There aren’t many backpacking trips out there where you get to enjoy a nice steak dinner before bed. You could carry all the food with you, or you can hike down from the rim of the Grand Canyon all the way to the bottom, and just check-in for a hot meal at Phantom Ranch. Of course, you’re going to have to climb back up after, but that’s a problem for the next day.
I hiked this route in March 2021 with a few friends, and had a good but exhausting time. The elevation change is pretty significant, as is the difference in temperature as you hike down the canyon.
We started the hike at 11am after taking the shuttle and getting dropped off at the South Kaibab trailhead. This is a great place to start the trip as you start at a higher elevation than Bright Angel, so you won’t have to climb up as much the next day.
The trail was very crowded at the top, and you’ll likely will have to hike past hordes of day hikers. The crowds thin out pretty quickly after hitting Ooh Ahh Point. The view on the way down is amazing, with what seems to be new angles of the canyon after every switchback.
We hit a number of rest stops on the way down, and they are good markers for a quick bathroom break and to snack up. We had to yield to a few mule teams too.
Eventually, we reach the first view of the Colorado River, the end of today’s hike is in sight! It’s getting quite warm at this point, and with the sun exposure right above us, there’s no place to hide from the sun.
After reaching the bottom of the canyon and crossing the Black Suspension Bridge, we’re just 15 minutes away from Bright Angel camp.
Bright Angel is an interesting campsite. After hiking 9 miles, we didn’t expect to find a campsite with flush toilets, but I am not complaining. You do not get a lot of privacy, however, as sites are sort of cramped together. The pick of site is first come first serve, and folks who arrived before us have already taken the best spots, with the most space and tree cover.
After setting up camp, we walked along the trail for 10 minutes until we reached the Phantom Ranch’s canteen, where we have a reservation for a warm steak dinner, something we had booked before the trip.
It was pretty great. The canteen also serves snacks, drinks and lemonades, credit cards accepted. We especially liked the lemonade.
The canteen also sells souvenirs, and accepts outgoing postcards (with a very special stamp).
After setting up camp and getting a night’s sleep, it is time to head back up the canyon at 7am. The ascent is uneventful at first, with a few mule teams passing us on their wayward journey.
It’s pretty critical to start the ascent early, because cold air of the morning and the shade really helps cool you off. I think the climb would have been absolutely painful otherwise.
The other nice thing about going up the Bright Angel trail is that this trail actually follows the route of the intra canyon aqueduct built by the park a century ago. This means that there are regular stops along the way to get more water, so you climb up with less weight. After 2 hours, we reached Indian Garden which was the first water restocking stop along the way.
As we climbed up, we encountered more and more ice. As the trail is covered with ice patches, so we had to go fairly slowly, but luckily for only about a mile to go here.
Once we reached the top of the canyon, we promptly took the shuttle out and got a well-deserved lunch at Yavapai Tavern!
You’ll need to have an advanced permit to camp down the rim, or attempt a walk-in permit 2 days before your trip. If you do apply for the permit ahead of time, you’ll need to submit your request by fax, yes fax, around 6 months ahead, and hope for the best! You can read more about the process on the website.
You can apply for your prefered route as well as a number of alternatives. We chose 1 night at Bright Angel Camp, but you can also break down this trip in two nights by staying at Indian Garden camp 2 nights and doing an in-n-out trip from Bright Angel trailhead. Another thing to note is that each campsite at Bright Angel accomodates a party of 5, no more.
I also recommend making a reservation for a meal at Phantom Ranch. It’s worth it!
If you opt for the the ultimate glamping experience, you can get a reservation for a cabin at the Ranch too, and arrange mule transport.
Grand Canyon is known for scorching heat in the summer months, so I feel like this trail is best done in the shoulder months. We did it in March, which can be iffy. Rangers warned us that every March can be different, with some years where the trail would be dangerous to walk on due to ice, and other years where it would be cleared up already.
However, on a good year, I think March is an excellent time to go on this trip. The cooler weather really helps here, but it means that you can’t do the more sough after Rim to Rim route, because the Grand Canyon North Rim isn’t open until later in the season.
Once you’re in the park, the shuttle system runs all day and takes you almost everywhere in the park. You will have to take the shuttle, because the South Kaibab trailhead can only be accessed by a shuttle stop, and car access are prohibited.