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Category: Climbing/Hiking

Grand Canyon hiking

Grand Canyon hiking

In January 2020, I had the amazing fortune to score a cabin with friends at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

One Best Hike: Grand Canyon: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully  Hike from the Rim to the River―and Back: Wenk, Elizabeth: 9780899974910:  Amazon.com: Books

We used the excellent guide “One Best Hike: Grand Canyon: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Hike from the Rim to the River―and Back” by Elizabeth Wenk. Based on her tips and recommendations, we took the South Kaibab Trail down, then the Bright Angel Trail back up. I highly recommend the book because it details the trail mileposts along with giving you all the training, preparation, and other information you could possibly need. I made copies of her maps+guide to bring with us and they were spot on.

Additional Amazing Trails

Besides hiking down in the canyon itself, I also found a really good article by Annemarie Kruse from REI Adventures. We only had time for our Phantom Ranch hikes, but there are many different trails that can be even more amazing at the right seasons and times of day. She gives her expert opinion and list of trails – along with the best seasons and times to do them. I found them so good, I wanted to include them here too in case the article goes away.

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Cape Royal Viewpoint

Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only)
Distance: 0.6 miles (round-trip) from the parking lot
Best time to do the hike: Sunrise, especially from July to September (monsoon season) for incredible cloud drama
Highlight from the trail: Sweeping views to the eastern edge of the Canyon, and out toward the rocky badlands of the Painted Desert and Navajo Nation
Best for: Beginners who want an easy win with memorable sunrise views

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Kolb Studio via the South Rim Trail

Where: South Rim
Distance: 2.5 miles one-way from the Grand Canyon visitor center (check to see if the free shuttle is operating so you can take it back to your car)
Best time to do the hike: Mid-September, when air conditioning at the visitor center offers a respite from the heat and the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the park’s nonprofit partner, typically kicks off its annual Celebration of Art. Nearby Lookout Studio (pictured) also affords views, and a gift shop, naturally
Highlight from the trail: Passing through the Trail of Time with its geology exhibits en route to the perilously perched Kolb brothers’ photography gallery built in 1905, now a hub for artists exhibiting works inspired by the Canyon
Best for: Beginners with a penchant for art and human history

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Grand Canyon Lodge via the Transept Trail

Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only)
Distance: Four miles round-trip
Best time to do the hike: September–October to walk amid changing, fiery-colored aspen groves
Highlight from the trail: Hiking directly from the popular lodge to the edge of the Canyon, alternating between dense woodlands and killer cliffside views of the Transept tributary and Bright Angel Canyon
Best for: Beginners looking to get their feet wet hiking at North Rim’s high elevation

Grand Canyon

Toroweap Overlook

Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only)
Distance: Two miles round-trip from Tuweep Campground
Best time to do the hike: May to June, before the muddy monsoon season
Highlight from the trail: Backcountry vibes off the tourist map and the chance to stare down the edge of an abrupt gorge and a 3,000-foot sheer drop, the tallest in the Grand Canyon
Best for: Any level of hiker craving a rugged, remote option and prepared for the rough drive (a high-profile vehicle is a must)

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Ken Patrick Trail to Point Imperial

Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only)
Distance: 5.4 miles round-trip
Best time to do the hike: June for spring wildflowers
Highlight from the trail: Hiking through a wooded alpine climate to the highest overlook point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet
Best for: Intermediate hikers who prefer minimal elevation changes

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Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden Campground

Where: South Rim
Distance: Nine miles round-trip
Best time to do the hike: October to December for minimal crowds, color-changing cottonwoods, and a festive finish with holiday cocktails outside on the veranda of the historic El Tovar Hotel
Highlight from the trail: Descending into Native American history with rock pictographs en route to the turnaround point of Indian Garden campground, a lush, creek-fed oasis once farmed by the Havasupai
Best for: Intermediate hikers who want a solid introductory descent into the canyon

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South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point

Where: South Rim
Distance: Six miles round-trip
Best time to do the hike: November–October (though it’s good anytime but April, when high winds can overcome this exposed hike)
Highlight from the trail: A quick, switchback-laden descent opening up to a ridge and 360-degree panoramas with views to the North Rim, across the river corridor, and then, from Skeleton Point, a rewarding perch about 1,000 feet above the rarely spied Colorado River
Best for: Experts looking for jaw-dropping views of the canyon and the river below

