Going down is obligatory. Coming up is mandatory: Hike the Grand Canyon!
Long story short: If you consider doing this hike – DO IT! It´s absolutely worth it!!! I am still dreaming about this trip. After months. This trip will never be forgotten.
I hit the trail alone. And I can tell you: Travelling alone should not stop you from doing things like this! It is an amazing feeling to accomplish something like this on your own! Sure – it is frightening in the beginning. But adventures of a lifetime will never be forgotten. So, you just have to do it. Don´t miss out on the best parts of the life.
Before you are able to do the hike down the Grand Canyon you need to obtain a backcountry permit from the backcountry office – at least if you are planning to stay over night at the bottom.
One of the most heated discussions is: Can you hike down and up in one day?
- I read so many different opinions – nps advises NOT to do so.
- Personally I would say that I would NEVER be able to do the hike in one day….
- BUT: I saw the most incredible people on this hike – so I say it is absolutely up to you. If you think you can make it – you maybe can…I saw some people running down and up! And I even met a person, telling me, that he did the Rim to Rim Hike in one day and is just on his way back – while I was still crawling my way up to the edge 😉 So…Nothing is impossible it seemed to me!
Another thing: Dont get afraid of people telling you, that you cant do this in the summer!!! Sure – it makes it not easier, when its above 100 Fahrenheit down in the Inner Gorge. But if you hike smart, this is nothing that should stop you. I hit the trail end of August and it was extremely hot. But I enjoyed every single second and am already planning on doing this again 😉
How to hike smart?
If you ask yourself on how to hike smart, I would like to share my tips with you. I did a lot of research on this topic, because I was so afraid thanks to some person telling me I wouldn´t survive this (I did – here I am! ;-))
- I took the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up. I recommend you so much to do so, if you are not planning the Rim to Rim trail! Why I do recommend to do it this way – you may ask yourself?
- Bright Angel Trail has water on the trail – meaning you wont have to take so much water with you on your way back up. This will help you a lot!
- South Kaibab Trail is very, very steep and nearly all the way built with stairs. My knees were hurting on the last quarter of the down hike and it was really exhausting to take one stair after the other. I was so happy, that I wouldn´t have to take this way back up again – those stairs would have probably given me the rest 😉 But it is awesome to mix both trails. That way you can experience the Canyon so much better. From the views I enjoyed both of them a lot. But I just fell in love with the South Kaibab Trail – it is honestly amazing. Maybe it was, because those were my first views down to the Canyon, maybe it was the sunrise. But don´t miss it out: There are less people than on Bright Angel Trail and those views are outstanding!
- It is also a great thing to end at the Bright Angel Lodge – the parking lot is very close. You can only reach the South Kaibab Trail with a Hikers Shuttle Bus. So this is another plus in my opinion 🙂
- Take enough water! How much water should I take with me, was something I asked myself a lot. After the hike I can tell you: It depends on the hike you are planning to take! I took a Gallon (3.7 liters) on my way down plus a full bladder (3 liter = 0.8 gallon) and I drank it all. On my way back up I just filled my bladder and refilled it at the stops on the Bright Angel Trail. I never ran out of water and always soak my clothing with water. If you take the South Kaibab Trail up, please take enough water! With enough I mean more than I took for my hike down – the way up is, as you can imagine, way harder.
- That´s the next tip. If you´re hiking in the heat: Wet yourself! It´s amazing 🙂 It helped me a lot. I took a bandana with me and soaked this in water, whenever it was dry. That way -my head was always super cool and fresh.I might have looked like sweating tons of water -but that was so worth it!
