Upper and Middle Blue Lakes – Colorado
Upper and Middle Blue Lakes – Colorado
Upper and Middle Blue Lakes – Colorado
How I wish I could be hiking here, or anywhere in the backcountry right now!
Like many of us, I’ve got some extra time on my hands lately, and figured I would use some of it for hiking. Mainly I’ve been hiking near my house on the less popular sections of trail that I know of, every once in a while though it’s nice to see some new scenery. Ararvaipa Canyon is a place I had heard of and seen some cool pics from, it was on a list of stuff to do, but not really a high priority. In looking for a different, long day hike to do, it came up. You need to have a permit to enter the wilderness area and they only allow 50 people per day to be there, good opportunity for social distancing!
I went to good ole’ recreation.gov and organized the permit, only $11.00 out the door! I got the last slot for April 9th, about a week and a half ahead of time. I’d recommend trying a to reserve a few weeks in advance, especially if you want to camp with a couple people, permits become available 13 weeks ahead of the entry date.
The night before I got all my stuff together, I took some extra things because it’s pretty isolated and I’d be by myself. I even threw in my stove and a Mountain House meal, if I was to get stranded a hot meal would be fantastic!
The next morning I got up pretty easily when my alarm went off at 4:45, made some coffee and was out the door. The drive there was about 2 1/2 hours. the last 45 minutes or so is past a lot of surface mines, sad to see the damage it does. The last time I was in this area was on a 100 mile bike ride, the hills here a big, and it sure was nice to be in the truck this time! After driving the 12 miles or so of dirt road, I hit the small trailhead. I loaded up, signed the trail register and off I went a little before 8 am.
The first part of the trial winds down through cactus and tall brush to get to the stream bed. I didn’t really know what to expect out of this hike, I knew I’d be walking in the water, but not how much, at about .3 miles in it was time to cross the stream for the first time, so I just waded on in and started the day of wet feet!
Early on I was trying to walk on the bank as much as possible, but there was a lot of bushwhacking and scrambling on rocks. At one point a was going up a loose rock section, noticed I was about 20 feet above the stream and a fall would entail some bouncing on rocks before landing in the water. Since I was alone, just walking in the stream seemed the safest, and this was my technique the rest of the day. A good positive of this, the best views down the canyon, and safety…
The views are pretty incredible once you get into the canyon, and I passed a number of great looking campsites. I definitely want to come back here for a night or two and be able to hike the entire canyon and explore a side canyon or two. I was moving pretty quickly to see as much of the main canyon as possible, the water was a really nice temperature and except for some deep pools that are easy to see in the crystal clear water, never more than knee deep.
Just shy of 7 miles I turned around, I didn’t want to feel like I was slogging my way back to the trail head, and by the time I got there I was glad to take the boots off! This is an incredible, unique backcountry place and I’m glad it has been preserved as a wilderness area!
You Must Have a Permit! – You can get one here!
It is a wilderness area and other rules! Check them out on the BLM Website.
Your feet will be wet all day, accept this fact and move on. I wore my regular hiking boots and it wasn’t too bad, just had to empty the pebbles out twice! I don’t think TEVAS or Chacos would be the way to go because rocks would get in all day long. Do you have a great shoe or boot for hiking in water for long periods of time? Let me know!
After an awesome time on last year’s trip I wanted to experience it again with the knowledge gained during that trip. I put in for a permit for the second weekend in September, hoping it might be a little cooler, but not really caring. It ended up being just as hot. Fortunately it was decently cloudy again for our hike down.
I work in the restaurant business in Phoenix, so I need to take my vacations in the summer, hence the warm weather Grand Canyon trips.
Just like last year we would hike down South Kaibab Trail on a Thursday, stay 2 nights at Bright Angel Campground, hike to Indian Garden via the Bright Angel Trail, camp there and then trek out Sunday morning. Unlike last year we got a nice early start Thursday morning, leaving Phoenix by 6am. We picked up our 3rd in Flagstaff and got to Grand Canyon by 10:30 am.
It was great knowing exactly where to park, which buses to hop on, and what to expect. We had no problem getting to the trailhead, the 2 bus drivers were super friendly and pretty humorous! Once we made it out to the South Kaibab trailhead we took a few pics, shouldered the packs and headed out for our adventure!
Like always the first few miles of the trail are pretty crowded with day hikers and people just going to the first view points. Once you get past Cedar Ridge you see very few people on the trail and can really appreciate the serenity!
South Kaibab is an impressive trail, following a ridge line directly down into the canyon. Because of this the views are amazing, but it can most definitely get hot, and there is no water and very limited shade.
When you work your way all the way down the switchbacks, you come to a dark tunnel blasted into the cliff. It’s super cool, as you walk out of the tunnel, you walk right onto the black bridge and over the Colorado River!
