Amusement Parks
National Parks
Route 66 Cities Beaches


Phantom Ranch

Grand Canyon

Indian Garden
North Rim
Hermit Rapids
Granite Rapids
Marble Canyon
Boulder Spring
Phantom Ranch is the central back country destination in the Grand Canyon. Backpackers, river rafters and mule trains stop here. Presidents, kings, queens, movie stars, authors, scientists and other celebrities have stayed here. Since trails and the river are the only ways in, it's kind of an achievement just to get here. Cell phones don't work here, but it's one of only two places in America where the mail still goes out by Mule Train. The 120 degree afternoons contrast dramatically with ice cold Phantom Creek. The spartan overnight accomodations give the delicious meals in the lodge unexpected flavor. The lush tree cover seems like a miracle silhoutted against the desert landscape and jagged cliffs. The scorpions that patrol the ground at night have become an eerie, mysterious symbol of the ranch, both scary and fascinating. Native Americans lived here in Kivas for a thousand years before John Wesley Powell and his men camped here in 1869. It was used for ranching, prospecting, hunting and tourism before the park service took over in 1919.
We highly recommend hiking down the South Kaibab Trail. It's shorter and more direct. You'll retrace the day hike (see South Kaibab under Day Hiking) route down to the Tipoff, then continue on down another hairy series of switchbacks and steps. This will bring you to the Colorado River and the famous Black Bridge (photo at left). It's spectacular and even more impressive when you realize this and its sister bridge, the Silver Bridge, are the only two crossings of the river in 200 miles.

Phantom Ranch in the 21st Century includes two dorms each for men and women, the lodge (which includes the offices, store and restaurant), a stable and corral, a medical facility, a ranger station, the Bright Angel Campground, a beach where river rafters pull their boats in and people often wade or sit in the shallow water (the powerful current makes swimming impossible), 11 cabins, a central shower house, and Bright Angel Creek, which you can sit in and cool off if you bring a swimsuit.

The photo at right shows how Phantom Ranch is really an oasis extending for half a mile along Bright Angel Creek. It is bounded East and West by high, steep cliffs.

At left are dorms, each with 10 bunk berths, hot shower, sink, toilet and AC. You get soap and a towel.

At right is a cabin. Each has a bunk bed, sink, toilet, AC and a key to the Shower House.

Or you could camp at the Bright Angel Campground.

