Hiking to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon
Last weekend Aaron and I were lucky enough to visit the Grand Canyon for a trip to Phantom Ranch.
The Grand Canyon Lodge includes a mix of camping, dorms and private cabins for overnight use. The lodging is in such high demand that it is typically booked 13 months in advance.
We decided to go rather last minute, so I spend two days calling the Grand Canyon Lodge hoping for a last minute cancellation. Somehow we got lucky and four days before our trip got dorm reservations.
The weather during the winter can be dangerous if you hit a storm, but typically it is significantly cooler then the rest of the year.
The four of us left the South Rim at 7:45, we’ve hiked the trail before, so I took a few minutes to take a few random pictures, but for the most part, it was game face.
We had a group of canyoneering friends who were in the middle of a 28-day rafting trip through the canyon. Our goals was to meet the group at the top of Garden Creek Canyon. Garden Creek Canyon is an amazing canyonering route that few hikers ever see. It is literally right off the main trail.
Because of this side trip, we were carrying wetsuits, ropes, harnesses, and helmets.
**Editors note: I have a recommended gear list at the bottom if that is all you need.
The Bright Angel Trail is a well-maintained trail in the Grand Canyon that is frequently traveled.
The entire route from the top of the South Rim to Phantom Ranch is 9.5 miles and drops in elevation from 6,860 to 2,480, which is a total of 4,380 feet. This is why I highly recommend hiking poles – they will save your knees.
Until you hit Indian Garden’s there are rest stops with bathrooms and water about every 1.5 miles. **Please note that during the winter water service is shut off at the top two rest stops
Additional information can be found on this PDF provided by the National Park Service.
It took us about 1½ hours to hike the 4.8 miles to Indian Gardens. We stopped at all the restrooms and weren’t setting a crazy pace – the trail is that easy. We hit the mouth of Garden Canyon, which is approximately one mile beyond Garden Creek right at 10:00 AM.
I’ll do a separate post about canyoneering Garden Creek Canyon. But here is a sneak peak of Aaron on one of my favorite rappels.
After doing our canyoneering route, we hiked the remaining distance to the river and stopped in at Pipe Creek to see the boats and meet the rest of the rafting group, since we would be joining them at Peace Springs a week later to finish the rest of the rafting trip.
We spent about an hour with the rafting group and then hiked the remaining 1.5 miles Phantom Ranch. The last bit of hiking was spent along the river and was absolutely gorgeous.
We crossed the first suspension bridge and headed right along the north side of the river toward the confluence.
Aaron’s great grandpa Rees B. Griffiths is the only white man legally buried in the Grand Canyon.
He was a trail foreman on the South Kaibab trail doing the early 1920’s. He was killed in an accident and the family was able to get special permission to bury him in the canyon.
If you are interested in more info, here is a link to document from the Department of Interior regarding the accident.
One of our primary goals for this trip was to find his gravesite. After talking to a variety of tourist and doing a bit of backtracking we finally located the gravesite just off the Bright Angel Trail on the north side of the river. It was just east of the river confluence just prior to the black suspension bridge.
When we arrived a few park service employees were doing clean-up of the grave site. It was really nice to see that the site was treated with so much respect.
We explained to them who we were and by the time we arrived at Phantom Ranch word had spread and it seemed like everyone we talked to was asking us about the story. I wish we had thought to bring down the Park Service report.
We checked in at Phantom Ranch and were directed to the dorms for the evening. Personally, I thought the Phantom Ranch dorms were awesome.
They had 10 bunk beds with a small shower and bathroom attached to the dorm. There was heating and lighting which I wasn’t expecting. Most importantly they provided bedding, which was all I cared about. Not having to pack in the extra weight of a sleeping bag and tent totally made my day.
I love staying in dorms because you meet such amazing people. We meet people from all over the world who were at Phantom Ranch to enjoy the amazing beauty of the Grand Canyon.
We chose to have dinner at the resort. They break up dinner into two groups, the first is a steak dinner and the second is a stew dinner. We weren’t sure when we would arrive, so we chose the stew dinner by default.
Based on talking to my dorm mates it sounds like we made the right call. Although slightly expensive at $28.13/person, it tasted amazing and was well worth the cost. There is nothing like hiking and canyoneering for the day and having a delicious meal that you don’t have to prepare.
We left for the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail the next morning at 7:45 and were out of the canyon six hours later after the 9.5-mile hike. Both of our packs were over 30 pounds (canyoneering gear isn’t lightweight), so our hike out wasn’t quick.
The last two miles were pretty rough for me. I was really starting to feel the weight of my pack and just decided to go slow and easy. Aaron would get ahead of me and then wait at each of the rest stops and then we would continue on.
He probably would have gotten out in 5 hours, but got stuck with my time.
I highly recommend taking the time to hike to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon. The views are amazing and there is something magical about being surrounded by the picturesque walls.
After hiking the trail in June of 2013 I also highly recommend doing it during the winter. Hiking it in February was significantly easier.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon during the summer can be very dangerous, temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees.
Even in February, I was amazed at how many people we saw near the top hiking in jeans with one water bottle in hand. The obviously didn’t know that the first two water stops were closed for the winter.
If you are going to do this hike, come prepared. Know your route, bring plenty of food and water, dress appropriately and know your limits.
Gear I recommend for hiking to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon:
- Lightweight breathable shirts – I personally like these since they are long sleeve and protect you from the sun.
- Hiking Pants – I like the convertible pants that can become shorts.
- Hiking Poles – I skipped them for this trip since we were canyoneering too and I didn’t want to take them through the canyon, but I highly, highly recommend hiking poles. I love the Black Diamond Kids hiking poles. They are awesome for a shorter woman and super lightweight.
- Hiking boots – I’m a huge fan of approach shoes for virtually any desert hiking. They have rock climbing rubber which is amazing for the rocks in Arizona Hiking.
- Leukotape – This is the absolute best stuff I’ve found for preventing blisters. If you are hiking to Phantom Ranch you are most likely going to get blisters. Trust me, get this stuff, it is very inexpensive. Before you start hiking tape it on any of your normal hotspots. If you start to feel a hotspot, take it up immediately. It is the only product I’ve found that actually stays on your feet and it works. I used to always good blister, this Leukotape is the best!
- Wool Socks – I personally love the Darn Tough Coolmax Hiking Socks. They keep my feet dry and with the use of Leukotape can’t remember the last time I got a blister.
- Lots & Lots of water – I typically use a bladder and then carry at least 1 Nalgene bottle for flavored water
- Camera – I have a nice SLR, but find myself carrying my small point and shoot waterproof camera more and more. It is easier and still gets great pictures. All of these pictures were taken with my Olympus TG-3 (now replaced by the Olympus TG-5).
- Lots & Lots of Food – You need a mix of salty and sweet food with lots of carbs and proteins. Don’t bother counting calories, you need lots of them so take plenty of food.
- Headlamp – I take a headlamp even if I’m only going to hike for a few hours.
- Jacket – I love the lightweight down jackets like these.
- Yaktrax – This is only needed during the winter for snow/ice.
If you are planning to camp at the bottom you’ll need typically camping supplies. I didn’t prepare a list for this trip since we stayed in the dorms, but I have a great list in this post on my Paria Backpacking Trip.
If you are staying in the dorms don’t forget your personal toiletries.
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