Grand Canyon From Rim to River in a day.
The beautiful Grand Canyon offers a lot for visitors — from its beautiful one-of-a-kind bird’s eye views to lots of wildlife to lush greenery and a cool, serene atmosphere for those seeking it.
There is one thing that limits the potential for visitors to appreciate the grand scale — the fact that it takes months to get a permit to camp inside the Canyon puts many adventurous visitors in a dilemma. Looking at the view from the south rim is beautiful but brings forth an urge to want to explore further.
So the main question comes to mind — does hiking down from the South Rim Grand Canyon to the Colorado river and back in one day make sense? The fear is that exhaustion can overcome the hiker and lead to a catastrophic conclusion. Adding fuel to the fear are the numerous stories one hears about serious injuries and frequent rescue operations carried out for hikers.
A group of 4 of us visited the Canyon from April 16th-17th 2017. Keep in mind this is spring and the weather was 30C/86F at its high, which is much cooler relative to summer months.
On the first day, we decided to hike the South Kaibab Trail. We started at 2 PM and easily made down about one-third of the trail to Cedar Ridge and back up just before 4 PM. The marvelous views on this hike drove the need to go to the Colorado River. Like most other travelers, we had tried getting reservations to camp in the Grand Canyon (at the Phantom Ranch), but we were out of luck, as their bookings open (and get almost immediately filled) 13 months in advance! But viewing the Canyon from the top was not satisfying enough and so, the four of us began debating over dinner about doing the entire hike the next day.
In our group there was one experienced hiker, two intermediate hikers and a beginner. For the beginner this was her second hike ever! Her first hike being the Angel’s Landing trail in the Zion National Park, on April 15th, just 2 days earlier!
As you can imagine, the core part of our debate was over the reality of this colossal challenge. That night, we read over different articles and blogs of folks who had ventured out into the same journey. The top 3 concerns were — lack of water, lack of food and most importantly, exhaustion!
To address the first concern, we bought a 24 — pack of water bottles.
For food, we bought a loaf of bread, 6 bagels, 2 packs of cheese slices, cherry tomatoes, fresh cut watermelon, 2 oranges, 7 snickers chocolate bars, 4 cliff bars and 10 granola bars. Apart from this we carried a can of muscle relaxant spray, sunscreen lotion, a pair of extra socks each, two empty water bottles (in case we needed to fill water along the Bright Angel Trail), hand sanitizer, tissues and a power bank.
Dealing with the last and most dangerous concern was crucial to the success of this trip. It was a big risk — if all four of us did not feel equally prepared physically and mentally for this trip. That night, we decided to spend an hour in the hotel hot tub to relax and loosen our muscles which were sore from our previous hikes. It was also essential to get enough sleep and give ample rest for our bodies — we slept at around 11 PM so we could wake up early feeling refreshed and ready to hike.
The stage was set for 6 AM. We woke up, showered, dressed and started our day with breakfast at McDonald’s — one egg and cheese McMuffin, a hashbrown and a coffee, each. We headed over to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to catch the orange shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead, as private vehicles are not allowed in the area.
To get all the way down to the Colorado river, there are two main trails — the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angels trail — illustrated in the table below :
South Kaibab Trail
Bright Angel Trail
4860 ft (1480 m)
4460 ft (1360 m)
6.3 miles (10.1 km)
8.0 miles (12.9 km)
Barren desert with sparse vegetation, lizards and a few squirrels. The view of the Canyon puts you in awe. You can experience the three major rock groups — Kaibab (Top), Limestone (middle) & Vishnu(bottom). The vegetation and views dramatically change in each environment.
Water flowing along the way, in little streams and waterfalls, and the beautiful Indian Garden, a campground and resting point about halfway on the trail. Thick vegetation and lots of shade along the trail. No direct view to the Colorado river. This hike feels like you are between walls within the Canyon so the overall view at the bottom and middle layer is blocked by trees and large canyon walls.
