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Plan Your Stay at Phantom Ranch

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Phantom ranch, nestled at the bottom of grand canyon.

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Phantom Ranch is a historic oasis nestled at the bottom of Grand Canyon. It is on the north side of the Colorado River tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek. Phantom Ranch is the only lodging below the canyon rim, and can only be reached by mule, on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River.

Have questions about the lottery process? Click here for the lottery schedule, additional information and/or FAQs regarding the Phantom Ranch Lottery.

Accommodations at Phantom Ranch

All Phantom Ranch reservations must be made in advance. Space is extremely limited. Additional individuals cannot  stay under your reservation, and guests are prohibited from doubling-up in the bunks or sleeping on the floors.

Our cabins and dorms do not have phones or televisions.

Children are welcome at Phantom Ranch; however, we discourage young children from hiking to Phantom Ranch due to extremes in temperatures in the summer and winter, and the remoteness of the location. Families with children 5 years of age or younger are limited to cabin use only.

Overnight accommodations at Phantom Ranch consist of dormitory spaces and cabins. Cabins and dormitories are heated in winter and cooled during the summer months.

Dormitories – currently unavailable

These accommodations are available to hikers only. There are 2 male dorms and 2 female dorms. Each dorm has 5 bunk beds, a shower, and a shared restroom. Bedding and towels are provided for each guest occupying a dorm bed. Children must be at least 6 years old to stay in a dormitory.

These accommodations vary in size and accommodate from 2 to 10 guests. Cabins are equipped with bedding, cold water sink, toilet, liquid soap, and hand towels. Showers, bath towels, hot water sinks, and liquid soap-shampoo combination are provided at a central location. Pricing for cabins is based on double occupancy; additional guests may stay with an additional charge.

If you are hiking the canyon or meeting/departing on a whitewater trip, and wish to stay at Phantom Ranch in a cabin or a dorm, you must call our Central Reservations Office.

Dining at the Phantom Ranch Canteen

The Phantom Ranch Canteen is currently open, for meal service (breakfast and dinner) only and with only for guests with reservations. Beverages and snacks are available from the Canteen’s side window from 8 a.m.– 8:00 p.m. Alcohol sales are limited to three beverages per person and may be consumed at your cabin area or outside the Canteen, within a designated area. Should a cabin guest arrive outside of window hours for check-in, they will need to ring the bell at the side window.

Contact Central Reservations

Central Reservations Hours of Operation Daily – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Mountain Time (observing daylight savings time) Toll-free within the U.S. 888-29-PARKS (888-297-2757) Outside the U.S. 303-29-PARKS (303-297-2757)

NOTES: The reservations office is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Each caller will be limited to making one new reservation per phone call. Additionally, each reservation may include up to a maximum of nine guests for up to a maximum of four consecutive nights. Additionally, if a caller/guest has reserved multiple reservations via multiple phone calls, the maximum consecutive nights cannot be exceeded for that guest. As of Wednesday, November 1, 2017, Phantom Ranch requests will be processed using an online lottery system. Use the buttons above to enter the lottery or check for current availability.

What time is it?  Time is confusing out here! Grand Canyon is located in Arizona, and does not follow daylight savings as it is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone. However Denver, Colorado, where our Central Reservations Office is located, does follow DST as it is in the Mountain Time Zone. Click here to check what time it is at our Central Reservations Office.

For overnight stays at Phantom Ranch, a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 20 Hikers is designated as a Group. Learn more about groups here . For overnight mule rides, parties of 10 Mule Riders may book their reservation by calling our Central Reservations office at 888-297-2757, or by entering the lottery  online .

Mule Riders

One night or two night mule trips can be booked with the Central Reservations Office. These trips are sold as a package. For more information, view Mule Trips .

