I've never stood behind a waterfall before - not one this tall and majestic and isolated. We woke up at Phantom Ranch in the morning after hiking down the Grand Canyon the day before. And while we're not that old, we were feeling every ache and pain in our bodies! Everyone at camp was raving about a hike up to Ribbon Falls at breakfast that morning. But it was 6 miles one way to get there. That's a 12.1 (that .1 counts) mile roundtrip hike for the day. And I've never hiked that far and had no intention of doing such an activity in between a huge accomplishment of getting into the canyon, knowing the next day I have to get myself out of the canyon. (Sign posted: Hiking down - optional. Hiking out - mandatory). So hello! What were we thinking?? We knew we needed to stretch our legs a little bit and everyone said it was more of a flat walk than a hike, so sure enough, we set off to see this magical place. The walk was easy and the destination well worth the effort! If you are in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, check it out!! Words cannot describe the majestic, enchanted ambience. And we saw only 2 people in the entire 6 hour round trip journey. The canyon was ours and it was incredible...
Going all the way to the floor of the Canyon along a ridge, and having dozens of switchbacks along the steep canyon wall, the Kaibab trail is a popular trail for both mules and hiking. There is no water along the trail, and there is sometimes (but not in winter) water available at the South Kaibab trailhead at the top of the Canyon wall.
Watch for loose rock, as it is awfully easy to trip and go over the edge, and there is a long way down on the other side of that edge in places.
Don't try to go all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and back up in one day. The top rim of the Canyon is at fairly high elevation, and most anyone will get tired here. Every year they have several people killed due to their underestimation of the altitude effects, and their overestimation of their physical ability. Don't be one of those.
At the bottom of the Canyon, the trail connects to several other trails, allowing for a complete loop to Bright Angel, or to climb the north rim of the Canyon, or various other destinations. Bring a trail map!
This was an easy 1/2 mile round trip hike to the point and great overlook views. Some of the best views of being right next to the edge and looking down are here. It gets me a bit tipsy and try not to have both feet close to edge at once.
This was a very pleasant hike to an area in a canyon that has a spring right under a rock ledge. The hike in was relatively easy, and only 1 mile round trip. Getting to the end, the wind blows through the canyon at speeds 40-70 MPH; no kidding. You get sand/grit in the eyes. A Ranger was there and she said that happens a lot because it is a box canyon and no place for the wind to dissipate of go up over the rock cliffs. It is about 1/2 mile north of Cap Royal and on the left side heading north. Look for roadside sign (small as it is)
These two trails are right near the visitor center and lodge. The Bright Angel Point is hiking out onto a real point on a rock ledge overlooking the canyon. It is only 3/4 mile walk, but the wobbly legs of mine being so high got that strange sensation of vertigo. It is 8225 feet high. This is a place where two canyons converge. You can see the Humphries mountain range 50 miles away.
This is 5 mile round trip down to Supai Tunnel and it is not as easy as what you read. The descent, and then ascent is 1400 feet. That wears a guy out. I did the hike and went a little further to make it 6 miles in 2 hours to try and find out if I could breath normal afterword. At 1.5 miles there is an overlook onto Coconino Forests. The trail then takes a more steep approach form there. The issue was not the feet decline, but the loose dirt/sand and rock. That makes you lose footing and the drop off is steep for sure.
Hike to Ribbon Falls. Ok, this is NOT a day hike. You would have to be quite the stud to do this in one day and it would be termed more a mountain marathon than a hike. It's 11 miles round trip from the Bright Angel Campground with about 300 feet elevation pickup. So, if you did this from the South Rim, it would be an additional 13 miles round trip down the shorter South Kaibab Trail. So, 24 miles and don't forget the 5000 feet of elevation change either. Suffice to say, it's best to camp on the canyon floor or stay at Phantom Ranch if you are considering this hike.
It starts off through a beautiful gorge on exiting the Phantom Ranch area but soon turns into a dry flat affair where you'll be glad you started early in the morning. We were luck as the prickly pear cacti were in bloom but even with the beauty, it's a long, dry walk. It forks at one point with the right trail going to the North Rim and the left heading to the falls. The trail to the falls is an up and down slog as you pass a few watery patches. I imagine this can be quite wet at certain times of the year.
