than to go down.

4. Dehydration

Desert air is so dry that your sweat quickly evaporates. Often, you won’t know you’re sweating. Drinking water ensures you won’t get dehydrated, which can lead to headaches and more serious conditions like heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, headache, sleepiness, especially for children, extreme thirst, dry skin and decreased urine output. Plan to drink .5 -1 liter per hour of hiking. Continue drinking after you recreate, too. If your urine is clear, you are hydrated. Bring along salty snacks to avoid or treat muscle cramps.

Related: Where Can I Fill My Water Bottle?

5. Heat Exhaustion

Combine high temperatures with dehydration and physical exertion and it's a recipe for heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, if it is not treated immediately. Heat exhaustion symptoms include a pale face, weak, rapid pulse, a headache, muscle cramps, feeling dizzy, faint, fatigue or nauseated. If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, stop moving, rest in a cooler place for 35-40 minutes, eat high-energy snacks and drink cool water or sports drinks. Cool your body down by dousing it with water. If symptoms get worse or your body temperature gets to 104F, seek medical attention immediately.

6. Heat Stroke

This serious condition is life-threatening and occurs when physical exertion and heat overwhelm the body and prevent it from being able to cool itself. It can develop from untreated heat exhaustion. Victims have a weak, rapid pulse, flushed face and dry skin. They also may be confused, exhibit poor judgement, suffer from seizures, unconsciousness and high-body temperatures. Send someone for help immediately to get the victim to a hospital. Others should stay with the victim, move him or her to shade or a cool place and continuously pour water over his or her head and torso. Remove excess clothing.

Related: Extreme Heat in the Grand Canyon

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Source: National Park Service