- Down at the Bright Angel Campground is a little Creek (Indian Garden has one as well.): Get yourselfin the Creek after the hike. Get soaking wet. By the way: You know what soaking wet means? I did not! I thought “Soak in the creek” would mean to get my whole body in there. This is pretty tough, when the water in the creek does just reach your knees 😉 But I made it work! Must have looked a little weird, but it was quite a laugh to hear afterwards that this just means to put your feet in there…
- I also loved my bladder. Never used one before, but it was so helpful, to just take a nip out of the strawl hanging around and not to open and close the backpack to take a bottle out all the time…
- Another thing I really learned to love: Hiking poles. I was so torn, if I should take them or not. I never used hiking poles before and thought I wouldn´t need them and it would just be more weight. But I am so glad, that I listened to my mum 😉 On the way down I felt my knees starting to hurt, and it was such a relief, to just put more of my weight on the poles. Same goes to the way up again. I had a lot of weight in my backpack and it was such a great feeling, to have something that you can actually lean on while walking.My advise: Take them 😉
- So we had the “Take enough water” part – don´t forget about the food. I learned it the hard way, while I was in Death Valley a few years ago: You always have to eat something salty, when you are drinking a lot. Otherwise you can get really sick. My advise, after doing a lot of research on this topic because I got so afraid: Always eat a little bit when you drink something. I brought those things to eat and felt well prepared:
- Salty nuts
- “Clif Bars”
- Energy Chews
- Nut Bars
- Fresh fruits
- Another thing: take some rehydration tablets with you, that you can mix with your water or bring some drinks such as Powerade e.g. with you.
- I ordered myself a steak dinner at the Phantom Ranch for the evening. I had quite a situation afterwards and learned: If you are a small lady, don´t eat too many proteins after exhaustion, if you haven´t eaten them while the hike.
- If you hike in the summer months I recommend you to hike down and up in the dark with a head lamp. I started both ways at 4:30 am and am glad I did. NPS advises you not to hike in the Inner Gorge between 10 am and 4 pm.They know what they are talking about – it gets SO hot in the Inner Canyon. SO fast.
- Take your time and enjoy! It took me quite a long time to get up and down 😉 But you have to know: I stopped on nearly every corner to take pictures. This is an adventure of a lifetime!
So here comes my trip – what I experienced and a few out of my thousands pictures…:
I stayed at the Maher Campground, directly at the Grand Canyon NP, the night before my hike. On the day of my hike, I parked my car at the backcountry office parking lot. A shuttle bus came to pick me up a few minutes after I arrived. First shock: I forgot the permit in my car! So the bus driver and 3 other hikers waited for me to rush back. First run of the day 😉 After the bus driver asked me if I had everything with me I felt, that my backpack was really light… I forgot my water! I felt unbelievable stupid and unprepared (I say, it was because it was still sleepy time, right? ;-)) – but after I rushed back to my car another time – we were ready for take of! SO HERE I COME! I said to myself – what could possibly go wrong after this?
I arrived at the South Kaibab Trailhead around 5 am, put my headlamp on and started walking. And I felt so good – those first meters felt incredible. A feeling, that nothing could stop me came into my mind. And I loved it. And went with it. After a few minutes I had to do my first stop, because those stars were looking so incredibly beautiful over the Grand Canyon. Pictures can´t tell you what I saw -but I still tried to capture some shots (Unfortunately I didn´t know the perfect settings by that time), but just to give you a little impression of what beauty awaits you:
After this little stop I hiked a few miles and I couldn´t resist taking another millions of pictures.The views are incredible and they are changing after every corner. The sun was slowly coming out and it was justbeautiful to see, how the colours changed over the Canyon. Those colours will blow your mind away!
After the sun came out, it started to get hot within a few minutes. The combination of going down into the heat and the sun coming out, came to the event, that I had to take my layers of a while before planned.
The scenery changed so quickly from now on. A few switchbacks followed. You can see perfectly how steep the trail goes on:
A beautiful sighting gave me my next break. Someone was standing in my way! THIS WAS IT! I am telling you. This was just too much beauty to handle. Amazing!
This deer was just standing there and crossing the path. It was such a calm moment to enjoy. Nobody was around so it was just me, the deer and the quiet.
After a few heavy switchbacks followed a long flat part. You were able to enjoy the views and just walk straight for a while. And then, there he is: The Colorado River. The colours changed from one second to another: At the beginning everything was still looking green and the walls of the Canyon light. But after reaching this point the colours turned into red and brown.
