Enjoy the Grand Canyon very early morning for not only the most beautiful light but also a more peaceful experience.
If you are physically able, don't be content to just drive from viewpoint to viewpoint. Get out and walk and you'll see a lot more. Walk into the canyon. It will give you an entirely different perspective of this massive chasm. If at all possible, get to the bottom for the grandest view of all.
Fondest memory: It was the first of many triumphs. Our tent was pitched right along Bright Angel Creek and we sat listening to its rushing as we cooled our tired hot feet in its icy waters. Just three weeks into a six-month road trip around the US, there would be many such planned and unplanned moments but the ones you plan longest are perhaps the sweetest.
My first time at the Grand Canyon was in late October of 1994 and icy trails thwarted my getting to the Canyon floor. The following year I purposely went earlier to accomplish this task and on doing it, sat in pretty much the same spot as I now did and regretted not being able to spend more time there. I was hiking in and out in a day despite park warnings not to do so. It turned out to be fairly easy for me and I was back at my campsite on the Canyon Rim by two in the afternoon. Of course, that meant I could have stayed at the bottom longer but what I thought on sitting there that day was I wanted to camp there. I swore if I ever returned I do just that.
Planning a loose ended six-month trip is no easy task. It's impossible to reserve things as you just don't know where you'll be on any given day. I had looked into reserving a camping spot at the Grand Canyon's much coveted Bright Angel back country campground but it was too convoluted and I couldn't know with absolute certainty when we would be there. So, we decided to wing it and hope for that best. Not too great a feeling to leave a dream defendant upon. We arrived at the Grand Canyon late in the evening so couldn't go to the backcountry ranger station until the next morning. We spoke with a great ranger who explained the ropes to us. You basically put your name on a list and returned each day until you worked your way up it. She said if you came back diligently you would get what you wanted. This sounded easy enough and we signed up on the spot. Finally, an advantage to being foot loose and fancy free in our itinerary. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
We nonetheless arrived at the bridge crossing the Colorado River in what seemed no time. It seemed like yesterday that I had been there but it felt great to walk across it this time with a sizeable pack on my back. Sure, it was heavy and it hurt but it meant we would be camping on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We quickly made our way to the campground and secured a primo spot, with a beautiful tree to offer shade and right on Bright Angel Creek, such was our reward for starting early. Our feet in the icy water, the reward for the strenuous, toe-jamming walk down.
We enjoyed laying in the tent, exploring Phantom Ranch, and just being on the Canyon floor, knowing we didn't have to leave for a couple days. The next day, rather than doing the same, we hiked over half-way across the hot, dusty canyon to Ribbon Falls, arriving there before anyone else. We took turns climbing to the top and showering off in its icy downpour. Drying off on the rocks, an unlikely group of Japanese tourists intruded on our solitude and for good measure I took another shower to mark my territory. They snapped photos in glee of the crazy American and were soon on their way with their trophies. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
The only catch was you had to be there when the office opens at 7:55 AM which kind of kills your morning as far as doing a long hike at the best time of the day or even enjoying a photo taking morning on the Rim. At any rate, we had our permits after only two more visits and could begin the next morning after that. We got quite a few incredible sunsets in while waiting and even managed to hike half-way into the Canyon to Panorama Point as a warm-up. Camping on the Rim was quite nice despite being below freezing at night. We finally got to use our two sleeping bag set up. At the last minute, we decided to take our old car bags in addition to our new backpacking bags bought right before we left. It seemed overkill in previous camping situations on the trip but now it came in quite handy. We were snug as bugs in a rug while we watched others ask for refunds at the campground pay station because of the cold.
The hike down the South Kaibab Trail was one of the most beautiful hikes of the trip in retrospect and at that time it was simply breathtaking. If you want the best view of the Grand Canyon, this is it. It gives you perspective to hike into this giant abyss and this trail in particular makes you feel as if you are walking in the footsteps of the ancients before you. We started as early as was possible with the shuttle bus required to this trail head and the walls of the canyon were accordingly on fire as the sun rose over the rim at dawn. The descent was steep but fair and with the views before us, our knees were forgiving. Not nearly as crowded as the popular Bright Angel Trail, we enjoyed a fair amount of solitude on the walk with only the occasional day hiker passing us by. We took many breaks to not only rest our shoulders carrying considerable loads but also to soak in the scenery. We weren't doing it all in a day and not in a race. We had all day and wanted to enjoy every minute of it. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: The hike back to the campground was anticlimactic. Now, even Phantom Ranch would seem like civilization and the trip would be half over. We enjoyed another night of camping there but I had underestimated how much food to bring and sitting there a bit hungry, made yet another vow for the next time I came to the Grand Canyon. Next time, I swore, I'll bring more food with me. Such is the Grand Canyon, you not only always want to return but you want take it one step further. With such an enormous area, the steps you can take are unlimited. Next time, next time, you just want to take more.
