No day at the Grand Canyon would be complete without some hiking into the Canyon. When Jon and I (mostly me!) were originally planning our Southwest tour, we were both really interested in hiking to the bottom of the Canyon. Although it is possible to make the hike in one day, most people recommend hiking to the bottom, staying overnight at the Phantom Ranch, either staying in the hostel or camping, and then making the hike out of the Canyon the next morning. Unfortunately, as we were only going to be at the Grand Canyon for one full day, we ultimately decided that we wouldn’t be able to do the full hike on this trip.
Earlier in the day, while we were exploring the Grand Canyon Village, we hiked a short way down the Bright Angel Trail. The Bright Angel Trail head is right next to the Kolb Brothers Studio; it is the longer of the two routes to the Phantom Ranch, with a total length of 9.9 miles from the trail head to the Ranch. It is also the more popular trail most for day hikers descending only a short way into the Canyon and also for hikers doing the entire route to the bottom. It is not as steep, and it is situated right at the Grand Canyon Village.
On our hike of the Bright Angel Trail, we discovered that the trail is very popular. There were dozens, if not over a hundred people hiking on the early portion of the trail, ranging from serious hikers with poles, lots of water and sun protection, to tourists in flip flops charging down the trail with no water and only a cell phone camera. We even saw a dog, although the trail is clearly marked with a sign indicating dogs aren’t allowed. But as I have said before, people are stupid. There are beautiful views, and lots of places to stop along the trail for photos. We only hiked about 1/3 mile down, because we hadn’t had lunch yet and hadn’t filled our water bottles.
The Bright Angel Trail is much more crowded
After we finished checking out the Desert View Watchtower, we parked along the highway and walked over to the trail head for the South Kaibab Trail. This trail also descends all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and meets up at the Phantom Ranch. It is significantly shorter than the Bright Angel Trail, reaching the Phantom Ranch in 7.4 miles. However, it is also much steeper, with grades as steep as 22% in some places. And unlike the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail does not provide access to water at any point along the trail, only at the trail head and the bottom of the Canyon. Plus, the trail head is much more remote, which cuts down on the scores of tourists.
As we walked over to the South Kaibab Trail Head along the Rim Trail, we started seeing our first live elk. They were literally standing on the trail about 10 feet away from us! Which left us in a predicament, because the rangers say you are to back away from the elk, but we needed to go that direction! And the elk didn’t seem to be the least concerned about our presence. After a few minutes, they moved off the trail and we were able to scoot around them, but not before taking some photos. And we definitely weren’t at the recommended 75 feet of distance!
Elk just off the trail near the South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trail begins with several switchbacks that take you quickly below the rim; I think there are 9. It reminded me of Walter’s Wiggles at Zion National Park, on the Angels Landing Trail. And you are greeted with amazing views! We hiked 0.9 miles down into the Canyon, to Ooh Aah Point, and I was struck by the view the entire time. At Ooh Aah Point, we stopped and rested for a little while, before beginning the hike back up to the Canyon Rim.
The South Kaibab Trail, with the first set of switchbacks dead ahead
The South Kaibab Trail – if you can see the tiny person near the middle of the photo, that’s Ooh Aah Point
So, what did I think? Well, it was strenuous, with sections of the trail that were fairly steep. I’m certainly not a super athlete though, so people that are reasonably fit should manage just fine. I’m pretty convinced that although I probably could do the entire Rim to River to Rim hike in one day, I’m not sure I would want to. I think that would make for a very tired and sore Camille the next day.
Me at Ooh Aah Point, with the Grand Canyon in the background
The South Kaibab hike did test my fear of heights in some sections, because the trail is cut right into the edge of the cliff, and there is no railing or berm to keep you from going over the edge if you were to lose your footing. Seems like another reason not to try the entire hike in one day, because fatigue could certainly cause some missteps. There were some areas where the scree beneath our feet was pretty loose, and made our feet slip a little bit before finding our footing again.
But all that said, I enjoyed the hike, and in fact it was one of my favorite hikes during the trip. I think we only passed about a half dozen hikers on our entire two mile hike! It was very peaceful.
Back at the top of the Canyon again, we walked the half mile back to the car, seeing that the elk had multiplied since we last went through. As it was getting close to sunset, it made sense that they were out looking for their evening meal. We still tried to give them their space, but it was difficult as they were literally all around us! Fortunately, they showed no aggression towards us at all, and we were able to get back to the car without a mishap.
This guy wasn’t bothered by the elk – too close for my comfort!
Our very full day at the Grand Canyon was coming to a close. We got into the car, and after navigating the car through dozens of elk walking in and near the road, we headed back to Williams. Our time in the car was spent recapping the day and all the amazing experiences that we had. Jon had originally not been that excited about the Grand Canyon, because of the high numbers of visitors, but it ended up being one of his favorite places. Amazing geology, historic buildings, stunning views, California Condors, crazy squirrels, stupid humans, elk, and the hike of a lifetime. We packed a lot into one day, and I can’t wait until we have the opportunity to return!
Back on the Rim Trail, as the sun starts to sink low on the horizon
What was your favorite part of the Grand Canyon? What do you still want to see and do there?