It is a weird feeling to actually be able to see your goal. You think it is already that close, but it was just not 😉
From here on switchbacks followed again. I was feeling so happy to be here, but started to feel exhausted as well. With this came a little fear in my mind: How am I getting up again? Am I going to make this? But the happy feeling was just so much bigger!
After some more mules passed by, I reached the bridge and the colorado river! What an amazing feeling.
Of course I had to take a few pictures and calm down a little, because it was already unbearable hot! I reached the bottom at 9 am and I am telling you: I would really not have wanted to arrive there later. The sun was burning so badly and I needed some shade and a place to cool down.
Only a few more steps away was the beautiful (!!!) campground and the gorgeous creek. As I said earlier I took the sentence “Soak in the creek” way to serious and took a little swim in it. But hey – it was great ;-)Sooooo refreshing….
By the way: Please don´t swim in the Colorado River!!! A Ranger told me why you shouldn´t do that: The colorado river is freezing cold. I hold my hand in it: True story! It´s freezing cold – for real. So if you are heated up and get a swim in there – the current will not be your worst enemy. You could easily get a heart attack. So – please don´t get into the river. Enjoy the creek – you didn´t make it all the way down, just to get a stroke, right?
So now that I told you everything about this gorgeous campground and the creek. You want to see a picture for sure. There you go:
You can set up your tent directly next to the creek – how nice is that? This is my tent, as you might have guessed 😉 It is for one person, but if you like your partner, you can even fit in there together easily. It did only cost me 19 $ at Walmart and it was just so perfect for this trip!I was so impressed that I even took it back to Germany with me 😀
This was by the way the hardest part of my trip. I had to take all my camping gear down there and up by myself. All the people I met on the trail shared their equipment with at leats another person. This didn´t make the way back up easier 😉
After I set up my camp and soaked/bathed in the creek it was not even 11 am. So what am I going to do with the rest of my day, I asked myself? I refilled my bladder, took my camera, and hiked on the North Kaibab Rim for a few miles. I asked the ranger before I did so, and he assured me, that the North Kaibab Rim was starting with a nice flat part and that it was okay to hike that part in the heat.That´s how it was. The scenery was completely different from what I saw coming from the South Rim. Everything was looking a little bit more like a Canyon. It was not so opened up like I experienced the South Side. In this very moment I made the decision to come back and hike Rim to Rim next time! 😉
Afterwards I had a little break at the Phantom Ranch. I drank some ice coooold lemonade (best lemonade ever, after this day!) and wrote postcards. It´s just such a nice way of writing a postcard: the card is stamped as “from the bottom of Grand Canyon” and will be transported to the Rim by a Mule.
Then I went to check out the Trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail. I knew that I would be starting in the dark again and didn´t want to miss the views. And it was absolutely worth it:
Last stop of my day was the Boat Beach. This is the place, where the rafts arrive from time to time. It was the only place I saw, where you were able to actually be up close to the Colorado River. Those colours are absolutely unreal.
At 5 pm dinner was served at the Phantom Ranch. The dinner was really good – I had the Steak Dinner and it was really nice. It was served with salad, potatoe, corn…The desert was a chocolate pie! But I wasn´t able to make it until the chocolate pie, because I felt so ill after my steak. I packed the chocolate cake for later and went outside, were my steak didn´t felt the need to stay in my body. I felt really afraid afterwards, because I was alone and I knew that it is not easy to get medical support down there. But I was feeling so very good after the steak was gone. I still went to the ranger to see what they say about this situation. They said that I was smiling way too much, for beeing seriously ill 🙂 After this conversation I was Miss Happy Face again – nothing could stop me now.
A tip for all those smaller person out there: Don´t eat too much Protein after a long hike, if you haven´t eaten any proteins while hiking.
I soaked in the water again, drank a lot of water and felt that my body was calming down. The cold water ion my feet was helping so much. I had great conversations with my camp neighbours – and they were assuring me to look after me in the morning.I felt very comfortable with that: Even when you are alone somewhere, you are never really alone, because there are always some people around. And let´s be honest: Travelling people are just the best & nicest people!
