I love the beauty of the Grand Canyon. I’m not a desert person. I’m not a fan of heat or sand. But to me the Grand Canyon is not only an awesome example of the power of natural forces, it is undeniably beautiful. I had been to the Grand Canyon a half-dozen times before this trip and always drove up, looked at it for a day or two, then drove away. I had never even considered hiking into the canyon. A couple of years ago, I was watching the PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea which showed some really old black and white photos of women in dresses and heals hiking into the canyon. When I saw this I realized, “I can do that”! There are different options for hiking in the canyon, and very specific times that you should plan to do it. We decided to hike from rim to rim, about 23 miles. Then all it took was some planning. I quickly found that there are really small windows of time when it is best to hike from rim to rim. Which way to hike was an easy decision, I love any hike that allows me to hike more downhill than uphill, so we went from the North Rim to South Rim. There are other advantages to going North to South. The Bright Angel Trail coming out on the South side of the Canyon has abundant water stops. If you want to do a day hike from the South Rim, this would be the trail I would recommend. Of course you’ll be joining the crowd!
The Grand Canyon Nation Park Lodge offers a duffel service. Mules carry a duffel, up to 30 pounds, into and out of the Grand Canyon for about $65.00 each way. In order to enjoy the hike more we chose to use the duffel service in and out of the canyon. We packed one duffel for two people including a tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 pads, and a few other items. This meant that we could carry small, under 15 pound, packs. The lighter load was great. I’m considering getting a pet mule! I just need to find a house in San Diego with a small barn. It did take some extra planning, they have very specific drop off and pickup points and times, but we were able to work our plan around this fairly easily.
Our preferred plan would have been to have reservations at the North Rim lodge and take the shuttle up there the day before our hike, but there were no rooms available. That meant we had to take two cars, one to leave at the South Rim, and one to drive to the North Rim. It also added about 6 hours of driving to the trip as we had to drive back from the South Rim to the North Rim to pick up the second car after the hike. So if you are planning this trip well in advance make reservations for the lodges as soon as the dates open up! We were able to get reservations at the South Rim lodge which was absolutely awesome after the hike. We stayed in a hotel a couple of hours from the South Rim two nights before the hike, then got to the South Rim in time to drop our duffels. We looked around a little, then drove most of the 4.5 hour route to the North Rim.
We stopped about 45 minutes north of the Park entrance and stayed at Jacob Lake Inn, in a very reasonably priced two room cottage. Even though there were two bedrooms don’t expect privacy. The bathroom was in between the two rooms, but there was a 6 inch opening at the top and bottom of the bathroom doors leading to each room. We had a few drinks out on the porch and went to bed early. Not sure why but none of us slept well. We would not have the same problem the next night after the 13.8 mile hike to Bright Angel campground near Phantom Ranch and the Colorado river crossing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
We got to the North Kaibab trailhead early and started our hike at 7am.
The weather was cool and the canyon view was bright and hazy. Not the best light for pictures but it was gorgeous. The North Rim had more trees than I expected and the views are very different from the South Rim. I enjoyed the changes of scenery going in to the canyon.
Near the top there were trees and shrubs and the rocks had lighter coloring.
The trail was very well maintained which made the hike much nicer. We only passed about 30 people all day on our way in from the North Rim, but that would change on day 2. As we made our way down further into the canyon and passed through the Supai Tunnel the sides of the canyon started to be different shades of sandstone, including some areas that were very red.
Another highlight for me were the few bridges that we crossed to pass from one side of the narrow canyon we were descending in to the other. I could imagine the mule trains bringing the materials in to build these bridges, and the workers staying for days at a time to construct them.
Although I’m not a big fan of heights, narrow trails, and/or being near big drop-offs, with the well maintained trails and our hiking poles I never felt uncomfortable. There are some impressively narrow trail areas along the trail, but they only add to the enjoyment and make great pictures.
Believe the Grand Canyon video, it gets hotter as you descend further into the canyon. Bring plenty of water. A water bladder, I prefer the CamelBak brand, is the best way to carry the amount of water you’ll need to hike the North Kaibab trail. Water bladders also make it easier to stay hydrated on the move. Coming down from the North Rim, you will only have a couple of water stops on the way. The Wikipedia listing states there is water at Supai Tunnel, but we didn’t see any. However, it is only 1.7 miles from the start of the trail so we weren’t looking for it.
Wikipedia also states there is water at Roaring Springs, but we didn’t backtrack to the falls there. We did fill up at the Cottonwood Campgrounds. After that there are no more treated water sources until Phantom Ranch, but there is running water beside the trail if you have the ability to filter/treat water. Because the provided treated water sources may not be working, it is recommended that you do carry water treatment equipment. Once you pass Roaring Springs there will be a stream running near the trail all the way to Phantom Ranch. At first it will be Roaring Springs creek, but that eventually joins up with Bright Angel Creek.
The last several miles of the North Kaibab Trail goes through a very narrow canyon. By this point my feet were aching and some of the others were complaining about sore knees. It is a beautiful canyon, but by that point we were ready to get to the end, set up camp, and pull our boots off. I’m glad I took the time to take a few pictures so I could enjoy the views later! I believe the main topic of discussion the last 3 or 4 miles went something like, “It can’t be far now!”, “Man are my dogs barking”, “I thought we’d be there by now.”, “Why didn’t we stay at Cottonwood?”. But eventually we started to see signs of civilization.
Walking into the Phantom Ranch area felt great. The day had been amazing, but it felt even better to be done for the day. We stopped by the livery to get our duffel, checked the schedule for the dining facility and snack bar, then headed over to the Bright Angel campgrounds just past Phantom Ranch. We had tried to reserve dinner and breakfasts at Phantom Ranch, but they were not available. Guests at the Ranch have priority, but I’m still glad we camped instead of staying at the lodge. The lodge is segregated by gender and bunkhouse style, so if your group is not mixed gender you may want to consider the lodge. The campgrounds are right beside Bright Angel Creek. Someone has formed “hot tubs” in the creek using stones. This slows the creek flow a little and gives you a great place to sit.
The creek water is very cold, but felt awesome. Bring some sandals to wear for the evening, your feet will thank you for the break! Even though we didn’t have meal reservations at the Phantom Ranch lodge we made it to a two-hour “open access” time We had a couple of beers. some snacks, played a board game (Taboo), and relaxed. We ate dinner before dark and went to sleep just after dark. The campground gets busy and noisy very early in the morning as hikers rush to get an early start. We were late starters compared to them, but got up before dawn, ate a light breakfast, packed up, dropped off our duffels, and started our hike out of the canyon. I’ll put the details of that in a second post.
Decided to add a few more “Day 1” pictures. Also remember you can click any of the pictures in the post to see them full size.
I thought I saw a woman carrying an old fashioned parasol on this trail just before I snapped this picture, not sure if she had just gone around the corner, or maybe never existed…
I hiked the same trail in June 2014! See all of my planning and hiking post for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike Posts (Oct 2010 and June 2014)