Pop quiz, hotshots. Did you know that over five million people visit the Grand Canyon on a yearly basis, and most of those people visit the South Rim? http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/index.htm). If you’re even remotely interested in hiking and wilderness activities, you probably did, as the Grand Canyon is one of the top National Parks every year. But – did you know that only 3% of Grand Canyon park visitors (approximately 150,000 people) head below the rim of the Grand Canyon? (Source: http://www.gcadventure.com/skaibab.html). I’m guessing that you didn’t, because I didn’t know it, and I know a lot of arcane wilderness lore. Let me give you some disclosure though: I don’t know where Bill Ferris got that statistic – I Googled it for a little bit, and I didn’t come up with anything.
Also, I’m not sure how NPS would track that, or even if they could track that (I’m definitely skeptical about their abilities to do that; and, Bill’s website has no contact info, so if you’re out there Bill, write me and let me know how you came up with those numbers). However, having worked in two parks, it wouldn’t surprise me if the number was true. People just don’t like to get out of their cars. I know this isn’t going to win me any fans in the hard-core wilderness community, but I think that’s a shame. I think that it’s easier for people to support wilderness conservation if they know what they’re protecting – meaning that they have to get out and see and touch and experience what’s there. Sure, that means more people out on the trail, but in my head, it means greater support for wilderness causes in general when such support is needed. Plus, getting out and about it good for everyone; and who knows what inspiration will follow from a simple walk. In this mindset, let’s talk about a hike that’s guaranteed to raise the theoretical 3% number for the Grand Canyon: the South Kaibab trail to Ooh-Ahh- Point.
Directions: Like Zion National Park, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon runs a shuttle system to all of the major points and trailheads. From the Visitor Center, you will want to catch a shuttle on the Orange Route to the South Kaibab Trail stop. From the bus stop, follow the path to the trailhead, where you will have a great view of the Grand Canyon at 7,260 feet. At this point, do not be scared, do not be hesitant, do not think this is the best view you will see! Place one foot in front of the other and begin to walk. The trail will head down shortly, and then head down a series of winding switchbacks as it descends. After approximately four tenths of a mile (.4), the trail will level out momentarily, and start to wind around the side of the canyon, before heading around a corner and descending the remaining elevation.
Once you have come around the “corner”, you will be at Ooh-Ahh-Point. There will be no doubt in your mind that you are at the correct location for two reasons: 1) There is a fantastic view of the canyon descending below you, and the formations of the canyon ascending behind you; and 2) There is a sign. At this point, you will have hiked seven tenths of a mile (.75, actually), and you will have descended approximately 600 feet, as you will now be at 6,660 feet elevation. It is at this point you must make a decision: do you have the fortitude to continue down to Cedar Ridge and Skeleton Point, or does the trail back up to the rim already look daunting? This is a question every hiker must answer on his or her own based on their own conditioning and the conditions present. If you are turning around for a round-trip distance of 1.5 miles, fear not: you will have experienced great views and a unique portion of the Grand Canyon during a potential once-in-a-lifetime walk. Which, in itself is pretty darn cool.
Tips: Be aware that while this is a short, easy hike, you will need proper shoes and plenty of water as the Grand Canyon does get pretty darn hot. You should also be aware that you may be on the trail at the same time as the Canyon burro tours, so be prepared to give the animals and their riders plenty of room. You should also be aware that while the squirrels and other chipmunks look cute alongside the trail, you should let them fend for themselves and not feed them, because that encourages bad rodent behavior, as detailed in my “More Information” links section below. Lastly, the view at Ooh-Ahh-Point is fantastic, but there is a steep drop-off into the Canyon, so watch your footing near the edge!