When the darkness came, my stomach was just so happy that I saved that chocolate cake 😉 Yummie – it was so delicious!
This was the look outside my tent, when I went to bed:
Next day: 4.30. Let´s hit the trail! Many people on the campground were starting to pack at 4 am together with me. It was a great feeling to get going again.I felt perfectly fine and my muscles and my knees were not hurting at all – good signs! I refilled my bladder only this time – Indian Garden (4.5 miles) was the next stop were water is available.
And so I went on. The first part of the trail was over the Colorado River Bridge and then quite a part a side with the river. When it was starting to lighten up already, I was in shock because I was still at the level of the River. But after a few more steps I saw some heavy, heavy switchbacks.
I reached the top, when the sun came out. See this happy face? That wasn´t what I looked like walking those switchbacks… ;-))
And again the scenery changed so quickly. Everything got more green again and the sun was dipping the colours and changing them with every minute. Beautiful!
A nice straight path followedfor the next mile. I was so glad, to be experiencing the heat the other way around now:The closer you get to the top the colder it gets. So with the sun coming out, it didn´t change a lot about the heat exposure. I had the feeling that it somehow stayed in a nice temperature all the time until I reached Indian Gardens at around 10 am.
Indian Garden is a perfect spot for a little break. The scenery is gorgeous and a little creek is around. Just enjoy sitting in the shade and have a little breakfast. I cooled my Powerade in the creek and having a cool drink was an awesome feeling 🙂
This was my view from my breakfast spot. Can´t beat that, right?
I was originally planning to stay at Indian Gardens to avoid the heat. But after half an hour, I saw most of the people walking further, so I decided to go as well! The heat slowed me down a lot, I had to takea lot more breaks to refresh myself and just relax in the shade fora while. The mean part is: There is nearly no shade on the last half of the Bright Angel Trail, when the sun is up high.
The trail starts easy after Indian Gardens. But after a little while the switchbacks start. And they are not ending until you are at the very top! The walk to the 3 miles house was still fine. I was drinking my water more quickly and refreshed myself with it a lot – so I was very happy that the next water source was only 1.5miles away. On this picture you can see IndianGardens in the Bottom (where all the green plants are growing) and the roof of the 3 mile house on the right side of the picture:
The 3 mile house and 1.5 mile house are great. They have stone walls, so it is actually cool in there. And of course there´s shade awaiting you. So it is a great place to just cool down a little while.
The next 1.5 miles to the 1.5 mile house were the toughest part of my journey. I was really exhausted and the heat was extreme – it was between 11.30 am and 1 pm that I hiked through this part. People were coming from the top, who were doing a dayhike to the 3 miles house. And it was acutally hard to get out of the way of them all the time. The combination of all the circumstances was tough for me. I started asking people how far this 1.5 mile house is away and didn´t like the answers at all 😉 I had the feeling that the answer just never changed! But after a while I made it… I was really happy to have reached the house, had another snack and refilled my water again.
The last 1.5 miles of my hike were seriously the BEST part. I was starting to feel so motivated. I nearly made it! I was actually smiling all the way to the top! 3 or 4 times people asked me if I have been really down to the bottom and that I would be the first person smiling while going up 🙂 But the best thing somebody said about me was a little boy. He said to his dad “Wooohh daddy look at her!” and the dad said: “This is a real hiker!” and the son replied: “I want to be like her!”. This felt sooooo good! 😉
All the good stuff comes to an end, right? I was getting closer and closer to the edge. I was somehow feeling a mixture of beeing relieved to have made it to the top and a sadness that this was it. But I was just really proud of me, when I reached the edge again and couldn´t stop smiling: I made it!!!
So, this was my adventure. Minutes after reaching the top, I knew I would have to do this again. Many times 😉 I loved every bit of it and learned so many things about myself. How to never give up and to push onto the limits. How to take the very best out of hard situations.
And that a smile and a good mood – true “happiness” – is the key to everything!