Hiking The Grand Canyon - In, around and down this magical wonder of the world!
Arriving just before the weekend, we didn’t think we had much of a chance scoring a campsite in the Grand Canyon without a reservation, especially during spring break! But when we arrived, we checked in with the campsite rangers and they advised us that there had been a cancellation and they could accomodate us in one of their sites for 2 x nights in the Mathers campsite, south rim - woohoo!
After setting up our camp, we went to the visitor centre to get some hiking trail maps and information as we had intentions of trekking down into the canyon and camping there during our stay. The rangers advised us that we would need to purchase a permit for this, and that they can be quite difficult to obtain if not organised in advance. We rushed our way to the backcountry office, fingers and toes crossed that we would be able to secure ourselves the opportunity to hike and camp below the rim. For $13 each we were able to get ourselves a permit for 2 x days, in 3 days’s time, but unfortunately all of the campsites at the bottom of the Canyon were completely booked out over the next couple of weeks. We instead had the option of camping in a seperate area, an extra 4 miles / 6km’s from the Bright Angel campsite, with no water or toilets, but it was a place for us to pitch our tent after all.. so we locked it in!
Now that we had what we needed organised, we hurried ourselves to the canyon rim to get our first glimpses of what we had to look forward to over the next five days.. words cannot describe how blown away we were, approaching the rock edges and trying to soak up everything that was before us, around us, below us.. No pictures that we have ever seen of the Grand Canyon does this wonder of the world any justice, as it’s beauty and vastness can simply just not be captured in one photograph..
All of the viewpoints listed on the information brochures along the South Rim are constantly crowded with people, so we decided to walk a little further away from these hot-spots, climb our way down a whole heap of large rocks, and find our own peaceful spot to enjoy our first of many Grand Canyon sunsets. With the sun setting over the canyon, illumination the valley’s below with it’s golden light, we could not tear ourselves away from this viewpoint until darkness began to set upon us.
Day 2 we awoke early, it was Mish’s birthday and Kirk had scattered a treasure hunt of presents around the campsite for her to find, and then made us a hot breakfast - eggs & english muffins - delish! We had plans for a day-hike below the canyon, to get our first taste of what we had in store for our big overnight hiking and camping trip to come! The Grand Canyon offers a complimentary shuttle bus service all year around, so we were able to park our car in the village, save some gas, and jump on the red-route along Hermit’s Road - which took us to the most western part of the rim accessible via vehicle. The shuttle bus stops numerous times on the way to the end of the road, Hermit’s Rest, and allows everyone to get on/off the bus at each lookout spot, with another shuttle arriving within 10 minutes to jump on to the next stop. A really well set-up system! After around 40 minutes we arrived at the last stop which is where the trailhead commenced to take us down into the canyon. With our day-packs filled with plenty of water and snacks, we decided to make our way down as far as we could for 2 hours, before returning back the way we came, knowing that up-hill hiking would take a little longer than down-hill! The track was strongly recommended to us as a trail for experienced desert hikers only, however with the right footwear and a moderate level of fitness, we think that anyone with a little determination can physically complete this hike if they’re prepared with enough water to see them through the heat and steep incline back up. For the first time in the Grand Canyon, we felt at peace and away from the hustle and bustle of thousands of tourists. Scrambling up a few rocks, we found a perfect view-spot for lunch where we relaxed and spent some time taking lots of photos before turning back the way we came. The canyon from below was a completely different world down there, and we couldn’t wait to diverge further and deeper during our upcoming backcountry expedition.
By the time we returned, climbing and hiking up the steep and rocky terrain, we were pretty exhausted and Mish was pretty keen for a birthday beer! We made our way to another sunset spot along the south rim, and then headed back to our campsite to enjoy some dinner, a fire, and lemon pie.. Even the elk who wander around the campground and national parks looking for water and food came to say hello - what a perfect day!