A view of The Grand Canyon Grandview to Horseshoe Mesa

Grandview to Horseshoe Mesa

Where: South Rim
Distance: Six miles round-trip
Best time to do the hike: September–October and March–May for comfortable, snow-free temperatures on a challenging hike
Highlight from the trail: One of the most remote trails from the South Rim, this rugged backcountry route doesn’t lead to Phantom Ranch or take you from rim to rim, but does offer an uncrowded option through signature Grand Canyon scenery, deep into the desert and high up to a forested mesa sprinkled with pioneer mining history
Best for: Experienced hikers with between a few hours and a half day to explore

Grand Canyon Rim Trail to Hopi Point Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Rim Trail to Hopi Point

Where: South Rim
Distance: Five miles round-trip from Bright Angel Trailhead
Best time to do the hike: June through July, when shade under the pines offers respite from a blazing summer sun
Highlight from the trail: Accessibility may be the draw, but sweeping views of the West Rim from the wide Hopi Point promontory will impress every level of hiker
Best for: Beginners and those who’d rather trade elevation for a flat, well-maintained trail

Winter shelters in Oregon

Winter shelters in Oregon

Gold Lake Shelter with deep snow on roof

I was aware and visited the warming hut at Teacup near Mt Hood on several occasions, but little did I know that the Willamette National Forest has winter shelters maintained by volunteers for use by winter sports enthusiasts. Some of the shelters even permit overnight stays; some are warming shelters only. There are also three winter cabin rentals available by advance reservation. How cool is that?

Fuji Shelter with skiers overlooking hill to snow covered mountains in background
Maiden Peak Shelter with deep snow on roof and skiers along side

List of shelters with information, recent condition, and trail links.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/willamette/recreation/wintersports/?cid=stelprdb5109521

Garmin Fenix 5x and custom maps

Garmin Fenix 5x and custom maps

A good GPS can save your life out in the wilderness. I always carry one with me when heading out climbing or hiking. But GPS units are somewhat notorious for being expensive, heavy, burn through batteries, and often have clunky UI’s and features. Some units charge you money for map updates. Things are getting slowly better.

I currently own a handheld Garmin Oregon, but had a friend who has the Fenix 5x watch. I was amazed how well the interface worked and the quality of the GPS. The Fenix 6 was just announced, and older units went on sale. I recently saw the Fenix 5X on sale for $299 during an early Black Friday sale and couldn’t pass the opportunity up.

The next question is – how are the maps for hiking. The default watch now comes with Garmin’s excellent maps and are upgraded regularly for free. My well-healed hiking friend says he has yet to find a trail in the Pacific Northwest that’s not in the default maps.

I was even more happy to learn that the Fenix 5X allows you to upgrade your maps yourself – including open map packs and systems. I tried out the maps on GMap – which include more details and topo features than the default maps. Using the free Garmin BaseCamp software package, you can copy the free maps from GMap into the tool’s list of maps, then load those maps onto your watch. I found the process to be really smooth and worked without much fuss.

Follow the directions/links on the Hiking Guy’s website for instructions on how to upload maps too.

Links:

Eternal Flame Falls

Eternal Flame Falls

About 30 miles south of Niagara Falls, just below the Canadian border in northwestern New York, inside Shale Creek Preserve about a half-hour drive south of Buffalo, lies a hiking trail with an unusual payoff, if you can find it: Eternal Flame Falls, a waterfall tucked away in a grotto that contains a natural “torch” about 8 inches high.

The ground at the base of Eternal Flame Falls emits a steady supply of natural gas, which rises from deep below the surface up through fault lines and into the open air. This, in turn, is what lights the flame, found on the waterfall’s right-hand side about 5 feet up from the creek bed.

The flame is visible year-round, but the waterfall can run dry in the summer and often is only fully flowing in the spring. If you go right after there’s been some decent rainfall, you’ll get to enjoy the waterfall’s full effect.

The flame stays lit on its own, but bring a lighter just in case — occasionally it goes out, in which case it’s your duty as a good citizen to relight it. It ignites quickly, with a distinct “pop,” so maybe try one of those extra-long candle lighters if you’re nervous.

Historically rendered 3D maps by Scott Reinhard

Historically rendered 3D maps by Scott Reinhard

I absolutely love maps and visualizations. I’m always on the lookout for cool new creations.

