3,824 forum posts
bike trip to the south rim of the grand canyon
3,824 forum posts
Yeah, think next week I will give a two week notice and leave on the morning of November 22 a Friday. Its about a 5-6 days ride to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
North Rim view of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Point looking south, south rim is dark blue flat line on horizon. In December its cold and snowy on the south rim but the inner canyon is warm. Gains 10 degrees of air temperature as one descends into the canyon. Its a 5000 foot descent from the rim to the Colorado River
South Rim view looking north
2 forum posts
I saw some of your posts on the R2R GC. I and 5 other friends are planning on going from the north rim to south rim (bright angel trail) may of next year. We are in good shape but want to do this safely. From my readings heat is a real issue and I wanted to get your thoughts on which is the easiest route given shad and water? thanks for the help.
There is but one main route from the rim to rim. You are starting on the north rim? That's a good choice for May as its already getting quite hot in the canyon. The north rim is 1000 feet higher than the south rim at about 9000 feet. You will be going down a trail called the North Kaibab Trail. The trail drops very quickly to Roaring Springs where 90% of all the water used in the canyon from the rims to Phantom Ranch,Cottonwood, Bright Angels and Indian Gardens campgrounds is pumped from. Its (Roaring Springs)the first main stop after the trailhead. Its worth checking out along the way. Then you will come to the bridge over Bright Angel Creek where the canyon/trail gets more gradual.
On this topo map the trail starts just right of center near the Bright Angel Lodge and goes down into the canyon
At the bridge over the BA Creek the trail heads south towards Cottonwood Camp the first real shade in the canyon. Start the hike as early as possible when its light out as the inner canyon in May will be around 100 degrees during the day. It will be about 50-70 on the north rim when you start or colder at sunrise.
Are you doing this as a one day hike or multiday hike? I have done both, a multiday hike gives you time to really enjoy the canyon tho being hot in the afternoons. You could if you make reservation stay at Cottonwood Camp, then either Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Camp on the Colorado River then Indian Gardens on the third day out. As a day hike R2R its 23 miles one way with a 6000 foot descent to the Colorado river over the first 14 miles along the N Kaibab Trail, then a 5000 foot ascent to the south rim up the Bright Angel trail. Used to take me 3-5 hours to ascend the BA trail when I was in top hiking shape. And my shortest hiking time R2R was 7 hours moving quite fast not stopping to do anything :(
Back to the R2R, the next main nice area to see is Ribbon Falls. About a mile and a half after Cottonwood Camp there is a small bridge over BA Creek heading west with a sign saying Ribbon Falls. Its a small falls
It is in a small alcove about a 1/2 mile off the main N Kaibab Trail.
From R.F. cutoff the trail drops slowly toward the Colorado River. The next good shade is in the Box area.
Its a slot like canyon area with walls of Vishnu Shist billions of years old from the forming of the early Earth. Be sure to keep an eye open (or two) for Phantom Canyon coming in on the west side of the trail and the Box. It was missed by the original route surveys and called Phantom Canyon because they swore when they came back and saw it, that it wasn't there when they headed north along the Box surveying the canyon.
After the Box the canyon opens back up and its about a mile to the Phantom Ranch area and the Bright Angel Campground near the Colorado River.
Here you will see the ranch now called Phantom which originally was called Roosevelts Ranch after Teddy Roosevelt. It was built as his hunting camp when he hunted mountain lions elk and deer on the north rim in the late 1800's. It became Phantom Ranch after the park service obtained the Grand Canyon in the early 1900's.
Then after a stop at P.R. where you can find cold beer,soda and snacks or a hot meal for lunch/dinner is BA Campground on the opposite side of the BA Creek. There's a small bridge leading to it with flush toilets.
Bright Angel Creek along the campground area
After BA Camp you will have a choice either go over the old Black Mule Bridge or the new Silver Bridge over the Colorado River. Black Bridge leads up the South Kaibab Trail and the Silver one leads to the Bright Angel Trail. There is a route called the River Trail that leads 2 miles west along the Colorado River from the south side of the Black Bridge to the south end of the Silver Bridge
Same view topo and aerial of the two bridges and the river trail
The route between the bridges is nice to see up close the Vishnu Shist.
The silver one is the tourist one the black one is the one the mules use, but is very cool to use and see. Before this bridge was built the crossing was done by suspension cable with a cage suspended and everything including mules were taken across. To see it at the north end of the Black Bridge take the small trail/route that goes east along the Colorado River about a 1/10 of a mile and you will come to the suspension cable still intact.
