The Best First Hiking Trip for Canyon Newbies – Part I

As Teddy Roosevelt, one of the great champions of the National Parks said of the Grand Canyon – “This is the one great sight which every American should see.” And people all over the world, not just Americans, seem to have taken this to heart – in 2016 the Grand Canyon had over 6 million visitors. But did you know that 90% of people visiting the Grand Canyon only spend a half day there? And only 5% ever leave the rim to walk any distance into the canyon? An even smaller 1% make their way down to camp at the bottom.*

Plateau Point, in the middle of our Bright Angel ascent

It’s a shame, for as jaw-droopingly lovely as the rim views are (and I was very much among the awe-struck), I have come to believe you can only appreciate the full weight – the 3D-ness, if you will – of the Canyon if you take the time to roll up your sleeves, roll out your hiking sticks and head down into the Canyon to spend some quality time within those epic walls.

The Chimney – aka the steep descent from South Kaibab

From inside, the walls of the Canyon come alive as you see them up close as you navigate the tight and seemingly endless switchbacks to scale the vertical walls.
From inside, you don’t just peer down into a giant hole across a coniferous plain (though that’s some hole!), you can tilt your head skyward and marvel at the multiple layers of earth that suddenly became sheer cliffs of rainbow colors shooting across a vast horizon.
From inside, you hear the rushing waters of the Colorado River and can jump into the cold spring waters of the tributary creeks on the canyon bottom.

Contemplating the path we took into the Canyon. It’s … high

From inside, you can walk out onto a plateau of green Bright Angel shale and examine the mix of flora at this special place where the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin deserts meet.
From inside, every step you take down takes you back 100,000 years in the geologic formation of the Canyon, which delights the nerd in me to no end.

The Colorado roars with life at the Canyon’s bottom

If you do decide to descend, there are endless warnings about this trek. Never go rim-to-rim in one day! In summer don’t hike midday or suffer the 100F+ heat! Be aware that the temperature rises 5 degrees for every 1000ft descended! Bring at least a gallon of water a person! And never, ever feed squirrels!*

 

Hiking down the South Kaibab

Outside of the main “corridor” trails (Bright Angel, South and North Kaibab trails), there are an incredible number of backcountry camps and trail hikes that criss-cross the GC most people aren’t aware of, leaving one breathless with options. Furthermore, the vast majority of the park is still unexplored wilderness. With all these caveats and possibilities, who can really say what the best way to see one of God’s Masterpieces is?

 

 

Magical views from inside the Grand Canyon

That disclaimer aside, I do think our route and plan for a 4 day/3 night camping trip into the Canyon is a perfect first hike to see the Canyon,** allowing time to explore other trails at the campgrounds, and time to just sit still and breath in the beauty around you. I see the allure (and bragging rights) of trying a 1 day rim-river-rim hike. After all, there’s a certain bravado in saying you woke at 4am to rush into the depths of the Grand Canyon and are still able to clamber out by sunset. But apart from the bragging rights, where is the joy in rushing through one of the seven natural wonders of the world? Take more time I say, and see a night sky blasted with stars enveloped between Canyon walls, eat some breakfast alongside the mighty Colorado that carved out this majesty.

You won’t regret it – we certainly didn’t.

So many, many switchbacks

Suggested Route coming soon in Blog Post “The Best First Hiking Trip for Canyon Newbies Part II” ….

Leave a Reply