SLC to Grand Canyon, Doable?
November 27, 2011 7:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Salt Lake City next year for a conference. Please help me figure out whether my idea to tack on a trip to the Grand Canyon in just a few extra days is feasible, sensible, brilliant, or not so smart.

I have a lifelong dream of hiking down the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch and back. I don't get out West that often, and since work is paying my airfare, this might be a nice opportunity to piggyback a personal trip on a work trip.

But it looks like the Canyon is about 10 hours' drive away from SLC. Is there a sensible way to do this trip and not spend one or two full days in a rental car getting to the Canyon and back? I am open to flying in/out of different cities than SLC. I can take as many as 5 extra days and I think I'll need three nights at least for the Canyon trip - two nights to bookend the trip and one night in the canyon.

I'm not worried about the Canyon part itself - I'm a hiker, have the right gear, have done research on it, etc. It's more the trip-planning part I need help with.

If you have suggestions about other things that might be a more comfortable outdoorsy side trip, if not a lfielong dream, I'm interested in those too. I've spent a few days at Zion before so would not place the highest priority on going back there.

Thanks for your thoughts!
posted by Miko to Travel & Transportation around Utah (17 answers total)
What time of year is your trip? You have to take into consideration road conditions if it's going to be anytime from September to March. Otherwise it's doable (I think).
posted by msbutah at 7:21 PM on November 27, 2011

When is this trip you're planning?

10 hours sounds about right. I don't know how good you are in a car, but that long in one go would kill me. There's no way I'd be up for a very long, hard hike afterward. Plus a lot of the roads you'd have to take can get snowbound in the Winter.

I don't know what kinds of things will be "open" depending on when you're planning this trip. If memory serves, the North Face is closed in the Winter which means you'll have to drive to the South Face which adds time to your trip.

The Grand Canyon is also quite cold in the Winter. Are you comfortable hiking in sub-freezing temperatures?

If you're taking a Spring trip you could have problems due to the Colorado flooding.

Summer is a totally different thing. If that's when you're going then you'll be good as long as you don't mind a lot of time in the car right before and right after.


If you're really serious you might want to look into a short flight from SLC to Flagstaff, AZ. From Flagstaff you're only a few hours from your hike. There might even be a bus you can catch depending on the Season.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:23 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would you be willing to do your hike from the North Rim? That cuts a few hours of driving but it's a 14 mile hike to Phantom Ranch that way.
posted by BlooPen at 7:25 PM on November 27, 2011

Oh, and (from what I understand--I haven't done the hike), the problem isn't so much the 14 miles down, it's the 14 miles back up with something like 6,000 feet of elevation gain--that's too much for many people to do in a day. Or you could do a rim-to-rim starting from the north and getting a shuttle from the south rim back to your car at the north.

However, you might want to see whether you are actually going to save much money this way with the car rental and such. Airfare into Vegas is pretty cheap, so if the timing isn't ideal, you might consider that option for a different set of dates.
posted by BlooPen at 7:38 PM on November 27, 2011

IMO Dead Horse Point is as amazing as the Grand Canyon and is much closer to SLC. Not sure about hiking down into the canyon though. Check out hiking at nearby Canyonlands and Arches Natl Parks too. The ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike (in Arches) was a highlight of our Utah vacation.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 8:35 PM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: Very doable if you fly to Flagstaff. The South Rim is only about 80 miles from there. A rental car can be a bit spendy, but a good way to go since it will be there whenever you make it back out. Plan on a two hour drive. Alternatively, you can catch a shuttle to & from for a pretty reasonable price - something like $35 each way, plus the park fee. Depending on the time of year, there will probably be several shuttles every day, although it's always a good idea to plan and book in advance. Nava-Hopi Tours and Arizona Shuttles are tried and true, established companies, but there are hosts of others as well.

Alternatively, you can fly to Williams and take the Grand Canyon Railway to the park if you're into that sort of thing.

Several factors depend on the time of year you'd be doing this, but for most of the year, if you're really into the hiking a lot more than the tourist experience, I'd say plan on using the entire 5 days and spending two nights in the canyon. Lots of hiking-oriented people like to hike in, spend the night, and hike back out, but in my view it's nice to have an entire day to just be there.

