It may look a little like the summer camp where you stayed in as a kid, but Phantom Ranch will feel like the Paris Ritz by the time you make it down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon – whether by foot (down a steep 7.5-10 mile hike), by mule, or by boat on the Colorado River. Phantom Ranch, set near a cooling creek in the shade of a cottonwood grove, is the only accommodations beneath the rim of the canyon, thus an extremely popular destination – so much so that the concession is now using a lottery system for reservations 14 months in advance. There are two options for sleeping: log cabins that sleep from 2-10 people, furnished with cold sink and toilet (a key is given for the common shower facility) and four dormitories (two each for men and women) that sleep 10 in 5 bunk beds. Bedding is provided and, thankfully, all of the buildings have AC in the summer and heating in the winter. After check-in, you’ll want to grab a glass of their famous icy lemonade. And make sure to also reserve your meals in advance, as seating in the canteen is limited. The steak or meat stew dinners, served family style, are surprisingly tasty considering everything here has to be brought down (and back up again) by mule.
By Deb Hopewell, AFAR Contributor
Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
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.
N Kaibab Trail, North Rim, AZ 86052, USA