With only one more day to enjoy the outskirts of the Grand Canyon before heading down, we spent Day 3 exploring some of the Rim Trail - in total, the Rim trail is a 12.8 mile / 20.6km one-way trail which covers the distance of the South Rim that can be accessible by shuttle bus, walking, and some parts also with a bicycle (which you are also able to rent from the visitor centre). We covered around half of this via foot, with some highlights being Mojave Point, Hopi Point, Powell Point, & Maricopa Point - all great spots to stop at for photo opportunities! Unlike our hike the day prior, the Rim Trail offers lots of shade, restrooms, and drinking water supplies along the way. We even setup our hammock between two trees along the edge of the canyon, where we chilled & made ourselves some lunch.. an enjoyable and easy trail for all ages and fitness levels.. and an opportunity to view the canyon from as many angles from above as possible!
As the campgrounds were all at capacity for the night, we instead made our way out of the park and only a short five minute drive-away you are able to enter the Kaibab National Forest where you can set-up camp. No entry fee, no camping fee, but no facilities - this is a perfect alternative for anyone who still wants to camp extremely close to the Grand Canyon entrance, and even more perfect for those on a budget. We spent our late afternoon organising our backpacks and preparing our food for our backcountry tramp the following day, heading to bed early so that we could make an early start the following morning.
Day 4 - hiking down into the Grand Canyon! We awoke early and made our way back into the national park, where we intended on leaving our car during our overnight trip. The rangers advised us that we were able to park our car in the Backcountry Information Centre carpark where we wouldn’t be towed or ticketed due to the permit that we obtained as part of our hike. From here, we were able to catch the shuttle bus which took us directly to the South Kaibab trail-head, the start of our trail. Our itinerary for today would see us hiking down into the canyon 7 miles / 11.3 km’s where we would reach the Bright Angel Campground - as there were no vacancies for this campground, we then were required to hike a further 4 miles / 6 km’s up-hill to Clear Creek, the next closest area that we were able to set-up camp. With an elevation change of 4340 ft / 1320 metres, the hike down to the first campground was definitely a very steep one, however we were very impressed with how well maintained the paths were, and despite walking along cliff-edges for the majority of the hike, we felt pretty safe!
With so many incredible view-points to admire and photograph along the way, and lots of stops for sips of our water in the blazing sun, the trail downhill to Bright Angel campground where many people were camping for the night, took us around 6 hours including breaks along the way. From the very start we were amazed at how diverse the Grand Canyon landscapes were once we dropped below the rim. Crossing the Colorado River via large bridges, enjoying the beaches, streams, and unlimited views throughout the entire hike of the canyon and valley all around us. The Bight Angel campground was a gorgeous one, set right upon the river with lots of shade available, we were a little bummed that we hadn’t scored a spot here for the night. We made our way a little further where we stopped to rest at Phantom Ranch, which is cabin-style accomodation for those want to live it up a little down in the canyon! This was the first spot where we were able to access drinking water throughout the entire day, so we made sure that we each filled up our 3 litre camelbacks before we continued our up-hill hike to our campsite for the night. After an exhausting two hours of steep hiking, we finally made it to the Clear Creek camping area, set upon a hill looking over the canyon valley and Colorado river, the spectacular views made the hot and strenuous journey worth every drip of sweat! AND we made it just in time for sunset - perfecto!
We heated up our brown rice and veggies for dinner in our trusty Jetboil & after walking over some pretty hectic terrain for 11 miles / 17 km’s today we were both physically and mentally exhausted - no matter how many rocks were nestled under our tent that night, we slept like babies! That was until our 6am alarm went off.. With a huge 13 miles / 21 km’s ahead of us today, we were packed up and on the trail by 6.30am where we had to backtrack the way we had come to Bright Angel campground. From here we were able to jump onto the Bright Angel trailhead, a longer route than if we were to go back up the way we came via South Kaibab trail, however a less steep one, many more rest-stops, and different scenery than the day prior.