Hiking is one of the most rewarding ways to see the Grand Canyon, and is also the most difficult. The walk to Phantom Ranch is approximately 7.5 miles down the South Kaibab Trail (average hiking time is 4-5 hours down) and 10 miles on the Bright Angel Trail (average hiking time down is 4-6 hours, average hiking time up is 6-10 hours). A good rule of thumb is for every hour it takes to hike down, it will take two to hike up. Summer temperatures can reach 120° F (49° C), while winter conditions can be icy and treacherous. Take a hike – but be prepared!

Duffel Service Information

Travel Notice: Due to current trail conditions, duffel service in and out of Phantom Ranch is suspended until further notice. At this time no other services related to Phantom Ranch are affected.

Weight and Dimensions

Weight limit is 30 pounds per duffel. Maximum dimensions per duffel are 36” x 20” x 13”. Gear must be packed inside your own duffel bag with no outside attachments such as walking sticks, fishing poles, canteens, etc. We cannot carry external frame packs. Gear can be transferred to a duffel and the empty pack and frame carried out by hikers. Duffels that weigh over 30 pounds will be charged the full price for a second duffel.

When Packing Food in Your Duffel

  • There are wildlife and critters that will try to get to the food packed in backpacks/duffels
  • If packing food, we encourage to place food in very sturdy plastic containers
  • Please place a label that says “FOOD” on the exterior of the duffel
  • Guests may not want to use new backpacks/duffels to pack food, as wildlife/critters may try to get into their bag
  • We have limited storage to protect duffels and will not guarantee their protection from wildlife/critters

In-bound Duffel Procedures

In-bound duffels are duffels being taken down to Phantom Ranch. They must be presented at the Xanterra Livery Barn by 3:30 p.m. the day prior to the day they are to go down to Phantom Ranch. (Late Duffels are not encouraged. Duffels can be delivered to Phantom Ranch or to the boat beach (if rafting out).

Out-bound Duffel Procedures

Out-bound duffels are duffels being taken out of the canyon up to Grand Canyon Village. They must be presented at the Phantom Ranch Loading Dock no later than 6:30 a.m. – on the day they are to be taken up out of the canyon. The weighing, measuring and loading occurs only at Phantom Ranch.

Duffels may be claimed between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. at the Xanterra Livery Barn the day they are brought up from the canyon (between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. in the winter) or between 6:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. the following day.

Late duffel procedures

Late pickup of duffels coming up from Phantom Ranch is accommodated between 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.

Delivery of late duffels going down to Phantom Ranch must be arranged for prior to midnight the day/evening prior to delivery at Phantom.

A $10 additional charge (late fee) will be collected for late duffels per call (not per duffel). Guests should call the Xanterra switchboard at 928-638-2631 so the operator can arrange for an employee to handle the late duffel request.

Reconfirming your Phantom Ranch hiker reservation

If you have made advance reservations for Phantom Ranch, YOU MUST RECONFIRM YOUR RESERVATION 2 DAYS PRIOR TO YOUR HIKE. To reconfirm, call the Bright Angel Transportation Desk at 928-638-3283. This allows us to deal with any questions or problems you may have more effectively. It will also allow us to notify you of any recent changes with trail closures, pipeline breaks, inclement weather, or other items that may impact your hike.

Additional Information:

  • Accommodations for rafting trips must be booked through the outside vendors.
  • Dorm accommodations (currently unavailable) are twin size bunk beds. Cabins will have either two sets of twin size bunk beds, or one queen size bed.
  • The Phantom Ranch Canteen serves breakfast and dinner, which must be reserved in advance. If you have special dietary needs, such as glucose intolerance or food allergies, please advise the reservation agent at the time of booking. Phantom Ranch will do their best to accommodate all special requests.
  • The Canteen is available for all visitors during specific hours, with snacks, beverages and sundries for purchase. For more information view Phantom Ranch Canteen.
  • All rates quoted in U.S. Dollars and do not include applicable taxes.
  • A National Park Service campground is located nearby and requires a backcountry permit. A backcountry permit is not required for guests staying in Phantom Ranch dorms or cabins. Backcountry permits may be obtained by writing to:

Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry Reservations Office PO Box 129 Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 or via fax: 928-638-2125