The falls area is amazing. It's not a torrent of water coming down but it's quite high and the mist makes for a rainbow effect with the right light. The lack of water actually comes in handy when you want to cool off. It's a lot more water than it seems once you get under it! You can walk up behind the falls on an unmarked climb to the left of the falls for some cool Tarzan-like pictures. We had it to ourselves for a short time before a group of Japanese tourist showed up to snap a few shots of me showing off for Jane under the falls. You'd think this is too remote for such things but with mule trips to Phantom Ranch and this being, well the Grand Canyon, just about anything is possible.
The Grand Canyon offers some of the finest backpacking anywhere in the world. Don't expect solitude or a true wilderness experience. It's just too popular for that. But if you love great scenery, groomed trails, some pretty nice amenities, and a fairly safe environment to backpack, then Grand Canyon is the place for you. The trails are in great shape and very well marked. You should never backpack without a topographical map but if you're going to do it, this is one place you can get away with it.
The Bright Angel Trail even has rest stops that provide shade, toilets, and running drinking water. There are toilets at the campgrounds and at Phantom Ranch, you can even buy food/beverages. But do not expect a Disney experience in entirety. It is true there is water at designated spots on the Bright Angel Trail but it does break down occasionally. The day we hiked out one of the pipes burst so was not working at one of the stops. We were glad we'd filled our bottles at Indian Gardens campground. We were carrying water purification methods with us but the problem is, on the ascent, there just isn't any water of any kind. There are no streams or idyllic little lakes. Desert conditions should be expected. It's hot and very dry so hiking in the early part of the day is essential. You can make your trip easier by ordering meals at Phantom Ranch if you are camping at Bright Angel Campground but you'll still need to carry snacks for the hike down. This will add considerable cost to your trip and you may as well stay at Phantom Ranch or do the mule trip.
In general, plan on carrying everything you need for the duration of your stay on the canyon floor. It is a lot of work but it's an experience you will never forget. Nothing beats staying at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and there is no feeling like doing it under your own power. You literally feel on top of the world when you see Bright Angel Lodge after a few days of backpacking. And no, it's not just the promise of a shower and restaurant cooked meal. It's the feeling of accomplishment.
No matter what time of year you attempt to hike to the Canyon floor, you should start early. This is especially important during the hot summer months when it's actually a bit crazy to do in the first place. The spring and fall months are best for hiking at the Grand Canyon. Winter can be good if the weather cooperates but remember even the south Rim is at 7000 feet so it can be icy or packed with snow.
The first time I came to Grand Canyon it was in late October of 1994. I had fully expected to hike in and out in a day but was disappointed to find the trails iced over and crampons recommended for the hike. Also, the later in the year, the shorter amount of daylight you have so generally not the best time for a potentially long day hike like this. I returned the next year in September and tried to start the hike at 4:30 AM in twilight. I got a half hour into the canyon only to find I'd left my camera on top of the car! So, I actually started at 5:30 AM. I was in great shape and rushed not only down the trail but back up. I only spent a short time at Phantom Ranch as I feared how long it might take me to get back to the top. I'd read all the warnings about day hiking into the canyon and since I was hiking alone, I didn't want to take any chances. I was back on top by 1:30 PM! It was a great feeling but I'd wished I'd spent more time on the bottom and swore if ever back in the park, I'd do an overnight trip.
So, it can be done but certainly not by everyone. Be sure you are in excellent shape and I mean hiking shape, not just gym shape. Do ample practice hikes of similar distances and elevation change. Remember also that this is a desert hike. It's very dry and hot. There is generally little shade, especially on the ascent. You will sweat out a lot of minerals without even realizing it. Carry plenty of food and water. They will be your only fuel to get out of there. You wouldn't drive into the desert on an empty tank. Don't do the same at Grand Canyon or you'll regret it.
Feeling a little more energetic? You can't beat hiking into the canyon. You don't have to go all the way to the bottom either. You get a different perspective as soon as you go down a few hundred feet. Even better is you escape 70% of the rest of the Grand Canyon Visitors, maybe more. The further you hike down, the better and the more people you leave behind.
One great day hike is Plateau Point. It's a little over 12 miles round trip but the tough part is it drops 3000 feet to Indian Gardens. The views of the Colorado River are well worth the effort but don't expect solitude. This is probably the most popular real hike in the park so there will always be a nice little crowd there. You will be hiking down the Bright Angel Trail which doubles as the main path for mules into the canyon so expect mule poop along the way. One bonus is there are shelters and toilets along the trail and water is even available at some of them, making it unnecessary to carry enough water for the whole day. Be sure to check before starting that the water is indeed on!