Here's how I might do it:
  • Fly to Flagstaff and pick up a rental car on day 1.
  • At first light the next morning, which is significantly before dawn, take highway 180 to the park. It's a gorgeous drive, but it's a two lane, winding highway and traveling early means fewer impatient travelers to share the road with.
  • Once you get there, find the ranger station and pick up your backcountry permit (which of course you applied for well in advance). The ranger can point you to your chosen trailhead.
  • Start your descent. If it's no later than mid-morning then, depending on the trail you chose, your fitness level, time of year, etc. you should still have a few hours of daylight by the time you get to your campground (or cabin if you reserved one at Phantom Ranch). So, once there, you tootle around and/or rest up before bedding down for the evening.
  • Depending on how you feel the next morning, you can spend day 3 exploring the canyon bottom, socializing with other wayfarers, or just recuperating, but whatever you do make sure you stretch your legs! The hike out is going to be a doozy!
  • When it comes to hiking out, the natural choice is to begin at first light on day 4. However, if you're there during the hot months, skies are clear, no weather events are expected, you're feeling bold, there are no known trail hazards (i.e. uncleared rock slides), and (optional but desirable) you have managed to find yourself a fit, healthy, agreeable hiking companion, it may be worth considering beginning on the afternoon of day 3, when shade has begun to hit the canyon. (Moonlight isn't actually of much help here, since even if the moon is full or waxing near full, you probably wouldn't actually get to see it or benefit from its light. It will be in the southern sky and therefore hidden by the canyon wall. However, it's amazing how easy it is to hike at night in Arizona. You can often even see shadows cast by starlight! (I once hiked out of Havasupai canyon by starlight and had no trouble staying on the trail at all. I used my flashlight a few times early on, but found it to be more nuisance than helpful.)
  • So now you've made it back to the South Rim either on the night of day 3 or the afternoon of day 4. Since you drove a rental car you can use it as a place to rest and recuperate. If you night-hiked out, you will find it reasonably comfortable at the rim and can nap in the car before driving back to Flagstaff. Or maybe you day-hiked out and reserved a room at the rim for a night of relative luxury before heading back. Whatever the case, you can now meander back to Flagstaff at your leisure, since you very wisely booked your outgoing flight for the late afternoon of the 5th day. Maybe you'll have a chance to visit the MONA or catch a show at the Lowell Observatory before you leave.

posted by perspicio at 9:49 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would you be willing to do your hike from the North Rim? That cuts a few hours of driving

I think it's still probably be about an 8 hour drive from SLC -- you don't have to go around whole canyon to get to the south rim, but the last 60-90 miles of the drive end up being slow because it's wind-y two-lane road (or worse) instead of highway.

IMO Dead Horse Point is as amazing as the Grand Canyon and is much closer to SLC. Not sure about hiking down into the canyon though. Check out hiking at nearby Canyonlands and Arches Natl Parks too

Seconding this as an idea. You can reach the area in a four hour drive from SLC; it's pretty easy to leave in the late afternoon, camp or lodge somewhere near Moab in the evening, and get an early start on exploring in the morning. And between Canyonlands and Arches and BLM land there's more than you'll have time to take in -- I've been at least a dozen times and there's still a good deal that I haven't seen yet.

A slight bit closer to SLC there's also Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley, and the San Rafael Swell, and depending on the time of year and whether or not you want to depart from the megalithic desert landscape theme, there's an awful lot hiking and scenery in mountains along the Wasatch Front within an hour or so of SLC.
posted by weston at 11:43 PM on November 27, 2011

Best answer: Just want to give you my encouragement! I did this hike and it had been a life highlight. Best of luck.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:33 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't hiked down, but I did hike up from Phantom Ranch, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. I'm in decent shape, and I was with people in better shape/experience than I, and none of us would have been in any condition to drive any sooner than the following day.
From what i understand, the hike down is more brutal than the one up, since it's so hard on your thighs.

Doable? Probably, but the drive to SLC may be grueling. The hike is totally amazing, though.
posted by mkultra at 5:10 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry I forgot to specify the dates. This would be in the first half of September, 2012.

I would plan to stay another night at the rim before driving out, to recuperate!
posted by Miko at 5:52 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: And this looks like a helpful guide to doing the hike itself - I would most likely follow this model.

Thanks for all your ideas! A flight to Flagstaff seems to solve this problem nicely and I wouldn't have figured that out myself. Much appreciated!
posted by Miko at 6:02 AM on November 28, 2011

BTW, hotels are pretty cheap in Williams. And you're on Route 66, which is pretty neat!
posted by maryr at 7:43 AM on November 28, 2011

That's a pretty good guide. The one additional item that really helped me was, honestly, BodyGlide.

Also, dinner at Phantom Ranch is served at big communal tables. Assuming you're doing this trip solo, think about hooking up with a (motivated, leaving early) group for the hike out. Not only is it good to have someone looking out for you, but you'll have someone to take pictures of you against the scenery ;)
posted by mkultra at 7:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please don't forget the altitude. I went last spring, and ended up quite ill and unable to hike because I didn't take the time to adjust.
posted by QIbHom at 8:37 AM on November 28, 2011

I understand your dream of the hike in the Grand Canyon, but there is so much that is so beautiful that is closer to SLC: Moab, Henry Mtns, La Sal Mtns, Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Hovenweep. Just saying.
posted by allelopath at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2011

I'm quite sorry that I have not yet visited the Grand Canyon, and I encourage you to do this. I need to put it on this year's vacation calendar.
posted by theora55 at 5:25 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had no idea you're a hiker! Have you seen our Mefi Hiker outings? You must come!
(We're mostly done for the year, I suspect, unless we get really crazy and go for some winter camping or snow shoe-ing

Miko, I can give you the info for a neat hotel in Williams which is a former brothel and has the best breakfast pastries ever. There's also a fancy train that's worth riding (once).

We did the hike over Spring Break, with a mile of ice and snow for the first mile down, and it was gorgeous down in the Canyon itself. It was amazing, and I'd go again in a heartbeat. Yes, challenging, but if you're serious about hiking and train up for it, you'll be fine (if sore the next day.)

We all found the ascent to the South rim on the last day to be brutal, and once we looked at a topo-map, we understood why. Bring hiking poles, body-glide and icy-hot Ben Gay.
posted by canine epigram at 1:10 PM on November 30, 2011

« Older Hair today, Gone tomorrow   |   what now? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.