You eat very well at Phantom Ranch. They serve Breakfast and Dinner in the Lodge, and will pack you a Box Lunch to take on the trail. You should make your reservations in advance, at the same time you reserve your lodging. They're famous for their Stew and Lemonade, which are competitive with the finest restaurants anywhere. But the Steak and Beer are also great, and the Salad, Cornbread and Chocolate Cake are very good. There's Iced Tea, Hot Tea, Coffee and Wine. Everything is served Family Style (meaning you get to meet and hear rafting and backpacking stories from everyone else), and they keep bringing more out until everyone's full. Breakfast includes Eggs, Bacon, Pancakes and Peach Slices, with Orange Juice, Tea and Coffee. You have a choice of dinners : steak, stew or veggie. There are two seatings : 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm. They begin serving Breakfast at 5:00 am for those who want an early start to beat the heat. There's a second seating at 6:30 am for those who enjoy sleeping in. The Box Lunch includes a bagel with cream cheese and jelly, an apple, a sausage, raisens, pretzels, peanuts, oreos and a power drink.
Most Americans have heard of Scorpions but Phantom Ranch is usually the first time they've actually seen one running free. Scorpions are impressive. They spend the day under rocks or in the shade, then as the sun sets and temperatures cool they come out to feed. Their favorite food is crickets and cockroaches, but they'll go after anything that moves, including your bare feet. Anything their own size, they can kill pretty quickly with a sting from that overhead tail. Unlike spiders, Scorpions actually eat their prey right after they kill it. As long as you wear shoes and long pants, keep your tent doors zipped shut and bring your boots inside, Scorpions pose no threat. Even if you were to get stung, a Scorpion bite is not fatal to healthy adult humans with effective immune systems. Young children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system are at risk if stung, but those people are not usually at Phantom Ranch because of the difficulty getting there. Fortunately, there is a well equipped first aid station at the Ranch, so if you did get stung you could check in there for treatment.
In 2011 80% of everyone who stayed overnight at Phantom Ranch stayed only one night. That is a serious mistake. We urge you to stay at least two nights and preferably three or four. This will allow time for a few sidetrips on the magnificent trails leading East and North out of Phantom Ranch. If you can only stay two nights, you can use your middle day to hike the Clear Creek Trail. This is one of the great trails in the Canyon, except that the only way you can hike it is to first backpack down to the Ranch. As the photos below show, you'll hike alongside Bradley and Demaray Points and cross a broad plateau before reaching Clear Creek, a beautiful waterfall strewn stream. At the end of the trail there's a backcountry campsite with water and shade. So you could make Clear Creek either a long day hike or an overnight. The trail is almost level the whole way with no switchbacks, steps or steep ascents or descents. The only problem is it's dry from the Ranch to Clear Creek, and it's hot in the Summer months. It's an ideal Spring or Fall trip.
If you can stay over a third night, you can hike up to Ribbon Falls. This is another tremendous day hike which you could make an overnight by staying at Cottonwood Campground. There are restrooms, a ranger station and drinkable water. In addition to Ribbon Falls, seen at right, you'll hike through The Box and Bright Angel Canyon, which are among the most scenic spots in the whole park. From the Ranch to the Falls is six miles, making for a 12 mile round trip. There is a steady but hardly noticeable upward gradient all the way to the Falls, so your return trip will be steadily downhill and go somewhat faster. But there are no stairs, switchbacks or steep ascents or descents. The stories you hear about a steep climb up to the North Rim refer to the North Kaibab Trail from Cottonwood Campground to the top, not the section we recommend here. You'll be following Bright Angel Creek the whole way, so there is water, but you have to purify it, so you're better off just bringing your own. You can refill at Cottonwood Campground for the return trip.
This is the bridge at the top of The Box. Notice the trail approaching the bridge on the left, and then extending on northward after crossing. That's Summer Butte towering above. From here, you'll enter Bright Angel Canyon and follow it all the way to Ribbon Falls. The Box is a famous location you need to consider carefully. It's a tight canyon with walls at both ends (in this photo you can see the north wall). Bright Angel Creek and the trail turn sharply and squeeze through clefts in the wall, but the effect is of a giant rock walled box with the walls leaning slightly outward. These rocks contain mica. The sun thus reflects sharply off those walls. The effect is of hiking through a giant microwave oven between 10 and 2. In Summer it can be brutal. Before and after those times, the sun casts deep shadows so The Box is really quite pleasant. But you should plan your trip to avoid that 10-2 window. Make sure you're through it before 10 and don't re-enter it until after 2, or better yet 3.
We recommend you hike out via the 9.7 mile Bright Angel Trail. South Kaibab was a great trail for a quick and scenic descent, but it would be a steep, hot, dry climb back to the Rim. Bright Angel gives you some different scenery and the advantages of a more gradual slope, some shade, water from Pipe and Garden Creeks, rest rooms, and four very comfortable rest stops, three of which have water. You'll leave Phantom Ranch by walking across the Silver Bridge, a bit downstream from the Black Bridge you used descending the South Kaibab. Then the trail runs 1.7 miles along the Colorado to River House, which you may have hiked down to as a day hike if you camped overnight at Indian Garden. River House has composting toilets, shade and comfortable seating, but no water. That's not a problem, since you just left Phantom Ranch with all bottles full. Then the fun begins. From River House the trail angles steeply upward through The Devil's Corkscrew, shown at right. If you look closely you'll see lots and lots of steps. This photo is taken with a powerful zoom lens from Plateau Point, so it artificially flattens the landscape. The climb is much steeper than the photo makes it appear, but as you can see it doesn't last long, not nearly as long as some of the switchbacks over on South Kaibab.
This photo is taken about halfway back from Plateau Point. It shows the trail emerging from The Devil's Corkscrew, winding through S Gulch, then levelling out and heading off the lower right for Indian Garden. It's a pleasant stroll from here to the Garden. The trail follows Garden Creek, so you have the sound of cascading water and you can dip a bandanna in the stream to keep cool. At the Garden you have restrooms, water, shade, and even picnic tables. It's a fabulous lunch stop, or, if you left Phantom Ranch early, a brunch stop. It better be. Because you need to have fresh legs, new energy and a change of socks before tackling the final leg of your trip : Jacob's Ladder. This is the most hiked below the rim segment in the Grand Canyon. It is well maintained, with steps almost the whole way. There are two rest houses with water, 1.7 miles and 3.2 miles up from the Garden. From the second rest house, it will then be 1.5 miles up to the Kolb House on the Rim. The trail hugs the cliffs so you'll have some shade. Mule trains come up this way, so you'll occasionally have to stand aside while they pass. However, Jacob's Ladder is still a challenge. It's 4.7 miles total from Indian Garden to the Kolb House and in that distance you climb 3457 ft. in elevation.
Comment or Question ?? Join us at The Forum.
Read our day to day adventures at the Blog
Or contact us at trekkerforrest@aol.com