Photo Gallery

4 Guest Cabin Exterior

4 Guest Cabin Interior

Group Cabin Exterior

Group Cabin Interior

Canteen Breakfast Service

Dorm Exterior

Phantom Ranch Grounds

Canteen Exterior

Canteen Dinner Service

Queen Cabin Exterior

Queen Cabin Interior

Phantom Ranch Retail

Showerhouse Exterior

Showerhouse Interior

Canteen Exterior at Night

is phantom ranch open year round

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Grand Canyon  Visitor Center

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch has Served the Guests of the Grand Canyon for Nearly a Century

Phantom Ranch is truly an oasis in a beautiful place. As the only lodge at the bottom of the Grand Canyon near Kaibab / Bright Angel trails, Phantom Ranch is without a doubt a great place to stay at a very reasonable price.

The Phantom Ranch Canteen provides hearty breakfasts and sack lunches to adventurous travelers who journey to the bottom of the Canyon. Plan ahead to order the stew dinner (later seating) or the steak dinner (early seating) for when you arrive. Vegetarian options of bean stew are available as well.

Booking at phantom ranch is normally done 13 months in advance. Advance reservations are required for either overnight mule ride packages or hiker overnight accommodations and meals.

Open year-round, the ranch is only accessible by mule, by foot, or by rafting the Colorado River. It is a well coveted place to rest while hiking down and up the Grand Canyon. The beauty of the inner canyon cannot be truly appreciated any other way. The NPS Ranger at Phantom Ranch gives two daily talks about the history of the site and takes visitors scorpion night hunting.

Take some time to stop and soak your feet and legs in the Bright Angel Creek – it is so cold and amazing! Better than ice.

Built in 1922, Phantom Ranch continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the national park system. Phantom Ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and holds the distinction of being one of the only two places left in America whose mail is still delivered by mule.

Phantom Ranch provides heated and air conditioned dormitory spaces and cabins that are segregated into male and female. An alarm clock, sink and toilet are also included in the accommodations. The shower house is just a short walk away and has everything you need with hot water and good towels. A combination soap/shampoo is provided so you don’t need to carry your own.

Room Rates:

$100 – $180

Please note: These prices are rack rates and only meant as guidance for pricing. Please call hotel for exact rate.

Central Reservations Hours of Operation Daily – 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Mountain Time Toll-free within the U.S. 888-29-PARKS (888-297-2757) Outside the U.S. 303-29-PARKS (303-297-2757)

North Kaibab Trail, North Rim, AZ 86052, United States

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Phantom Ranch at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

A comfortable oasis nestled tucked beside bright angel creek on the north side of the colorado river, phantom ranch is the only lodging below the grand canyon rim..

If you are looking for a unique experience powered by your own feet (or of those of a mule you are riding on top) in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, look no further than Phantom Ranch.

Located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it is tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek on the north side of the Colorado River and is the only lodging facility below the canyon rim. The ranch can only be reached by mule, by foot or by rafting the Colorado River and is a popular stop-over point for hikers and mule riders traveling to the bottom of the canyon via the famous Bright Angel or Kaibab trails.

Getting to Phantom Ranch

It’s not an easy hike. If you take the South Kaibab trail, it is a 7.5-mile hike, which takes 4-5 hours to get to the ranch, depending on your speed. If you hike on the Bright Angel trail, it’s 10 miles and 4-6 hours to get to the ranch. Getting back to the top of Grand Canyon’s rim takes even longer since the entire route is uphill. Heat can and has been a safety hazard hiking to and from Phantom Ranch because of the time you need to spend on the trail to get there and back. In addition, temperatures rise as you get closer to the Colorado River, so if your timing is off, you can end up hiking in life-threatening heat.

Hikers rest outside a cabin at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Phantom Ranch’s Accommodations

Designed by architect Mary Jane Colter in the 1920s, Colter used native stone and wood as part of her design. There are four dormitories: two for males and two for females. Each dorm has five bunk beds, a restroom and a shower. The ranch provides towels and bedding for each guest. There are cabins you can stay in, as well. While the cabins are variable in size, they can fit between two to 10 people, but the prices are based on double occupancy. There is a central location that houses showers, hot water sinks, bath towels and liquid soap.