You'll get to see a backcountry campground at Indian Gardens before heading across a flat exposed section to Plateau Point. Bring plenty of snacks to consume not only at the viewpoint but also along the trail as it's a tough 3000 foot climb back up to the top. You'll need all the energy you can get. This is a great warm up hike if doing a multi-day trip to the canyon floor later in your stay. It helped us build up our stamina and gave our knees a test which gave us more confidence to tackle the big hike.
While we had no time to do another backpacking trip to the Canyon floor, we wanted to see some of the North Kaibab Trail. We'd hiked to Ribbon Falls down the South Kaibab and the northern route would have been our exodus if we could have done the Rim to Rim hike. It was even steeper though it seemed to have more tree cover. Since things seem a bit more bunched up on the North Rim I'd say the views were not as spectacular as coming down the South Kaibab. We had planned on going to the Supai Tunnel at 2 miles down but only went a bit past Coconino Overlook which is 1.5 miles round trip. We could see the tunnel from there. We were heading to Nevada that day and we felt we had seen enough of the Grand Canyon at that point.
Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon has got to be one of the great thrills in American hiking and presents a problem as much mentally as physically. It is a reverse in and out hike which means the hard part is the second half. Most hikes that involve climbing a peak for example, find the hiker expending the most energy to get to the top. Coming down, while perhaps hard on the knees, is generally easier. With the Grand Canyon, lots of people can get to the bottom but coming out is a whole other ballgame. In fact, the National Park service expressively warns hikers to not attempt it as a day hike.
It is twelve miles round trip just to the river and you'll descend over 4500 feet. Of course, anyone going that far is likely to want to see Phantom Ranch and that tacks on another couple miles round trip though no more elevation change. I know at the gym on the treadmill you're clipping along at four miles an hour plus but this is real life and no incline on a treadmill is going to equal the one you'll be climbing to get out of the Grand Canyon. If you can average two miles an hour you'll be doing pretty well. So, figure on 7-8 hours of hiking. Now, you'll want to spend a little time down there since you put so much effort to get there, right. So, figure an hour for that. You'll need to have something to eat down there so not only will you need to carry that but also take a bit of time to actually eat it. So, a ten hour day is ahead of all but the most fit.
Hiking along the South Rim is something just about anyone can do and will make your visit of the Grand Canyon a lot more enjoyable than just racing from viewpoint to viewpoint, either catching the shuttle or trying to find a parking space. Part of the reason you come to a National Park is to get away from all that, right? The South Rim walk is flat, and mostly paved. It will bring you to all the same viewpoints and many in between. There are benches along the way for a rest of snack too so take you time. Linger a little. Sunset is a great time for the walk but I think even better is sunrise. It's much less crowded and cooler too.
The South Kaibab Trail is the less traveled of the two maintained Grand Canyon South Rim, the other being Bright Angel Trail. The trail begins south of Yaki Point on Yaki Point Road. The side road has been closed to public vehicles. The only way to access the trail is to take the Kaibab Trail Route shuttle bus. This trail offers day hikes that range in distance up to 6 miles round trip. It offers the best views for a relatively short hike. The trail is pretty steep, there's no water only at the start of the trail, and very little shade. Because of those three reasons, this trail is more difficult and strenuous than the Bright Angel Trail. The trail descends 4820 feet in total.
Most of the time, the path follows a ridge, so it has extensive views along the canyon in both directions. The view is magnificent as you can see from the pictures I took. We didn't get too far into the Trail. We stopped at the Ooh-Aah Point which is 1.8 miles round trip. The point offers a spectacular view, wide panorama view. I recommend this hike to everyone even if you're a beginner hiker. The hike is relatively short compare to the rewards. It's perfect for a day hike. For more experienced hikers, you can continue along the Trail down to the Cedar Ridge and even Skeleton Point
Even if you do not have much time, it is quite an experience to walk down the trail towards Colorado River. If you have 3 hours, allocate 1 hour for walking down and 2 hours for walking back up. You will the different rock strata as you work you way down. There are wild animals from deer to squirrels but what is annoying is that you have to side step what the mules left behind.
Stop often especially when coming back up to rest to avoid heat stroke and to enjoy and appreciate this fantastic geological wander carved by water.