The American West is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and within it lies one of the world’s greatest wonders: the Grand Canyon.
Of the national park’s 6.25 million annual visitors, 99% go to the Grand Canyon for less than four hours and only spend 20 minutes at the actual canyon, and only 1% actually walk down some distance, and about half of that percent hike down to the bottom. I’m in a small, small minority of adventurers who have gone to its base.
Hiking down the Grand Canyon (and back up) is really hard, but it’s much more visually rewarding than just looking over the rim.
Arriving at the canyon, my first thought was, “Holy $%%^! Look at this!” I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories, but nothing could have prepared me for just how huge it was. In front of me, stretching far and wide, were red and orange peaks and valleys, jutting and falling into the ground. I took in the view, trapped by its magnificence before I broke free and began to hike down.
And I’m really glad I did. Hiking down, you see all the desert animals, the intricacies of the ridges, the mountains, the streams, and the cliffs that aren’t noticeable from above. You see the color changes in the rocks up close, touching them, and enjoy the peacefulness of this place away from the crowds. I immediately knew this was somewhere I wanted to see again, and I regretted only spending one night.
If you ever visit the Grand Canyon, hike down, even if just for a few hours. You’ll get to experience the canyon in detail, and it gives you way more perspective than just looking out over the rim and going “ooohh” and “ahhh.”
You’ll see the Colorado River up close as it cuts its way through the canyon, flowing fast and furiously as it sketches one of nature’s greatest paintings. The river itself is cold and rapid. Don’t get caught in the current!
From the bottom, the canyon takes on a totally new shape. The vast canyon disappears, and all you can see is this little valley the river has cut. I spent the night at the Bright Angel campground near the creek that bears its name, hiking around the river, talking to hikers, listening to a ranger talk, and trying to avoid the scorpions.
In the morning I awoke, my legs already sore. Yet I was still in for another 9.6-mile hike back up the canyon through hot, steep terrain. Hiking up was a lot tougher than hiking down, even when taking the flatter Bright Angel trail, with originates at Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of descending 4380 feet to the Colorado River, and then continues another 1.9 miles to the Bright Angel Campground. Even though the South Kaibab trail we took down was steeper, climbing up such a steep grade was more challenging than we though.
My companion (a Brit also named Matt) and I moved slowly in order to take advantage of the shade, to visit the off-trail waterfalls others pointed us to, and to talk with other hikers. The hardest part for me was the steep ascent back up—the high altitude and steep rock faces made for a challenge.
After six hours of hiking, we made it out. Hiking the Grand Canyon was one of my major life goals, and I’d done it. Once over the top, all the pain, fatigue, and heat disappeared, giving way to sheer joy. I had mastered the canyon. I had done what few do. I felt like Rocky after he climbed those stairs.
I celebrated by watching the sunset over the canyon. There were tons of people taking pictures, but I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the light show reflecting off the canyon walls.
It was the perfect relaxing end to two wonderful days in the Grand Canyon.
How to Visit the Grand Canyon
The South Rim has an airport, train service, and is a 90 minute drive from nearby Flagstaff. The North Rim is located on the “Utah” side of Grand Canyon and the entrance station is 30 miles south of Jacob Lake on Highway 67. The North Rim village may only be reached by road.
Admission to the Grand Canyon is $30 for a vehicle permit or $15 for an individual (say coming by bus or bike) and lasts seven days.
Book Your Trip to the Grand Canyon: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel in the Grand Canyon with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.
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Want More Information on the Grand Canyon?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on the United States for even more planning tips!
Note: This article was originally published in 2008.