To take a mule trip to and from Phantom Ranch, you can book these through the same central reservations offices you make your Phantom Ranch reservations. See details below.

The Phantom Ranch Cantina serves breakfast and dinner, but you must make reservations in advance if you would like meals at Phantom Ranch. The Canteen also sells snacks, beverages and sundries.

For more information: Reservations (888) 297-2757 or (303) 297-2757

Phantom Ranch is very popular and has instituted a lottery system starting for stays in April 2024 to make it easier to secure lodging. You can apply for the lottery 15 months in advance of your desired stay dates between the 1st and the 25th. For example, if you wanted to stay at Phantom Ranch in May 2024, you would apply between March 1 and 25, 2023. Results are announced the next month (April 2023, in our example) and any remaining reservations go on sale to the general public 13th months in advance.

Both the lottery and the general reservations can be found at .

One last piece of advice. Don’t forget to reconfirm your reservation two days before your hike. This is required. To reconfirm, please call the Bright Angel Transportation Desk at 928-638-3283.

2023 Phantom Ranch Updates

In 2023 the park service will be doing major infrastructure projects that will impact Phantom Ranch operations. Phantom Ranch hiker dormitories are closed at least through 2023 and showers have been turned off indefinitely. The Phantom Ranch Canteen is open for guests only for breakfast and dinner, with the side window serving snacks and drinks to guests and the general public. Cabins are expected to be closed January through March 2024. Check the Xanterra website for up-to-date details.

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is phantom ranch open year round


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Last updated: March 14, 2022

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PO Box 129 Grand Canyon, AZ 86023


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  • Grand Canyon Village

Phantom Ranch

Yaki Point Rd, Grand Canyon Village , Arizona 86023 USA

is phantom ranch open year round

  • Independent
  • Credit Cards Accepted
  • Not Wheelchair Accessible
  • Public Restrooms
  • Outdoor Seating
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“nestled at the bottom of the Grand Canyon”

Phantom Ranch is a comfortable oasis nestled at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It is tucked in beside Bright Angel Creek on the north side of the Colorado River and is the only lodging facility below the Canyon rim. The Ranch can only be reached by mule, by foot, or by rafting the Colorado River and is a popular stop-over point for hikers and mule riders traveling to the bottom of the Canyon via the famous Bright Angel or Kaibab trails. Open year-round. Cabin accommodations at Phantom Ranch are included with the overnight mule trips.  Cabin accommodations and dormitory-style lodging are available to overnight hikers with an advance reservation. A National Park Service campground is also located nearby and requires a backcountry permit. A backcountry permit is NOT required for people staying in Phantom Ranch dorms or cabins. Also popular is the Phantom Ranch Canteen where meals, beverages, and sundries are available for adventurous travelers who journey to the bottom of the Canyon. Meals MUST be reserved well in advance of your descent. Mule trips do include a lunch on the way down, steak dinner that night and a breakfast the next morning before the ride out. Hikers need to reserve meals separately and well in advance.

Photo of Dave Logan

Reviewed by Dave Logan

The only developed accommodations in the Bottom of Grand Canyon! Staying at the Ranch offers hikers the opportunity to hike to the bottom of the Canyon and spend a night or 2 without having to lug a bunch of camping gear. It's especially nice in the off-season (December through February) because the Canyon is far more quiet and ofetn the daytime temps are perfect for hiking. A hot shower, hot meal, and soft bed are a great way to top off one of the finest hikes in the world.

Reservations are VERY hard to come by but if you are flexible, just allow yourself 4 or 5 days in the region (Flagstaff and Sedona are nearby and great towns!) and try and score a last-minute cancellation. People always cancel about 2 days in advance. Oh yeah, bring ear plugs! If you share a dorm, you might have some snoring roommates.

