Even hardcore skiers and snowboarders by mid winter start hankering for a little variety in their outdoor adventure. That's when a trip down to Arizona's Grand Canyon can provide a welcome change of pace. And late winter and early spring can offer some of the best hiking conditions of the year. Even when temperatures at the South Rim are near freezing, the bottom of the canyon can have temperatures in the 50s and 60s. More than 250 hikers are rescued each year in the Grand Canyon, with most incidents resulting from heat related problems and dehydration during the warmer months. That's what makes this time of year perfect for hiking in the canyon.
A natural feature big enough to be seen from space, the Grand Canyon is one much better enjoyed at closer quarters. From within, the staggering architecture and sheer scale of the canyon can be exhilarating, even humbling. The rocks at the bottom are 2 billion years old, at the top 5 million, creating a slice through geologic time that defies belief. To walk down through this epic historical record, strata by strata--from Kaibab Limestone to Coconino Sandstone to Bright Angel Shale, right down to the Vishnu complex of the Colorado River--is to take a foot journey unlike any other.
Clearly, the best way to avoid the crowds in the sprawling, 1.2-million-acre Grand Canyon National Park is to hit the trail. Fewer than one percent of the millions of visitors each year dare to venture a significant distance below the rim. And that's where the magic is. While truly wild country elsewhere in the canyon can test the mettle of even the most experience desert hiker or canyoneer, the so-called "corridor" trails at the Grand Canyon--South Kaibab, North Kaibab, and Bright Angel--are another matter. These routes afford an opportunity to experience this geologic wonder in an intimate way, but with a degree of safety--with reliable water, known conditions, and good trails.
Any walk in the Grand Canyon is going to rate pretty high on the Richter Scale of hikes if only because of the scenery, but to appreciate the canyon, and the forces that created it, you've got to see it from the rim, and then hike down to see the river that carved it, the rim, and feel firsthand the dramatic climate shifts between the two. A hike down into the canyon lets you experience the spiritual embrace of the canyon walls--the ambience here deserves some savoring--and to explore new ground as one takes an entirely different route back to the South Rim.
The route recommended here starts from the South Rim, the hike follows the South Kaibab Trail (the best, shortest and most direct route from rim to river) seven miles down through the layer-cake of the canyon to the Colorado River, crossing via the Black Bridge to Bright Angel Camp. A few days spent here on the banks of Bright Angle Creek near the Colorado offer great hiking on the side trails and up to nearby vantage points. Even when it's cold at snowy at the rim, temperatures by the river can be warm and pleasant.
If you've got more time, then take more time. Instead of a quick rim to the river trip, think of doing the 44-mile rim to rim to rim trip from the South Rim, down to the Colorado, then up to the North Rim via Cottonwood Camp, then return to the South Rim by a different route. It works like this: From your camp at Bright Angle Campground, the North Kaibab Trail rises seven miles to Cottonwood Camp, and the following day ascends steeply seven more miles to the North Rim. From the North Rim, the route retraces itself down to Bright Angel Camp (14 miles) before crossing the Colorado on the "Silver" Bridge (downstream of the Black Bridge). From the river it ascends to the South Rim via the nine-mile Bright Angel Trail, a better, less rigorous route than the South Kaibab for climbing out.
Most hikesr who come to the park arrive through Las Vegas, probably the easiest city to reach by air, or Phoenix. Both are about five hour's drive from Grand Canyon National Park and its headquarters for visitors, the South Rim's Grand Canyon Village.