Of the 5 million people that visit the Grand Canyon each year, less than 1% hike below the rim. I heard this fact after hiking down through the most jaw-dropping canyon scenery I have ever laid eyes on. How could you walk up to the rim, gaze down at this seemingly infinite abyss, and not want to go see what’s down there?! If you ever get the chance to visit the South Rim in Arizona, the Kaibab trail is a magical place. You can just go for an out n’ back day hike, or head all the way to the bottom to stay at Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River. Here’s some info about the trip I took to Phantom Ranch with my Dad this December.
Arriving At the Rim
My Dad and I left Phoenix mid-morning and took a fun detour through the town of Sedona. It was raining most of the day but the sky cleared by the time we got to the grand canyon, leaving dramatic clouds that gave the canyon a very mystical appeal. We spent the evening exploring the historic hotels. We had a beer at the El Tovar, dinner at Bright Angel Lodge, and then checked into a cheap room at the Maswik Lodge. That night we packed up our backpacks and went to bed early. We woke up at 6:45 the next morning (the sun doesn’t rise until 7:30 in December) to throw our duffels in the car and get a quick bite to eat at the Maswik cafeteria. We then dropped the car off at the neighboring backcountry office to catch the hiker’s shuttle to the Kaibab trailhead.
Hiking Down the Kaibab Trail
There was a gentle storm moving through while we hiked down the canyon. We would hike into a cloud for a few moments and then it would open up into a new, even more astonishing view. It rained lightly on & off so we wore our rain jackets and wrapped trash bags around our packs. If you’re an experienced hiker I definitely recommend hopping off the shuttle and getting a start on the trail before the rest of the hikers so that you’re not encumbered by a crowded trail. The Kaibab trail is a steeeeeeep 8 miles. Trust me, 8 miles is usually a trivial hike. But when it’s steep, it’s a whole different ball game. Hiking briskly in the cold air, we made it to the bottom of the canyon in about 4 hours. Within about 30 minutes of resting at Phantom Ranch we had to take a walk to loosen up our leg muscles and stretch them out.
Arriving at Phantom Ranch is really quite fun. You have to walk through a cave onto a narrow bridge that crosses the Colorado River, and then hike through a little valley with glowing bright yellow trees. Eventually you see a little campsite and then some scattered stone buildings that make up the lodge. The path leads you to the main dining hall where you can check in and buy a delicious cold beer to celebrate your arrival. Some people book their nights at Phantom Ranch a year in advance. We were lucky and kept calling for cancellations the few weeks prior to our trip. You must also reserve your meals at Phantom ranch in advance, or else you can only eat what you packed in. We played cards most of the afternoon, read our books, and then joined the other hikers for a stew dinner. That night we slept in the bunk rooms and woke up at little before sunrise for a breakfast in the dining hall. We only stayed one night, but most hikers there were staying two.
Hiking up the Kaibab Trail
With stiff legs we packed up our packs and began the long, steep ascent out of the Grand Canyon. Luckily the storm had cleared and the rising sun revealed a blue sky with big fluffy clouds. Hiking up the Kaibab Trail (the way most people descend) is rather unusual. Every hiker we spoke to was hiking up the Bright Angel trail, which is more of a gradual rise and the route that ranger’s recommend. But we have a family friend that used to work in the park who told us that, though the Bright Angel trail is easier, its views are obstructed almost the entire way up. The Kaibab trail will provide much more amazing views and, though it’s much steeper, is 2 miles shorter. Since the sun was finally out and we knew we were in good shape, we opted for the Kaibab again! And boy…it was steep. The snacks and energy supplement that I brought really kept me fueled, otherwise I would have slowed down a lot near the top. After hiking up switchback after switchback, you could look back at the canyon getting farther and farther away, growing larger and larger in view…until the red dirt at your feet transformed into layers and waves of magenta, purple, orange, and yellow.
Tell me about your favorite canyon hikes in the comments section below!!