There is only one structure for lodging beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon in the national park and it has been there for almost 100 years. It is Phantom Ranch, the brainchild of the National Park Service and the Fred Harvey Company, the handiwork of Mary Jane Colter and the welcome relief stop of the hardy hiker who opts to walk to the bottom of the canyon.
Frederick Henry Harvey sailed from England to New York City in 1853 when he was seventeen years old. He scrubbed pots in a restaurant before heading west to New Orleans and then St. Louis. Harvey eventually found work with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.
In 1873 Harvey began operating a small trio of restaurants along the tracks of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and three years later he closed a handshake deal with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to open eating houses along the great railroad line of the Southwest. There would come to be 84 Harvey Houses where railroad passengers could get a meal and bed for the night. Fred Harvey was known far and wide as “the Civilizer of the West.”
Harvey died in 1901 (according to a biographer his last words were “Cut the ham thinner, boys.”) and his sons took over operation of the Fred Harvey Company. In the 1920s it was decided to open a lodge on the Grand Canyon floor.
Mary Jane Colter
Mary Jane Colter was the architect responsible for most of the structures in Grand Canyon National Park. The site selected for her to build the canyon floor lodge was one long popular with Colorado River travelers, shaded by cottonwoods and boasting a sandy beach. Theodore Roosevelt and his party had camped here.
All the building materials save stone had to be ferried to the bottom of the canyon on the backs of mules. The resulting melange of wood and native stones became known as “national park rustic” in shaping lodges in the park system’s future. Colter completed her initial series of sketches for the compound and all involved gave a hearty endorsement. But when Colter was informed that the lodge was to named after the President’s camp – Roosevelt’s Chalets – she stated that in no way would her work be associated with that project. She had a name picked out already: Phantom Ranch. Teddy’s honorarium was scuttled.
Phantom Ranch Today
Mary Jane Colter would still recognize Phantom Ranch 90-plus years later. There are dormitories for men and women and individual cabins available. The Phantom Ranch Canteen is open for breakfast and dinner seatings. All supplies still arrive by mule train.
The only way to get to Phantom Ranch is by foot or by raft. You can hike to the ranch from either the North Rim or the South Rim and nearby are the only two bridges across the Colorado River for scores of miles in either direction. From the South Rim the most popular route is 7.8 miles down the Kaibab Trail and 9.6 miles up the Bright Angel Trail. The Ranch is also the stopover point for ambitious Rim-to-Rim hikes.
Accommodations are not luxurious but neither are they primitive. You can expect a hot shower and a cold beer. There is no cell phone reception at the Phantom Ranch, however.
Space is extremely limited and available on a reservation basis. On the first day of the month, 13 months in advance, reservations can be made. These sell out within hours which is why booking with a tour group is a favorite way to experience Phantom Ranch. Reservations are also required for the Canteen, although these are more easily acquired, especially when hiking during less popular seasons. Backcountry permits for camping at the nearby Bright Angel Campground can also be scored on shorter notice.