Scott Reinhard combines contemporary land elevations with historic maps to create three-dimensional environments of a specific region, city, or state. To produce the digital maps, he pulls elevation data from the United States Geological Survey, which he then embeds with location information and merges with the original design of the old maps.

Reinhard was introduced to the methods he uses in his digital maps through Daniel Huffman’s website Something About Maps. You can see more of Reinhard’s digital works on Instagram and buy select high-quality prints, on his website. Check out his Shaded Relief in Blender tutorial (thanks to Dunstan Orchard and Anton van Tetering) or DesignBoom.

Grand Tetons 1899
1903 Acadia
1904 Glacier

Snowboarding from Camp Muir

Snowboarding from Camp Muir

I’ve climbed up the shoulder of Mt Rainier to Camp Muir (10,188 ft) and glissaded down; but I should have brought my old snowboard instead like these guys!

This clip brings back some memories for sure. I need to do that hike again.

My stay at Gold Butte Fire Watchtower

My stay at Gold Butte Fire Watchtower

Here’s a little video clip from the afternoon that turned really windy. View was very obstructed due to all the smoke from wildfires. Air quality was actually listed as hazardous – so I didn’t get out much this day.

I’ll be spending 4 days at Gold Butte fire watchtower

I’ll be spending 4 days at Gold Butte fire watchtower

Despite many adventures, my Oregon bucket list never seems to shrink. As soon as I knock an item or two off, it grows by 5 more. Last year saw horseback riding with Kiger mustangs and summitting the snow-covered Steens mountains. It also saw me hot-spring soaking and finding pianos on the playa of the Alvord Desert. This year is shaping up to knock another item off my list: staying at one of the few remaining mountaintop fire watch towers.

Due to their harsh and remote locations, fewer than 20 are left in Oregon and many are only open short portions of the year. Reservations are required, and getting a reservation is hard as they are almost always booked solid for the 6 month window of dates the moment they become available. One must diligently visit the reservation site very early every morning (east coast time no less) when dates are opened. After getting one of the rare reservations last year, I was thwarted when the road to the Lake of the Woods tower washed out and closed it for almost all of 2017 and 2018. This year, after about 2 months of on and off trying, I managed to get a 4 day reservation for the exceptional Gold Butte lookout. It’s located via hike out onto the summit of the butte and is known for having some of the most spectacular views of all the watchtowers.

It’s also a historic building. It was originally built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and usually manned by a married couple. During WW II, it was part of the Aircraft Warning System as an early invasion watchtower. In the 1970/80’s it was heavily damaged by carpenter ants. It might have been demolished like other towers if not for the efforts of the Sand Mountain Society – a fire tower preservation and restoration group. They painstakingly numbered pieces then rebuilt and replaced damaged sections exactly as it was first built, making a stay there almost exactly as it would have been in the 30’s.

Staying at one of the fire towers requires that you backpack in everything you need: water, food, and supplies. Firewood, a bed, table, fire stove, pit toilet and a few small items are provided – but there is no power, no phones, and it’s miles to your nearest neighbor. During the day you can read, hike, swim or fish at the nearby lake, or greet other hikers visiting the summit. The evenings you can watch the unbelievable sunsets and cook in the woodburning stove, then drift to sleep miles from civilization.

I’m personally looking forward to it more than my next trip abroad. I can’t wait.

Here’s a good write-up and video about the lookout

Paul Gerard’s 10 great conditioning hikes near Portland

Paul Gerard’s 10 great conditioning hikes near Portland

Hike Yourself Into Shape: 10 Conditioning Hikes Near Portland

Paul Gerald makes a great list of hikes designed to get you back in shape. I agree with this list whole-heartedly, but they do ramp up in difficulty very quickly. You might want to do some of these hikes (or find one of similar distance/elevation gain) more than once before moving up to the next level of difficulty. Also, hikes like the Elk-King traverse and Table mountain can be technically difficult and have exposure/very real falling dangers. So, definitely do your homework before going.

