Grand Canyon National Park is a stunning piece of natural work, aglow with dazzling sunshine at dawn, washed out with light during mid-day and a secretive, purple-hued thing of beauty come sunset. But for those who want to get beyond the crowds and sweeping views on offer from the North or South Rims, the only solution is a trip down into the depths of Grand Canyon National Park itself. There are only two (viable) ways to the bottom: mule-back, or on your own two feet.
If you’re not up to the footwork but are itching to spend a night at Phantom Ranch (which we highly recommend), an atmospheric sprawl of cabins not far from the Colorado River, the best solution is to make reservations for an overnight ride from the South Rim. Mule rides also run from the North Rim but the longest option is a half-day to and from Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail. There’s often a weight limit for riders, so don’t pack along all your heaviest camera equipment.
Alternatively, you can get down (and up again), the “hard” way, by hoofing it. From the North Rim down to the Colorado River it’s over 14 surprisingly steep miles so don’t plan to return to the North Rim the same day; instead, make reservations at Phantom Ranch or Cottonwood Campground in advance to make sure you have a place to rest your weary feet. Starting from the South Rim, there are two trails to the bottom, South Kaibab and Bright Angel. Both are relatively steep, but when push comes to shove, Bright Angel is the most popular, with more seasonal water stops and shade, albeit slightly longer. It’s not advisable to tackle the out and back in a day unless you’re a hardcore masochist packing plenty of water; in which case, we like doing the whole thing, Rim to Rim, in a day, then returning Rim to Rim with a day of rest in between. We’re not recommending it, but we can assure you with the certainty borne of experience: it’s been done.