For many, seeing the Grand Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for those who have hiked to the bottom, the canyon seems to find a way to call them back. At Phantom Ranch, a village of cabins and tents at the canyon bottom reachable only by foot, mule, or whitewater raft, asking how many times someone has hiked to the bottom is as common as asking their name. Among our fellow hikers at the Ranch canteen, some had made the trek ten times; others had lost count! Over chili and corn bread, old hands shared war stories and pieces of advice with fresh-faced first-timers.
Everyone has their own reason for coming back: solitude, nature, the challenge. As a first-time hiker, I was blown away by the natural diversity of the canyon. Our February trek carried us from the snow-covered rim, to the cactus-speckled mesas, to the cottonwood-lined Colorado River. I hope I’ll be back, and the next time I sit around the Phantom Ranch canteen, I’ll be able to share a few stories of my own.
Most hikers follow the South Kaibab Trail (7 miles) to the bottom and return via the longer but less steep Bright Angel Trail (10 miles). If you have the time, it’s worth spending at least a full day at the bottom exploring the nearby trails. If you plan to stay at Phantom Ranch, make your reservations at least several months in advance. Space is limited and tends to book up quickly.