Water, of course, is the main actor in the Grand Canyon story. The Colorado River is responsible for the whole shebang – 277 miles long, 18 miles across and a mile deep. But from the rim of the canyon the water is scarcely noticeable. It is another type of water today that is more in evidence up on the rim – bottled water.
The effects of bottled water
Park officials estimate that more than 20% of all the waste in the park is from those ubiquitous clear plastic bottles. Disposable water bottles don’t always end up in the trash or recyclable bins, either. They are also a main source of litter on the trails and in public spaces across the park.
And so Grand Canyon National Park no longer sells water in disposable plastic bottles. But the park also realizes that drinking water is critical to visitor safety and enjoyment at the canyon, even in the winter. So they have come up with something better – Grand Canyon spring water, absolutely free.
How do you get this magic elixir?
Underground springs percolate throughout the Grand Canyon and the one that has been tapped for all the park’s drinking water is Roaring Springs, which is reached by a 4.7-mile hike down the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim. The high plateau of the north rim is visited by storms in the monsoon season and snows in the winter and that water seeps through thousands of feet of rock until it reaches a layer of Bright Angel Shale where it can penetrate no further. The pent-up pressure spews the water from the Roaring Springs and it disseminated by a pumphouse through the park. If you ever cross the Silver Bridge on the Bright Angel Trail you can see the pipeline that was constructed in the 1960s bringing the water across the Colorado River.
The NPS has installed thirteen designated filling stations for the Roaring Springs water, ten on the South Rim and three on the North Rim. The South Rim stations operate year-round but only the station at the North Rim Backcountry Office is equipped with a frost-free valve to dispense winter water on the north side of the canyon. The filling stations also double as information kiosks on the hydrology of the Grand Canyon.
Visitors to the Grand Canyon are encouraged to “reduce, reuse, refill.” If you do not have a water bottle Grand Canyon souvenir bottles are sold for a reasonable $2.50. As spring run-off approaches you may find your water bottle fills with turbid or cloudy water. These sediments do no harm in any way and the water if perfectly safe to drink. And, it is free.