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Grand Canyon and Colorado River
© Mike Leco / USATourist.com

Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 4-18 miles wide and reaches depths of more than one mile.

Grand Canyon Adventure

Approaching from the south, you first drive for hours across desolate high-country range with rolling grassy hills, some isolated trees and an occasional horse or cow. The Ponderosa pines start a few miles south of the park, and you soon find yourself driving through dense forest. A sign reads, "scenic lookout", so you stop and walk a few yards through the bushes. Suddenly, there it is, and it takes your breath away!

The Grand Canyon stretches 12 miles before you to the further rim, and as far as you can see on either side. The land at your feet drops almost straight down for over 3000 feet and then several thousand feet more into the serpentine canyons below. This vast gorge is filled with rocky buttes, sheer limestone cliffs, and deep canyons all arrayed in a rainbow of colors. Words cannot describe it. It is one of the most magnificent sights on earth.

Most visitors only see the canyon from lookout points on the South Rim, but to really experience its natural beauty, you need to descend into it.

You can hike about halfway down and back in one day. Bright Angel trail to Lookout Point is about 12 miles round trip with a 3000-foot descent and a long hard 3000-foot climb back to the rim. The trail is broad and well maintained, but you might have to share it with an occasional mule train. Watch what you step in! It takes about 7-8 hours of hiking at a leisurely pace. Start early in the day and take food and water! The temperature in the canyon may be 20 to 30 degrees hotter than on the rim. Most months, drinking water is available along this trail. Camping facilities and toilets are available at Indian Springs 4.5 miles from the rim.

Do not attempt to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day! It is a 20-mile round trip with a 5000-foot descent and a long hot 5000-foot climb back to the rim.

Photo of Mike
Mike's Grand Canyon Adventure Tip: The best times to hike the canyon are in April, October or November. In the winter months, you will require cold weather gear. Avoid July and August! Temperatures at the bottom of the Canyon can reach 120 degrees F in mid-summer and water will be scarce. Hiking can be dangerous at such times.

It requires at least two days to hike to the bottom of Grand Canyon and back. On the first day, you should hike down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch. This trail is steeper than Bright Angel and has no water supply, but does offer some spectacular scenery. It is easier to hike down this trail than climb up it. Take about 4 liters of water per person and some food! If you arrive at Phantom Ranch before 18:00, you can samoy cookout. (Costs $28 per person for grilled steak, $17 for vegetarian, $17 for stew. Always reserve in advance!) At Phantom Ranch, you can camp outdoors with a camping permit, or sleep in the bunkhouse for about $22, but you must have reservations.

The next morning, a hearty breakfast is served at 5AM (Costs about $12). Now you can hike up Bright Angel Trail to the rim. Take some water and food! Limited supplies are available at the ranch canteen. Bright Angel trail is less steep and easier to climb than South Kaibab. It is also sheltered from the sun part of the way and usually has drinking water available.

Grand Canyon © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
To truly experience the Grand Canyon's natural beauty, take a hike or mule train into the depths of the canyon.

If you lack the stamina to hike the canyon, you can ride a mule. One-day mule trains take you halfway down into the canyon and back out in about 8 hours. They cost around $120 per person and include sack lunch. Mule Train trips to Phantom Ranch at the bottom, require two days and cost about $272 per person including dinner and lodging at Phantom ranch plus sack lunches on the trail. Mule rides save your feet but leave other parts of your body very sore.

Accommodations are very limited at Phantom Ranch. You must reserve everything well in advance of your trip. The park accepts reservations for beds at Phantom ranch and for the mule trips up to 23 months in advance. During most of the year, all reservations are already full 23 months in advance. Yes! Reserve two years before you go! The least busy times are December, January or February (may be heavy snow at the rim) and July or August (so hot at the bottom that it may be too dangerous to hike). Camping outdoors costs $20 per group for permit plus $4 per night per person, and you can reserve 4 months in advance. Water, beer and snack foods are available at Phantom Ranch.

If you prefer a more rugged and wild adventure, there are guided hiking trips into the less frequented parts of the canyon. Some of the links listed below will inform you of a some Grand Canyon area outfitters and guides. Do not attempt the wilderness trails without an experienced guide unless you are very experienced with rugged desert hiking.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: One-day mule trains take you halfway down into the Grand Canyon and back out in about 8 hours.