Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.
Hiking Near One of the Wonders of the World
Are you looking for the perfect place to get out and do some walking or hiking this year? Look no further than the Kaibab National Forest in Grand Canyon National Park. This is a fun and relaxing hike—a great place to escape the crowds and lose yourself among the majestic ponderosa pines.
This is a great hike I recommend for anyone who is interested in exploring Grand Canyon National Park, in the vicinity of the canyon, (but not in it), and a little bit off the beaten path.
The weather is starting to get nice and springlike in this part of Northern Arizona, just a stone's throw or so from the Grand Canyon. I took off for a day hike on my weekend and ended up walking/hiking over 30,000 steps (about 14 miles/22.5 km).
Walking is one of my favorite pastimes and forms of exercise. I average anywhere from 2 to 4 miles on most days, usually trying to work in longer walks on my days off work. I have very few days where I've reached 14 miles (about 30,000 steps). Many of my longer hikes are in the 10-12 mile range, so this was a memorable day for me.
A Place of Peace and Silence
This walk took me along the paved trail that begins behind the visitor center in the town of Tusayan. You can pick up a free map of the area there, which shows the hiking paths and bike paths around Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim.
One great thing about this trail is the almost complete seclusion. I've hiked parts of this trail a few times now, and the most I've come across is one or two other walkers, and possibly someone on a bike. It is peaceful, and the silence is wonderful.
You are in a land of towering ponderosa pines and juniper pines. You may hear the breeze blowing through the pine needles, and perhaps a raven or two cawing from its hidden perch in a cluster of branches somewhere up high and out of sight.
Highway 64, the only road which goes to the south rim, is not too far away, and at times you will hear and see a few cars passing through the trees in the distance.
Wildlife, Weather, and Breathtaking Trees
With the spring weather, more songbirds have been appearing in the past days. You may catch a glimpse of a mountain bluebird if you're lucky. A flash of brilliant blue color among the tall green pines.
Many of the trees will show lightning scars, and there are many that have been completely charred. I heard from a local guide that one in ten ponderosa pines has been struck by lightning in this area.
Brilliant blue skies overhead as you wind your way north to the Grand Canyon Village.
Perhaps the buzz of a few helicopters, taking tourists out for aerial tours of the canyon. The patches of snow that have dotted the rolling forest here, have mostly disappeared now. Though at this elevation, about 6600 feet, there could always be a snowfall late in March or April. One thing I've learned about living at this elevation is that the weather can be unpredictable, and you can routinely have all four seasons in a day.
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It felt good to have calm weather along this trail, with rays of golden spring sunshine filtering through the tall trees to the forest floor.
A highlight of my day came when heading slowly towards me through the trees. A group of about a dozen elk, grazing just alongside the path. Several young bulls among them, with antlers about a foot long or so, just beginning to grow in for the year.
I stopped and gave them a good deal of space, and let them continue on their way. At one point, I decided to take a detour around them, walking close to the road.
As I came closer to the Mather Campground, even more elk were grazing. Some cars had stopped along the road, and people were coming closer for photos. The elk seemed unfazed for the most part.
A few curious ones stopped and watched what all the commotion was about, though they quickly lost interest and continued on their way, after several group selfies had been taken.
From Mather Point to Yavapai Point
In a little over two hours of hiking, I emerged near the south rim. Stopped for a chicken salad sandwich and chips at the Bright Angel Bike Store Cafe, just near the Visitors Center.
Unfortunately the center is still closed, though information is posted and several rangers are outside, glad to answer questions.
After a short break, I made my way along the south rim trail, from Mather Point to Yavapai Point. After about 7 miles of hiking, my legs were a little sore, but I was feeling great—happy to be rewarded for my efforts with the spectacular first views of the canyon.
Both of these viewpoints are must-sees at the south rim. Amazing views are all along the way as you walk the roughly 1 mile/1.6 km between these viewpoints.
At the rim, the weather had noticeably grown colder at this time in the late afternoon, and I was glad I had packed an extra layer and a jacket in my hiking pack. Grey clouds amassed overhead, but views of the canyon were wide open and clear. Though little sunshine broke through, you could still see clear to the north rim, about 10 miles in the distance.
After stopping for a few provisions at the GC Village General Store, I came around the building looking for the restrooms when I nearly stumbled on a lone elk. This elk had found a prime patch of grass here to graze on, and was oblivious to the small crowd forming just outside the restrooms.
Another mile or two and I came across several elk along the trail again. This time, I began whistling in advance, to let them know of my approach. They raised their heads to look at me, were not very interested or impressed with my hiking or my whistling, and slowly moved off the path and into the forest. All except for one elk stretched out in the grass, just 10 yards or so from the path, and trying to have a nap.
I did a few stretches at various points along the way, to keep my legs and lower back from cramping up. They were a little sore, and this seemed to help. Walking backwards as well for short stretches, to use a different set of muscles.
All in all it was a great day of hiking in the Kaibab National Forest. For the most part the weather had been nice, just slightly cool. Sunny and bright, though colder and cloudy along the south rim.
I felt relaxed by the beauty and calm of the forest, and had been rewarded with some amazing views of the canyon, and the few dozen elk, sharing the path with me today.
If you have been to the south rim before, you will know how easy it is to slip into a reverie.
As you might imagine, it is difficult to describe the feelings of awe and wonder, as you peer into the canyon and contemplate the vastness of time in those layers of rock, a mile deep down to the Colorado River.
This is a fun, relaxing place to walk or hike, where you can escape the crowds and lose yourself for a while in the silent, calm world of the majestic ponderosa pines.
All the time it is in your mind that you are just a few miles away from one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
© 2022 Sal Santiago