Photo of KramerFamily2017

Reviewed by KramerFamily2017

Amazing Experience, my husband and I planned this trip one over a decade ago and I got pregnant. We had to cancel and it took us a long time to get rebooked. You need to make reservations far in advance (about a year) or get a last minute cancellation. We went at the end of April, beginning of May. We stayed in the men's and women's bunks. After the long hike down the South Kaibob trail, I could have slept through anything. So I don't know if snoring was an issue in the bunk. The bunks setups were nice, there were hooks to hang packs, outlets for charging gear and one bathroom everyone shared. The food was great fuel for our hiking, we stayed one night and hiked out Bright Angel the next day. We had amazing weather. I think 60 at the top and over 90 at the bottom. Nothing sticking your feet in the Bright Angel Creek couldn't cure! Can't wait to go back again and stay a little longer - hopefully it won't take another 10 years!

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  • Pets Allowed
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Grand Canyon's Phantom Ranch reopens reservations for 2023. Here's how to book

is phantom ranch open year round

Grand Canyon visitors will have a new opportunity to reserve stays at Phantom Ranch, the rustic lodge at the canyon bottom that's so difficult to get into you need to enter a lottery to get a chance.

Xanterra Travel Collection, the concessionaire at Phantom Ranch, announced this week it would reopen reservations for cabin stays at the ranch from May to next January, as well as overnight mule rides to the bottom of the canyon rim from now through next January.

Reservations for Phantom Ranch were paused since January 2022 in anticipation of several National Park Service infrastructure projects. But delays on those projects allowed officials to reopen cabin and mule ride bookings. The hiker dormitories — small bunkhouses that hold 10 people each — are not available this year.

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How to get Phantom Ranch reservations in 2023

Reservations for hiker cabins at Phantom Ranch can be made for May 2023 through January 2024.

A limited number of overnight mule rides are available on select dates in January, with more available from February through January 2024.

Xanterra will begin accepting reservations for Phantom Ranch cabins and mule rides on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Reservations can be made online starting at 12:01 a.m. MST at , or by phone with a reservation agent starting at 7 a.m.

Xanterra also plans to open reservations for cabins and mule rides in February 2024 starting on Feb. 1 and in March 2024 starting March 1.

High demand is expected, so be patient when placing your reservation.

Is it typical to reserve Phantom Ranch with little advance notice?

No. Phantom Ranch is such an in-demand experience that Xanterra normally requires 14 months' advance notice.

And since there's so little space available, people must enter a lottery to get a chance at a reservation. Lotteries run for 25 days each month; winners are selected and notified the next month that they can book their reservations.

The lottery schedule will resume in February for cabin stays and mule rides in April 2024.

Why were Phantom Ranch reservations closed in 2022?

Xanterra paused reservations in January 2022 for mule rides as of January 2023 and hiker cabins as of May 1, 2023. It anticipated the park service would begin work on major infrastructure projects such as the Transcanyon Waterline Project, which would affect its ability to offer services at Phantom Ranch.

This month, Xanterra reopened a limited number of reservations based on the most recent park service updates, which stated the projects are "delayed and currently in the contracting phase."

For complete information on Phantom Ranch, go to .

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Travel | August 19, 2022

The Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch Turns 100 This Year

A century after it was built, the secluded resort below the rim is still an architectural marvel

Phantom Ranch

Zachary Petit

A labyrinth of trails branches miles and miles out from the bustling, tourist-packed South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The hike down the South Kaibab Trail is intense: seven-and-a-half miles of sunbaked switchbacks and thousands of feet of elevation change, past endless prickly pear and alien blooms of agave. After five hours of descent, calves wobbling and fortitude waning, you cross a foot bridge spanning the Colorado River and round a final corner, and there it is, against all odds: Phantom Ranch.

Currently celebrating its centennial, Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch is considered one of the world’s most exclusive accommodations, requiring a win in a lottery system more than a year in advance to nab a reservation. Accessible only by foot, mule or raft, it is secluded, and, like the canyon that cradles it, it’s a place frozen in time. Cell phones don’t work. There is no internet. Instead, people sit around and swap tales over stew from the canteen while mule deer graze mere feet away. Once the day hikers depart, you’re left in solitude, silence and perpetual stars, a feeling that is at once jarring and wondrous.