Here’s the abbreviated list:

  1. Angel’s Rest – Distance: 4.6 miles. Elevation Gain: 1,600’
  2. Hamilton Mountain – Distance: 7.6 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,100’
  3. Devil’s Rest via Wahkeena – Distance: 7.4 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,400’
  4. Nick Eaton Way – Distance: 8 miles Elevation Gain: 2,600’
  5. Dog Mountain – Distance: 7.2 miles. Elevation Gain: 2,900’
  6. Trapper Creek Loop – Distance: 13.3 miles. Elevation Gain: 3,200’
  7. Table Mountain – Distance: 10 miles. Elevation Gain: 3,650’
  8. Elk-King Traverse – Distance: 11 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,600’
  9. Tanner Butte – Distance: 18 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,450’
  10. Mount Defiance – Distance: 11.9 miles. Elevation Gain: 4,800’
75 of the Best Day Hikes in Oregon

75 of the Best Day Hikes in Oregon

Outdoor Project’s list of Oregon’s 75 Best Day Hikes.

This is a good list of the hikes in Oregon. Having done a number of these, I agree with many of these. While the Columbia Gorge list does not include the Washington side hikes like Dog Mountain, Hamilton Mountain, or Table Mountain, Coyote Wall, etc, at very least it makes a great starting point for Oregon-side trails.

Note that a number of these hikes are not for beginners or novices. Be sure to google the details before you go.

Oregon Coast + Coast Range

  1. Cape Lookout Hike
  2. Cape Falcon Hike
  3. Tillamook Head Hike
  4. Drift Creek Falls Hike
  5. Neahkahnie Mountain
  6. Cascade Head
  7. Saddle Mountain
  8. Kentucky Falls Hike
  9. Port Orford Heads Trails
  10. Golden + Silver Falls

Columbia River Gorge

  1. Multnomah Falls/Wahkeena Falls Loop
  2. Oneonta Gorge
  3. Horsetail + Ponytail Falls Hike
  4. Eagle Creek Hike
  5. Munra Point
  6. Tom McCall Point
  7. Indian Point Hike
  8. Deschutes River, Ferry Springs Hike
  9. Chinidere Mountain + Wahtum Lake Hike
  10. Elowah Falls Hike

Mount Hood/Clackamas River Area

  1. McNeil Point Hike
  2. Paradise Park, Mount Hood
  3. Clackamas + Memaloose Falls Hike
  4. Tamanawas Falls
  5. Salmon River, Old Trail
  6. Bald Butte
  7. Ramona Falls Hike
  8. Clackamas River Trail
  9. Gnarl Ridge Hike
  10. Cooper Spur + Cloud Cap Hike

Mount Jefferson + Metolius River Area

  1. Jefferson Park
  2. Canyon Creek Meadows
  3. Pamelia Lake + Grizzly Peak
  4. Metolius River Trail
  5. Black Butte Trail

Willamette Valley + Foothills

  1. Opal Creek Hike
  2. Abiqua Falls Hike
  3. Silver Falls, Trail of 10 Falls
  4. Butte Creek Falls Hike
  5. Spencer Butte Hike
  6. Proxy Falls Hike
  7. Diamond Creek Falls
  8. Triangulation Peak + Boca Cave
  9. McKenzie River Trail
  10. Brice Creek Trail

Central Oregon

  1. Green Lakes Hike
  2. Tumalo Falls + Creek Hike
  3. Arnold Ice Cave
  4. Broken Top Crater
  5. Lava River Cave
  6. Paulina Lake Loop Trail + Hot Springs
  7. Deschutes River Trail, Upper Reach
  8. Tam McArthur Rim
  9. Steelhead Falls
  10. Waldo Lake + Rigdon Lakes Hike
  11. Paulina Peak
  12. Smith Rock Misery Ridge
  13. Sparks Lake, Ray Adkeson Memorial Trail

Southern Oregon

  1. Diamond Peak, Marie + Rockpile Lakes
  2. Rogue River Trail
  3. Moon Falls
  4. Crater Lake, Mount Scott
  5. Crater Lake, Garfield Peak
  6. Crater Lake Plaikni Falls Trail
  7. Indigo Lake Trail
  8. Grizzly Peak
  9. Mount McLoughlin
  10. Lower Table Rock

Eastern Oregon

  1. Lookout Mountain + Mother Lode Mine
  2. Strawberry Mountain via Strawberry Lake
  3. Slide Lake via High Lake
  4. Little Strawberry Hike
  5. Pike Creek Mine Hike
  6. Borax Lake + Borax Lake Hot Springs
  7. Aneroid Lake