The Grand Canyon is incomprehensibly large and stunningly beautiful. It left me breathless to see the capabilities of time and nature. It is both old and new, alluring and terrifying, unconcealed and mysterious. It is humbling to look upon such greatness. There is a piece of divinity that lies among those cliffs and I was fortunate enough to be witness.
I think the time of year we picked was perfect and if I were going back, I would go in either late spring or early fall for the best temperatures. It got up to 80°F during the day at the rim, but the bottom of the canyon gets about 20° hotter, making it around 100°. In mid-summer it must be unbearable in the canyon. Driving from Las Vegas worked really well in order to stop at Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, & Route 66, but it is a long drive. I think Phoenix (airport code PHX) is somewhat closer to the South Rim if you're not interested in those detours along the way.
Lodging & Food
We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and went directly to Mather Point, next to the visitor center, to see the canyon before dark. There were other tourists there, but it wasn't too crowded. Having never seen the canyon in person before, I couldn't quite get over the scope. Photos will never be able to impart just how vast it really is. It was a humbling experience.
Shortly after, we checked into our hotel, the Maswik Lodge. I would highly recommend staying inside Grand Canyon National Park if you're visiting for multiple days. In addition to the convenience of not having to wait at the entrance to get into the park in the morning, convenient walkability, and emersion in the serenity of the park tip the scales in against cheaper accommodations outside. Maswik Lodge is further back from the canyon than some of the other lodges, but that also translated into less foot traffic outside our building. I liked staying at Maswik rather than Bright Angel Lodge, for example, because we could walk back to our room in the evening listening only to the sound of softly creaking trees and gazing at the stars. The closer you are to the restaurants and the views, the closer you are to the crowds.
Friday night we had dinner at the Arizona Room (Bright Angel Lodge). I was grateful they had vegan options on the menu, but the food wasn't really worth the price. I get the feeling that the quality of the food in general inside the park isn't great. Our cucumber margaritas were, on the other hand, excellent. And to be fair, we did get some great sandwiches at the deli inside the general store the following evening. I would recommend planning on eating food from the general store, deli, or similar fare while inside the park. It'll save some money, and you aren't missing out by skipping the higher scale restaurants.
Sunrise at Bright Angel Trailhead
The following morning we woke up early. It was dark outside as we pulled on clothes, and in the dim, pre-dawn glow, we walked to Bright Angel Trailhead to watch the sunrise. We passed several families of deer on the way, and they didn't seem startled to see us passing by. We picked a spot along the edge and sat dangling our feet over the cliffside. It was peaceful and quiet sitting there, watching the light begin to change. Some of our best photos are just at dawn, before the sun burst out in full force from behind the low clouds. Watching that sunrise was the most magical moment of the trip. We could hear the birds begin their daytime calls, the morning stillness stretching out in between their songs. My mind was clear and the chill of the morning made me feel alive and present.
Choosing Your Hikes
We walked back to Maswik, just long enough to don hiking boots and backpacks before taking the bus to South Kaibab Trailhead to start our hike. We ended up hiking from the South Rim, down to the Colorado River, and back via Bright Angel Trail. In total it was over an 18 mile hike (with more than a mile in elevation change each direction). The National Park Service HIGHLY discourages hikers from trying this, and I would not recommend this hike, not even to my enemies. We are fit people, but it is extremely difficult, and would have been impossible had we visited in the mid-summer heat. To reiterate, I DO NOT recommend trying to hike to the river and back in one day. It is crazy and I do not want to be responsible for your death.
That said, if you are determined to try it and I cannot dissuade you, don't make the same mistakes we did. Here are the details of our hike and advice if you plan to hike it.
Back to the trails:
For all visitors, but particularly first-time visitors, hiking the interior of the canyon is a must. From the South Rim this means either South Kaibab or Bright Angel. Both are great trails, but they are very different. South Kaibab offers the best views of the interior corridor, but has no shade, no fresh water, and just one restroom. Hiking this trail should be done in the morning, before the heat of the day, and depending on the distance you intend to hike, you should carry at 1-2 liters of water (more if you intend to make it to skeleton point and back) and plenty of salty snacks. South Kaibab has several lookout points at varying distances. Pick a point so you have a goal while you hike, but keep in mind it can take twice as long to go back up to the rim than it took to get down. This means you must turn around BEFORE you're hot and tired.
Here are the lookout points and their distances:
Bright Angel Trail, unlike Kaibab, has frequent stops with running water, and afternoon shade. A great compromise in order to see both interior trails in one day would be to do South Kaibab in the morning (start at dawn, hike to Cedar Ridge and back to the rim in the early afternoon), then have lunch at the rim, and hike Bright Angel after 2 or 3 pm when it will soon begin to cool off again. The views were less dramatic than Kaibab, but still excellent. If you're not particularly athletic or are traveling with kids, Bright Angel is slightly less challenging and the access to water means that even if you plan to hike to the 3 mile point, you shouldn't have to cary more than a liter of water. However, check that all of the water sites along the trail are actually working before relying on them. There is often a ranger near the trailhead or you could inquire inside Bright Angel Lodge. Better safe than sorry.
If you're doing this trail as an afternoon hike, only go as far as the 2 mile switchback or 3 mile resthouse. If you've got a full day, the Indian Garden is a beautiful oasis that's quite far down, allowing varying views of the different elevations as you go. Both South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails involve quite a climb with many switchbacks in order to get back to the rim. Don't underestimate the time it will take to make it back: you don't want to have to finish your hike in the dark. Even if you're watching the time, bring supplies in case things don't go as you intend. This includes a basic first aid kit, water purification tablets, a flashlight, sunscreen, a whistle, a jacket, and extra snacks. Full packing list for day hikes at the Grand Canyon here.
We were continuously amazed at the changes in microclimate and landscape. The top is rocky, but definitely forest, with elk, deer, and fragrant pine trees, but as you near the lower parts of the canyon, it gradually becomes desert. There were cacti in full bloom from the rains the weekend before, but other than that it was rather desolate. Then, closer to the river there is an oasis of vegetation, with sandy paths and rocky beaches. Looking back, I can’t believe how far we hiked, or how much we saw in one day!
Desert View Drive
On Sunday morning, before making the trek back to Las Vegas to catch our flight, we drove to several viewpoints along Desert View Drive. We were so sore from our kamikaze hike the day before that I was grateful to limit the walking requirements. David had crafted a brilliant ranking system to prioritize our stops. It turned out perfectly and I wouldn't change a thing. Here's the order we used and the three star ranking system David came up with.
- Lipan Point ***
- World-class, panoramic views
- Few people in early hours
- Unique views of the "Supergroup"
- Desert View **
- DO climb the watchtower.
- Moran Point **
- Grandview Point *
Looking back, I only wish I could have spent longer at the Grand Canyon. There is so much to do, and the view never gets old. I am absolutely enamored with the canyon and its vast beauty. Even though we had some very early mornings and didn't rest much, I feel invigorated and refreshed. There is some mysterious restorative power in reconnecting with nature. Visiting the Grand Canyon was transformative for me, and I am so grateful to have visited.
In the details for our "Kamikazi" hike from the South Rim to the Colorado River and back, I've included my packing list for Grand Canyon day hikes, as well as useful links to the National Park Service website. To view, click here.