Grand Canyon National Park: South Rim to Phantom Ranch

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Location: Grand Canyon National Park
Elevation Gain: 1800 feet
Mileage: 35.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Type: Overnight Backpacking Plan far in advance

Usually I begin with the background, this time I wanted to share my sisters beautiful artwork that will soon be available for print and on apparel. Check her out here: Deep in the Canyon art. See photo below.



One honest fact about the Grand Canyon is that we don’t know how old it is. “There are studies stating that the Colorado river began carving it 6-70million years ago.” What I do know about it, is that it is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. I remember when a few of us were planning the trip I jumped around all over the internet to find out anything about it. has a fun article about the 8 Facts About the Grand Canyon You Never Knew.

There’s much more to do than hiking here, but in this case, I’ll be focusing more on the hiking aspect of the South Rim. Day Hiking information can be found on the National Park Service Website.


South Kaibab Trailhead is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There is no private vehicle access here. You have to take a shuttle from the Backcountry Information Center.
Address: 1 Backcountry Rd, Grand Canyon Village, EZ, 86023

From Flagstaff take 64 North. Once you arrive to Tusayan, a small town outside of the park drive 4.4 miles to Center Dr. At this point you will hit the entrance of the park and need to pay your entrance fee. Turn left onto Center Dr. Drive another mile and a half and turn left on Village Loop Drive. Continue following the signs to Backcountry Information Center. There is parking here and a shuttle stop for access to the South Kaibab Trailhead.

Shuttle Information

Reminder, there is no access to South Kaibab Trailhead. The best bet is for you to start the hike down really early, so you can reach Phantom Ranch a more shaded area before it gets very hot. There is a Shuttle called Hikers’ Express. This is an early morning shuttle bus that will take you to the South Kaibab Trailhead year-round.
If not needing the Hikers’ Express see South Rim Shuttle Bus Routes.
Hikers’ Express Shuttle Bus Information

Hike Details

Day 1: South Kaibab Trailhead to Phantom Ranch (8.5 miles one-way)
Day 2: Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls (17.1 miles round-trip)
Day 3: Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel Trailhead (10 miles one-way)
Note: These are mileages from my gps, which cannot be 100% accurate.

Personally, I recommend this map basically because of the many options of other trips to do if you have more than this hike to do. Also, you can use this map again on your next trip out here if you plan on coming back.
Bright Angel Trail PDF
This has a ton of more information on the trail itself: conditions, directions, elevations, services and mileage. Note: There is water on this portion of the trail, but it is not recommended to rely on that. Carry your own extra water at all times
South Kaibab Trail PDF
2014 Bright Angel Point 7.5 Minute Topo Map
Phantom Ranch Information

Phantom Ranch is located at the bottom of Grand Canyon on the north side of the Colorado River. There is no other lodging below the canyon rim other than Phantom Ranch. One can only reach it by foot, mule or by rafting the Colorado River.

Entrepreneurs shaped the beginnings of a small camp that grew into now the well known Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is a member of Historic Hotels of America. The site has a ranch, a canteen, cabins and two dormitories. On top of that has an emergency medical facilities and a ranger station. Bright Angel Campground is not to far away and available to reserve ahead of time just like the ranch accommodations. I’m not sure if they have copies, but there is a very interesting walking tour I recommend during off-time: Phantoms of the Past: A Historic Walking Tour.

Phantom Ranch Reservations
Phantom Ranch Lottery
Phantom Ranch General Availability Reservations

Phantom Ranch Canteen:
The Canteen is something special and if you end up staying at Phantom Ranch I would absolutely recommend eating here. They serve breakfast and dinner and have certain times for these meals. Reservations are required so be sure to make them ahead of time possibly right when you make your reservations or win the lottery, not money but the reservation lottery. Here’s a little more information about the Canteen:

Hiking Gear Recommendations
KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal,Dark Shadow/Ceramic,8 M US
Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir, 3 Liter
Black Diamond Women’s Trail Pro Shock Walking Pole, 63-125cm
Honey Stinger Waffle Variety Sampler Pack – 14 Waffles, 2 of Each Flavor

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon before, but I don’t have much recollection of what it was like. This time I got to experience it in a different way. Its beauty and vastness are like nothing else. We hiked down to the river, bunked at Phantom Ranch, hiked to a hidden waterfall and back out. Would you rather hike the Grand Canyon or run a marathon? Your choice. Our choice was to hike it and enjoy a mere 3 days in one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Note: This trip was reserved 1 year advance.

We started our trip in Phoenix/Tempe fitting in a stop at Montezuma’s Castle, a drive on the Red Rock Scenic Byway, short stop in Sedona for a tiny visit to a Chapel that had views of Cathedral rock, Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. Stopped at a college town for a refreshing cold beer in Flagstaff and headed on towards Tusayan; our hotel was located here and along the way we were rewarded with views of the snowcapped Humphrey’s Peak.

After checking in and dropping our things off at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon in Tusayan, we headed for a quick drive into Grand Canyon National Park to double check our parking situation for the next morning. Since it was National Park Week all visitors were allowed in for free. Normally a $30 fee to enter the park is in state. We met the rest of the group at the market and after a quick meeting headed near the hotel to quiet Mexican Restaurant. Since our wake-up call was at 3am in the morning, we all headed back to our rooms in preparation of the early morning rise.

