Alcohol use risky for Grand Canyon visitors

The beauty of Grand Canyon National Park can be so encapsulating, visitors become incognizant to the treacherous environment they are in, resulting in 685 deaths that have occurred at the nation’s jewel.

According to coauthors Tom Myers and Michael P. Ghiglieri of “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon,” causes of death range from falling over the edge of the canyon to being scared to death by a rattlesnake.

Click on the video at the right to view an audio slideshow about alcohol consumption risks at Grand Canyon National Park prepared by writer Rebecca Cohen.

In the unique setting that encompasses both the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, there is a heightened risk of danger. However, nothing heightens the risk of injury more than consuming alcohol in the park, according to Dr. Robert Baron, an emergency physician at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, who has worked with Grand Canyon Park medics for more than 20 years.

“A 17-year-old female was found having a seizure.  Sure enough, she did have a seizure, but that occurred after going to the rim of the canyon, drinking and doing other drugs with friends and passing out.  Unfortunately, she passed out near the edge of a 12-foot drop,” Baron stated, still shuttering from the incident.

If this woman had not ingested debilitating substances, her injury could have been prevented.

At right, geologic color and erosional forms decorate the mile-deep canyon (Photos courtesy of Sebastian Rogers). Below, hikers complete the 21-mile “Rim to Rim” hike across the canyon.


Sarah Owen, a representative from “Happy Trails,” one of 16 commercial outfitters authorized to run rafting trips in the Grand Canyon, stated that alcohol on trips is treated carefully.

“We do allow our passengers to bring their own alcohol on our trips, if they choose. We have not experienced, that I know of, many (or any) passenger injuries that were directly related to alcohol. We encourage our passengers to drink responsibly and to always be aware of the unique setting they are in,” she stated.

gcnpalcohol2Park Ranger Pat Brown, a Grand Canyon ranger for more than 15 years, said she rarely makes park visitors aware of the policy, insisting it is not her responsibility whether visitors choose to violate it or not.

“I think when you visit a park, it’s just common sense. We don’t really spell everything out,” Brown stated.

Although the National Park Service’s policy permits responsible consumption of alcohol in designated areas of the park, some guests still feel it is too dangerous to drink.  

The Bray family, a native Phoenix family of four, has taken three trips to the Grand Canyon — none of them with alcohol.

“It’s too risky. You hear so many horror stories, especially after the whole Kaitlin Kenney thing,” Sonya Bray, a New York University student, stated.  

Kenney was a 21-year-old Colorado woman who drowned in the Grand Canyon during a rafting trip in January 2013. Her death highlighted the dangers of drugs and alcohol during Grand Canyon trips, according to the Associated Press.

Cracking open beers while floating down the Colorado River is part of the culture of Grand Canyon trips; however, medical experts like Baron, who are left to treat alcohol-infused injuries, say people often overlook the risks of partying in such an unforgiving environment.


At left, visitors take a river trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon National Park. Next, organized group hiking trips take visitors on rocky terrain. Below, brave hikers take treacherous paths to cross the canyon.

Steve Larese, USA Today’s 10Best’s Southwestern USA Expert, recognizes the cultural appeal of having a few beers around a campfire.  However, he urges drinkers to remember they are 7,000 feet above sea level at the rim, making alcohol seem stronger to those not used to the elevation.

“I wouldn’t recommend partying,” Larese stated. “The Grand Canyon is a very special, powerful place to more than five million visitors a year. It is more for people who appreciate incredible natural beauty and history, which does include bars and restaurants from the Harvey Hotel days.”  

gcnpalcohol4By respecting the park’s policy, visitors can advance Grand Canyon safety in effort to keep the 685-person death count at a standstill.


Grand Canyon National Park Alcohol Policy:

Compendium of Designations, Closures, Use and Activity Restrictions, Permit Requirements and Other Regulations

36 CFR 2.35 – Alcoholic Beverages and Controlled Substances

(a)(3)(i) The following areas are closed to the consumption of alcohol beverages and/or the possession of a bottle, can or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage that is open, or that has been opened, or whose seal is broken or the contents of which have been partially removed.

The areas within Grand Canyon Village bounded by Center Road to the east, Albright Street to the south and west, and Boulder Street to the north, including all school grounds and buildings, parking lots, day-care center, recreational fields and recreation center, provided, however, that this closure / restriction shall not apply to residents (and guests) of quarters (both permanent and temporary) within this area while utilizing those quarters or provided outside picnic facilities; nor shall it apply to persons serving / consuming alcoholic beverages at the recreation center, community ramada, or church, pursuant to a valid permit.

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