The past 2 summers I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon, it’s been a nice, relaxing vacation kind of trip. We’ve hiked down to the Bright Angel Campground, spent 2 nights at the bottom, hiked up to Indian Garden and spent a night there and then hiked out. A nice easy way to go, but I have wanted to just bust it out in a day for a while, just to do it!
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions the restaurant I work at was closed for almost 2 months. There was work to do, to come out better than before and be ready to open with new cleanliness procedures and such, but there was also a lot of free time. Outdoor exercise was allowed under Arizona’s stay at home order and I took advantage of that. Hiking, biking, and running became my major activities, I had a great time, saw some cool things and came out of it pretty fit. This seemed like a perfect time to try a Grand Canyon in a day hike.
I began not so patiently waiting for Grand Canyon National Park to re-open, obsessively checking their website and twitter account. Once they opened, I was hoping the shuttles would be running, but that hadn’t happened yet and it was getting too far into the summer to wait much longer. My original plan was to go down the South Kaibab trail and up Bright Angel. You can’t park at the S Kaibab trailhead, and I really didn’t want to walk it. I decided I would see if I could get a Lyft in the morning out to the trail-head or just hike Bright Angel both ways.
I headed out Friday morning around 10am, and made good time up to Flagstaff. After navigating the afternoon traffic, which can be a task, I got a sandwich at the Crystal Creek Sandwich Co, a great sandwich place in Flag! Back on the road, I made it to the Ten-X Campground right outside the park a little after 2 pm.
Ten-X is a nice, basic national forest campground that has been re-modeled recently, I was able to reserve a great spot on the outer loop and had no one within 100 yards of me, not too bad for an established campground! After I got set-up I headed into the park for a bit.
While I’m not surprised, I’ve never seen Grand Canyon so deserted. I was able to park right next to El Tovar and there were very few people walking around. I walked around the rim a bit and got some pics. Unfortunately there’s a large fire burning on the North Rim, in the pic below those aren’t clouds you see right next to the canyon rim!
After some cruising around I chilled on the El Tovar patio, took in the scene and had a couple beers. After that it was back to the campsite to relax for a while.
Back at the campground I just relaxed in the nice temperatures and enjoyed being out of the city, it’s so relaxing just being in the outdoors! Unfortunately there is a fire ban in most of Arizona, so no campfire for me. Since I was by myself I passed the time watching a movie on my phone until it was time to make dinner and then crash out around 10pm.
It was a nice night to sleep outdoors, cool enough that I needed to be in my sleeping bag, a nice change for someone who lives in Phoenix! I got up about 4am and started boiling some water for coffee and oatmeal. While that was going I was able to get my camp broken down and everything stowed in the truck. After a nice warm breakfast and some coffee to sip on I headed towards the park.
Not surprisingly there was no traffic and no one else at the entrance station, I made it to the Backcountry Information Center pretty quickly. While I had pretty much accepted that I was going to take Bright Angel both ways, I tried one thing to get out to the South Kaibab Trail-head, Lyft. There were no Lyft drivers around at 5:30, also not a surprise…
It’s a quick walk over to the BA Trailhead from BIC, I did have to skirt around an elk family enjoying some shrubberies for breakfast. After that it was time to head out into the canyon.
It was a nice morning for hiking, cruised along at nice pace and tried not to slow down to take too may pictures. It’s not easy in this amazing place. It was great to hike along, let your thoughts wander and just be. Before I knew it I was at Indian Garden, filled up on water and off I went again. The temps were still pretty good at this point, the entire hike down was comfortable and easy.
Pretty soon I was past the River Resthouse and on the River Trail to the Silver Bridge. The trek through the sand dunes wasn’t too bad, and I made it to Bright Angel Campground pretty quickly. The campground was pretty much deserted except for a few day hikers, I found a campsite by the creek to chill for a bit. Stripped down to just the shorts and spent about 5 minutes soaking in BA Creek. Overall I wasn’t super warm, but wanted to cool myself down for the rest of the day, which I knew would be hot.
After cooling off and eating a quick lunch, it was time to hike uphill. At this point I was staring to figure out a goal time to aim for and 8 hours sounded doable. This time the sand dunes felt much warmer, but the Pipe Creek section comes up quickly and provides some nice shade. You could easily soak yourself with water here to cool down if you were already feeling hot. I felt super strong during this portion, and made it to Indian Garden in one solid push. Also, I was able to get through the switchbacks pictured below with some shade!
After Indian Garden the real work begins. I tried to just put it in a low gear and keep on going up. The last 3 1/2 miles or so are the hardest part as you climb out of the canyon, you can see in the pic below the serious elevation gain tin the last few miles! I started to feel a little squirrelly the last mile or so, but I just kept going because finishing is the best way to feel better!
I topped out just under my 8 hour goal, a little tired, a bit thirsty and super glad I did this hike. I still need to nail down what caused my issues the last mile, some kind of hydration/nutrition things was lacking. I drank ample water, had 7 Nuun tablets, both things of Honey Stingers, 4 cliff bars and a Ziploc bag of pretzel things.
I love the Grand Canyon, and feel so lucky to be able to access it so easily, 13 hours after starting my hike I was home in Phoenix!
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!