Hiking in the Grand Canyon

During the summer when I was 17, I bleached my hair blonde and went on a road trip with my sister, my brother’s wife, and my mom.  We traveled across the US and back in two weeks, camping along the way and staying in dingy motels.  It was a life changing trip, and it really made me fall in love with the American West.

Everything that we saw and did on that trip seemed magical.  Camping in the Rockies in Colorado, hiking in Arches National Park, driving along the coast in California, seeing a Giant Sequoia for the first time…it was all amazing.  But my favourite stop along the way was the Grand Canyon.

We camped for two nights on the South Rim.  We took the shuttle along the top to Hermit’s Rest, watched the sunset on the edge, and even hiked a couple of kilometers down.  But since then, it’s been a dream of mine to hike to the bottom, to the Colorado River.

So when my sister, Sarah and her husband, Isaac told us that they were planning a back country trip for this fall with my parents, and asked if we wanted to come, we said, “YES!!!” without hesitation.  This September, after a decade of waiting, I finally got to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

This post is the story of my trip.  Get ready for a long one!

We flew into Las Vegas late Friday night, and then spent Saturday taking in the spectacle that is Vegas.  It was cool to see, but I’m definitely not a Vegas girl.

On Sunday morning, all six of us packed into a minivan and headed east.  We got to the South Rim in the late afternoon, checked into the Maswik Lodge, and walked to watch the sunset on the edge.  I don’t want to get too cheesy here, but I had to wear my sunglasses to hide the few tears I was shedding when I finally saw the Canyon.  🙂  I was in awe, I was excited, and I was nervous for the next day.
Sunset Canyon
We spent the evening getting our packs ready.  We were all a little giddy, and then, this happened:
My husband became a gnome.  The resemblance is uncanny.  So weird.  🙂
The next morning, we woke up early to take the shuttle to the South Kaibab trail head, filled up our water, and after taking a group shot, started hiking down.  I think we were all a little nervous.  Even after reading countless tips and advice, we really didn’t know what to expect.  When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, you read so many warnings.  “Take enough water.  Wear the right clothing.  Don’t get too close to the edge.”  Although, I was fairly confident in the preparations we had made, I still had that little doubting question in my head, “Can I do it?”  Despite that, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.


Let me tell you, the downhill was unexpectedly tough.  The South Kaibab trail is only about 11kms long, but has an elevation drop of about 4700 feet.  Within the first kilometer, I realized my shoes were too small.  My toenails were banging against the end of shoes.  My shoulders, back, and knees started to feel the weight of my pack pretty quickly.  The South Kaibab trail has very little shade, and the sun was hot (at least for a Canadian redhead).  Sometimes a large rock would give a sliver of shade, so we would stop to have a quick rest and a snack, but for the most part we were in the full sun.  Although we really weren’t hiking that long, the trail seemed to keep going and going and going.


Finally, we spotted the Colorado River and even saw a glimpse of Phantom Ranch.  But before we could get there, we had another few kilometers of steep switchbacks.  By that point, any flat stretch of trail felt like heaven, but we kept trudging along.

River and Switchbacks

And, of course, we eventually made it to Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch, where we would be camping the next two nights.  It was much different that I had imagined.  In my mind, I pictured the campground to be barren, but it was the complete opposite.  It was a beautiful oasis.  Our campsite was nestled between two tall cliffs along a rushing, creek lined with tall trees.  After setting up camp, we got a well deserved beer at the canteen, and then soaked our muscles in the river.


Bright Angel Creek

Phantom Ranch

The next day, we had planned a day hike to Ribbon Falls along the North Kaibab Trail.  It is about a 22km round trip with only about 1000ft of gradual elevation gain.  We were a little nervous about hiking that far in the heat, but we talked to the volunteer ranger and he assured us that we could do it.  So, we packed up some water and snacks and headed out (hobbling).  I loved this area of the canyon.  The North Kaibab Trail follows the Bright Angel Creek through an area called The Box, which is a slot canyon.  During the hike the previous day, the Canyon was so huge and expansive.  Although we were in the Canyon, it still felt far away, but on the North Kaibab trail, I felt like we were actually walking through the Canyon.

The Box 1

The Box

The hike to Ribbon Falls didn’t take too long, and it was definitely a highlight of the trip.  I’ll let the pictures speak for me:

Ribbon Falls

Water on the Moss

Ribbon Falls 3

On the third day, we started our hike out of the Canyon on Bright Angel Trail.  We started before sunrise.  It was beautiful watching the sun change the colours and depth of the scenery throughout the morning.  The hike was about 7.5kms long with an elevation gain of about 1300 feet.  Besides being tired and worn out from the previous days, the hike was relatively easy.  The sun was hot, but our hike was only a few hours and we managed to stay in the shade for most of the morning.  Our destination for the night was Indian Gardens, another oasis in the Canyon.   You can see Indian Garden from the South Rim.  From the top, it looks like a patch of shrubs, but up close, the trees are so tall!


Indian Gardens

Big Tree

The hike out on our last day was a steady, constant climb for about 8km.  The elevation gain is 3000 feet.  It was tough, but for me, the uphill felt so good compared to the down.  Also, as you climb elevation, the temperature cools off, and it felt refreshing.  This portion of the trail was beautiful, but is very busy with day hikers.  There was a point when I got very annoyed dodging people coming down the trail.  But eventually, I got used to it, and as we got closer to the top, I had the urge to tell everyone I passed where we had just been! 🙂



We had been told that we would pass through two tunnels before reaching the top, so we were happy when we saw the tunnels!  And right after, we reached the top!

Tunnel 2

Group Shot

So, that’s my adventure in the Grand Canyon.  Thanks for bearing with me!  If you made it this far, you might be wondering what this has to do with running.  Well, during the hours of hiking, running was constantly on my mind.

The past four years of running helped me prepare for this trip.  It gave me strength and endurance.  I can hardly imagine how hard it would have been without that mental and physical preparation.  When things were tough, I could just tell myself, “Mandy, you’ve run “fill-in-the-blank” before.  You can do this.”  And I did!  Overall, the hiking felt good, and I was able to enjoy the scenery without thinking too much about the work.

I was also so thankful throughout the trip that my body is healthy and able to take me places like the Grand Canyon.  There are many people who will never be able to experience it, because they are not physically able to make the trip.  I never want to take that for granted.  Keeping active in our daily lives makes it so much easier to experience amazing things.

When we were a few kilometers from the top, I was hiking with my sister.  We crossed paths with an older couple who looked liked they had hiked the Canyon many times.  As we passed, the lady said to us, “It’s so nice to see strong women!” It made me smile with pride that she viewed us that way.  I felt like a strong women for the journey we had made, and running had helped me on that journey.


P.S. A big thank you to Isaac for taking so many wonderful photos!


3 thoughts on “Hiking in the Grand Canyon

  1. Loved your post and all the photos. You are so right about running teaching us endurance is in all areas of life. I visited the Grand Canyon over 20 years ago, only managed to walk down for a short distance (can’t remember exact details) because there was a light dusting of snow. It’s a beautiful place.

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