Grand Canyon National Park already was the last park on our Grand Circle. And it was a “worthy” goodbye. It is almost impossible to put the whole thing into words. And also the pictures of our smartphones hardly reflect the actual size of the canyon.
East Entrance and Watch Tower
We arrived through the east entrance and went directly to the first viewpoint, the Watch Tower. The Watch Tower is about 35 kilometres away from the visitor centre in the “village”.
Afterwards we went on to Navajo Point, the highest viewpoint at the South Rim, the southern edge of the canyon. However, we could not see a real difference in altitude due to the sheer size of the Grand Canyon.
Camping in the Kaibab National Forest
Similar to the other national parks all spots in the Mather campground were already booked in advance. But this time turned out that this was a good thing. Our app WikiCamps USA showed us alternative, free campsites in the Kaibab National Forest which is close to the national park. We only had to leave the main road, followed a 1.5 km long gravel road and we were there. In the middle of the forest, quietly situated and even with fire rings provided.
We stayed here three nights and for the last night stayed close to the South Entrance of the park, which was also a campground in the Kaibab National Forest. Here we also had fire pits and friendly neighbors: Elks!
Despite not staying at the campground in the national park, we could nevertheless use the dumping station and public showers. Just perfect!
Hiking along the South Rim
If you don’t have much time and still want to see some of the National Park, you can park on one of the big parking lots at the visitor center and then choose between three different shuttle buses. First we wanted to get an overview and got some information in the visitor centre. Contrary to our previous experiences, the enthusiasm of the staff member here was very limited and so we only took a few maps with us and did our own research. We drove with the blue lines towards the west and then went from there along the edge of the canyon from the “Trailview Overlook” towards “The Abyss” in the west.
The 6 km hiking trail has almost no differences in altitude and was very easy to walk. Again and again there were outlooks on our way and offered us deep insights into the canyon. And at some of them we could even discover the Colorado River about 1.400 m below us.
The Colorado River was my destination for the next day, which is why we drove with the red and blue line back to the visitor center to ask for the current weather forecast. It looked very good: Sun and temperatures between 14 degrees at the edge and 23 degrees in the Grand Canyon.
But the reality in the evening was a bit different. It got colder and colder and began to rain and afterwards even to snow lightly… after all, we were still at an altitude of about 2,000 meters and it was correspondingly cold at night.
Hiking to the Colorado River
Official authorities in the park strongly advise against doing a hike down to the Colorado River and back again in one day. For this reason I would also like to give here the appropriate reference.
Because I had already successfully done many longer hikes with a lot of altitude meters in the last three and a half months, I definitely wanted to do this hike. From the South Rim you can either walk down the Kaibab Trailhead or the Bright Angel Trail into the Canyon. I decided to combine the two, started at six in the morning at the South Kaibab Trailhead to take a break on the other side of the river and go back to the top via the Bright Angel Trail.
In the morning it was still really cold with temperatures around zero degrees. Thus: ideal conditions to start a long hiking day. The South Kaibab Trail is the shorter and steeper of the two. It was unusual for me to only go downhill for such a long time and still have the whole ascent ahead of you. Usually it goes first uphill and then downhill. To keep track, I had planned to spend a maximum of 1/3 of the daylight with the descent (to have a good 2/3 available for the longer ascent). At the beginning I couldn’t find my rhythm yet, I had to stop all the time to enjoy the panorama or to take pictures. Especially the sunrise and the game between mountains, sun and clouds was really great!
And then I had a traffic jam on my way. With the mules either tourists or supplies are transported. I had two traffic jams 😉
Nevertheless I made really good progress and was already after 2.5 hours down at the river. Standing down there and looking up again made me realize the incredible size of the Grand Canyon.
Now it was clearly the time to unzip the legs of my hiking pants and to put on sun blocker while drying my shoes and socks. Then I enjoyed the two vegetarian burgers that Christiane had prepared for me the day before (Thanks!). About half an hour later I started to climb back up again. At first it was relatively flat. Of course, the first eight kilometres elevate only about 400 m.
From the Indian Garden Campground, a good 7 km before the finish line, the Bright Angel Trail picks up again and the remaining 925 m of altitude difference has to be overcome. The sun was already relatively high and there wasn’t much shade anymore. With plenty of water I compensated the loss of fluid and ate another cereal bar in between to get new energy for the way.
And after almost 4 hours ascent I reached my destination and could enjoy the full view again. About 27 km with 1.400 m ascent and descent in 7 hours – not bad for an old man 😉
In the afternoon and evening we enjoyed a cool beer and a campfire 🙂
The next day I had a bit of sore muscles. So it was time to take it easy. First we went to a lodge again and borrowed some internet. Since we left Moab at the Arches National Park our reception with AT&T was almost blown away. Mesa Verde? No chance. Page? Also nothing… Grand Canyon? Not a chance. Of course this makes communication with family and friends at home more difficult. And even while I’m writing this blog in Death Valley we have absolutely no reception for the second day in a row. So we had to rely on WiFi in the lodge and sent some messages and pictures. Afterwards we went to the visitor center and watched the movie about the history of the Grand Canyon. Then we went to the Mather Point to say goodbye to the Grand Canyon.
And like the day before, there were beers and a campfire.