Staying at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is a must-do active outdoor vacation for all adventurers! Though it’s not a true ranch in the sense that some expect (you won’t find cattle roaming or wide open fields here in the canyon), Phantom Ranch is full of the spirit of the old west, made famous by the explorers and prospectors who explored the hidden corners of Grand Canyon. The Ranch is a world unto itself, with unique personalities, unspoken rules, endless inside jokes, and a constant supply of like-minded canyon-lovers. Read on to learn how to make the most of your visit!
Scenario: You just hiked the Grand Canyon and have arrived at Phantom Ranch. Priorities (in this order, usually): eat, shower, sleep, explore.
The Canteen (the main building where you check in) is open from 8:00am to 4:00pm and 8:00pm to 10:00pm daily. Dinners and breakfasts are served in two seatings but purchasing souvenirs or other services are not available while the meals are being served. All meals are family-style and seats are assigned based on your party.
Breakfast always includes pancakes with butter and syrup, bacon, scrambled eggs, and canned peaches. Water, orange juice, tea, and coffee are available too (the hot water is the light tan pitcher and the coffee is the dark tan pitcher). Coffee is available at the east window of the Canteen starting at 4:30am for super early risers.
Don’t forget to pick up your lunch after breakfast (if you ordered one). They are in plastic bags in a milk crate near the door. Lunches are intended to be “hiker-nutritious” and can be morphed into a bountiful array of deliciousness if you’re creative. They include a bagel, summer sausage, cream cheese packet, packet of jam, peanuts, pretzels, Craisins, Oreo’s and a packet of electrolyte powder.
Dinners have the most variety. At the early seating diners enjoy a massive steak, baked potato with butter and sour cream, salad, cornbread, and chocolate cake for dessert. The late seating is a Hiker’s Stew, broth-based with beef, carrots, and potatoes. There’s also a vegetarian chili served at this seating for those pre-registered as vegetarians, and cornbread and chocolate cake for everyone. Water is on the table and beer (usually Tecate and one local selection) and wine (one red and one white out of a box) are available for purchase. Remember, you can’t take your beer or wine outside so make sure to order it at the beginning of dinner so no chugging is required.
If you are staying in the Phantom Ranch dorms there is a small room with a shower in it toward the back of the building. This room has its own light so you can shower late at night or early in the morning to avoid the rush and not wake your dorm mates up. A basic “wash everything” soap is provided in a dispenser and a towel can be found on your bed.
If you are staying in a cabin at Phantom Ranch you will have to make the short walk to the shower house (just south of the Canteen on the east side of the main trail). There’s a men’s side and a women’s side. Towels will be in your cabin and the magic soap is available here too. Don’t forget your cabin key (it gets you into the shower house…security to keep out those nasty campground people! 😉 ) and a change of clothes so you can walk back to your cabin clean and decent.
The Phantom Ranch pipeline is a marvel of 1970s engineering and therefore breaks multiple times per year. In this case, water will be highly guarded and showers in the shower house will not be allowed. The National Park Service is in the Transcanyon pipeline project the 24 miles of piping hidden just beneath the surface of the North Kaibab Trail, but be prepared that you may have to bathe in Bright Angel Creek (not the much colder Colorado River) if there’s a pipeline issue. Bring biodegradable soap in case you are one of the lucky ones to experience a real Phantom Ranch bath!
Remember how much you wanted a bunk bed as a kid? Now you get one!
Early arrivals get the bottom bunks and will defend their easy-in/easy-out spots with their lives if necessary. If you’re in the dorms there are five bottom bunks and once they’re taken choosing from the top bunks is pure fun. There’s one bunk in the back corner with an angled ladder which is easier to negotiate than the vertical ones on all the other beds. Bonus: this bunk is right next to the A/C control! The bunk by the sink gets a light in their eyes whenever anyone uses the sink, but has the best A/C if you like to sleep cold. The bunks by the doors aren’t very quiet so most avoid those but they may not bother you if you are a heavy sleeper. If you get a top bunk, use the two hooks on the wall to hang all your stuff so you don’t have to get up and down every time you want a jolly rancher. Pro tip: bring lots of stuff sacks then hang them off the rail on the side of the bunk. That way you have a cockpit of personal needs at your disposal. Top bunks also get first dibs on the window sills so if you’re an organizer, you might enjoy “the penthouse.”
For each guest, Phantom Ranch provides a pillow, sheets, and a light blanket. Heat controls are to the left (north) of the front door, hidden behind a bunk. When you pick a spot, leave a piece of clothing or backpack on your bunk to claim it as yours. This will also keep housekeeping from stripping your bed and processing unnecessary laundry. Staying multiple nights and see your opportunity to grab a bottom bunk from someone who just hiked out? Do the Ranch staff the courtesy of moving your sheets over to the new bottom bunk so they only do the laundry for you once.
Light sleeper? The A/C and other hikers are equally disruptive so bring ear plugs. A dormitory wake-up call will come every morning by the Ranch staff at 4:30am (it’s a ½ hour later during the winter) but if you have booked 10 people and have the whole dorm to yourself, make sure to ask that they skip your building so you can sleep until the late breakfast. If you’re booked at early breakfast and there are others still sleeping, be the coolest person ever and get your stuff ready the night before or outside the morning of your hike. Let the others sleep soundly for as long as possible! And if you put your personal food in the ammo can by the back door to protect it from animals, it’s only courteous to bring the can into the bathroom to open and close it if people are sleeping.
If you are planning a trip to Phantom Ranch, make sure you make your arrangements well in advance. Whether you hike into Phantom on your own or join a hiking trip with a professional outfitter, accommodations are limited and space fills up as far as a year in advance.