The river trail continues west after the Silver Bridge about another mile then you come to the South BA Trail (bright angel). There is a place to go down to the Colorado River here. The trail starts near a small wood and stone/rock rest house opposite Pipe Creek. Here the route/trail starts to climb up thru the Shist, Tapeats Sandstone and climbs thru an area called the Devils Switchbacks to the Tonto Platform.
Its about 5 miles from the Silver Bridges south side to Indian Gardens Camp on the Tonto Trail. At Indian Gardens you will find a shady rest stop or camp area nestled in the Cottonwood trees. There is a water station and areas to sit and rest and/or the campground. If staying the night take time to walk out to Plateau Point and look 700 feet back down to the Colorado River and the bridges,BA Camp and Phantom Ranch to the east.
View down river from Plateau Point, a 1.5 mile one way hike out from Indian Gardens.
View from Indian Gardens up to the South Rim thru the Redwall sandstone and the rim sandstone layers. The S.BA Trail continues on for 4.5 miles to the south rim thru the notch right of upper center in this picture.
There are now 4.5 miles left to the South Rim. its gets quite steep again and there are 2 rest houses (places to find shade and water along the way) The first one is called the 3 mile rest house as it is 3 miles from the rim and is perched on a point overlooking the canyons inner gorge.
3 mile rest house
Then you have 1.5 miles to the next one at mile 1.5 from the rim. The canyon in early morning should be in the shade of you stayed at I.G. the third night but will be in the direct sun if doing the R2R in a day. Drink as much water as you can as dehydration in the canyon with heat stroke and death cause many people a bad trip to the canyon every year.
My favorite months in the canyon were Dec/Jan between the years of 1983-03 when I spent 20 years hiking the Grand Canyon. I stayed between October and April each year I went and have been all over the inner canyon. Just writing about it now brings back many memories!
Thank you for asking about hiking the R2R and flooding me with desire to return to the canyon!! :)
But now again I am thinking of staying here in Utah near Zion and all the beauty I came here for in April. Its country filled with sandstone, slickrock, beautiful slot canyons and high sandstone cliffs. See my Trip Reports here at Trailspace about Red Hollow and the Parunuweap, or wait till later when I post more reports about my winters hikes.
Please keep us here at Trailspace informed about your hikes and I hope you have a safe experience in the Grand Canyon next May? Do you have just a day hike R2R intended or a multi-day hike? It would be better and you have time to make reservations and hike the canyon over at least three days to really enjoy it.
The Colorado River flowing thru Marble Canyon in the eastern section of GCNP.
2 forum posts
Great information - thanks. We are doing the hike in 1 day and are starting form the North Rim to South rim using the BA trail. Sounds like the trail in Late May will be hot but shade is better from North to South? we plan on starting at 5:00 am from the north lodge.
That's good as yes it will be hot in the inner canyon. I hiked it once in July of 1986 and and it was 121 degree's. It was the 19th of July. I was living in Tucson that summer which was also "hot as hell" and a friends son wanted to hike it. We went up via Greyhound to Flagstaff and caught a shuttle to the Grand Canyon's South Rim at Grand Canyon Village.
Now Willy, who was about 13 years old, my friends son, was not in the best of shape and we started down into the canyon at 4 am. It took us about 4 hours to hike all the way down to the BA Campground (average pace), set up camp and then like everyone else spent the rest of the day sitting in Bright Angel Creek, as it was too hot to do anything else. Feels like you are going to melt when its 119 degrees, the temperature it was when we were in the canyon.
Then the next morning after staying over night we again left the bottom at 4 am. At Willy's pace it took us all day and into the night at 11 pm to get out of the canyon. It was so damn hot and he would walk about 5-10 minutes then take a 30 minute (at least) break. It took us till 2 in the afternoon to hike the first 7 miles along the River trails 2 miles and the BA trails 5 more to Indian Gardens. We rested in the shade there for 3 hours. I didn't want to exhaust him. Then at 5 pm I said we better start out. In July it was still light out till about 9 pm so we had plenty of light to walk out in.
We made it to the first rest house about 3 hours later and rested and had plenty of water to drink. We stayed there so long I thought we would never make it out of the canyon as the route is steep. It was originally built as a mule trail to haul mining ore out of the canyon and I guess the miners made it steeper to cut down on distance. It has changed little since the late 1800's.
And in summer especially when all the mule trains of tourists are going down and up then mules of course have to shit and piss along the way. Many seem to piss in the same places and the puddles begin early to build up on the trail, making it difficult to hike straddling the pee puddles. And the urine in the hot sun becomes evaporated into vats of ammonia. And when you are hiking out you will smell these areas long before you come to them. When you are exhausted and breathing heavy and come to the pools of yellow water and have to practically hold your nose and can't breathe it makes it hard to hike.