Within the first couple of hours we had crossed the Colorado river via another bridge, passed a beach, streams & springs, and found ourselves walking through a gorgeous garden of purple flowered trees - never would we have thought that the landscapes below the rim in the Grand Canyon would be filled with so much diversity and beauty! The first 8 miles / 13 km’s was quite a gradual incline to the Indian Gardens campground - here we found many picnic tables, shade, and drinking water (the only place to fill-up with water that doesn’t need to be treated between Bright Angel campground and the end of the trail). We stopped here to enjoy some noodles & fruit before we tackled the last and most difficult part of the trail.. the final 5 miles / 8 km’s to the top..
How would we describe our final few hours of our up-hill journey back to the top? HOT, strenuous, painful, adrenaline-pumped, brutal on the body when carrying 15kg back-packs.. but incredible, breathtaking, gorgeous, colourful, and good fun all at the same time. We developed quite a love/hate relationship with our 2-day journey down, in, around, and back-up the Grand Canyon - and have a few recommendations for anyone intending to do something similar!
Plan ahead - This part was difficult for us to do, as we really had no idea what date we would arrive in the canyon, we were quite reluctant to pre-book any permits/campsites. But if we had our time again, we would have obtained our backcountry permit and campground reservation in advance, which would have meant that we would have been able to stay at the Bright Angel campground and shave around 7 miles / 12 km’s off of our round-trip
Spend more than 2 days if making your way all the way down to the Colorado River and back again! As the trail is quite physically demanding, the days are long and hot, and we wish that we had had more time to sit and enjoy the beaches and relax and soak up the landscapes around us, rather than rushing to/from campsites and start/finish
Pack light - The less weight you have in your backpack, the easier it will be for you to work your way up the steep and uneven terrain
Complete the trail anti-clockwise as per our route above - the South Kaibab route offers gorgeous viewpoints when coming down, however the Bright Angel trail is less steep, and has much more shade and numerous rest-stops when coming back up - all very much needed!
Water purifiers - if you plan on spending more than 2 days below the rim, you will definitely need a water purifier system of some form. There are many water-sources available such as the Colorado River, streams, and springs - however all of the water from here needs to be purified before drinking
Walking poles - we consider ourselves rather fit and experienced backcountry hikers, we have never used trekking poles before, and didn’t for this hike, however many other people around us were utilising poles and they were much safer and capable of navigating the steep down-hill terrain. Slips and trips were unavoidable with the loose gravel/rock, despite having awesome footwear - poles would have been very helpful and Mish may not have so many battle-scars today!
Bring a little bit of money with you - if you fancy treating yourself to a cold beer or hot meal, the bar at Phantom Ranch (within a quarter mile / 0.5 km from Bright Angel campground) offered all of this and more
Campsite reservations - if you were not able to secure yourself a prior campsite reservation online, be sure to check-in at the campsite office regularly as they have many cancellations each day and you may get lucky just like we did!
Grand Canyon Horses - we saw many people riding mules up/down the trail into the Canyon, unfortunately we witnessed the living conditions for these beautiful animals (as pictured), and were disappointed that in a National Park with so much available open-space, these poor horses were all crammed together in a confined environment, looking pretty unhappy.. we don’t support what we saw at all, and hope that anyone who has taken the time to read this blog decides to make the journey via foot, rather than spending money on a horse, when the pennies aren’t necessarily going to bettering their living conditions.
The Grand Canyon has been an absolute highlight for us during our road trip through the USA - unfortunately at this time of the year, the North Rim of the canyon is closed and unaccessible due to snow and dangerous landslides. We hope to have the opportunity to come back one day, to explore what we have heard is a completely different aspect of the canyon.
Check out our short youtube video link also below https://youtu.be/Ls8G1fNzhsA of our time spent in the Grand Canyon & we welcome you all to contact us with any questions or feedback you may have - we always love hearing from you guys!
Our next stop? UTAH! Canyonlands, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Zion, & Salt Lake - watch this space for more updates to come!