Adventure hikes at the Grand Canyon

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 2-9, 1996
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Adventure hikes at the Grand Canyon
East Coast beach vacations
Rafting Colorado's Animas River
Planning your next family-style ski vacation

Adventure hikes at the Grand Canyon
Question: I am looking to plan an adventure hike in the Grand Canyon area. Where are some of the best places to go and where can I get information about them?

Mark Haraburda
Peoria, IL
[email protected]

The Big Ditch's more remote North Rim is heaven for hardy, solitude-loving hikers
Adventure Adviser: Unless you really want to rub shoulders with hordes of Grand Canyon tourists (the park sees a frightening 4.2 million shutterbugs a year) I recommend avoiding the masses on the South Rim and making the admittedly more difficult trek to the less-traveled North Rim.

Also known as the Kaibab Plateau, it sits at 8,200 feet--1,300 feet higher than the South Rim--which means it's cooler and wetter in the summer. Instead of the piñons and junipers of the South Rim, the Kaibab Plateau is wet enough to support ponderosa pines, spruces, firs, and aspens. You can't see the Colorado River from the top, but on a clear day you can see 70 miles south to the snowcapped San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. And because the best overlooks--Point Imperial, Point Sublime, Cape Royal, and Bright Angel Point--are accessible only by foot, you're guaranteed to have what the British call the best view: the unobstructed one.

You'll be in hiker's heaven, since there's a plethora of great trails that range from a half-mile to 20 miles long, radiating out from the Grand Canyon Lodge and ranger station at the southern end of Highway 67. Warm up on the half-mile Bright Angel Point Trail's self-guided nature tour, or follow the 1.5-mile Transept Trail to one of the thousand-year-old Anasazi cliff dwellings carved into the northern plateau. Or opt for the Wildforss Trail, a ten-mile round-trip that starts a few miles north of the lodge, across from the North Kaibab trailhead, leads through the cool forest to a brilliant view of Haunted Canyon and The Colonnade inside the gorge.

If you're feeling more ambitious, try the North Kaibab, the only maintained trail that'll take you to the canyon bottom. Dropping straight from the North Rim into the canyon, the North Kaibab connects with the South Rim-bound South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails at the Colorado River, 14 miles and 5,840 vertical feet from your start. You can hike down to the river in 12 hours, but give yourself another 24 hours for the grueling return trip. Stay off it altogether if you're an inexperienced hiker or, for that matter, an acrophobe--the first five miles are excruciatingly steep before the trail levels off. Temperatures in the canyon usually top off around 105 degrees in the summer, so plan on carrying at least a gallon of water per hiker for each day on the trail.

Pitch your tent at the Cottonwood Campground, seven miles from the North Rim near the junction of Roaring Springs Canyon and Bright Angel Creek, or continue on to the river and Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch. You'll need to pick up a backcountry permit before you head out, and, given the overcrowding that every park in the West now suffers, it's a good idea to make your camping reservations as far in advance as humanly possible. For permits, contact the Backcountry Reservations Office, Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ, 86023 ( 520-638-7875), and to book $10-per-night tent sites, call 800-365-2267.

Getting there means heading southwest on Alt. U.S. 89 from Page, Arizona, to Highway 67, which leads south to the North Rim. Be forewarned that the remote North Rim is between 400 to 650 miles by car from the closest airports at Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City. For more information, check out "The Grand Canyon's Other Rim" in the Destinations section of our May 1992 issue, or call park headquarters at 520-638-7888 or the North Rim information center (520-638-7864) for maps, a trip planner, and additional route suggestions.

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