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Hiking Grand Canyon from Rim to River: An Adventure to Phantom Ranch

Program No. 8144RJ
Hike and learn about the ancient landscapes of the Grand Canyon on some of its most awe-inspiring trails. Plus, spend two nights within the Canyon at historic Phantom Ranch!

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DATES & starting prices
Apr 21 - Apr 26, 2024
Starting at
DATES & starting prices
Apr 21 - Apr 26, 2024
Starting at

At a Glance

Hiking in the Grand Canyon is one of the most rewarding experiences for any seasoned backpacker and shoulder season hikes provide an opportunity for solitude and scenery not found during other times of the year. On this program, hike into the Grand Canyon and enjoy expert-led presentations and day hikes on the rim. At the bottom of the canyon, spend two nights at Phantom Ranch beneath towering rock walls, under ancient cottonwoods and adjacent to Bright Angel Creek.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Challenging
Physically demanding backpacking program for experienced backpackers. Hiking 17 miles in two days (up to 9.5 miles in one day) carrying 20-pound backpack over steep, rocky trails with 4,600-foot elevation change each day; two days of lighter hiking. Elevations up to 7,000 feet.
Micro Group
Micro Group
These adventures feature our smallest group size, with 12 participants or fewer.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Spend four days hiking in the Grand Canyon; travel down the South Kaibab Trail and back up the Bright Angel Trail; spend a day at Phantom Ranch hiking in the inner Canyon.
  • Enjoy rare reservations at remote and historic Phantom Ranch.
  • Hike with naturalists who truly know and love Grand Canyon; listen to canyon and river stories and learn about your surroundings a vertical mile deep into this natural wonder.

