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May 2003

Three Quiet Grand Canyon Hikes

You'd never guess it: Three quiet trails in such a busy, beautiful place.

America’s grand ditch is so bloody famous that introducing it to you seems, well, silly. Who doesn’t know it’s a mile deep, nearly 300 miles long, a dozen miles wide, and a couple of billion years old? It’s dry, too, and hot in the summer. But the Grand Canyon is so stunningly beautiful that we’re drawn there like Muslims to Mecca. And therein lies the problem: Some of us don’t like our pilgrimages to be crowded. We want the wild to feel wild and our legs to go as fast or as slow as they like without having to say polite words to fellow hikers. I have two words for folks like us: North Rim. There, you can’t drive up, wait for a paved parking space, and instantly gawk at the great empty space beneath you. Instead, you have to walk to the edge, and slowly the Grand Canyon unveils herself. This rim is not for everyone. Thank God. To see if it’s for you, try one of these three undiscovered hikes.

Clear Creek Trail

You’ll have to hike 7 or 14 miles with nearly 6,000 feet of elevation loss, and go right through the heart of the canyon’s busiest spot, just to get to the start of this 9-mile, one-way trail. But it’s worth the effort. To begin at the top, hike down the 14-mile North Kaibab Trail, which drops precipitously past a waterfall gushing from the middle of a cliff, among other natural wonders. The trail ends at Phantom Ranch, a rustic hotel and campground near the shores of the Colorado River. To camp near the river, book your permit months in advance. From November through May, when the North Rim is likely buried in snow, the South Kaibab Trail will take you to Phantom Ranch (after crossing the Colorado on a footbridge) in 7 stunning miles.

From Phantom Ranch, proceed on the Clear Creek Trail 1,500 feet up to the Tonto Plateau, a huge shelf that meanders beneath spectacular peaks or “temples” in the Canyon. Once you’ve reached Clear Creek, spend an extra day hiking 8 miles round-trip to Cheyava Falls, the highest in the canyon. Or, scramble 5 miles down Clear Creek to the Colorado River. Total round-trip mileage down the North Kaibab to Clear Creek Canyon is about 41; down South Kaibab to Clear Creek Canyon, about 33. Allow 5 to 7 days.

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