Phantom Ranch is a hidden secret at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Not everyone knows that you can actually dine and stay overnight there. There is an alternative to camping and roughing it in the wild! You don’t want to miss staying in cabins at the bottom of the Grand Canyon while enjoying the scenery and Colorado River.
1. Lodging. The lodging at Phantom Ranch comes in two flavors: dorm style and cabin style. You can either book a male/female dormitory or a hiker cabin. The dormitories are divided into male versus female. Each dorm has five sets of bunk beds. The pros of the dormitories are that you get to know others staying at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and you make new friends. The bad news is that you may end up having to sleep in a top bunk if all of the lower bunks are taken, and you may have to sleep next to people who are snoring loudly or have other bizarre habits. If this doesn’t bother you then you’re set to go! I personally had booked the late breakfast each morning for 6:30 am, but those who had the early breakfast started making lots of noise at 5 am, so it was difficult to sleep past that point. I made up for this by taking a nap later.
An alternative is to book a hiker cabin. These fit four to ten persons, depending on the size you book. The hiker cabins give you a private alternative to having to sleep with people you don’t know. You can bring your own group of friends and all stay in the hiker cabin together. The benefits of this are that you only have to worry about the bad habits of your own group and not those of others you have never met. The downside is that the hiker cabins do not have their own showers, so you have to walk to the showers. If it’s cold outside in the morning, this could be a big negative.
Both the dorms and hiker cabins are reasonably priced and not more than about $50 per person as of 2012. These rates are great for the only accommodations by the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon other than campsites! Keep in mind that the lodging books up a year in advance and is incredibly difficult to come by. To book, call Xanterra at 888-297-2757 or book on their website. The reservations for June of one year open the year before on June 1st. This means you will want to call as soon as they open on June 1 to have the best chance of getting a spot.
2. Dining. Dining at Phantom Ranch is family style and the food is incredible! The meals are somewhat expensive, but considering the alternative, it’s well worth it. The dining has to be booked well in advance with your reservations for the lodging, because these spots sell out quickly as well. The meals are served at the Phantom Ranch Canteen, which has room for about 45 people.
Breakfast is served in two seatings, one at around 5:30 a.m. and one at 7 a.m. The breakfast is the same for both times, including hotcakes and syrup, canned peaches, bacon and eggs, coffee and orange juice. The cost is around $20 for breakfast. You have about 45 minutes to eat so they can get ready for the next group and then to open up for business for the day.
Dinner also has two seatings. The earlier seating at around 5 p.m. includes steak, baked potatoes, salad, vegetables, and chocolate cake, as well as corn bread and iced tea. The steak is very flavorful! The cost of this dinner is about $45. The second seating is less expensive and starts around 6:30 p.m.. It includes either vegetarian chili or hiker’s stew, with a salad and cornbread and chocolate cake. The hiker’s stew is decent. However, it has some odd spice mixed in with it that I don’t necessarily care for. I believe it’s rosemary. It’s a beef stew with potatoes and other vegetables. This meal is around $30.
I immensely enjoyed the dinners. You sit at a long table with other folks and get to know everyone that has hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I found myself incredibly hungry after a day of hiking, so wanted to eat all I could. Being a slow eater, I found I had to mostly eat and keep to a minimum my desire to talk and get to know everyone, because the dinner is timed so the next meal can be prepared. Dinner is 45 minutes for each seating. However, the Canteen opens back up after dinner and serves alcohol, so this is your opportunity to get to know everyone better and hear hiker stories.
For lunch, there are lunch bags you can purchase for $12. They don’t actually serve lunch at Phantom Ranch. The lunch sacks contain prepackaged sausage, raisins, an apple, trail mix, an electrolyte drink mix, a candy bar, and some type of crackers generally. They are a good value and come in handy if you take a day hike from Phantom Ranch and wish to eat lunch. Sometimes they have extra lunch bags for sale if you haven’t reserved one in advance.
3. Scenery. The scenery comes free with a stay at Phantom Ranch and is out of this world! One of my favorite things about Phantom Ranch scenery is the Boat Beach. Boat Beach is about a mile walk from Phantom Ranch’s heart, and has actual sand like a real beach! Boat Beach is at the Colorado River by the suspension bridges. This is an excellent place to get sunset or sunrise photos as well. Aside from Boat Beach, Phantom Ranch has many trees and lots of rustic looking cabins, so you feel like you’re staying somewhere in the days of the old west. I often feel like I’m in an old western movie when I visit. You can also enjoy seeing the mules as they carry people from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch or as they carry supplies.
4. Activities. Phantom Ranch has a few different activities. The main draw for me to, however, is the peace and quiet of the area. I like to just find a place to sit and relax, enjoying the gorgeous area that is unscathed by modern day society. However, if you like to do things, there are options. The Canteen is open all day long for hikers to stop in and have drinks. They serve beer and wine. After dinner, many hikers gather and play board games in the Canteen. They have many games to choose from. Twice a day the Park Rangers usually give a presentation at 4 and 7:30 p.m. The discussions include information about the ranch and the Grand Canyon, or may be on a specific designated topic.
Aside from the general activities taking place at the ranch itself, you can also take a day hike somewhere. The River Loop is a popular one that takes about two hours. You get to see the suspension bridges and the Colorado River. A second idea is Clear Creek trail, which takes you to an overview where you can see Phantom Ranch below. Some try out the all day hike to Ribbon Falls, which is about 14 miles round trip but offers an incredible view of a waterfall in the Grand Canyon.
5. Wildlife. An added benefit of staying here is the wildlife that you may get to see. You may see deer, ringtails, squirrels, and chipmunks. You can perhaps see some scorpions, but be careful not to step on them or let them in your shoes! There are some foxes running around as well. On a rare occasion, you might spot a bobcat. On both of my visits within the last three years to Phantom Ranch, I saw deer, ringtails, squirrels and the casual fox. There seems to be a fox that likes to roam around the area by the dormitories. Of course, at first the fox seemed a bit scary. However, he seemed to do his own thing so I have come to like seeing him. I will admit that I will still keep my distance as you should with any wild animal. I saw many deer on my visit to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and was able to get some awesome deer photos.
6. Staff. The people who work at Phantom Ranch are incredibly friendly. They are down to earth people that see the value in living at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and providing services to the hikers that make the effort to hike 11 miles or more from the North or South Rim and then stay at Phantom Ranch or dine there. Obviously, these people seem not to be in this for the money, but more about being part of a tradition of a well preserved area for travelers. Those who work at Phantom Ranch live there, as it would be next to impossible to climb or ride mules in and out of the Grand Canyon every day. This means that they have extra dedication to making the place nice for guests, since they are part of the environment as well.
7. Overall. I would highly recommend visiting Phantom Ranch. It will only cost you about $50 per night to stay here, and about $75 to eat on average. That’s not bad for such a beautiful place! By staying at Phantom Ranch, you are able to experience the real depths of the Grand Canyon in a way that people who only visit the North Rim or South Rim will never understand. Once you’ve seen the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you will understand that it’s so much more than just a big hole in the ground! Staying in the cabins or dorms gives you a real feel that you are part of the Grand Canyon itself. Everyone who works at Phantom Ranch will make you feel very welcome!