General Notes

For less-strenuous Grand Canyon hiking programs, see "Hiking Grand Canyon: Adventures On and Below the South Rim" (#6112) or "Hiking Granite Gorge and Havasupai" (#7704) Special cancellation policy applies. Call or go online for details. Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Lisa Kearsley
The author of “The San Juan River Guide,” Lisa Kearsley inherited an appreciation for the Southwest from her father, who was a biology professor. She earned a bachelor’s in zoology from the University of California and a master’s in biology from Northern Arizona University. Lisa has worked at the Grand Canyon as an interpretive park ranger teaching natural history programs and has studied the effects of Glen Canyon Dam on area campsites.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Lisa Kearsley
Lisa Kearsley View biography
The author of “The San Juan River Guide,” Lisa Kearsley inherited an appreciation for the Southwest from her father, who was a biology professor. She earned a bachelor’s in zoology from the University of California and a master’s in biology from Northern Arizona University. Lisa has worked at the Grand Canyon as an interpretive park ranger teaching natural history programs and has studied the effects of Glen Canyon Dam on area campsites.
Profile Image of Joel Kane
Joel Kane grew up roaming Appalachian Pennsylvania but has called the Southwest home for years. After serving in the Navy, he earned a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of California/Los Angeles. He later worked as an interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service at Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming, Zion National Park in Utah, Oregon Caves National Monument in Oregon, and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. He is pursuing his master's degree in geology at Northern Arizona University/Flagstaff.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery
by Ranney, Wayne
Ranney explains how rivers in general can physically carve canyons, looks chronologically at the numerous theories that have been presented by successive generations of geologists regarding the Grand Canyon's formation, and describes a plausible sequence of geologic events that could create such a landscape. Numerous color photographs, detailed illustrations, and maps are provided. Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR 160pp; 2nd edition 2012.
Field Guide to the Grand Canyon
by Whitney, Stephen R
This book describes and illustrates the area's plants and animals, and offers fascinating in-depth information on the natural history and geology of this dramatic region. 272pp
Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon
by Ghiglieri, Michael P.; Myers, Thomas M.
Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World's Seven Natural Wonders. Two veterans of decades of adventuring in Grand Canyon chronicle the first complete and comprehensive history of Canyon misadventures. These episodes span the entire era of visitation from the time of the first river exploration by John Wesley Powell and his crew of 1869 to that of tourists falling off its rims in Y2K. These accounts of the 550 people who have met untimely deaths in the Canyon set a new high water mark for offering the most astounding array of adventures, misadventures, and life saving lessons published between any two covers. Over the Edge promises to be the most intense yet informative book on Grand Canyon ever written.
Hiking the Grand Canyon’s Geology
by Abbott, Lon, and Cook, Terri.
Geologists Abbott and Cook (Prescott College, Prescott, AZ) present the Grand Canyon though scientists' eyes for rim walkers, day hikers, and serious backpackers. An overview introduces readers to the area's geological history, followed by detailed narratives of 18 hikes. For each hike the authors explore a geological theme, focusing on aspects of the canyon's evolution that are particularly well-illustrated along its length. Basic information such as trail length, elevation change, and difficulty level starts each chapter. Thoroughly illustrated with b&w photos and diagrams as well as 20 color plates. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR 304pp
Breaking Into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon
by Teal, Louise
In 1973, Marilyn Sayre gave up her job as a computer programmer and became the first woman in twenty years to run a commercial boat through the Grand Canyon. Georgie White had been the first, back in the 1950s, but it took time before other women broke into guiding passengers down the Colorado River. This book profiles eleven of the first full-season Grand Canyon boat women, weaving together their various experiences in their own words. Breaking Into the Current is a story of romance between women and a place.
The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by Powell, John Wesley
Full text of Powell's 1,000-mile expedition down the fabled Colorado in 1869. Superb account of terrain, geology, vegetation, Indians, famine, mutiny, treacherous rapids, mighty canyons. 240 illustrations. 432pp
Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell's 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon
by Dolnick, Edward
On May 24, 1869 a one-armed Civil War veteran, John Wesley Powell and a ragtag band of nine mountain men embarked on the last great quest in the American West. The Grand Canyon, not explored before, was as mysterious as Atlantis—and as perilous. The ten men set out from Green River Station, Wyoming Territory down the Colorado in four wooden rowboats. Ninety-nine days later, six half-starved wretches came ashore near Callville, Arizona. Lewis and Clark opened the West in 1803, six decades later Powell and his scruffy band aimed to resolve the West’s last mystery. A brilliant narrative, a thrilling journey, a cast of memorable heroes—all these mark Down the Great Unknown, the true story of the last epic adventure on American soil.
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West
by Stegner, Wallace
Here Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, gives us a thrilling account of Powell's struggle against western geography and Washington politics. We witness the successes and frustrations of Powell's distinguished career, and appreciate his unparalleled understanding of the West. "Stegner's most exciting work." (San Francisco Chronicle) 496pp
The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
by Fedarko, Kevin
In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the Grand Canyon, just fifteen miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam, seemed not just odd, but downright suicidal. The Emerald Mile, at one time slated to be destroyed, was rescued and brought back to life by Kenton Grua, the man at the oars, who intended to use this flood as a kind of hydraulic sling-shot. The goal was to nail the all-time record for the fastest boat ever propelled—by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God himself—down the entire length of the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead. Did he survive? Just barely. Now, this remarkable, epic feat unfolds here, in The Emerald Mile.
An Introduction to Grand Canyon Prehistory
by Coder, Christopher M.
People have inhabited Grand Canyon for the past twelve thousand years. Evidence of their lives exists throughout the canyon; but it is up to their ancestors and archaeologists to interpret those remains for us. This book provides a popular look at the architecture, art, and tools of prehistoric Puebloan peoples, as well as information about modern-day Native American tribes. With illustrations and color photographs.
Grand Canyon: Time Below the Rim
by Craig Childs and Gary Ladd
Prepared by the Book Division of Arizona Highways magazine, this book is written and photographed by 2 of the leading authorities on the subject matter. There's no place on earth like the Grand Canyon, and there's no book about the Canyon like this one. "Grand Canyon: Time Below the Rim" connects you with remote sections of the Canyon most people will never see: the waterfalls, the streams, the thousands of side canyons, the prehistoric rock formations, the rock art and other remains of an ancient civilization, and the entire course of the Colorado River through the Canyon.
I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People
by Hirst, Stephen
I Am the Grand Canyon is the story of the Havasupai people. From their origins among the first group of Indians to arrive in North America some 20,000 years ago to their epic struggle to regain traditional lands taken from them in the nineteenth century, the Havasupai have a long and colorful history. The story of this tiny tribe once confined to a toosmall reservation depicts a people with deep cultural ties to the land, both on their former reservation below the rim of the Grand Canyon and on the surrounding plateaus. In the spring of 1971, the federal government proposed incorporating still more Havasupai land into Grand Canyon National Park. At hearings that spring, Havasupai Tribal Chairman Lee Marshall rose to speak. "I heard all you people talking about the Grand Canyon," he said. "Well, you're looking at it. I am the Grand Canyon!" Marshall made it clear that Havasu Canyon and the surrounding plateau were critical to the survival of his people; his speech laid the foundation for the return of thousands of acres of Havasupai land in 1975. I Am the Grand Canyon is the story of a heroic people who refused to back down when facing overwhelming odds. They won, and today the Havasupai way of life quietly continues in the Grand Canyon and on the surrounding plateaus.
Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters, and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region
by Anderson, Michael F
A comprehensive look at the pioneer history of the Grand Canyon Region, from its earliest residents to the creation of the national park at the end of the pioneer era (circa 1920). Included are close to two hundred historic photographs, many never published before, and 12 custom maps of the region. 184pp
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6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5 B 4 L 4 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Grand Canyon - South Rim
Yavapai Lodge West

