Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is an AWESOME experience. It does, however, require a good amount of physical conditioning...and don't under estimate this! We started at the Bright Angel Lodge, where we spent our first night. Our room was modest, but clean. The only complaint was that our meals at the restaurant in the Bright Angel Lodge were not very good. We are not picky eaters..but the spagetti and meatballs was really not edible. The fajitas were OK at best, and my salad had limp lettuce and was OK..again, at best.
We followed other hiker's advise and took the 'hiker express' bus from Bright Angel Lodge to the South Kaibab trailhead. There are 3 express busses...4AM, 5AM and 6AM. We took the 6AM. The South Kaibab trail is fairly steep...and short...at about 6.5 miles from top to Phantom Ranch. This trail is popular for the way down because of shorter mileage, and the fact that it does not have water available. We hiked at a steady pace with just a few 10 minute breaks...and made it to Phantom Ranch in about 3.5 hours. There is beautiful scenery all the way down...and it is advisable to get an early start because there is little shade on this trail. And, we hiked in mid-August when the temperatures at the top were in the 80's during the day...but the shade temps at the bottom, according to the thermometer at Phantom Ranch, was 110. HOT.
We were delighted to learn that Bright Angel Creek runs next to Phantom Ranch and hikers are encouraged to soak in the creek as a means to cool off. And we did. And it was wonderful, clean and cold. We were also advised, when hiking on the bottom of the grand canyon in the heat of the summer, to soak your clothes often as it cools your body's core temps. We took this advise during our 12 mile round trip to Ribbon Falls (HIGHLY recommended!!)...and were very comfortable in extremely hot temps. Not to mention standing in the falls was about the best part of the trip.
Phantom Ranch has a campground (bright angle campground), some individual small cabins and 4 'dorms'...2 for women and 2 for men. We stayed in a dorm...which were clean and had a shower and a toilet. Each dorm had 5 bunk beds, and were air conditioned, which was needed in the summer given it didn't cool off much at night. If you chose to camp..there are shaded campsites right next to the creek. That being said, it would have been too hot to have been able to sleep outside while we were visiting in August. (Although the campgrounds were full). The creek was full of people just sitting and soaking during the hot afternoon hours.
At Phantom Ranch, there is a Canteen where meals are served and it is air conditioned. They also sell some basic supplies, T-shirts, hats, etc. If you can believe it, they sell beer for cheaper than at the restaurants on the rim (about $4.50 a beer). Personally, the lemonade was a lifesaver after a long hike in the heat. You need to make meal reservations well in advance as there is only limited space, and 2 seatings for dinner and breakfast. And, you can also order a sack lunch that included a lot of food appropriate for hikers. The 2 dinners are either beef stew or steak. I won't lie and say the meals are the best I've ever had. But, if you consider everything you eat is brought in by mule..and someone else is cooking and cleaning up...we thought the meals were just fine. Breakfast was the best...pancakes, eggs, bacon and orange juice.
Scenery was spectacular along the bottom of the canyon...very didifferent than we expected. When we hiked back up to the south rim, we again took the advice of others and took Bright Angel Trail. We left camp at 5:15AM to beat the heat...and we did. This trail is 9.8 miles long, but offers water at the half way point (Indian Gardens) and then every 1.5 miles thereafter to the top. This is a long and steady uphill climb....and is very strenuous. It took us 5.5 hours to hike up from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim. Most of the others we met at the bottom took much longer to hike out. In fact, we had planned on needing about 7 hours to climb out. This trail has a good deal of morning shade, a delightful midway destination of Indian Gardens...where you'll find tall trees, shade, restrooms and water.
All in all we hiked 30+ miles in three days (6.5 miles down plus a few miles of exploration walks around camp, 12+ miles the second day from Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls and then 9.8 miles up). It is an AWESOME experience with fantastic scenery. Highly recommended. Just be aware of the heat in the summer months at the bottom of the canyon (like Phoenix) and the physical conditioning needed to hike to the bottom and back out.