South Rim Grand Canyon

~Here’s How You Do It

ATTENTION ADVENTURERS!! We did our trip for about $100 per person but for those adventurers looking for a great trip and willing to spend a little bit more, here is your answer. You also save on sore muscles and dishpan hands because the mules carry the weight and Phantom Ranch hosts you for an overnight. 🙂

*Mather Campground is $18 per night, walking distance to the main, large market, and very close to free shuttle service to the restaurants and trailheads. Leave the car at your campsite and enjoy! *The five lodges within the park range from a little less than $100 a night to $200+ and should be booked 13 months out.

A Grand Canyon weekend for a hundred dollars? Yes, friends, it can be done. This budget does not include airfare or a car rental for those of you traveling in from afar, but it is encouraging nonetheless as it covers park fee, camping, food, and gas. I included the gas budget based on driving from Los Angeles, so obviously this would need to be individually figured according to distance traveled and current gas prices.

*Below was a fun stop off while road tripping to the Grand Canyon. (Alcohol was not consumed while driving)

Road Trip

 Here is the way three of us did this little get-away on the first weekend in November, and people, I beg you to understand that taking into account the best time of year to visit this monolith is as impactful as the canyon itself. In the peak months of March through October, the place is like the parking lot of a big-box store on Black Friday. For those who enjoy Black Friday, by all means, sit in the long line to get in, make your way through the traffic to one of the parking lots, jockey for a spot, and nudge your way to the lookout along with a vast sea of tourists. Next, grab a commemorative Grand Canyon shot glass and plan to use it when you can relax again, back at the motel. Only 5% of the park’s million visitors venture below the rim. The rest can be found in the gift shop buying shot glasses.

Below the rim.


 Honestly, whether you intend to Chevy Chase it or hard core hike it (or something pragmatically in between), I repeat, the two times to visit are spring or fall (before school lets out and after school resumes–that is the best gauge). Check the weather and plan accordingly. Yes, you can stay in a motel instead of tenting it, and if you do, search the Internet for a deal. However, for the budget conscious/challenged crowd, camping is your best option. We arrived on a Friday, the first weekend in November at 5pm and had our choice of campsites in Mather Campground. This campground is walking distance to the Grand Canyon market and main area, complete with a free shuttle service. If you can, stop in any town along the way for firewood and food, as all items are considerably pricier once you’re in the canyon.

 Once you’ve paid the $25 park entrance fee, head to the station at Mather and plop down your $18 a night to camp. These campsites have picnic tables, fire rings, and full on hot and cold running water in the bathrooms with toilets and sinks, no showers. There are dish cleaning stations behind the bathrooms. The particular time we went, our registering experience also included a ranger we nicknamed “Cranky Pants” who told us day hiking 17 miles total (into and out of the canyon via Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel) was “impossible”. I mention this to illustrate a point. If you get what feels to be an extreme answer one way or the other to inquiries about hiking, assume the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Our “middle” was after another ranger we nicknamed “Gorgeous Boy” (no explanation necessary) told us that the hike would be a “piece of cake and no problem”. It was not impossible or a piece of cake; it was doable and it was harsh.

A piece of the trail on the Kaibab End

Kaibab Trail
Kaibab Trail

Anyone with knee problems or a desire to be able to fully stand the next day should think twice and I would never, ever, ever attempt this hike in the heat (another reason why spring and fall are the ideal times to visit). Our weather was perfect and we began at about 10am. You can hike the Bright Angel/Kaibab combo either direction; we chose to enter Kaibab and finish at Bright Angel. One huge tip: if you are able, park right at the Bright Angel exit and shuttle over to Kaibab. We parked at the visitor center, which translated into stumbling out at dark and then trying to figure out how to shuttle from the finish point at Bright Angel back to the visitor center. Normally this would be rather simple, but after 17 miles and a tortuous ascent in the dark, it was tough and we would’ve killed to grab dinner and a drink at any of the restaurants and then slide right into our waiting car.

The morning of our hike, as we started down into the canyon at Kaibab, the realization that we should have packed ibuprofen was almost immediate. It seems that certain (older) members–ok, one certain oldest member–of the group discovered her knees were balking at the whole deal. I’ve heard people say you can’t grasp the enormity and depth of this magical place unless you hike it. This was true for us, but friends, the knees “get” it right away! Was it worth it, you ask? Heck to the yeah! The downward stretch lulls you as you traverse unbelievably stunning scenery and those who opt to stay overnight at Phantom Ranch (a lodge located along the Colorado River) are no fools, although the cost is quite steep. At the bottom of the canyon, this overnight stop off has dinner and drinks as well as cabins. We opted to stay within about $300 total cash outlay for the three of us so we tearfully (one of us might’ve sobbed a bit, not sayin’ which one) bid the “amenities” adieu and began our hike back up and up and up and up. An apology for too many warnings but watch your footing as we did encounter a rescue team attending to a man, on his fifth trip down, who had stepped wrong and broken his ankle.

There is a reason they call it "GRAND"
There is a reason they call it “GRAND”

We hiked and hiked the entire day, and the beauty never waned. Awe is the predominant feeling as you go from soft white sand to majestic red rock, and then at the bottom there are two enormous suspension bridges that frame the timeless Colorado River, bringing an architectural wonder to the natural setting that makes it truly a one of a kind experience. The hike up and out also offered beauty and as the muscles began screaming, seeking gratitude was the choice distraction. Gratitude arrived via a glorious sunset and that helped with the final push up Bright Angel, though the final hour of the hike we were in degrees of pain that seemed to sync with our ages. My two compadres were 20 and 30 years younger, which bode well for me when, back at the campsite, I could not get out of the car and the 20-year-old took charge. She made the fire, cooked the food, poured me some wine, and did the dishes. I was so grateful that I put her in my will. She gets my hiking boots unless they bury me in them.

 The next morning we had a breakfast of ibuprofen and viewed sunrise from Mather Point in some rather frigid wind. I highly recommend gloves, a hat, and a scarf in addition to a jacket, hot beverage, and even consider taking your sleeping bag and sitting in it as you wait for the sun. If you visit closer to winter, hand warmers could be useful as well as whiskey. Jack Daniels–it’s what’s for breakfast.

 After a visit to the gift shop for the shot glasses and taking a last look at the many deer that casually roam the place, we hit the road back to LA and my only do-over and do-better would be to spend a few extra days in order to hit a couple more trails. One thing to realize: it is completely reasonable to simply drive from point to point and hike short pieces of multiple trails. The sunset shots were taken between a mile and two down Bright Angel, and are therefore attainable without hiking 17 miles. The beauty of the canyon can be pretty amazing even from a slight distance down a number of trails.

 We want to impart to many of you that if you can find any kindreds in the travel arena, it helps on a lot of levels. As stated, my total cost for the Grand Canyon weekend was approximately $100 as the trip was split 3 ways. This included park entrance fee (it is per car), gas, two nights camping, one meal at a diner, and the food for camping as well as firewood and a lovely handcrafted pair of $10 beaded earrings from one of the stands along the road.

 It is true that the Grand Canyon is one of this planet’s wonders and a gift to behold. May it be a priceless (rather than pricey), “Life is in Session” moment and here’s hoping you have a beautiful, soul rocking time.

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Life Is In Session