Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center

Campsite Monitoring in Grand Canyon


Sandbars have been used as campsites by river runners and hikers since the first expeditions to the region more than 100 years ago. Because the Colorado River is dominated by bedrock cliffs and steep talus slopes, sandbars provide unique areas along the river that are flat, relatively free of vegetation, easily accessible by river runners, and able to withstand high usage with negligible impact. These campsites continue to be an important part of the recreational experience for the more than 25,000 hikers and river runners that visit the Colorado River corridor each year.

Campsite Monitoring

Since 1990, the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in cooperation with Northern Arizona University have monitored sandbars by topographic survey. Beginning in 1998, campsite area has also been measured on a subset of the sandbar monitoring sites. Campsite areas are defined as areas that are flat (less than 8 degree slope), smooth (not rocky), and clear of dense vegetation. Monitoring data show that vegetation expansion and sandbar erosion/deposition contribute to reductions in campsite area.

Photograph taken March 2008 of sandbar about 45 miles downstream from Lees Ferry, Arizona showing river party camping on large sandbar deposited by the 2008 high-flow experiment. The Colorado River is flowing from left to right.

Caption: Photograph of same site taken in August 2011 when the size of the sandbar and campsite was much smaller.

For Additional Information
For additional information, please contact
Project Chief
  • Paul Grams
    • USGS Southwest Biological Science Center
    • Grand Canyon Monitoring Research Center
    • Contact or (928)-556-7385
Terms of Use

The data presented in this website are collected and processed using standard USGS protocols and other established peer-reviewed methods, and subject to rigorous quality control. Nevertheless, minor edits of these data are possible.

The data are released on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government may be held liable for any damages resulting from its authorized or unauthorized use.

  • Kaplinski, M., J. Hazel, R. Parnell, D.R. Hadley, and P. Grams, 2014, Colorado River campsite monitoring, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, 1998-2012, USGS Open-file Report: 2014-1161, 32 p.
  • Lauck, Zeke, 2013, To Re-photograph or Not, That is the Question: The Adopt-A-Beach Program Marches On: Boatman’s Quaterly Review, Winter 2013-2014, 26, 4, p. 21-23.
  • Hazel, J.E., Jr., Grams, P.E., Schmidt, J.C., and Kaplinski, M., 2010, Sandbar response in Marble and Grand Canyons, Arizona, following the 2008 high-flow experiment on the Colorado River: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5015, 52 p.
  • Kaplinski, M., Hazel, J.E., Jr., and Parnell, R., 2010, Colorado River campsite monitoring, 1998–2006, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, in Melis, T.S., Hamill, J.F., Bennett, G.E., Coggins, L.G., Jr., Grams, P.E., Kennedy, T.A., Kubly, D.M., and Ralston, B.E., eds., Proceedings of the Colorado River Basin Science and Resource Management Symposium, November 18-20, 2008, Scottsdale, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5135, 275-284 p.
  • Hadley, D.R., 2014, Geomorphology and vegetation change at Colorado River campsites, Marble and Grand Canyons, AZ, unpublished MS Thesis, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, 158 p. Get Link
Cooperating Agencies and Academic Institutions
Cooperating USGS Water Science Centers
Grand Canyon Monitoring & Research Center | 2255 North Gemini Drive Flagstaff, AZ 86001 | Phone: 928.556.7380 Fax: 928.556.7100

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