National park #9 and our last full day of vacation! We woke up at the crack of dawn, piled in the rental car, and headed on up to the Grand Canyon. The drive up was beautiful (despite already having done it like 3 times this trip.) There were hot air balloons taking off in the distance and still some lingering snow. Man, I miss Arizona!
We approached the South Rim just before lunchtime. We checked in at the visitor center to get our passport stamped and check in my friend’s service dog (they just like knowing which hikes you’ll be doing so they know what to expect). From there, we took off down the road to Hopi Point. There was a LOT of construction going on which makes sense for the offseason, but the detours were clearly marked and we didn’t really have any issues.
It’s crazy how the canyon just pops up out of nowhere when you’re arriving from the south. We were just on a normal run-of-the-mill state highway and you would have no idea what’s coming if it weren’t for the signs. It just looks like a flat desert. Even once entering the park, you’d never know. I’d love to see the person’s face who was just walking on by and stumbled upon it for the first time. As we were driving along the Rim Drive to the visitor center, eventually the trees cleared a little bit so that you could at least see that there was some big open space beyond it, but it wasn’t until almost at the visitor center when all of a sudden the tree line broke and there she was. It really is breathtaking.
And we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. My grandma liked to tell me the story of when she visited the canyon in winter and it had snowed the night before so the entire view was just covered in fog as it melted and evaporated away. Luckily, we could see for miles and miles. I couldn’t get over how fake it looked though. The pictures look like we’re in front of a green screen and even being right there it just looked like someone had put up a giant backdrop in the distance that we were looking at. It was unreal.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge Parks and Rec fan. Well, as you can imagine this was the one thing I was most excited for with visiting this park. Okay, not actually, but it was the first thing we did:
Parks and Rec reenactments out of the way, it was time to actually get on down into the canyon! We decided on the South Kaibab Trail with the plan to go to Ooh Aah Point at least and see if we were in the mood to keep going a little further.
The first part of the trail was the steepest part. It was still pretty icy too because of the snow they got and it being mostly in the shade, but it was nothing we couldn’t navigate around. We made some smelly friends too!
The different layers in the rock is one thing you really can’t appreciate from pictures until you hike down into it. The top of the trail reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with the well, yellowish rocks.
And then looking across, you could really see the different rock formations.
We made it to Ooh Aah Point in no time. We were a bit apprehensive by how steep the climb down had been at the beginning, but our legs were still feeling good so we decided to rest up a bit, climb on some rocks, and then continue on down to Cedar Ridge. Again, we went at the right time of year so it wasn’t hot and we weren’t dehydrating, but know your fitness level when hiking the canyon! James and I hike a lot, but we were with friends (and a dog) who don’t do major hikes that often so we made sure everyone was on board and good to keep going. Remember: hiking down into the canyon is optional, hiking back up is not. The stats on how many rescues there are every year are absurd and you’re only putting emergency crews’ lives in danger when you make a foolish decision that you can’t get yourself out of.
I had a TON of fun hanging off of rocks here. In the below picture you can see Cedar Ridge. It’s down and to my right. From this picture it looks like just a short little stroll down, but that’s actually another half mile of hiking and 400 feet in elevation drop. And no, that’s not a green screen behind me. (See what I mean though?? I couldn’t get over it!)
Below is another installment of “James I’m going to go climb up there, take my picture!”
Once everyone was rested up and I had my rock climbing fix in, we continued on down.
Cedar Ridge is the first major resting point with a bathroom and all that jazz. There really weren’t a lot of people out and about, but this is where we started passing a good amount who had done longer hikes and were now on their way back up from Skeleton Point (another 1,000ft further down!). Needless to say, they were in much worse shape than us.
Behind that butte is Skeleton Point where you can finally see the Colorado River. I would’ve loved to keep going, but we didn’t have a lot of time until sunset and weren’t prepared for a longer hike. And of course I knew that this was one park we would DEFINITELY be back to because we’re absolutely hiking rim to rim in the near future. So I’m glad we did South Kaibab this time around and got to see a good portion of it (when all was said and done we hiked about 20% of the way down) so that when we go back we can go up Bright Angel and get a different perspective.
Coming back up we knew it was pretty level up until Ooh Aah Point, but were a little nervous remembering how steep the switchbacks at the top to the trail were. Honestly, it went by quicker and easier than I was expecting though and it seemed like all of a sudden we were at the top.
Overall I LOVED the Grand Canyon. Not that that should seem like a surprising statement, but I was kind of worried that it was just going to be a lot of tourists and we’d see the views and that would be that. Kind of like seeing Ol’ Faithful. It’s cool, and you should do it once, but once you’ve seen it you don’t need to go back. But the Grand Canyon is so different! Hiking down into it was so cool. Every single step was a new view and no matter how far down we went, it still didn’t feel real. I cannot WAIT to go back and do rim to rim.
After coming back above ground and catching the shuttle back to the visitor center and our car, we headed east out of the park to catch the sunset. We stopped at a few vantage points along the way, but ultimately decided to stay at the Desert View Watchtower to watch the sun go down.
Pictures don’t do it justice. The colors of the sky and the rocks as the sun went down were incredible. It started to get really cold, but it was the perfect way to cap off an amazing trip and our last new national park for awhile.
The Grand Canyon ended up being my favorite national park of the trip (although Horseshoe Bend was my favorite part). It’s just so mindblowingly awesome how nature could create something like that. And the idea of a reverse hike was so fascinating and fun although I could see how it could get a lot of people in trouble. It’s probably on your bucket list already, but if you’re like me and are kind of worried that it’s just a tourist trap that you feel you “have to” see once in your life and then you’ll be over it, trust me when I say that’s not the case!
Three Things You Can’t Miss:
- Rim to rim hike of course!
- Lipan Point at sunset
- Anything that gets you down into the canyon