- Monday, Nov 23:
- Drive from Tucson, Arizona to Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Watch the sunset from Mather Point
- Set up camp at Grand Canyon Camper Village
- Tuesday, Nov 24:
- Sunrise at Mather Point
- Junior Ranger Program & Trail Advice at the Visitor’s Center
- Hike the Rim Trail from Mather Point to South Kaibab Trailhead (2.3 miles each way)
- Wednesday, Nov 25:
- South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail (17 miles)
- Thursday, Nov 26 (Happy Thanksgiving!):
- Bus tour from Bright Angel Lodge to Hermit’s Rest
- Sunset hike from Yaki Point Road to Cedar Ridge (5 miles)
- Friday, Nov 27:
- Drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma
Please recognize that we mean no disrespect when we say this, but not everyone can do South Kaibab to Bright Angel in a day, and, if we’re being honest, not everyone should want to do this hike. It’s hard. Seventeen miles is already a daunting task, but the elevation gain is brutal, not to mention the reversal of the hike (usually you get to coast DOWN the mountain for the second hike; the nature of hiking in a canyon is that your second half is when things get really hard). What we can say is that, if it is physically accessible to you, no trip to the Grand Canyon is complete without going down the Canyon at least a little bit. From the rim, the Grand Canyon seems almost like a canvas background, like it isn’t quite real. Once you descend, even a little bit, the scale and grandeur take on new meaning and your experience of the Canyon is far more intimate (and less crowded). Our recommendation to you? South Kaibab Trailhead to Cedar Ridge. This 3 mile loop gives you amazing views, is steep but attainable, and allows you to see what it’s like to be within the walls of the Canyon without killing yourself. We made it to Cedar Ridge for sunrise on our full hike and returned for sunset on our last evening. Because why watch the sunset from the rim when you can just hike another quick five and get it all to yourself?
For anyone hiking in GCNP, but especially you full senders who want to try to full hike in a day, there are a few must-do things. Take lots of water. Pack trail food; our go-tos are Cuties, Nature Valley granola bars, and applesauce packets. Dress in layers because the temperature changes throughout the hike are no joke. Bring hiking poles. Let me say that last one again, because, until this trip, I (Anna) kind of thought hiking poles were for old people. However, for once in my life, I was wrong. They saved our knees on this trail. I seriously do not think I could have done it without them. We are now forever advocates for poles.
We also recommend going to the Ranger Station or Visitor’s Center before hiking. The National Park officially has to recommend that hikers do not do the full trail in a day, for obvious safety reasons, but staff and rangers will give you off-the-record assurances or alternate suggestions. When we went to ask about ice conditions and whether or not we needed spikes for our shoes–another important question for would-be hikers–the woman we talked to sized up our group before explaining what we needed to know to be successful. While her belief that we could do the hike ended up being the last push we needed to take the plunge, we would have made different plans if she was adamant that we couldn’t do the trail. Trust the rangers’ opinions and recommendations; chances are they know more than you. We also, as always, highly recommend reading AllTrails reviews. They are super helpful for determining challenge level from various real-person points of view. They also have details about the trails that maps and guidebooks don’t; the more you know going into a hike, the better.
Lastly, if you are committed to making it down and up in day, you need to consider logistics. When we went in November, the bus services were limited. This means that the shuttle that goes all the way back and forth to both trailheads in the summer only ran one way and only ran part of the way. Check what buses are running and when before your trip. Luckily, we had two cars, so we could drop one off at the end of the trail and then come back to the bus stop at the Visitor’s Center that would bring us to South Kaibab. If you don’t have a second vehicle, you may need to hike extra mileage to get back to your car or to the bus station. The Rim Trail has pretty much no elevation change and runs from South Kaibab to Hermit’s Rest, hitting the Visitor’s Center and Bright Angel along the way, but it does require the additional walking after an already pretty sinful trek. Another important detail is timing. We did our hike in 9 hours (8 hours of trail time with an hour at the bottom), but we planned our day around the possibility of it taking much longer. Starting predawn allowed us to not worry about time and to enjoy the sunrise on the trail. Our last recommendation? Train. We technically didn’t, but we finished a trail outside Tucson the Saturday before that was shorter but had the same elevation gain. Using this trail as a frame of reference helped us realistically determine if we could handle going down and up in a day.
Should you go in November? We say, overall yes. Here’s what you need to know.
- Yes, it might be 12° at the Rim when you start hiking or go to watch the sunrise. However, it also might be 78° Indian Gardens (the halfway point on Bright Angel) come noon. We say these particular numbers because that was the temperature change during our hike. If you pack nothing else (except hiking poles) bring clothing that layers.
- Check ice conditions before you hike. Talk to rangers or look at the weather report written at the bus stops.
- Even in the cold, bring more water than you think you need. During the winter months, there is only water available at Indian Gardens and Phantom Ranch. This means there is no water available on the recommended day hike portion of Bright Angel and no water at all on South Kaibab. Our trick? Bring and refill disposable water bottles because they’re lighter and can be compressed once you don’t need them. Just make sure you recycle afterward 🙂
- Check bus routes before you arrive in the park for the day. We mentioned before the potential challenges associated with going point to point. In November, Hermit Road is also closed to private vehicles, so you can only get to Hermit’s Rest or any of the other waypoints on the bus line. We loved this as a day-after-the-trek activity.
Any adventure has a few bumps in the road, and this trip was no exception. Our first problem was traffic; we were delayed hours between Tucson and Phoenix because a horse trailer crashed and released several horses to run around the interstate. We ran into traffic again right outside the park. Between the delays, we had to pick between seeing the sunset at the Canyon and setting our camp up with the last rays of daylight. We picked sunset (and no regrets!!), but that we meant pitched our tents in the dark. Roadblock number two was forgetting the hammer for our tent stakes. Maddie used her law textbooks instead. The result of setting up in the dark was that our rain hood was on sideways; this let the cold in a little more than we may have wanted. We did get lucky with our timing, however. The snow held off until the day we left, but we did have to drive through the blizzard to make it back to the Blessed Midwest.
- Taking Fireball shots at Phantom Ranch–the bottom of the Grand Canyon ! (Fireball, please sponsor us, we’re begging you)
- Watching the sun rise at Cedar Ridge during our hike to the bottom
- Brushing our teeth under the moonlight next to the Canyon when we slept in the park
- Following the mules down past Skeleton Point and seeing the Colorado River for the first time on our hike
- Getting the sunset to ourselves down in the Canyon for our last night