We got to Bright Angel Campground about 3pm, and scored a great campsite! As backcountry campsites go, BA is pretty ritzy! There are picnic tables at every site, flush toilets, and (if the pipeline doesn’t break) water! Not to mention the Phantom Ranch canteen, about a 5-10 minute stroll away, where they have cold beer! While the beers are $7 or $8 a can, they sure do taste good, not something you normally get to enjoy while backpacking. We determined that the best deal out of everything they sell there was the 75 cent packages of Oreos!
One campground improvement was the new food storage boxes. In the past each site had 2 big, old metal ammo boxes for food storage. You were supposed to flip them upside down when you left camp, so you were always treated to that banging around at 4:30 in the morning as people get ready to head out. The new boxes close up tight and hold far more than the old ones.
Friday, after a relaxing morning in camp, we headed out for a hike down the North Kaibab trail. My friend’s knee was a little sore from the hike in, so we only went around 3 miles out. We were hoping to make it to Ribbon Falls, but that was not happening.
I really want to explore The North Kaibab trail. Next year I’ll want to switch things up a bit, so I think a Rim to Rim is in order!
The work that has gone into making and maintaining these trails is impressive. The National Parks Service really does a great job, there seem to be miles and miles of the stone retaining walls seen in the picture below. I can only imagine what it took to build all of them!
After getting back to camp we felt like hiking around a little more, so we explored the River Trail. We crossed the Black Bridge and up a few of South Kaibab’s switchbacks, until we got to the River Trail junction, after that it’s a super cool rolling trail along the cliffs right above the river, and it leads right to the Silver Bridge. It was only about a mile and a half but it is totally worth it!
After hiking, it was time to cool off in the Colorado River, and it was fantastic! The water was pretty cold and super refreshing. We hung out on the beach and in the river for a good portion of the afternoon, a few sips of the Old Forester bourbon, chilled in BA Creek while we hiked, made it all that much better!
While we were at the river we saw a few of the rafting trips come through in their motorized rafts. We got to see the loading up and safety briefing from the Wilderness River Adventures group, who seemed like they’d be fun to run the river with!
After cooking up some food and one last visit to enjoy a few beers at Phantom Ranch, we sacked out to be ready for the hike to Indian Garden the next morning. It was a little warm for sleeping, taking the rain fly off the tent was key, and the stars were amazing to look up at!
We got up around 6ish the next morning, cooked up a little breakfast and packed up. We were kind of aiming to start hiking around 7, and ended up heading out about 7:40.
The hike is so cool, cross the silver bridge and look right down the Colorado River, hike along the River Trail, and head up the canyon. Most of our hike was in the shade, and we were able to get through a decent part of the corkscrew while it was still pretty nice out.
Most Amazing Thing
Last year while hiking to Indian Garden we ran into an old neighbor of mine, who I hadn’t seen since they moved about 4 years ago. This year in about the same place who did we run into? You guessed it, the neighbor!
We cruised into Indian Garden and were able to grab what has become my favorite campsite there. The real bummer was seeing the the huge tree that shaded the main area was not standing anymore. Does anyone know what happened?
After setting up camp and hanging out for a bit, we headed out for the 1.5 mile hike to Plateau Point. If you’re at Indian Garden and feel like you’re up for it, this quick hike is a must. The view of the river, canyon and major buttes is awesome. It’s a flat hike, there’s a water spigot as the trail is right along the cross canyon pipeline, there’s even a California Condor who has a nest right below.
After the Plateau Point hike there was some serious chilling out until dinner, a small stroll above the campground, a little conversation with our neighbor who was doing R2R, and watching the highway that is Bright Angel Trail. I’m pretty sure there are people moving up and down that trail at all hours of the day, it’s pretty cool to see all the different people that come by.
We hung out on a bench at the far end of the campground after it was quiet time, checking out the stars and such and then crashed out. It was definitely cooler at Indian Garden, but once again it was windy there!
Up a little before 6, brew some coffee, have some food and pack up. We did a little talking with our cool campsite neighbor and headed out for my favorite part of the hike.
It’s 4.5 miles from Indian Garden to the South Rim. Looking up at the rim from Indian Garden you can’t believe a trail goes up that way! The trail heads up a small valley and then pretty soon you’re into the switchbacks, which pretty much go on for the rest of the hike.
There are 2 rest houses along the trail, at 3 miles and 1 1/2 miles. They are nice little stops with a small rock house, water and bathrooms, they are also great milestones along the way besides the opportunity to relax.
As you get closer to the rim you start to see more and more people, by the time you into the last mile it can be a constant stream. It is a solid climb the whole way, but you can just put it in low gear and cruise your way up! We topped out about 9:45 am and hopped the bus back to the Backcountry Information Center parking lot.
