If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me that ‘hiking the Grand Canyon’ was on their bucket list, I’d retire and spend the rest of my time…hmmm, well…hiking. These days, everyone seems to have a bucket list and if you’re someone who enjoys traveling, hiking, and exploring, then there’s a pretty good chance that Grand Canyon is somewhere on that list. I answer calls and emails all day long from people looking to “get to the bottom” or stay at Phantom Ranch or “do the Rim to Rim”. And I get it…it’s a world-famous landmark and a renowned hiking destination featuring incredible scenery. And you and tens of thousands of other people want to do exactly the same thing. Unfortunately, such a highly sought-after destination with such limited space means that there is intense competition for reservations and it can be incredibly difficult to secure them.
Allow me to identify what I consider to be a few fundamental problems with all of this. The first, and most obvious, is the lack of availability for everyone that wants to do it. Beds at Phantom Ranch are very limited in number and every month, perhaps 5% (or less) entering the reservation lottery are able to score a reservation. If you were looking to try for a Rim to Rim backpacking permit, it’s a similar story.
The second problem relates to the whole concept of the bucket list and what I see as the apparent self-imposed limitations we assign to them. People identify very specific goals and insist upon successfully fulfilling that exact goal so that they might cross it off the list (an equally, if not more important part of the whole bucket list phenomenon). So the end result, especially in light of the previously identified issue of scarcity, might end up being a sense of regret caused by not being able to do exactly ‘X’ or ‘Y’. But in reality, the underlying essence of what “hiking Rim to Rim” or “getting to the bottom” of Grand Canyon truly encompasses was actually available to you, and perhaps in even more spectacular fashion.
I get it. Rim to Rim is one of the most famous hikes in the world. Everybody is doing it. The photos are all over Instagram and you want your selfie to show the world your accomplishment. But that’s why it’s so hard to get a permit. Everybody wants to do it because it has become so hyped up. So ask yourself this: is my bucket list just a bunch of things that I want to do because everybody else is doing it? And does that fact that everybody else is doing it really make it THE thing to do?
The fact of the matter is that Grand Canyon is an incredible place and there are lots of hiking and backpacking opportunities that will offer as remarkable an experience as a Rim to Rim trip or simply “getting to the bottom”. The true accomplishment lies in the experience itself. Your Grand Canyon bucket list trip is about immersing yourself in an awe-inspiring landscape, experiencing the quiet and solitude of a vast wilderness, an opportunity for personal reflection, and perhaps quality time spent with loved ones sharing in the experience. And this can be accomplished on many different trails within the park. Better yet, the demand for permits to backpack on those trails is often far less. I can assure you, as a long-time Grand Canyon hiker and backpacker that has explored most of the park’s trails, what makes for an amazing Grand Canyon hiking trip has nothing to do with getting to the bottom or hiking Rim to Rim. The Grand Canyon experience is not singularly embodied by Phantom Ranch or the Colorado River…far from it.
In short, now is a good time to re-examine your bucket list and discover some amazing alternatives. It’s time to buck the uninspired trend of doing what everybody else is doing. In the immortal words of Robert Frost, it’s time to ‘take the road less traveled’. If you need a guide, let me know.
About the Author: Dave Logan is the owner and a guide for Four Season Guides located in Flagstaff, Arizona. Four Season Guides is a 20-year-old guided backpacking and hiking tour company that specializes in Grand Canyon Backpacking Tours.