When we found out in September, that we were going to be in Phoenix in October, and we were going to have a few days to spare, we thought it would be really cool to go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Camping was not really practical (full packs, sleeping bags and a tent would have been hard to explain for a business trip) and we knew that reservations at Phantom Ranch are generally needed a year in advance. My husband is an optimist so he called the number for reservations. When he asked for a reservation in October they assumed he meant 2015 not 2014. But he kept calling and one day we got lucky, someone had cancelled for the night we wanted so we were off to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
We started early and on the advice of the park staff and the guide books we took the South Kaibab Trail down. It’s the most direct route down: 7.1 miles starting at 7200ft and ending at 2486ft. The trailhead is at Yaki Point. You can’t drive there but the park has an excellent free shuttle bus system which will take you right to the trailhead.
There is water available at the trailhead but not at any other point on the way down. The sunrise over the canyon was spectacular and unlike sunset in Grand Canyon Village the night before we did not have to share it with busloads of people. Of the 4 million visitors a year who go to the Grand Canyon less than 1% ever go below the rim. Be part of that 1% you will not regret it.
The trail down is extremely well maintained.
We wore hiking shoes (which I would suggest as the best option) but there were trail runners out as well. There is no shade. Not an issue first thing in the morning at 7200ft where we started the day in down jackets but as we descended the landscape and the temperature became more desert like. By the time we reached the bottom we were in shorts and tank tops.
The trail is steep in places but the switchbacks make it a straightforward hike. We had hiking poles with us but we only used them on the steeper sections. There are two composting toilets on the way down which I was pretty happy to see.
Staying well hydrated on the way down is great but with nothing but rock and the odd cactus to duck behind stopping to pee is a challenge.
The mighty Colorado River flows through the bottom of the canyon. You can see it once you pass Skeleton point. It has a green glacial like colour and the water is remarkable cold.
Once you arrive at the bottom of the Canyon you cross the Colorado on a suspension bridge. The mule trains cross the same bridge and when they do the whole bridge rocks!
Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel campground await at the bottom of the canyon. When we arrived there was also a rafting group who were just leaving.
The Colorado is not just cold the water is fast moving and we were believed the signs that warned against swimming. We did put our feet in the freezing cold water. Once you got used to it, it was great for sore feet after a long day of hiking.
The campground was great. A beautiful natural setting along Bright Angel Creek with amo boxes for putting your food in and poles for hanging your pack on (so the scorpions, ants and snakes don’t get in).
If you camp, Bright Angel Creek is just as cold as the Colorado but the water is safe for swimming. Fun fact, for a fee of $68.50 you can send 30lb of gear back up the canyon on a mule. A bonus because what you carry down has to go back up! We also learned that plastic bags are an issue, apparently the deer eat them and then starve to death!
If you stay at Phantom Ranch like we did there are hot showers!
The National Park Service warns that you should not go down and up in one day.
It is worth stopping by the reservation desk early in the morning to see if there have been any cancelations.