Phantom Ranch aerial

Designed to channel a dude ranch, the site consists of a handful of cabins and dorms situated around a canteen that’s home to the ranch’s kitchen and dining hall. But in those modest buildings is an aesthetic that would help define the look of nearly all the historic buildings at the park, from the Bright Angel Lodge to the Desert View Watchtower and beyond—and others around the country dating to the National Park system’s formative years.

Even today, Phantom Ranch, nearly one vertical mile below the canyon’s rim, is a marvel—a fact that only underscores its improbable construction a century ago.

Which raises the question: Why was it built here in the first place?

Bringing tourists to the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, a place that appears devoid of human life from the rim, has long brimmed with it. The Ancestral Puebloan, Cohonina, Havasupai, Zuni, Navajo and other Native American tribes traversed the inner canyon for thousands of years before European explorers arrived. Beginning in the late 1800s, a wave of prospectors began descending into the canyon in search of copper, asbestos and other ore.

“These places were all open for exploitation,” says former Kaibab National Forest historian Teri Cleeland, who has richly documented the significance of Phantom Ranch and the surrounding canyon corridor, while making a case for its preservation. “That was the default—go homestead it, go put a mining claim on it.”

As Cleeland has noted, explorer Joseph Christmas Ives declared the area “a profitless locality” in 1861. After investing time and effort into developing mining sites, the return was, in most cases, pretty dismal.

Tourism, however, was a much easier way to turn a profit. The railroad arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1901, and entrepreneurs charged curious visitors a $1 toll to explore the inner canyon on privately owned trails that had been used for mining not long before. Meanwhile, Ellsworth and Emery Kolb—photographers whose work is a hallmark of the canyon’s early days—captured images of these tourists on mules, developing the photos in a mineshaft nearby to sell to them on their return. In 1907, deeper in the canyon, the enterprising David Rust set up a tent camp near a crossing of the Colorado River—laying the foundation for Phantom Ranch as we know it today.

David Rust's camp

Rust planted cottonwood trees and other flora, and in the absence of any bridges spanning the Colorado, ferried tourists and their (likely terrified) mules from one side to the other with a gravity- and crank-driven cable car, a precarious cage that dangled 60 feet above the river. National Park Service documents quote one early rider who described the experience as like “being the clapper in a bell” on a windy day.

Theodore Roosevelt, who delighted in riding it multiple times, was a fan of the cable car. Rust’s development was later renamed “Roosevelt Camp” in honor of the president—and after the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919, plans began to take shape to offer the first (and to this day, only) inner-canyon hotel for tourists trekking to the bottom.

David Rust's cable car

The first order of business was building a critical piece of infrastructure: a bridge to bring tourists and building supplies from the South Rim to the property’s site just across the river. According to the journal Construction History , an excess of 40 tons of materials for the bridge were ferried in on daily mule trains. The most difficult task came when it was time to haul the 1,000-pound, 550-foot-long cables down; through a carefully choreographed distribution of man and mule, “the whole procession slowly moved down the perilous and torturous trail.” At one point during construction, three “unruly” horses hauling more than 150 pounds of TNT slipped over a cliff.

Completed in 1921, the wooden bridge was only marginally better than the cable car. Prone to flipping in high winds, the structure could only support a single mule at a time. According to the National Park Service, the bridge moved with such force in the wind that it made those mules seasick. But, despite its flaws, it linked the North and South Rim at the Colorado River, establishing a firm route to the planned development that was being dubbed “Roosevelt Chalet.”

wooden bridge over Colorado River

An architect named Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter would have other plans for the name.

The architect behind Phantom Ranch

“Colter was, I think, quite an enigmatic person,” says Robert W. Audretsch, author of Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch .

