If you’re here, you most likely are hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon! My hike to Phantom Ranch last summer was one of the best experiences of my 13 years, even though it was also probably the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ll always remember how much my feet hurt afterwards, but also the beautiful views and amazing times. So, I’ve decided to write this post to let anyone hiking to the bottom know all of my highlights of our hike, so nobody misses anything that made my experience at the Grand Canyon so great!! (just to let you know – this post won’t tell you any of the essentials you’ll need for your hike – but you can find that out here in my post 5 Tips and Tricks for Your Hike into the Grand Canyon).
Top 7 Must-Dos While Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
- See the sunrise!
Most likely, if you’re hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, whether you’re staying at Phantom Ranch or camping, you’ll be leaving pretty early in the morning. When we hiked down last August, we woke up around 4:00 in the morning, to head over from our hotel on the rim to catch our early morning hiker’s bus at 4:30. By the time we got to the head of South Kaibab trail, the sun still wasn’t up. As we started our exciting hike down, the sun began its ascent just as we reached our first view point – Ooh Aah Point. We were able to capture some beautiful pictures, and loved our first view inside the canyon.
2. Dip your hats in the river!
Hiking down South Kaibab Trail, it’s going to get hot. Especially by the time you cross the bridge over the Colorado. So, when you finally reach a branch of the Colorado on your way to your camp site/Phantom Ranch, you’re going to be pretty hot and sweaty. We had the idea to dip our hats into the river, get a scoop of fresh water, and splash it onto our heads. This simple act helped us cool off tremendously and the cool water on our hair felt amazing!
3. Go to a Ranger talk at Phantom Ranch!
Although the meals at The Canteen in Phantom Ranch are reserved just for people with a cabin reservation, anyone can go to one of the Ranger talks during the day or at night. These talks are super interesting and fun! The ranger will likely talk about the geography of the canyon, or maybe some species that live in it. They also will answer any questions you have about the canyon’s history, geography, or anything else that crosses your mind! It’s also super interesting talking to the rangers, because these people work in the canyon, and have hiked in and out many times, so they’re super experienced and generally cool people all around.
4. Get your Phantom Ranch Junior Ranger Badge
Inside The Canteen (which anyone can go in besides at the meal times), you can find a packet to get your Junior Ranger badge! If you can’t find it, ask one of the workers at The Canteen where you can find one, and they’ll point it out for you. The packet does take some time to complete, but it’s definitely worth it. The questions are all pretty open ended, and there’s not really one right or wrong answer. When you ask a ranger to check your packet to approve it and give you your badge, as long as you seemed excited about the canyon and can list some things you learned/why you loved your experience you’ll definitely get it. Please do NOT be put off by the slightly long packet, because the Phantom Ranch Junior Ranger badge is sooo worth it! It’s a super cool circular patch with a rattle snake on it that says Phantom Rattler and Phantom Ranch Junior Ranger on it.
5. Mail by Mule
Again, in The Canteen, there will be an entire section dedicated to the Mail by Mule! Chances are, on your hike down, you passed some Mule heading up and down (or at least smelt their poop). These mules are used for transportation of tourists into and out of the canyon, as well as transporting supplies and essentials to Phantom Ranch… and to send your Mail by Mule! To do Mail by Mule, all you need to do is pick out some beautiful post cards of the Grand Canyon (which – remember – you will be INSIDE OF!!), write a short note on each one to whomever will be receiving it (I recommend sending one to yourself – you’ll enjoy the memories of your fun vacation when you get home!), address the envelope, and pay for a stamp for your envelopes. If you want, you could also bring your own stamps in your hiking backpack for your envelopes, but DEFINITELY make sure you bring money! (The Canteen takes credit cards and cash)
6. Stargaze outside of your cabin/tent!
The entire Grand Canyon area is really conscientious of their effects on the environment, so they have special lights that minimize light pollution. This, along with the fact that there won’t be much light on in the middle of the night given your at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, causes the stars to be super bright, beautiful, and AMAZING! We naturally woke up in the middle of the night, but if you don’t have confidence that you’ll wake up after your long hike, you can set an alarm for anywhere between 1:00-3:00 AM to go stargazing. When I say stargazing, I don’t mean anything organized or official. All you need to do is walk out your cabin door to see an entire arm of the Milky Way, and thousands (at least) of magnificent stars shining brighter than you could possibly imagine. This was amazing for me because I am someone who LOVES space and science, especially anything to do with stars, so it was so so so cool to see all these stars in the night sky!
7. National Park Passport Stamp
Your National Park Passport is a book with all of the different regions of the country, and spots to put stamps in from all of your visits to National Parks! It’s so fun collecting the stamps, so if you don’t already have a National Park Passport, I definitely recommend getting one! Now, you might be thinking that you don’t want to buy one of these books (they don’t cost that much) for your one trip to a National Park, but my guess is that you’ll go to another National Park sometime in the future, you probably live close to one too, and there’s a bunch of stamps and national parks you can get/go to in and around the Grand Canyon National Park. (Check out my post Why You Should Get a National Park Passport for Your Trip to the Grand Canyon here)
At Phantom Ranch, if you go to the Ranger Center, you can find the stamps for Phantom Ranch! We had already had our National Park Passports, so we brought them to the Grand Canyon with us and made sure to pack them into our hiking backpacks on our way to the bottom. I definitely think you should get your National Park Passport stamped at Phantom Ranch! (P.S – Did you know that only 1% of the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon every year make it all the way down to Phantom Ranch?)