Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

When we made the decision to spend some time in the US before heading south, my first thought was, “I have to see the Grand Canyon!” So George and I made the trek in Titus to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon.  We were pleasantly surprised to learn that if we had the time (and we did!) to wait out a backpacking permit, we could actually hike to the bottom of the canyon and camp there.  When I found this out I was both extremely excited and terrified at how far we would be hiking with a heavy pack.

IMG_0975.JPG

First look at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon facts:

  • The canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long

  • The width ranges from 4 to 18 miles (6.4 to 29 km) – in the part of the park we visited it was 10 miles wide! We found it very hard to gain perspective of this width from the rim.

  • The depth is over one mile (1.83 km)

  • The Bright Angel Trail has been in use since 1890 to bring tourists down to the base of the canyon.  Transportation hasn’t changed much since then (transport by mule and foot).

Normally backcountry permits to camp at the base of the canyon are reserved 4 months in advance, but they do offer a wait-list “game”, as the lady at the backcountry office explained.

Here is how the permit wait-list game works:  Arrive at the backcountry office, get a waitlist number and show up at 8am the following morning to see if you get a permit.  If you don’t get a permit, you get a new waitlist number for the next day.  Repeat until you are on the trail.   Now usually this takes a few days.  (FYI – permits are issued 1 day in advance of the actual departure day, e.g., permit issued Tuesday at 8am for Wednesday departure)

Here is how George and I fared in the wait-list game:  We arrived on a Monday afternoon and received wait-list number 11. We were told it wasn’t looking good for getting a permit the next day, but we should show up at 8am the next morning regardless.

IMG_0988.JPG

On day 1, we biked the Rim trail above the canyon, while we waited out for our backcountry permits

Tuesday at 8am we show up and meet a really nice new friend named Ryan. Ryan was on the wait-list too, but with a higher number, and was planning on hiking solo. He was nice enough to allow us to share a site with him (2 tents are allowed and they had the person capacity at the camp to accommodate us); next thing we know we have a site with Ryan for a Wednesday AM departure, and 2 nights in the canyon!

We all decided to take the South Kaibab Trail down into the canyon the following morning (a steeper and shorter trail descending 4,780 feet in about 7.1 miles).  So we loaded up our packs and hit the trail.

IMG_1003.JPG

On the South Kaibab trail into the Canyon

IMG_0997.JPG

Start of our hike down into the canyon

IMG_1006.JPG

Hiking down the trail with Ryan

The views were amazing, and I have to admit, going down really wasn’t that hard.  The great thing about going into the canyon was gaining perspective on just how wide the canyon is, and how varied the topography with the temples (mountains carved from the river) jutting up at various depths.  We arrived at Bright Angel Campground in the early afternoon, and enjoyed a few refreshing beverages at the Phantom Ranch’s canteen and met some really great people along the way that we ended up hiking with most of the trip.

IMG_7889.JPG

Stream running through Bright Angel Campground sites

IMG_1041.JPG

Ryan and George (and Jenine) off to get beers at Phantom Ranch

Another shocker was the color of the Colorado River! The Colorado River is one of the factors leading to the geologic formation of the canyon (the sediment being carried away is what makes the water so brown/red); however, we learned that due to the many dams upstream, the color of the Colorado is often clear or green, and not the historical red that led to the formation.  We were very lucky to see the river in all it’s historical glory!

IMG_8052.JPG

The full pic of the colorado running through the Canyon

George and I started hiking half-way up the canyon to stay at Indian Garden campground our second night.  We ascended the Bright Angel Trail, which is 9.9 miles in total, and ascends 4,380 feet.  Breaking it up, we did 5 miles of the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden, then a majority of the ascent was in the last 4.9 miles from Indian Garden to the top of the trailhead.

IMG_1046.JPG

We came down the Kaibab trail and went up the Bright Angel Trail


IMG_1054.JPG

Jenine almost out of the Canyon

IMG_1065.JPG

Hi fives. We did it!

While I was nervous to do this type of elevation gain with a 25 lb. pack on, breaking it up into two days made it extremely manageable. For those adventure seekers out there, if you visit the Grand Canyon, I highly suggest exploring the canyon by hiking to the bottom and back; a truly rewarding experience.

IMG_0975.JPG

First look at the Grand Canyon

IMG_0979.JPG

First pic together at the Canyon Look out

IMG_0983.JPG
IMG_0986.JPG

Hermits Rest - the end of the Rim trail

IMG_0988.JPG

On day 1, we biked the Rim trail above the canyon, while we waited out for our backcountry permits

IMG_7875.JPG

Canyon Panorama

IMG_0993.JPG

Elks were in Rut

IMG_0995.JPG
IMG_7881.JPG

Such amazing scenery

IMG_0997.JPG

Start of our hike down into the canyon

IMG_1003.JPG

On the South Kaibab trail into the Canyon

IMG_1005.JPG

Me acting trail smart

IMG_1006.JPG

Hiking down the trail with Ryan

IMG_1007.JPG

South Kaibab Trail

IMG_1008.JPG IMG_1012.JPG
IMG_1013.JPG

Hiking down to Phantom Ranch

IMG_1015.JPG

Mules are the other option for going up and down the Canyon

IMG_1021.JPG
IMG_1026.JPG

3 amigos

IMG_1029.JPG
IMG_1030.JPG

Finally reaching the muddy Colorado river

IMG_7882.JPG

We met several groups who were running the Colorado river - its a 3 week 200 mile rafting trip

IMG_7885.JPG
IMG_1033.JPG

hot and exhausted and so happy to find a camp site by the stream

IMG_1035.JPG

Our awesome camp site by the river

IMG_7889.JPG

stream running through our camp at Bright Angel

IMG_1036.JPG

I carried that chair down the Canyon for a reason, and this was it!

IMG_7921.JPG
IMG_7937.JPG

my REI chair, my favorite camping purchase

IMG_1041.JPG

Ryan George and Jenine off to get beers at the Ranch

IMG_7952.JPG

Morning hikes

IMG_1043.JPG
IMG_1046.JPG

We came down the Kaibab trail and went up the Bright Angel Trail

IMG_1050.JPG

The Bright Angel Trail up

IMG_8022.JPG

the look out from Plateau Point was spectacular

IMG_8050.JPG

Panorama at Plateau Point

IMG_8052.JPG

The full pic of the colorado running through the Canyon

IMG_8054.JPG
IMG_1052.JPG

Beautiful Sunsets

IMG_1054.JPG

Jenine almost out of the Canyon

IMG_1061.JPG
IMG_1063.JPG

The the top of the trail head with our camping and hiking friends Drew and Arianna

IMG_1065.JPG

hi fives

IMG_1071.JPG
Posted in USA Tagged with: , , , ,
5 comments on “Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
  1. Carolyn says:

    Wow, beautiful.
    Good job!

  2. Patty says:

    Oh my goodness…what can I say????? Just simply spectacular!!!! Thank you for sharing! We love you both!

  3. your trip brought back our memories of the grand canyon but it was different from yours, leaving Pennsylvania after we were married to move to California. We took the donkey ride to the bottom of the canyon for over 5 hours. I had blisters on my bottom and they bleed. we found a motel that night so I could soak my bottom. but I would do it again but this time with tighter clothing.
    we love you two, be safe, can’t wait till you get back to Oregon for a visit. Happy belated birthday!!!!!!! Hugs, love and kisses from both of us.

    • Jenine says:

      That’s so great Grandma! Another generation of “Jenines” going to the bottom of the grand canyon