Grand Canyon is an amazing place, if you’ve never hiked it, you should at least once. Around every turn is another unbelievable vista, and the trails, bathrooms and campgrounds are top notch, especially for backcountry travel!
Packed and ready for another adventure! 36 pounds fully loaded, with water. Grand Canyon here we come! Stoked to head into the canyon tomorrow!!
The final countdown is totally on to my last vacation of the year! While that is a little sad to type, i’m super stoked to be headed to Grand Canyon again. This year is pretty much the same as last years trip, just a few weeks later in the year (hopefully it’ll be a little less hot).
Thursday, September 5th we’ll wake up early, meet up, and hit the road. Who doesn’t love the driving towards adventure, thinking of all the cool experiences to come?
Hopefully we’ll make good time and be able to start hiking before noon, last year we started at 4pm. The only real bummer about the late start was doing the last part and arriving at the campground in the dark. Looking forward to walking out onto the black bridge in the daylight!
It’s nice having the experience from last year, knowing exactly where to park and which buses to hop on to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead.
We’re going to hike down South Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground, and spend 2 night sthere. The day we hang out at the bottom I’d like to do a decent hike up the North Kaibab Trail, last year it got pretty hot during the hike, hopefully it will be slightly nicer this year 🤞. After our hike last year we enjoyed sitting in Bright Angel Creek to cook off. The cool water and a few sips of bourbon made for a nice afternoon.
We’ll get up early on Saturday, hike up Bright Angel trail to the Indian Garden campground, chill out there for the day and the hike out the next morning.
It’s getting close enough that I’m starting to look at the extended forecasts, not that it really means that much this far out, but I can’t help myself.
Just got a new sleeping pad for the trip, and while my old Therm-a-rest has served me well for many years, you can’t beat the size and weight of these modern air pads!
This will probably be the last time for a while I do this particular hike, would like to go Rim-to-Rim-to Rim sometime, and I’ve heard the Thunder River/Deer Creek loop is pretty amazing.
What great hikes have you done in the Grand Canyon?
Every year I look forward to my backpacking trip, usually to Southern Colorado. Putting on the pack and walking into the mountains is always such a great way to mentally escape the stresses of life.
This year we choose the Conejos River area near Antonio, Co for our backpacking adventure. We hiked from the Three Forks Trailhead to Blue Lake. As I’m sure you know, Colorado got a lot of snow this winter, and it’s still hanging around up high! This meant that 2 of our 3 stream crossings were cranking pretty good.
The gravel road out to the trailhead is about 25 miles, overall is in good condition and a sedan should have no problem getting out there.
After we parked and loaded up, off we went on the trail, passing through fields of wild flowers and sub-alpine meadows, and into the forest. After the second steam crossing, that was thigh deep and cold, we started running into snow drifts that blocked the trail. The last third of the hike entailed navigating around these, trying to keep the boots dry.
We got to Blue Lake in the late afternoon, found a campsite and got set-up pretty quickly. It’s always nice to get the tents set up, take off the boots, relax and take in the beautiful views.
The next day we planned on hiking somewhere else, but my friend’s boots did him no favors on the hike in and his feet needed some rest. Hanging out, a little fishing, exploring the area right around the lake, and a nap. Not a bad way to spend a day. The rain started about 6pm and lasted almost all night, the volume was impressive sometimes!
After our leisure day and 12 hour stint in the tents hiding from rain, it was time for a hike! Blue Lake is right next to the Continental Divide Trail, an easy decision on what to hike!
The trail was super cool. So many hikes we do in the mountains are up-up-up for hours and then down-down-down. This trail, not surprisingly, was a rolling trail with saddles of alpine tundra and amazing views.
We got in about 6 miles, a nice relaxing hike. Someday I’d really like to do a decent distance, point to point hike across an awesome trail. I’ve not yet been able to organize that, but it’s on the list for sure!
The damage to the forest by beetles is terrible. So many dead trees, I’m very worried when this area goes through a dry spring/summer.
The day we hiked out we had a relaxing morning and slowly packed up. Pretty sure I had 2 cups of coffee that morning. It’s great to be able to have a laissez faire attitude about packing up!
The hike out overall was pretty nice, except the streams we had to cross were cranking because of the rain.
Three stream crossings was a bit much. One is cool, but it’s such a momentum killer. Take off the pack, take off the socks and boots, put on the sandals, put the pack back on, cross the stream, and then sandals off, dry the feet, boots and socks on, pack on. All just to go a 100 feet, even writing it kind of makes for a run on sentence😁.
I enjoy these trips so much, the simplicity of your worries while being in the backcountry is very freeing. Shelter, food, as much fun as you can have. Here’s to more adventures, please feel free to share any of your favorite hikes!
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