Activity note: Lodge check-in available by 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 5:00 pm. After you have your room assignment, come to the Road Scholar table in the lobby to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation: 5:30 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This physically strenuous program involves elevation gains up to 4,500 feet (equivalent to 341 stories) carrying a 15 to 20-pound pack up to 9.5 miles. There will be a practice hike on Day 2 for the Group Leader to assess each person’s ability level. Failure to complete the practice hike satisfactorily will prohibit continued participation. If you have concerns about your ability to participate successfully in this program, please see alternative suggestions on the Road Scholar website for other programs that hike the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon winter hiking can be more challenging because of the chance of snow, ice, and cold. Feel free to bring your own ice-walkers. If needed, in-step crampons will be provided. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free Time” and “At Leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the Yavapai Lodge Dining Hall, we will have a group meal which will include an entree, salad, dessert and and non-alcoholic beverages; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: At leisure. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night's rest for the day ahead.

Packing Techniques, Hiking Ethics & Safety, Practice Hike
Grand Canyon - South Rim
Yavapai Lodge West

Activity note: Walking/hiking approx. 5 miles throughout the day: morning approx. 2 miles roundtrip; about 2 hours along rim, mostly flat paved trail. Practice hike is approx. 2 miles roundtrip; about 2 hours; steep, uneven, rocky trail; elevation change of roughly 2,000 feet, with packs. Attendance and performance, with all necessary gear, to Group Leader’s satisfaction is required for participation in subsequent hikes. Failure to satisfactorily complete practice hike will prohibit continued participation.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Yavapai Dining Hall opens at 7:00 am, and you are free to walk down for breakfast on your own. You will present your meal voucher at the start of the serving line and choose which entrée and side items you would like as you move through the line. Supplemental items such as yogurt and fruit, as well as beverages, are then available at the end of the line.

Morning: After breakfast, we’ll gather with our Group Leaders for a discussion session that will cover gear packing techniques, "Leave No Trace" ethics, and hiking safety. IMPORTANT NOTE: In our morning discussion, we will cover the important topic of domestic/potable water availability and use at Phantom Ranch and how to come prepared for the possibility of restrictions which could be imposed at any time in the event of a potable water supply issue. Please read below in the SPECIAL NOTES ABOUT YOUR PROGRAM for a full discussion on this topic. Afterwards, we’ll join our Group Leader for a hike along the rim to acclimate to the elevation and prepare for our upcoming hike into the Canyon. Along the way, we’ll engage in a discussion of the area’s geologic and natural history.

Lunch: At the Maswik Lodge Food Court in Grand Canyon Village.

Afternoon: With our Group Leaders, we’ll set out on a practice hike down into the canyon with full packs. Descending over 1,000 feet into the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail, we’ll reach our turning point, and hike back up to the rim with minimal stops to rest. Along the way, we will see the historic Kolb Studio, several of Grand Canyon's uppermost rock layers, and we will continue our discussion of both the human and natural history of Grand Canyon. Upon reaching the top, we’ll have time for independent exploration of the historic Grand Canyon Village. Please note: The practice hike is important for the Group Leaders to assess everyone's ability to safely complete the hike. If you do not attend and complete the practice hike to the satisfaction of the Group Leader while carrying the weighted pack you will be carrying on subsequent hikes, you will NOT be allowed to hike to Phantom Ranch the next day.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions for you to explore.

Evening: At leisure. Be sure to prepare for an early start in the morning.

Hike to Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch

Activity note: Use of park shuttle bus; riding approximately 3 miles on way; about 1/2 hour. Hiking approximately 7.5 miles throughout the day, with packs; between 6 and 8 hours; steep, uneven rocky trail; elevation decrease of roughly 4,800 feet.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Yavapai Dining Hall opens at 7:00 am, and you are free to walk down for breakfast on your own. You will present your meal voucher at the start of the serving line and choose which entrée and side items you would like as you move through the line. Supplemental items such as yogurt and fruit, as well as beverages, are then available at the end of the line.

Morning: Once checked out of the lodge, we’ll board the park’s shuttle bus system and travel to the South Kaibab Trailhead, where we’ll begin the day's long but rewarding hike to Phantom Ranch, stopping periodically along the way to discuss geology, ecology, and human history. Our first major stop will be Ooh Aah Point—you'll see why it bears that name when we get there! We'll encounter the first of the two restrooms along our hike to Phantom Ranch a little farther down the trail at Cedar Ridge. Afterwards, we’ll continue down past Skeleton Point and navigate the seemingly endless switchbacks through the imposing Redwall Limestone (a geologic rock layer which forms one of the most prominent sheer cliffs within the canyon) to our lunch location at Tipoff, near the Tonto Trail junction. Tipoff features a shade structure and the second restroom along the South Kaibab Trail.

