Grand Canyon Hikes Below the Rim

Photo by George Miller

An experience of a lifetime in Grand Canyon

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If the Grand Canyon from above the rim stirs the imagination, the experience below the rim is mind-blowing and will certainly challenge your endurance. Whether a high-anaerobic hike down and out in one day, or an extended backpack rim-to-rim or on one of the inner-canyon trails, staring up several thousand feet at your final destination is an experience of a lifetime. Hit the trail early, at first light for long hikes, take high-calorie snacks, and remember, to survive a strenuous summer hike when temperatures exceed 110 F. in the shade, you need 0.5–1 quart (liter) water per hour, minimum. Over 250 people a year ignore the admonition and require emergency evacuation.

Day hikes Bright Angel Trail

Going down Bright Angel Trail is easy, getting back up is the test, especially in the summer when temperatures get higher as you get lower. For an easy stroll, hike to the first tunnel, a 20 minute round trip with 60-ft. drop in elevation. Continue to the second tunnel (1.7-mile round trip, 550-foot drop), or to the 1.5-mile resthouse (3-mi. round trip, 1,120 ft. drop). Feeling stronger? The three-mile resthouse is 2,120 ft. below the rim. If you make the 6–9-hour hike to Indian Garden, a 9-mile round trip and 3,040 ft. drop in elevation, reward yourself with dinner at the elegant Arizona Room in Bright Angel Lodge.

South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail trail follows a ridge line for spectacular views at every bend. For an introduction to the below-the-rim experience, hike to Ooa-Aah Point, 1.8-miles round trip and a 760-ft. drop. Continue to Cedar Ridge, 3-miles round trip and a 1,120-ft. descent. For a 4–6 hour excursion, hike all the way to Skeleton Point, 6-miles round trip and 2,040-ft. below the rim. This path is popular for hikers to Phantom Ranch or rim-to-rim because it’s shorter to the river (7 miles) than Bright Angel Trail (9.6 miles) but steeper for the hike up.

Hermit Trail

Beginning at Hermit’s Rest, the rugged, unmaintained Hermit Trail follows a long side canyon into the heart of the backcountry. Rated “difficult,” the 2.8-mile round trip to Hermit Basin drops 1,240 feet and takes 2–4 hours. For a classic “very difficult” canyon day-hike, trek to Santa Maria Spring (5-miles round trip, 1,680 ft. drop, 4–6 hours). You can continue to Dripping Springs for a 7-mile round trip, 1,040 ft. elev. change, requiring 5–7 hours.

Overnight Backpacking Below the Rim

For an unforgettable experience, and challenge, hike to the river, spend a night or more, and hike back up. The view, and hike, from below the Red Wall formation is an experience you’ll remember for a lifetime.

All hikes to the river or inner canyon trails are considered “very difficult” and are recommended for experienced desert hikers in good physical condition. A twisted ankle on the rocky trails, insufficient water, or overheating quickly becomes life-threatening. Camping requires a backcountry permit.

Hikers to Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch on the river usually take the steeper South Kaibab Trail down and return via Bright Angel Trail with water available at Indian Garden and two resthouses. The South Kaibab trail is 6.8 miles to the river and drops 4,790 feet, while the 6-mile Bright Angel Trail drops 4,370 ft.

Beginning at Hermit’s Rest, the 22-mile round-trip to Granite Rapids on Hermit Trail drops 4,300 ft. with designated camping at Hermit Creek (8.2 miles) and Hermit Rapids (9.7 miles). From the trailhead on the rim, the trail drops 2,000 ft. in the first 2.5 miles. The trail hasn’t been maintained since concessions at the bottom left in 1930, so be prepared for a precarious trail.

The 95-mile inner-canyon Tonto Trail parallels the river on the relatively flat Tonto Platform from Red Canyon to the east to Garnet Canyon to the west and passes through Indian Garden. A popular 24.8-mile loop connects Hermit Tail with Bright Angel Trail with campsites at Indian Garden and Hermit Creek.

Take three or more days and get up close with nature’s majestic spectacle.
Day 1: Follow the One-Day Highlights itinerary.
Day 2: Explore the attractions along the 26-mile-long Desert View Drive.
Day 3: Hikes below the rim

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