Day 1: South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch

Goal for this day was to get up at 3am and get to Ooh Aah Point for sunrise – and we did just that. Before heading on our way on South Kaibab Trail, we parked at the Bright Angel Trailhead as our return would be on that trail. The reason they tell you that this is probably the better route is that along the way on South Kaibab Trail there are not water sources, as for Bright Angel Trail there are many sources of water and great rest spots, which makes for a better and more convenient climb up the canyon. Be sure to pack enough water to get you through a full 4-6 hours on your way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
South Kaibab Trailhead is one of the portals to the Grand Canyon sitting at 7,260 feet. 4:45am in the morning it was still dark out, we were dressed warm, headlights were turned on and we were headed to Ooh Aah Point. Ooh Aah Point is less than a mile away from the trailhead and we reached this point perfectly in time for the “Ooh Aah” moment: an incredible sunrise with a view of the vast canyon in front of us.

The trail from Ooh Aah Point continues down several switchbacks until you hit Cedar Ridge a good option to take a rest as it has toilet facilities. Skeleton Point is the next good available spot to take a break and the first sign of the Colorado River below. We continued on and since we were making such good time we decided to take a break at a place called the Tip off. Tipoff sits at about 4,000 feet and has pit toilets and an emergency phone.


To reach Phantom Ranch, you have to go into a tunnel and pass over a bridge to the north side of the Colorado River. It was over 80 degrees here at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We passed by some tents along the way at a campsite called “Bright Angel Campground”. It was still before noon when we reached Phantom Ranch; we had to wait around for our beds for some time. While waiting we relaxed by a nearby creek called Bright Angel Creek.

Once we got situated the rest of the day we had free time to do whatever we wanted: whether it was taking a nap, showering, swimming in the creek, or laying outside to soak up some sun. Dinner was served in the main kitchen in two shifts. We had the earlier shift and were able to meet some of the others staying in the cabins.

Day 2: Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls

The next morning we work up for the 5:30am breakfast in order to get an early start for our long day hike to Ribbon Falls. Ribbon Falls is situated deep in the canyon on the way out to North Rim. We didn’t exit to the North Rim, we had one more night at Phantom Ranch. Day pack in tact we headed out at 7 in the morning for an 8 mile hike; the hike didn’t have much elevation gain/loss. Rainbow Falls is an absolute hidden gem.

Depending on the time of year you will be visiting these falls, please check the weather. Take appropriate precautions depending on winter months and hotter months.

After about 6 miles you will see a clear sign that says “Ribbon Fall”; make sure you turn left here and go towards the creek, if you continue on the other trail it will go to the North Rim. 2-3 miles later there you can cross the creek following a small rocky trail. The waterfall was amazing, it was two tiered, an upper level and a lower mossy level with a small cave behind the covered moss. Once we arrived we decided to take the trail to the upper level and it was a different world up there; I felt as though we were somewhere fake another world. The view from up here was both breathtaking and surreal. In the small save under the moss and waterfall lived a family of birds. The mother would go in and out while the two charming baby birds chirping in their nest.

We spent about 3 hours here exploring the area. My sister found a spot where we jumped from a rock into a swimming hole – quite the excitement as I like to look for cliff jumping spots on trips like this. Once we finished we headed on our long 8 mile trek back to Phantom Ranch where we soaked our bodies in the cool waters of Bright Angel Creek; this felt remarkable after the long hike we endured and soothed our sore muscles.

Waiting around for dinner, again most us showered and took a nap or hung outside. Dinner was nice and of course after dinner we hung out with others a little past our “bedtime”.

Day 3: Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon 006

The next morning we had the 5am breakfast shift and were up on our way at 6:30am to the top. It was a crisp morning; we headed toward the river the same way we came in. Then as soon as we got to the river we went towards the River Trail to take Bright Angel Trail up. This is recommended as there is water along the way and the extreme changes in climate from bottom to top make this a very difficult trek. Before you leave, make sure you pack enough water.


Once we crossed the river on a bridge we turned right onto the River Trail which led us by the river for about a mile before we turned left up into the canyon. The trail at some point becomes Bright Angel Trail, which takes you up to the main visitor area. The further and higher we hiked, the temperature climbed.
You’ll notice that when you get about halfway up the crowds get bigger and bigger. Other than being so many people the last part of the hike and it being very warm all of the climb had awe striking views of the canyon from different angles as we climbed the switchbacks. Finally hitting the top around 2:00pm we headed straight for something that we’ve been craving for all day. Yes that BURGER!

Tough trip, but worth every minute of it!

Note to self: Make sure to drink enough water throughout the entire trip or else one my get nauseous on their way home because of exhaustion and dehydration.

3 thoughts on “Grand Canyon National Park: South Rim to Phantom Ranch

    1. It was such an amazing trip! You just have to make yourself go it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Maybe we’ll do it again, but definitely have to do it once in your life. Thanks for the comment on my sister’s artwork. She’s exceptional!

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