Grand Canyon National Park - Hiking to the Bottom and Back Out
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
The Grand Canyon speaks for itself but for this particular post, we will discuss hiking from the South Rim to the bottom (to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch) and back out to the top of the South Rim. The park entry fee to the Grand Canyon is $35 per day for vehicles and $25 per day for motorcycles. They do offer discounts to senior citizens and there is an annual National Parks Pass which is roughly $80.
Now to the hike:
I hiked this twice in 2019 utilizing the only two trails going down on the South Rim which are the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail. You will read that the round trip of using one trail down and one back out is 19 miles. Both trips I verified this round trip is 23 miles from the top, crossing the Colorado River, to the Phantom Ranch, and back out to the South Rim.
In May of 2019, friends and I did this hike in one day and we would NOT recommend you try this at any age. We left at 6:00 am and made it back out 10:00 pm that night. We had lunch at the Phantom Ranch and had to head right back.
In September of 2019, friends and I obtained a permit and stayed one night at the Bright Angel Campground which is on the north side of the Colorado River and just south of the Phantom Ranch at the bottom. To stay at the ranch you must obtain a permit for either the campgrounds or the small dormitories or cabins at the Ranch. The September trip would have been fine but we left too late in the morning. We highly recommend you leave early in the morning at 6:00 am which allows you to beat the heat and sun; most hikers should get to the bottom sometime in the early afternoon.
It is important for everyone to understand if you have heart issues or other medical issues, please DO NOT make this hike. The National Parks Service warns everyone about this but each year, someone dies because they don't listen. We read one article which lists this hike as the second hardest in the United States. Additionally, don't carry items you really don't need like survival items. These trails are heavily traveled by other hikers. Water is not available on the South Kaibab Trail so bring plenty to get you to the bottom. At the Phantom Ranch, there are locations to refill water for campers and hikers. There are water refilling stations on the Bright Angel Trail. For this hike, water, food, and clothing for cold weather or rain are your main concerns. Also ensure you bring walking sticks (two of them) because the steps on these trails are very steep and regardless of your age, they will take their toll on your feet, knees, and joints.
As for the experience, you will never find another view like the legendary Grand Canyon. Until you hike to the bottom and back, no one can actually understand the beauty. This is why leaving early and if you can, getting a permit to stay at the bottom are so important. If you take your time and bring a good camera, the photos as featured in this blog post are amazing.
Wildlife to expect include desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, coyotes, gray fox, California Condors (and the inspiration for the name of our blog) and a large variety of reptiles, birds and rodents. (Note from Leigh: expect ring-tailed cats or ringtails to visit your campsite in the night. We did not see the desert bighorns or mountain lions or coyotes or fox! The condors are more likely to be found on the North Rim).
Our experience: well worth the visit and a must on the bucket-list for everyone. The trails are well-marked and generally wide but steep. There are a ton of switch-backs which is why it is deceptive when looking from the top and thinking it‘s not that far down; trust me it is. The key to this hike is planning.
Park location and contact:
PO Box 129 Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Phone: (928) 638-7888
For camping permits, the link is below: