Best Hikes Below the Rim at Grand Canyon National Park
As its name would suggest, the Grand Canyon is a sight to behold. The 277-mile canyon cut by the Colorado River is a majestic geological formation that’s taken around 6 million years to form.
Yet few see much, if any, of its inner beauty. Of the 5 million annual visitors, only around 1 percent explore below the canyon’s rim. While no hike into — and out of — the Grand Canyon is easy, it’s one of the most rewarding ways to get a feel for the incredible scale.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to see the grandness of the canyon with varying difficulties and great differences in scenery.
This 70-mile trail traverses the Tonto Platform, which separates the inner gorge from the upper canyon, and intersects every South Rim trail in the canyon. At an average elevation of about 4,000 feet, it sits roughly 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, which you can see from numerous parts of the trail. It may only be used in conjunction with other trails, but its sheer length and the diverse landscape it goes through make it well worth the mention. There is limited water availability throughout the trail, which is almost exclusively in sunlight. It’s the trail that most reminds hikers that they’re in a desert basin.
Clear Creek Trail
Clear Creek doesn’t run with its namesake trail; it’s the destination. Located on the north side of the river, it’ll take close to nine miles of moderate hiking to get to Clear Creek from Phantom Ranch. Another five miles will get experienced hikers to the secluded and much more difficult to access Cheyava Falls (though the high spout flows only after snowmelt in March or April). The Clear Creek Trail runs along the Tonto Platform, so be prepared for mostly sun here as well.
Hermit, Dripping Springs and Boucher Trails
Like a hiker would, let’s start from the top. First, it’s over a mile of steep, rocky switchbacks on the Hermit Trail. You could take that trail all the way down to the Tonto Platform, but the Dripping Springs Trail is easier and offers so much more — so let’s head that way. From the Hermit-Dripping Springs fork in the road, it’s only 1.2 miles to the next one. Either continue onto Dripping Spring, a half-mile or so away, or head down the Boucher Trail for a mostly difficult journey to the Colorado River, 7.8 miles below. We’d recommend both, though definitely not in the same day. Like just about all lengthy hikes below the Grand Canyon rim, camping will not only be wise but necessary. Permits are required to limit the number of inner canyon hikers, but they are relatively inexpensive and easy to attain from the Backcountry Information Center.
Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails
The two most popular trails are incredibly different from each other. And while the park doesn’t recommend it, hiking them both in one day is amazing — a feat that should not be attempted in the summer months, but taken with caution during the rest of the year. We’d recommend heading down the steeper South Kaibab Trail, a drier, sunnier trail with more spectacular views of the Colorado River below. It’s 5.9 miles from the trailhead to the Kaibab Bridge, which crosses over the river and makes for easy hiking. Another three-quarters of a mile and you’ll be ready to cross back over via the Silver Bridge. It’s mainly “easy” hiking for a mile or so, until you start your ascent up the Bright Angel Trail, which gradually covers the same 5,000-foot elevation change you made going down South Kaibab. From Silver Bridge, it’s a 9-mile jaunt up to the Bright Angel Trailhead. Along the way, a lovely shaded stop at Indian Garden and great access to the Bright Angel Creek.
You might look at the map and think to yourself, “Only three miles? How easy!” You’ll be rethinking that as soon as you descend from the trailhead. A pamphlet about the trail from the park service reads: “Large steps and extreme drop-offs intensify the steepness of the trail.” Intense is perhaps the most accurate word for the trail, which was built in 1893 as a mining route (remnants of the mine can still be found around Horseshoe Mesa, your likely destination). Views throughout the trail are some of the best in the entire canyon and the satisfaction of a completed hike there is among the best, too.