Phoenix is only a few hours away from Grand Canyon National Park. What a fantastic outdoor resource for Arizonians that have been staying inside in accordance with CDC guidelines and statewide shelter-in-place orders. Now that restrictions are lifting, fresh air and some time in the great outdoors are more important than ever. The park is reopening at a limited capacity. Only the South Rim will be open to visitors. Passes are required and can be bought at automated machines or online through third-party vendors. Pre-existing permits for overnight camping will be honored, but no new permits will be offered until further notice. For the latest information, check the park’s website for an updated list of open areas and amenities.
How a Natural Wonder Became A Park
The Colorado River has been running through what is now northern Arizona for millennia, slowly eroding the rocks into the deep chasm seen today. Often considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area were designated a National Park in 1919. The creation of the park was a huge success for conservation efforts and helped forestall proposals to dam the Colorado River within the park’s boundaries. The South Rim is the most used park entrance and easily reached from Phoenix.
South Rim Hiking
Since the Grand Canyon is only partially open at this time, there aren’t as many trails to choose from as usual. However, there are 3 excellent hiking options from the South Rim that will still offer awe-inspiring views of the Canyon. The hikes vary in length and difficulty. Check out this hiking guide for more details about day hikes from the South Rim.
South Kaibab Trail
There is water available at the South Kaibab trailhead for those making the hike down to Skeleton Point. Hikers should carry their own hydration for the steep trek down the valley. The trail was blasted out of the side of the canyon in the 1920s and zigzags down the exposed ridge. There is a series of steep switchbacks nicknamed “The Chimney” that show off 250 million-year-old limestone. After “The Chimney,” the rockface begins to change into layers of sandstone and shale that almost look as if they were painted on with a brush. The ripples were eroded down by winds before dinosaurs existed more than 265 million years ago! The first lookout point is aptly named Ooh Aah Point. From here, hikers can gaze out onto the dramatic scenery and red rock formations. The trail continues down to Skeleton Point and the entire trail is 6 miles roundtrip.
The hike along Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa is steeped in history. The trail was built in the 1890s by a miner named Pete Barry as a way to access his copper mine down on Horseshoe Mesa. The trail is still littered with hand-cobbled stones made by Barry, himself. Like many trails along the South Rim, Grandview begins with a series of steep switchbacks. This trail is very narrow with a sheer dropoff into the canyon. It is not recommended for those with a fear of heights. The trail continues down into a pine-shaded area known as the Coconino Saddle. The shaded retreat is a good spot for a water break (always remember to pack water) and has the best views available on the trail. The trail culminates at the mesa which extends out over the canyon and into space. Barry’s cabins and other mining structures are still standing in various states of dilapidation. A peek over the edge of the mesa presents dizzying views down to the Tonto Plateau far below.
Bright Angel Trail
The journey down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point is one of the most popular treks down the South Rim. It is a great choice for novice hikers or families because there are bathrooms and other facilities available every few miles. The entire journey is 12 miles roundtrip but there are plenty of turn around points for shorter hikes. As is common for South Rim, the trail begins with a series of steep switchbacks dubbed “The Elevator Shaft.” After this area, the trail flattens out into a section known as “Indian Garden” which is shaded by cottonwood trees that are fed by a natural spring. The culmination of the trail at Plateau Point is part of Tonto Plateau and the latter portion of the trek moves gently through sagebrush-covered hills.