Grand Canyon Rim to Rim with kids: Our LONG Day to the top.
Phantom Ranch to the South Rim
Miles Hiked- 9.8 miles
Our 4,750 mile road trip route for our Utah National Parks and Grand Canyon Adventure is here if you’d like to see our full itinerary.
Rise and Shine!
My alarm went off at 5 AM and we got up and started packing quickly. We all were excited and ready to hike. We ate a quick breakfast of Clif Bars and walked over to Phantom Ranch so Dave and I could have some coffee which they serve from a little window. Breakfast is also served for 20 dollars a person but you must make advance reservations which we had decided not to do. With 6 of us, 20 dollar breakfasts quickly start to add up! We got our coffee and were on our way feeling sentimental about leaving Phantom Ranch. The sun had started to rise, but the air was still mild as we hiked towards the Silver Bridge and several people were packing up their camps as we hiked past the campground to get on the trail. Two routes take hikers to the South Rim from Phantom Ranch, the 6.9 mile South Kaibab Trail and the 9.8 mile Bright Angel Trail. We chose the Bright Angel Trail for a couple of important reasons- it is less exposed with some available shade and most importantly, water is available at several spots. Even though it is longer, the climb is less steep, so this is the most recommended route out of the canyon especially on a hot summer day. The Colorado was beautiful in the early morning light and the shadows cast on the canyon from the rising sun was breathtaking. We could see rafters loading their boats at a spot on the river and saw several hikers leaving down the trail as well.
Crossing the Colorado
Once we crossed the Colorado River, the trail started a gradual climb with gorgeous vistas. I kept feeling in awe about how beautiful it was and how much I loved being there. It was so exciting to be doing what we had been planning for so long- hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim with kids! We leap frogged another family with adult children as they hiked to Indian Garden and chatted with them a bit. They were very encouraging to our kids who were feeling pretty proud of themselves. Eventually the trail began a more steep climb and we hiked through the long switchbacks slowly but surely. It was really cool to look back on where we had traveled since the trail was quite obvious in the canyon rock. Seeing how far we had come was very encouraging to all of us.
About 5 miles in to our hike, we arrived at Indian Garden where we took an extended lunch break fighting to keep our food away from the aggressive squirrels. Temperatures were really high by now and we soaked our hats several times in the faucets before putting them on to help cool off. The campground looked inviting but we knew we needed to hike on. At Indian Garden we also met several hikers who had just finished a Colorado River rafting trip and now were hiking out of the canyon to return home. One rafter had seriously underestimated the hike out and was having a really difficult time. Employees of the rafting company had already taken her pack for her but she was still struggling. We saw her throughout the day and several times she was sobbing. I felt really badly for her but also was thinking how dangerous the canyon can be and people should not underestimate hiking it. In fact, before our trip I had read a book called Death in the Grand Canyon which was a fascinating account of all the deaths that have occurred here. Dave and the kids kept making fun of me for reading such a morbid sounding book but I read every page so that I could be aware of the many dangers. It is a stark reality that many people have died here because of taking unnecessary chances and also for being unprepared for the elements. I know this poor woman did finally make it out but only with a lot of help and she was totally exhausted and spent.
Up, Up and Away
After leaving Indian Garden, the trail really starts to climbs and we hiked slowly but steadily on. We were very grateful for the 3 mile and 1.5 mile rest houses which had running water and welcome shade. We took long breaks at each and cooled off before hiking on. The South Rim is much more crowded than the North Rim and throughout the day we encountered more and more people out for day hikes. While encouraging because we knew bigger crowds meant we were getting closer to the top, they were also irritating at times. You would think that someone day hiking down the trail who encountered backpackers struggling up it would move to the side so we could pass, but this was not usually what happened and countless times we were forced to stop hiking and wait for groups to pass by who were chatting side by side while walking across the entire trail. For the most part everyone’s spirits were high, although we did have a few tearful moments throughout the day with the twins. We were still making sure to drink lots of water and more importantly water mixed with Gatorade powder to replenish all the fluids we were sweating out. We passed the time telling stories and I know I must have explained the entire Hunger Games series story line to Maya by the end of our hike.
Eventually we could see a flag flying on the North Rim so we knew we had to almost be there! We also saw a woman in heels (!!) walking down the trail so that also clued us in we must be close. It was actually very emotional to be getting close to the top. I was beyond proud of the kids. At thirteen, twelve and eight, these kids had pushed themselves doing something they were not sure they could accomplish and they had done awesome. Struggling through a difficult journey together made us all work as a team to encourage each other to the top which definitely brought us closer together as a family.
When we finally made it to the Bright Angel Trail Head, we threw off our packs and just sat. We had completed the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim with kids! Some really nice people clapped for the kids which made them feel even more proud. It was unbelievable to look back over the canyon and know we had walked the entire way across and we all soaked in the moment. The 9.5 mile hike had taken us almost 8 hours. It had been extremely difficult to hike out in one day but we had done it and it was the kind of struggle that builds resilience and strength. After resting for a while we walked over the the Bright Angel Lodge and bought some of the most delicious ice cream we have ever tasted. Life doesn’t get any better than this!
I simultaneously can’t believe someone walked anywhere on that trail in heels AND smiled knowingly when I read it. This sounds like an amazing trip- I know my 8 year old could hack it- it’s Mom and Dad that might end up sobbing ala Sad Sack Sally from the rafting trip.
Great story and photos! I live close to the canyon but do not get there often enough. I did a solo R2R2R starting at Hermit in 1987. You said it is emotional to come to the final part. I felt it as well, the completion of something you can only do for the first time once. But then it lives on in you, and when you see pictures or hear of someone else’s trip, you go back in memory, and do it all again in your mind. The kids are lucky to have done it at a young age. I was 27 in 1987. Good for you to do this!
Thank you so much for sharing your story! We are hiking down to Bright Angel Campground with our girls (8& 11) this June staying two night and hiking back up the BA in a day. I know it is going to be hard, but knowing your kids did this hike with packs is very encouraging. We have made a reservation for a mule to carry our gear, so we will only be carrying water and snacks – my husband and I will carry the other essentials, such as first aid. I loved your idea of instant pudding – any other good kid food suggestions??
You are going to have such a great time and will remember this trip forever. I’m glad you feel encouraged- the trek up Bright Angel is tiring but so worth it. Favorite camping meals for us are burritos, mac and cheese and pasta with pesto. For snacks, we eat lots of junk while hiking! Candy bars, lollipops, and twizzlers, etc. We also always carry trail mix made with nuts, corn chex, raisinettes, craisins and sunflower seeds. There will be snacks available at Phantom Ranch too. The frozen snickers bar I ate while there might be one of the best things ever! Have fun! Check back in and let me know how it goes.
Glad to hear you eat lots of junk too – I think we will need it to keep our 8 year old happy 🙂 Twizzlers are a great non-melting option! Did you have trouble with candy bars melting when you were there? I was thinking burritos for one of our dinners – have you done it using dehydrated refried beans and taco meat?
We use exactly that! With one vegetarian in the family, refried beans are an ideal addition, and they rehydrate perfectly!