I remember once making a suggestion to the park service of making a drainage system in the areas where the mules all pee and poo on the trail to make it easier on the hikers who have to hike the area's. It been 10 years since my last hike in the canyon so I do not know if they have done anything about it?
Anyway, back to Willy and I hiking out. We made the next 1.5 miles to the mile and a half rest house in about 2 hours, I was so proud of Willy as he was doing so well! We rested about an hour and I pushed him on to the top. We had been in the shade from the sun for a long while as the ridge to the west had been above us since Indian Gardens but even in the shade it was still around 90 degrees. Like a night in Tucson!
Finally around 11 pm we made it to the rim, and I decided to get us a room at the Bright Angel Lodge as it was another few miles to the campground at Mather Camp and neither of us wanted to walk any further. It was expensive but worth every penny to stay in a room. We had to wait till morning to eat anything as everything was closed by 11 pm.
After a long nights sleep into the morning checking out at 11 am we caught the shuttle back to Flagstaff and Greyhound back to Tucson. A trip neither of us would soon forget! Personally it was a lesson for me never to hike the canyon again during the HOT months from late April to mid October.
My first time (hiking)at the canyon was the whole month of October 1983. I had been there in 1977 in during a 8000 mile hitchhike around the USA when I was 21 June to September. And had vowed to return someday to hike the canyon. I returned in late September 1983 when permits were easily obtained on the spot. I went down to Indian Gardens and back over night with my first side trip to Plateau Point. All I took was a an old ski touring pack with food and water for two days and a tarp to sleep on and a quilted Vietnam era military poncho liner to sleep in.
Then after returning to the rim I immediately got a permit for a week in the canyon. 7 days to explore! I went in on the South Kaibab and hiked to and stayed at BA Camp, the hiked the N.Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Camp and stayed overnight, then next day I hiked to the North Rim and stayed over and saw the views from there back into the canyon.
View from the North Rim at Bright Angel Point. Look closely at the south rim above the red and yellowish high point just above left center and you can see the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff below the clouds. Its 80 some miles down from the South Rim SE to Flagstaff and the ancient volcano of Mt Humphrey's the San Francisco Peaks at 12,633 feet the highest point in Arizona.
The next day I went back to Cottonwood Camp and stayed again the night. The next day I hiked back towards the Colorado River with my first side trip to Ribbon Falls. Along the way thru the Box I saw Phantom canyon on the other side, having like the survey crews missed it on the way up to the N.Rim area. Next hike I thought I would see this!
The last day I hiked all the way to the South Rim in a all day hike taking time to play and explore along the way.
After a nights rest in Mather Camp I got a third permit and went into the canyon for two more weeks. Too elaborate to say here but I saw a lot of the canyon in those two weeks including Clear Creek to the east of Phantom Ranch, up Phantom Canyon and Haunted Canyon near its NW end. I hiked up Wall Creek near Cottonwood camp, hiked to another water fall in whats called Upper Ribbon Falls, hiked to the west along the Tonto Platform to Hermits Camp and came out the trail called Hermits to the West Rim section of the South Rim.
In 1984 that fall after working all summer, I began what became a 20 year adventure of hiking the GC from as early as October to as late as April every fall, winter and spring. I have been to places that even the Anasazi probably never got to.
Read about George Steck and Harvey Butchart who pioneered many routes in the canyon since the 1940's to the 80's. Read Colin Fletcher's "The Man Who Walked Through Time" when he spent 3 months in the early 1960's and started in the west at Havasupai and came out in the NE corner of the canyon from Marble Canyon.
MIners and Indians explored and lived in the canyon. There are many old mines and ancient Indian ruins in the canyon. One Indian ruin is near the Boat Beach on the Colorado River where the river rafters beach their crafts to see Phantom Ranch. Its a small one but must have been a great place to have lived or camped in prehistoric periods.
In 1996 a couple hiking below the s.rim near Desert View found 3 clay pots intact and stole them from the canyon. They took them as far as New Mexico to a antique dealer who recognized the pots as Anasazi and turned the couple into the police. Later the pots were returned to Flagstaff and later carbon dated to about 2500 years old or meaning the Indians who left them under the rim had done so around 500 years B.C.
I know tons of things about the GC and do plan to go back someday to hike it again. All of the states of New England would be lost in the depths of the Grand Canyon with room left over for Tennessee!