The Grand Canyon in one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and if you've ever peered over the edge, you know why. My first visit to the canyon was in 1981, that was all we had time to do, look admire the views from the overlooks, but a fever welled up within me to return. In 1985 we hiked the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, spent the night in a cabin, and hiked out the Bright Angel Trail. I still wasn't satisfied. The more you see of this amazing canyon, the more you want to see and feel and experience. We returned again in 1989 and spent nine days hiking and backpacking over 90 miles, including the rim-to-rim-to-rim roundtrip of about 50 miles. Now I have a better understanding of why it is one of the natural wonders of the world. Then I began to dream of rafting its entire 277 mile length, a dream I fulfilled in 1999. The links above take you to photos of all these adventures.
The three "corridor" trails listed below are the main highways to the Colorado River. Backcountry permits are required to stay overnight (see info section below.) Hiking the Grand Canyon is called hiking an inverted mountain since one goes down first, leaving the far more strenuous hike back out for last when you are tired. In fact, the term "Kaibab" which you see often in this region, is a Southern Paiute Indian word meaning "mountain inside out" or "mountain lying down." Remember that as you descend, you are entering a desert climate. The temperature in July when I was at the bottom was approaching 120 degrees.
- Bright Angel Trail descends 7.8 miles to the Colorado River, and then River Trail continues 1.6 miles to Bright Angel Campground and .2 miles more to Phantom Ranch, dropping 4476 feet on the way. Water is available at two resthouses at 1.6 miles and 3.1 miles, and also 4.6 miles down at Indian Garden Campground. Water is also plentiful in Garden Creek and Pipe Creek which the lower segment of the trail follows, though you are cautioned against drinking this water. Also, stop at the Garden Creek cascades just below Indian Gardens to cool off. Bright Angel Trail is called a drainage trail since it follows canyons (drainages.) Again, camping is only available at the halfway point, Indian Gardens, and at the bottom at Bright Angel Campground.
- South Kaibab Trail descends 4800 feet in only 7 miles to reach the river. No water sources or camping areas exist. It is not recommended to go up by way of this trail in the summer. The trail follows ridge lines which provides magnificent vistas, but is quite strenuous. The trail head is four miles east of Grand Canyon Village, but shuttle bus service is available.
- The North Kaibab Trail goes from Phantom Ranch up to the North Rim, an elevation gain of 5841 feet, (over one vertical mile!) in 12 miles, and it is rated as a difficult trail. The Lodge and amenities are another two miles from the trailhead after you reach the North Rim. Camping is available halfway up at Cottonwood Campground, as is water. Water is also available from the creek, at Roaring Springs, and at Supai Tunnel. Spend a while at Ribbon Falls, a short side trip off the trail, and cool off in the falls. The walk behind the falls is also refreshing. Take a photo looking out through the water.
- Camping is available in three locations: halfway down the South Rim at Indian Gardens Campground, at the bottom at Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch, and halfway up the North Rim, at Cottonwood Campground. Ranger stations are located in all three campgrounds and are constantly staffed. Cabins, separate dormitory lodging for males and females, meals, ice drinks, and a snack bar are available at Phantom Ranch, just a short distance from the campground. You will agree that their lemonade and ice water are the best in the world when the temperature is over 110 degrees. Be sure to see the Anasazi ruins near the Colorado River.
Campgrounds, cabins, lodges, restaurants, and snack bars are available on both rims. See the museums on the south rim, and check the views from the multitude of overlooks on both rims. Each overlook has different views of the canyon, and as the sun moves across the sky and its angle changes, the colors of the rocks seen from each overlook also change, so don't hurry your viewing. Sit down, invest some time, and see the colors of the mountainsides change as the sun moves across the sky.
Check out the water system in the park, a real engineering feat. Since 90% of the precipitation falls on the North Rim, but 90% of the visitors arrive at the South Rim, water runoff is captured at Roaring Springs, where North Rim precipitation percolates out of the cliff in impressive waterfalls. Some is piped back up to the North Rim, but 500,000 gallons daily is piped down to the bottom and over the Colorado River beneath the Silver Bridge. Gravity and reduced diameter piping then force the water up to Indian Gardens, where a pump house pushes it the rest of the way to the South Rim and its large storage tanks.
INFO:Whether you want to float the canyon or hoof it, these are the websites for you:
Time is confusing out here! Grand Canyon is located in Arizona, and does not follow daylight savings as it is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone.
Backcountry Reservations Office info
Phantom Ranch and Lodge Reservations info
Xanterra Parks & Resorts
6312 South Fiddlers Green Circle, Suite 600N
Greenwood Village, Colorado 80111
Grand Canyon Treks by Harvey Butchart: LaSiesta Press, Glendale, CA; 71 pages.
Hiking the Grand Canyon by John Annerino: Sierra Club Books, San Francisco; 340 pages.
Various trail guides published by The Grand Canyon Natural History Association.