The chain-smoking, Pittsburgh-born designer and architect had developed an interest in Native American art at a young age. A lone female in a male-dominated field, especially at the turn of the century, Colter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, a key Grand Canyon development concessionaire, in 1902. Lore and legend tend to play a role in most discussions about Colter, and definitive facts about her personal life can be fleeting. What experts agree on is that her work was her life, and she was wholly invested in it.

Mary Colter

As Virginia L. Grattan notes in her biography Mary Colter: Builder Upon the Red Earth , at the time when Colter began her professional career, American architecture was still heavily influenced by European trends. “Foreign style superimposed on the American landscape,” she writes. The National Park Service, meanwhile, had decreed that park developments should be in harmony with the surrounding landscape. And that was something Colter wholly excelled at.

“Her approach was to infuse the landscape and geology of the Southwest, and its cultural history, into the exteriors, interiors and settings of her buildings,” says Arnold Berke, author of Mary Colter: Architect of the Southwest . “The results were cleverly comprehensive, A-to-Z bundles of expression designed to delight—and inform—travelers.”

After initially working as an interior designer for the Fred Harvey Company, Colter soon ascended to the position of architect, and began her work at the Grand Canyon with the Hopi House in 1905. She followed it with Hermit’s Rest and Lookout Studio in 1914. When the idea for a tourist hotel at the bottom of the canyon began percolating, Colter would have likely been an ideal contender to continue building out the park’s architectural language.

Hopi House

No known record exists of when Colter first visited the site that would become Phantom Ranch. “There are no drawings of any kind of Phantom Ranch that I've ever seen,” Cleeland says. Berke concurs, speculating that Colter might have figured the project just wasn’t going to be feasible at the outset given the remoteness of the location.

“But she was so driven and so imaginative,” he says. “I think at a certain point, she and her colleagues all agreed, well, we can do this . And this will be something new, because it'll be the first time we get people down into the canyon .”

Per Colter’s approach to design, the site dictated the materials: rocks and boulders from the area were gathered and used in the creation of the buildings. Everything else—quite literally, from doors to windows and everything in between—had to be hauled down by mule. Cleeland says nothing could be longer than the length of a mule because of the trail’s tight turns and switchbacks. She adds that upon close inspection of the Phantom Ranch buildings, one can identify where rafters and beams were spliced together.

Phantom Ranch canteen in 1922

“The remoteness of [this project] necessitated an attention to material and resource efficiency that anticipated today’s sustainable approach to materials in design and construction,” Construction History notes.

Colter was a perfectionist, famously exacting, confident and tough. “She picked every color and design used on the inside and outside of the structure,” Audretsch writes “She even stood over individual workmen, picking out specific materials and directing their exact position.”

Phantom Ranch original layout

While primary documents about the original build are elusive, Phantom Ranch officially opened on November 9, 1922, with a lodge with a dining hall, and four distinct Craftsman bungalow cabins. It was built at a cost of $20,000.

Thanks to the organic nature of the build, the structures appeared to be born of their environment, rather than created by a designer working intently behind the scenes.

“It takes a lot of art to do something that looks artless,” Berke says. “And that's Colter.”

Eight cabins, a rec hall, a shower house and more would be added later in the ’20s, completing a loop of buildings anchored by the canteen. From the outset, the ranch was a perfect embodiment of the “Park Rustic” style that Colter played a key role in pioneering and that would become the dominant look of National Park architecture from 1916 to 1942 . As the National Park Service breaks it down , “Infused with native materials, natural whole logs, and built by hand (or meant to look as if it was), ‘Parkitecture’ defines the National Park Service experience in the collective memories of visitors just as much as our natural landscapes.” Popular examples include the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone , and Colter’s other buildings at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

As for how “Phantom” Ranch got its name—well, that’s another mystery. Newspapers told tales of apparitions and haunts at the site. Most sources today agree that Colter was unsatisfied with the perhaps banal “Roosevelt’s Chalet,” and wanted something with a bit more mystique.

