Heading to Phantom Ranch for fun and relaxation? Wondering what to do while there on a layover day? There are some simple but very useful pieces of advice to make your trip to Phantom even more special. Below you will find ideas and tips if you are heading to this little bit of paradise along the banks of Bright Angel Creek. You can view a map here of the Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground area to get your bearings for the topics mentioned below.
- Bring Credit Card Instead of Cash. Instead of taking cash and having to carry heavy change, bring your debit or credit card. The Ranch takes credit for even the smallest purchases. If you do use cash, leave your change in the tip jar at the cash register. Those folks down there work harder than you could ever imagine, and they certainly deserve more than they make. (And YES, they do walk down. NO, they do not ride mules!) Note: I was reminded that the power can be very fickle at Phantom Ranch, so having some cash might be wise in case it goes down or their internet is running especially slow. Having some cash available is highly recommended!
- Address Book. Don’t forget to bring your family and friends’ addresses with you. You can mail postcards from the bottom that says “Mailed by Mule from the Bottom of the Grand Canyon” on them! Talk about unique!!! They sell postcards there, but you can also bring your own stationery and use your own stamps. This is also great for international travelers.
- Mail and Packages. You can mail postcards and letters to and from Phantom Ranch. Please note: packages are no longer accepted in either direction. Stamps are often available for sale at the Canteen, but they do run out at times. So if you want to make sure you can mail a letter or postcard from the Ranch, bring some stamps with you. There is a Post Office on both the South Rim (General Store complex) and the North Rim (Grand Canyon Lodge complex) where you can purchase stamps in advance.
- Pay Phones. There are payphones at the Phantom Ranch Canteen bathrooms and at the bathrooms near the junction of the Bright Angel and Kaibab Trails south of Bright Angel Campground—right across the trail from the River Ranger Station on the map. I personally never make calls from the “bottom.” It tends to spoil the “getting away from it all” vacation mentality. It’s awful to hear how the kids are fighting each other or other trivial, non-necessary “real life” information. If it is important, your family and/or friends will be able to reach you by calling the Grand Canyon dispatch office.
- T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Phantom Ranch sells items such as t-shirts, caps, bandannas, and mugs, which can only be purchased at the Canteen. The t-shirt designs change every year, so the design you get will always be associated with the year you were there!
- Avoid Summer and/or Hike At Night. During the scorching hot months of June, July and August, do yourself a huge favor and DON’T try to hike all the way from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground in one day. If you have to hike during these summer months, plan on staying at Cottonwood Campground to break your hike up into two halves. It is extremely important to get through the last four miles of the trail, known as the “Box”, before 10:00 AM. If you have to do it in one day during this time, get a start from the trailhead by 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM. No joking! You don’t want to be in the Box once the sun hits the black rock and heats up. It is literally like an oven in there! For those who have never hiked the Canyon, it is nearly impossible to know how hard hiking down (yes, down!) 14 miles will be. It is the longest 14 miles you will ever hike. I guarantee it!
- Take. Breaks. Often. When hiking down, be diligent at taking breaks and eating and drinking often. One thing happens way too much and needs to be emphasized. If you have dinner reservations at Phantom and find that your hike is taking longer than expected (very common I might add!), DO NOT forego breaks to get down faster. Even if you succeed in making it to Phantom on time for dinner, you’ll be too sick to eat it!!! Phantom Ranch will often save food for someone who comes in late and had dinner reservations. They would rather you not get sick either!
Below is some more useful advice from some readers for those staying at Phantom Ranch.
- Hike North to South Rim. DOING RIM TO RIM it is much easier to hike down the higher and initially much steeper North Rim to Phantom and then up the comparatively more gradual Bright Angel Trail to the lower South Rim. (The South Kaibab is shorter but steeper and without water.)
- SURVIVING PHANTOM. Should you hike down from the North Rim to Phantom, make your arrangements to eat at the later of the two meals. You will feel less rushed getting there, signing in, showering, and arriving more civil for supper. In hot weather read the instructions on how to run the evaporative cooling A/C in the bunkrooms and cabins. Be sure that before supper you turn it on and you must have a few windows slightly open otherwise it will not work. The occasional screams that you hear at Phantom are from hikers immersing themselves in the really cold water of Bright Angel Creek—great for foot and knee therapy! FYI, do not bother rushing the dining room door to grab a seat, there are seating assignments for supper and they will call your group by name. “Porter, party of four.” For dessert: “Save your forks, save your forks—lick them clean.”
- Packing Fewer Clothes. If you are light-packing and wash your socks and shirts in the sink, they will dry very quickly (in about an hour) in the hot, very dry air. The bunkroom railings make a good clothesline, otherwise, bring your own hiker’s clothesline.
- Phone Locations. There is only one pay phone at Phantom, and if you want a shorter wait to phone home, there is a second pay phone at the south end of the Bright Angel Campground, about 1/2 mi. south of Phantom—if you feel like hiking that far and back.
- Scorpions. Our evening ranger presentation included a short walk with an ultraviolet light that made the scorpions (that come out at night) fluoresce and glow brightly—we saw an uncomfortable number of them. My first morning at Phantom I panicked, my boots were missing, but near where I had put them, there was another pair, of the exact same brand, model, and size, but a different color (the brown/red of the iron oxide of the dust and dirt in the Canyon).
- Be on Time. The worst faux pas that we’ve seen done by the guests was when a group of about five arrived about 30 minutes late to the first breakfast seating. We only saw one person setting tables, serving the food—maybe even having done the cooking earlier—then removing the dirty dishes and having to set up for the next sitting. The group’s lateness threw a monkey wrench into this person’s schedule, and he had to hustle even more that morning.
- Pack the Night Before. The night before hiking out, be packed and ready to go. Have the early breakfast, pick up your trail lunch, and get started as early in the dark as possible. A small penlight helps to check your footing. Later that morning you will be cooler and more comfortable at a higher altitude. For your last, luxurious flush toilet stop after breakfast, plan to visit the toilet just south of the Bright Angel Campground, across the little footbridge.
Annette, Betty, Peggy and Pieter