We wanted a thorough experience of the Grand Canyon and hence, we chose to travel on both the trails. We would descend to the Colorado river through the South Kaibab trail since the elevation was higher (performing it uphill would have been a herculean task). We planned to spend no more than an hour down there having lunch and taking a dip in the river. The Bright Angel Trail was our trail of choice to ascend back up due to its gradual incline, more shade and water along the way.
The Hike down the South Kaibab Trail:
After performing a group stretch and minor breathing exercises, we set upon our much-anticipated hike. We started at around 7:30 AM from the trailhead and continued our journey down. Since the trail is a steep decline, we took short breaks to stretch ensuring that our knees and toes weren’t strained too much. The scenic beauty from the different altitudes and various phases of the rock formation was magnificent, as expected.
By 11 AM we all made it down to the Colorado river via the Black Bridge. Obviously, we were all famished from the hot sun and our first thought was to dive into the river — and that is exactly what we did! The water was dangerously cold; nevertheless, extremely refreshing!
At around noon, we headed over to the Phantom Ranch where we wanted to freshen up, have our lunch and be on our way back. However, with the Ranch being another mile and a half of extra journey back and forth, we decided to not pursue that idea and found ourselves at the junction between the river trail and the phantom ranch.
We found an elegant picnic bench, in the shade, and prepared our sandwiches for a yummy 30 minute lunch! There were a few cow elk roaming nearby, which just made it feel more like a fantasy. There also were well built and clean washrooms nearby so we could wash up after lunch.
Taking advantage of this newly found energy, we began our long and hectic hike back upwards around 12:30 PM. We needed to get back to home base by 7 pm for sunset. Of course, we had flashlights on our phones and an extra one just in case.
The walk up the Bright Angel Trail was amazing. Plenty of little streams, frequent stretches of shade, thick vegetation, and waterfalls, all made the first half of the ascent enjoyable. Since it was mid-day with the sun directly above us, we took frequent breaks at the streams and splashed water on our faces and necks to stay cool. After 5 miles of hiking, we reached Indian Garden in a little more than 2 hours, hydrated ourselves, rested and refilled water in a couple of bottles. The quick ascent up to the Indian Garden fooled us into thinking that we could cover the remaining 4.5 miles with the same ease and comfort, but about 3 quarters of a mile after we crossed it, the ascent got very steep, with long and numerous switchbacks, and rugged surfaces along the trail. The upper part of the trail significantly slowed us down. We did not allow ourselves to get completely exhausted at any point, ensured that we were adequately hydrated throughout the hike, and took regular breaks, to replenish our energies, stretch and relax. The subsequent rest houses were the 3 mile rest house and the 1.5 mile rest house, Though the upper part of the trail was extremely steep, and it was mid-afternoon, there was plenty of shade and a light breeze blowing against our faces, that gave us the energy to keep going.
When we finally reached the trailhead at 6:33 PM, literally dragging our feet along the stretch of that last mile, we were extremely elated to have completed the most adventurous journey of our lives- hiking for 11 hours into and out of the Grand Canyon felt like a dream come true. The feeling of accomplishment of going away from and back to human civilization in the most breathtaking way was unmatched, and it was deeply felt through our exhaustion, soreness and sunburns.
We quickly freshened up, trashed all the garbage we had with us, and headed to our next destination — a hot, sumptuous, delicious and well deserved dinner in Phoenix, from where we flew back home the next day, with memories of an adventurous and a gratifying Easter weekend.
Hike started from South Kaibab Trailhead — 7:32 AM
1st stop (Ooh-Aah Point) — 7:54 AM
2nd stop (Cedar Ridge) — 8:15 AM, took a short break
Hike resumed — 8:22 AM
3rd stop (Skeleton Point) — 9:08 AM
4th stop (Tip Off) — 9:59 AM
The Colorado River — 11:11 AM
One-hour lunch break
Ascent from the Colorado River: 12:18 PM
Indian garden: 2:55 PM
Resumed: 3:15 PM
Bright Angel Lodge: 6:33 PM
What we would do different:
- Wear proper hiking shoes
- Get a hiking backpack
- Sun screen!!!