Lunch: At the shade structure at Tipoff, we will have sack lunches including a sandwich, chips, and fruit.

Afternoon: From our lunch stop, we will begin our steep descent into the canyon's Inner Gorge to the Black Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch. Upon our arrival, we will check into our cabin.

Dinner: At Phantom Ranch, we will all gather inside the Canteen dining room at our designated meal time for a plated dinner.

Evening: At leisure.

Layover Day, Choice of Elective Hikes, Free Time
Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch

Activity note: Two possible hikes, each between 2 and 3 miles; between 2 and 3 hours, with day pack; steep, uneven, rocky trail; elevation change of between 200 and 1,000 feet depending on hike chosen.

Breakfast: Breakfast will be served inside the Phantom Ranch Canteen dining room.

Morning: Take the relaxing layover day in the depths of the canyon at Phantom Ranch to enjoy as you wish. For those who want to join, our Group Leaders will set out on two different elective hikes depending on group interest: the "Bridge-to-Bridge Loop" and the Clear Creek Trail to Phantom Overlook or beyond. Alternatively, you may wish to spend some time by yourself to absorb being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon by sitting along Bright Angel Creek, walking down to the Colorado River, taking photographs, or just relaxing.

Lunch: Sack lunches along the trail, by the creek, or wherever else you may choose.

Afternoon: Free time. This time has been set aside for your personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. The Group Leaders will be happy to offer suggestions. You may wish to hike part way up the North Kaibab Trail or just kick back and enjoy the experience of being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, one of the world's true natural wonders.

Dinner: At Phantom Ranch, we will all gather inside the Canteen dining room at our designated meal time for a plated dinner.

Evening: After dinner, we’ll have a short group meeting to discuss the logistics of the hike up the following morning. The remainder of the evening will be at leisure. Be sure to prepare for check-out and hiking transfer back up to the canyon rim in the morning.

Big Climb to The Rim, Farewell Dinner
Grand Canyon - South Rim
Yavapai Lodge West

Activity note: Hiking approximately 9.5 miles throughout the day, with packs; between 6 and 9 hours; steep inclines uphill, uneven and rocky trail; elevation increase of roughly 4,500 feet.

Breakfast: Breakfast will be served inside the Phantom Ranch Canteen dining room.

Morning: Upon check-out from Phantom Ranch, we’ll gear up and hit the trail with our Group Leaders to begin the big climb up to the rim. The hike will last throughout the day and will climb about 4,500 feet over 9.5 miles. We’ll start by crossing the Silver Bridge and hike on the River Trail, built by the CCC. At the mouth of Pipe Creek and River Rest House, we’ll start up the Bright Angel Trail following Pipe Creek. We'll soon leave the creek to continue up Devil's Corkscrew, rejoining the creek at the top before entering the spectacular and lush Tapeats Narrows. Upon reaching the Tonto Platform at the top of the Tapeats Narrows, the midpoint of our climb at beautiful Havasupai Gardens comes into view.

Lunch: Sack lunches along the trail at Havasupai Gardens.

Afternoon: After lunch, we’ll continue our ascent up the Bright Angel Trail, climbing Jacob's Ladder to the top of the Redwall cliff and the 3-Mile Resthouse. Don't forget to glance up at the sky for a possible condor sighting, and back towards the Inner Gorge for a perspective on how far we have come. As we get closer to the rim, we’ll feel the sense of accomplishment grow until we finally reach the top. Upon arrival, we’ll check back in to the lodge and enjoy some time to relax and freshen up with a well-deserved shower before boarding the van for a short drive to dinner.

Dinner: At a nearby restaurant, we'll enjoy plated meals for our celebratory dinner with an entrée and side, plus a choice of coffee, tea, or water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Once back at the lodge with our Group Leaders, we will have a program wrap-up and reflect on our experiences. Share some of your favorite experiences and accomplishments from the program with new Road Scholar friends. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

Program Concludes, Independent Departures
Grand Canyon - South Rim

Activity note: Lodge check-out by 11:00 a.m. Road Scholar vehicle departs for Flagstaff at 7:15 am to connect with the 9:30 am Flagstaff to Phoenix Airport Groome Shuttle. Grand Canyon to Flagstaff; 84 miles.

Breakfast: Breakfast at the Yavapai Dining Hall opens at 7:00 am, and you are free to walk down for breakfast on your own. You will present your meal voucher at the start of the serving line and choose which entrée and side items you would like as you move through the line. Supplemental items such as yogurt and fruit, as well as beverages, are then available at the end of the line.

Morning: Program concludes after breakfast. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.