The Grand Circle of the Grand Circle
This is one of the more common itineraries for backpacking the Grand Canyon, especially for those who are new to backpacking in general. The greatest benefit of this approach is that it gives you an up close and personal experience with the most famous sites in the Grand Canyon backcountry without stressful and difficult timelines. It is doable any time of year because of the availability of water at several points along the route and the fact that the trails are maintained even in winter. However, it should be noted that travel on this route during the heart of summer or winter will require special preparation. The Grand Canyon is nothing if not a land of extremes!
Detailed descriptions are available on HAZ for each of the trails involved in this loop: South Kaibab, North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls, Bright Angel Trail and Plateau Point. I'll try not to repeat too much from those.
As a backpack, this is comfortably completed in 3-4 days - though there are endless additional possibilities for longer trips. If you go too fast, you'll miss the fun of this particular trip! Beginning on the South Kaibab, it typically takes a easy day of hiking to reach the campground at Bright Angel creek and Phantom Ranch (7.5 mi - -4380' AEG). Staying overnight here requires permits or (in the case of Phantom Ranch) advance reservations. Camping at BA is posh camping by any standard, with potable water spigots, flush toilets, picnic benches, food storage containers and (best of all) cold beverages at the Phantom Ranch Canteen.
The next morning, hit the North Kaibab trail along the perennial Bright Angel Creek. This trip not only has a great destination at Ribbon Falls, but the trail is pretty and fun in it's own right (15 mi - 1204' AEG). Take time in summer to cool yourself off in the stream, or in winter enjoy the way the light plays in the narrows of Bright Angel canyon. On the way back, take a few minutes to check out the narrow slot canyon of Phantom Creek - or just get a beer at the Canteen and check in with the other hikers. Take your dinner to Boat Beach and spend some quality time with the old Colorado. It never fails to impress.
Hiking up to Indian Gardens is the best part of the Bright Angel trail, and if you've got permits to stay overnight, you can take your time and check out some of the more interesting sites along the way (5 mi - 1320' AEG). This includes Garden Falls - a multi-tiered waterfall through the slick narrows. It's barely visible from the trail, but a quick jaunt across the creek and a scramble gives a wonderful view of this oasis. Enjoy hiking through the gash cut into the plateau through the Tapeats layers - dotted with Cottonwoods and lush riparian wildflowers.
From Indian Gardens, grab your dinner and go and enjoy sunset at Plateau Point (3.2 mi - 165' AEG). From here you will again see the raging Colorado River as it courses through the Granite Gorge. The rock slabs and platforms of this area are perfect for dinner (as long as the wind isn't too strong), and the hike back is easy enough to complete by moonlight or headlamp. Don't miss the star show from here, either. It'll remind you of the wonder of childhood.
The final hike up the Bright Angel Trail to the Rim is an exercise in dedication (4.5mi - 3000' AEG). Although never terribly steep, it is relentlessly up, and the hundreds of stair steps created to prevent erosion (caused primarily by the mule trails) make keeping your own pace even more challenging. This trail is heavily used year round, so expect company, and expect at least one amazed tourist to ask you "Did you really go down there?!".
At the top, don't forget to grab an ice cream at the Soda Fountain or even a cold and frosty one at the Bright Angel Lodge Lounge. Oh, and for the absolute most complete Grand Canyon Backpacking Experience: buy one of those T-Shirts that say "I hiked the Canyon". At least you'll be telling the truth!
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.