Below is an account of my first hike to the Grand Canyon floor. It was from one of my very early pages on VT, back when there was no Grand Canyon page, just Arizona. I moved it here for preservation, for myself but hope you enjoy it.
Fondest memory: A lot of people want to go to the bottom of the Canyon so with so many different types of visitors of varying fitness levels, it's understandable that the Park Service Department literally tries to scare anyone from attempting to do it as a day hike. Most people won't do an overnighter, so that eliminates the majority of their problems right there. In the summer, it's very hot and this can add to the problem of a one day descent. And in the cooler fall months, the days are shorter. All these factors led to me leaving at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 AM. I hiked down for about a half hour before I realized I'd left my camera on the roof of my car! So, I really started the hike at 5:30. Of course, the hike down is quite easy and you get to the canyon floor in no time, all the while soaking in the magnificent scenery. The hike up is quite a climb of relentless switchbacks for about 4,000 ft. I had lingered in the Canyon for about an hour, but worried that I had to get going to get back to the top before dark, headed up. I made great time and was in my campsite by mid afternoon, wishing I lingered a little longer.
Favorite thing: There are several established and maintained hiking trails in the Grand Canyon. The Bright Angel trail and South Kaibab trail are two of the most popular trails which begin at the South Rim and lead to the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel campground. Most park rangers recommend to those hiking to the bottom from the South Rim to descend using the South Kaibab trail and ascend on the Bright Angel Trail The reason for this is becuase the South Kaibab Trail is steeper, which makes the hike up more difficult and it has less shade, which can make for a sweltering journey in the summertime.
Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. It is a must read for anyone who will be hiking in the Canyon. I know the title sounds morbid, but the book is filled with invaluable information about the dangers of hiking in the Canyon and illustrates many potential dangerous that every visitor should be aware of but may not know The book is an invaluable resource for an excursion into the Grand Canyon.
By Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers
Fondest memory: The weather remained a light drizzle for the early part of the hike. By the time we hit the Redwall, about a mile from Indian Gardens, we were loaded with rain gear and beginning to sweat. We stopped at 3 mile resthouse for a very quick break before continuing to journey upwards into more rain and colder temps.
There are several shelters or resthouses located along the Bright Angel trail. These make a good stopping point, especially in bad weather.
Fondest memory: The trek to mile and a half resthouse was the worst leg of the trip. The temperature dropped as we gained elevation. We were pelted with rain and gusty wind, shivering and sweating in Gore Tex raincoats while struggling up some steep switchbacks. Jim told me jokingly this morning that the Canyon doesn't let you out easy. He was right. Those last switchbacks were killers. I loved every minute of this trip and hadn't complained once. But oddly enough, the only time I cursed the journey was heaving myself up those steps leading up to the resthouse.
Distance - 6.8 miles down the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Camp, 7.2 miles down to Bright Angel Camp, 4.8 along the River Trail and up part of the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens Camp, 3 miles round trip to Plateau Point and back (Optional side hike), 4.7 miles out on the Bright Angel Trailhead.
Elevation - 8,200ft. to 2,450ft. to 6,860ft.
Best Seasons - May through October.
Distance - 3 miles down the Grandview Trail, 4.5 miles down and around horseshoe Mesa (Optional side hike), 3 miles back to the Grandview Trailhead.
Elevation - 7,406ft. to 4,932ft. to 4,000ft. to 4,932ft. to 7,406ft.
Best Seasons - March through September.
Options - Day hike down and around Horseshoe Mesa or relax out on the West arm of the mesa.
Favorite thing: Most of what you'll see in the Grand Canyon is typical throughout the park. There are some trails that will lead you from the Rim to the Colorado River, but these require a lot of endurance under hot and arid conditions. Take plenty of water and know your limits. Note the Bright Angel Trail (that little tan 'scratch') toward the right of this photo.
Fondest memory: On the morning of day 3, the rain came back, just as Jim predicted it would. The last morning in the Grand Canyon is cold and rainy. And I'd finally managed to get my jacket dry.