Even in the summer months when the Grand Canyon is packed with visitors, you can find solitude on the hiking trails.
Vegas was a turning point in the trip for me. Before I left home I decided that from Nevada I’d either drive straight to the Grand Canyon or continue to head west to reach California and the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to stop in Yosemite before driving on to San Francisco, but I would have been there on a weekend in mid-July at the height of the tourist season. I couldn’t find a place to stay within my price range and realized after my single day adventures in Zion and Arches National Parks, I wasn’t going to be able to do Yosemite justice in a single day. I decided to cut out California and head south toward the Grand Canyon, which as it turns out was just as crowded and booked as Yosemite. I found a motel 55 miles away from the South Rim on Route 66 in a town called Williams. Lucky the charm of Williams with its many cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, and live entertainment won me over and made the hour drive to the canyon and back not so bad.
Although I had intentions of visiting the North Rim, it would have meant a two and a half hour drive from the motel I was staying in, so I decided to spend the two days at the South Rim.
It was late afternoon and the skies were threatening rain during the monsoon season when I arrived at the Canyon. The lightening warnings on the shuttle buses, in the free newspaper, and on park signs were enough to make me cautious about hiking too far from cover. I chose the South Kaibab Trail.
The South Kaibab Trail can be accessed by riding the free orange line shuttle bus from the Visitor Center. Even close to sunset under dark skies, the trail was well populated and covered in mule droppings from earlier in the day. It offers three turn around points allowing you to hike two, three, or six miles. I planned to make it to Cedar Ridge, the three mile hike, but just past Ooh Aah Point the wind began whipping, the clouds rolled in, and raindrops began to fall. The rain did stop on my return trip and I was able to catch the beginning glimpses of the sunset through the clouds.
There are two other major hikes of the South Rim: the Bright Angel Trail and the Hermit Trail. I’d read that the Bright Angel was the most popular and, wanting to avoid the crowds, headed toward Hermit Trail. My journey there took three hours– an hour drive from the motel, a half hour to wait in line just to get through the main gate, and another 90 minutes to ride the shuttle buses toward the trail. On a weekend in mid-summer, the lines for the shuttle buses stretch across the paved waiting area and two or three buses might come and go before you find your way to the front of the line. Although the buses were running every seven minutes, the wait in the hot sun with the crowds felt like much longer.
Less then ten minutes onto the Hermit Trail I passed a family and then for the remainder of my six hour hike didn’t see another soul except for a few reptiles, butterflies, and birds. You can walk the Hermit Trail all the way into the canyon to the Colorado River (although it’s not recommended for a single day hike), stop at Hermit Basin or Santa Maria Spring, or continue on to Dripping Spring Trail. I attempted to make it all the way to the base, but the sun was too hot, the way was too long, and the views, although beautiful, just weren’t worth the effort.
Kaibab Trail was wide, hardened with sand, and well-maintained. The Hermit Trail on the other hand was covered in rocks the entire way. From palm sized to giant boulders that you have to scale over, the trail is not a walk in the park. Canyon hiking is unlike any other also because you begin by descending and end by climbing back out. I can say from experience that climbing back to the top of the canyon after hours of hiking is strenuous, grueling, and should not be underestimated. The hardest part about finishing the Hermit Trail was that from the end (and beginning) you can’t see the canyon. Climbing a tower of rocks only to turn another switch back into another tower of rocks dozens of times is enough to damper the spirits of even the most seasoned hiker.
As the park guide promised, the Hermit trail did provide “intimate” views of the canyon. The lower you descend, the closer you become. If you’re not able or willing to hike though, don’t worry, the views from the rim are just as beautiful, awe inspiring, and worth the visit to the Grand Canyon.