“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”
-John Wesley Powell
The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the most famous landmarks in the United States. Even those who have no interest in the National Parks, have heard of, and even visited the Grand Canyon. And, as stated in the quote above, most would agree that it’s quite difficult to describe just how grand the Grand Canyon really is.
I must admit, the first time I saw the Grand Canyon I wasn’t interested. I was a bratty teenager on a road trip with my family, and I couldn’t be bothered to stand in the cold and look at a “stupid hole in the ground.” Fast forward 14 years, and I’m voluntarily hiking down to the bottom of that hole.
Josh and I wanted to fit in one last National Park in November of 2016, so we chose the Grand Canyon in an effort to not freeze to death. We flew out to Phoenix for a long weekend with our friends Ross and Ashley. Arriving early in the morning, we started our drive North just in time to stop in Sedona around lunch time. We had a big lunch and walked around the outdoor shops to soak in the Arizona culture.
The four of us arrived at Mather Campground shortly after the sun went down and stocked up on some snacks at the local store in Grand Canyon Village. Side note – this store has everything you could possibly need if you forgot something (stove fuel, backpacks, sleeping bags, dehydrated meals, clothes, etc.) It’s one of the most stocked national park grocery stores that we’ve seen. Ross and Ashley picked up some warmer clothes, and Josh grabbed some gloves. After our shopping detour we settled into our campsite and enjoyed a nice campfire before going to bed.
After a cold night sleep, the morning sun began to warm us up as we packed for our hike to the bottom of the canyon. We drove our rental car to the bus stop to get on the Orange bus, which takes visitors to the Rim, and specifically the South Kaibab Trailhead.
- South Kaibab Trail
- Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
- Distance: 6.5 miles one way
- Elevation Change: approx. 4,820 ft
- No water on the trail (water available at the beginning and end)
- Very steep
The South Kaibab Trail is taking you to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so its no surprise that its pretty much downhill the entire way. Some parts of the trail are pretty steep so it can be really rough on your knees and toes!
What’s different about backpacking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon than most other backpacking trips (that we’ve been on at least) is that you don’t really escape civilization. At the bottom of the South Kaibab Trail is Bright Angel Campground and also Phantom Ranch, which offers dorms and cabins for visitors. There is even a restaurant at Phantom Ranch! Additionally, since you can arrange to be taken to the bottom of the canyon on a mule (there is mule poop everywhere), it’s not a place that you can only enjoy by hiking into, like most other backpacking campsites.
Despite the lack of solitude and primitiveness, we really enjoyed our stay at Bright Angel Campground. It was kind of nice to not have to filter our water and to have flush toilets for once! Not only did we delight in the ‘luxuries’, but we also went to a Ranger Talk that evening and learned a lot about the history of the park!
Eventually we cozied up in our sleeping bags and went to bed. The November weather at the bottom of the Grand Canyon made for one of the best nights sleep I’ve ever gotten in a tent; the air was perfect!
The next morning we awoke with the sounds of all the other hikers getting ready for their journeys back out of the canyon. We would be making that same difficult journey and to be honest, I think we were all dreading it a little bit. After you walk downhill for 7 miles, it’s hard not to question how the heck you’re going to make it back up.
Bright Angel Trail + River Trail to Bright Angel Campground
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Distance: 9.5 miles one way
- Elevation Change: approx. 4,380 ft
- Water stations and restrooms along trial
- Very steep
- Campgrounds available 3.2 miles in at Indian Garden
The hike back up via the Bright Angel Trail was a lot more interesting that the South Kaibab Trail, in my opinion. There was much more variety in terms of landscapes and views, which was nice because it helped me muster up the motivation to keep going. It was a tough hike; one of the toughest we’ve ever done. I can’t imagine doing it in the summer like all kinds of crazy people do! I would die of heat exhaustion, I’m sure!
We finally made it to the top and we were exhausted! But we did it!
We hopped in the car and headed to Flagstaff where we rewarded ourselves with a hotel bed and pizza (always a great way to end a hiking trip)!
Grand Canyon Tips and Recommendations:
- Although the summer is the busiest time at the Grand Canyon, it’s not the best. It’s HOT. Too hot. It’s typically 20 degrees warmer in the canyon than at the rim, which can mean summer temps as high as 110 degrees in the inner canyon! Who wants to hike in that?! We thought that November was perfect weather for hiking the Grand Canyon; not too hot, not too cold.
- If you plan to hike to the bottom of the canyon, it is best to hike down the South Kaibab and up the Bright Angel since there is no water on the South Kaibab, it’s very exposed, and it is steeper than Bright Angel.
- Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon requires a permit, and it must be with you and visible at all times.
- If you plan to camp at Bright Angel Campground, try to get there as early as possible to pick your site. We arrived around 5pm (in late fall) and almost all sites were full.
- I would recommend making reservations if you want to camp on the South Rim.
- Get on the stair-master before making a trip to the bottom of the canyon. You’re legs will thank you on the way up.