Berke says the nearby Phantom Canyon—a slot canyon that could be difficult to find depending on the time of year and the time of day—no doubt inspired the name Phantom Ranch.

The opening of Phantom Ranch

On December 10, 1922, The Arizona Republican headlined an article, “Americans Find Finer Scenery Right at Home Than in Europe,” detailing how the Grand Canyon’s annual visitorship had rocketed to 84,700—and touting the new tourist facility below the rim, Phantom Ranch. That figure would rise to 134,053 by 1925, and more than double by 1929.

Meanwhile, a travel agency’s ad from 1923 detailed a destination “miles wide and colored like a sunset … where you can enjoy an unordinary out-west outing a few days or weeks,” again citing the ranch.

“The specific goal was to lure tourists,” Berke says. “Colter did it. She did it brilliantly.”

Havasupai workers

Given the small number of available cabins, Phantom Ranch represented the most exclusive and exotic of getaways. In 1926, Swedish Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Louise rode through Phantom Ranch on mules named Bob and Flo. In 1939, the Los Angeles Times noted that “the scenic beauties of Grand Canyon were a poor second in guest interest” when film idol Tyrone Power and his bride, French actress Annabella , visited. Guides drew straws to determine who would shepard them down to Phantom Ranch. Actress and writer Signe Hasso dropped by in 1941. Prince Albert of Belgium followed in 1955. Barry Goldwater and Robert Kennedy arrived via river raft trips in 1965 and 1967—though the former had to be rescued by helicopter when his group encountered impassable rapids.

Shortly after Phantom Ranch opened, the new South Kaibab Trail was blasted and jackhammered in to create a shorter, safer approach to the ranch and the Colorado River than was currently available. The wooden suspension bridge was replaced with a better bridge in 1928 that stands to this day, thanks to the group of 42 primarily Havasupai workers who carried the 550-foot cables down on their shoulders. Construction took place at night to avoid the searing inner-canyon summer temperatures.

Over the next few years, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed Phantom Ranch and the surrounding area as we know it today, with the help of a mule train that averaged 200 pounds of freight per animal, hauling 30,000 pounds of supplies every week, according to Audretsch’s research. CCC enrollees built trails, hanging precariously from ropes with jackhammers suspended on lines next to them; they landscaped the area, planting nascent trees that now offer shade; they created the transcanyon telephone line, drilling and pounding iron pipe into rock; they even constructed the storied swimming pool at Phantom Ranch, now closed and filled in.

Phantom Ranch pool

As Audretsch also documents, in a time of segregation at the rim, Black and white men worked alongside each other, doing the same tasks at the canyon floor. And miraculously, in the midst of intensely dangerous work in such a remote location, not a single person died—even blasting in the River Trail leading to Phantom Ranch, which the foreman assumed would be named after the first person killed in the endeavor.

When the CCC left in 1937, the remarkable feat of a decade-and-a-half of inner-canyon development came to a close—in many ways, sealing Phantom Ranch in time like a bug in amber.

Jackhammering River Trail

The cabins now have air conditioning units, and infrastructure updates and improvements happen from time to time—including the massive transcanyon water pipeline initiative that is primed to pass through Phantom Ranch, pausing reservations as the National Park Service replaces the nearly 60-year-old waterlines that break numerous times each year, disrupting service to the tourist-heavy South Rim.

But by and large, one gets the impression that not all that much has changed over the decades.

“About the last thing a visitor to the Grand Canyon would expect to find at the bottom of this mile-deep chasm would be a farm—yet that is what has been established there to greet the wayfarer at the end of his thrilling descent,” wrote The Arizona Republican on June 21, 1922. “The Ranch is a veritable pastoral gem set in a wilderness of vividly colored and gigantic cliffs and rocky slopes.”

The same could be said today.

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Zachary Petit

Zachary Petit | | READ MORE

Zachary Petit is a freelance journalist and obsessive traveler whose words have appeared in National Geographic , National Geographic Kids , Mental_Floss , and many other outlets. He is the author of  The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing  and  Treat Ideas Like Cats .


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