Hiking Grand Canyon 2023 – Day 1

The last time Devin and I hiked the Grand Canyon was down the South Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel trail in early March 2011.

Here is the post I made then.

This is what I said at the end of that post:

Next, we will hike from the North Rim to the South Rim, about three or four days in the Canyon, spanning more than 20 miles. The best time to do that is October. Time to put in for reservations now.

It has taken 12 years for us to finally make it. I tried for a number of years to get reservations. You can day-hike the canyon any time without advance reservations. A lot of people do this, but it’s a very stressful and challenging endeavor, not something many in their sixties attempt. I am more interested in hiking for pleasure and spend time. For that, you need reservations that are very difficult to get. There is a lottery involved, and I was never successful.

This year I tried, and got permission to hike from the North Rim down to Cottonwood camp ground for the on day 1, then to the Phantom Ranch at the Colorado river on day 2, then up to Havasupai Gardens (formerly named Indian Gardens) on day 3, and finally back out to the South Rim on day 4.

Here is a picture of us just at sunset arriving on October 10 at the South Rim.

We stayed the night at a lodge on the rim and took an early morning shuttle around the canyon to the North Rim, which is what you see on the horizon behind us in the picture above. The shuttle ride from the South Rim to the North Rim takes five hours, since it has to go way east and all around the canyon before heading back west to the trailhead and lodge at the North Rim.

We arrived at the trailhead at the North Rim at about 1:00pm on October 11 and knew we had just enough time to comfortably hike down to the Cottonwood Campground. Here is the map of our hike of approximately 7 miles. We arrived just before sunset with enough time to make camp.

We hiked for 7.07 miles and it took us 4 hours and 31 minutes. We went from 8,290 feet down to 4,049 feet.

Here we are, fresh from our five hour shuttle ride in a cramped van, at the trailhead.

This is the start of the trail. The North Rim is at about 8,300 feet of elevation, about 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim which is at approximately 6,800 feet elevation. The ecosystem is very different with dense old forest, sprinkled with many aspen groves. It also gets colder there. The rangers told us that it was below freezing the night we left and they had already had their first snow. They were closing the park at the North Rim after this week. 

Here are some views of the trail from high up. You can see aspens in bright red, and of course the South Rim way in the distance on the horizon.

A little farther down you can see stretches of the trail where we will be going, with the canyon walls lit up by the afternoon sun.

More trail pictures. Make sure you click on the images to enlarge them to see the details.

We enjoyed very dramatic vistas in all directions. The Grand Canyon is a spectacular place.

There was a mule train that passed us. Guides take tourists down on mules to the Supai Tunnel, which takes about an hour, and then back up. Hikers must step to the side and wait when the mules pass.

It’s a very steep descent for the first hour via many switchbacks. Here is a picture of the Supai Tunnel with me under it. This where the mule trains from the North Rim usually turn around. 

Here is Devin at a rest spot on the way down.

And here you can see me from the same place.

Here is Devin hiking along a steep wall:


Finally, after about four and a half hours of hiking mostly downhill (watch those knees and ankles) we arrived at Cottonwood Campground. There are only eleven camps and you pick the first available one. Ours was quite secluded. The campgrounds along the main corridor as they call it, have picnic tables, bars to hang backpacks and rodent-proof food boxes. Sure enough, while we were eating dinner at the table in dusk Devin spotted some mice attacking my food stash I had left on the rock at the right of this picture. I had to chase them away and quickly store my food in the boxes provided. The tent on the right is mine, and Devin’s bivvy bedroll is on the very left.

It gets dark at about 6:30pm and it’s pitch black by 7:00. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, we crawled into our tents, read for a while and were asleep soon after.

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