It may look a little like your childhood summer camp, but Phantom Ranch feels like the Ritz by the time you make it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, whether by foot—a steep 10-mile hike—mule, or boat down the Colorado River. Set near a creek in the shade of a cottonwood grove, the lodge is the only property located beneath the rim of the canyon, making it an extremely popular destination. Book early; the concession uses a lottery system for reservations beginning 14 months in advance. There are two lodging options: log cabins that sleep up to 10 people and are furnished with cold water sinks and toilets (there are common shower facilities), and four dormitories—two each for men and women—that sleep 10 in five bunk beds. Linens are provided and, thankfully, all of the buildings have air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. Also be sure to reserve meals ahead of time. Seating in the canteen is limited, and the steak and meat-stew dinners, served family style, are surprisingly tasty.
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.