I've hiked this stretch of trail in the Grand Canyon once before. Without a doubt, its one of my favorite hikes - long, beautiful, quasi-remote, and expressing the qualities that make the Grand Canyon so magnificent. If you are looking for a day hike that takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of the Canyon, and have the legs to get you along 26 miles of trail - this one is for you!
Last year I walked this path alone; this year, I took my girlfriend Dawn. We planned to catch the 5:00 AM shuttle out to Hermit's Rest, start hiking down the Hermit Trail by 5:30 AM, follow the West Tonto to the Bright Angel trail, then back up to the Rim by sunset (6:30 PM). All went as planned, and it was another memorable, magnificent hike.
One interesting aspect about starting a hike down into the Canyon on the Hermit Trail is that the trail doesn't plunge directly toward depths of the Canyon on the outset (like the Bright Angel, Kaibab, etc), but rather heads 'up' the Hermit drainage as it descends, finally reaching the junction with the Dripping Springs Trail after about 2 miles (I've twice now thought that maybe I'd missed the Hermit Trail junction in the semi-twilight, only to run into it at the lowest point where it crosses the little side canyon that the Waldron Trail crosses).
After the junction with the Dripping Springs trail, the Hermit stays on the west side of the canyon without losing much elevation for about 3 miles. On this morning it was windy. Real windy. I mean, the type of windy that can blow you over if you're not paying attention. Where the trail crossed over Lookout Point, we almost met that fate. Dropping a few yards down past the point took us out of the gale, but it was well within earshot. Here's Dawn down on the West Tonto, where the wind was gusting pretty well later that morning...
Made it down the Hermit and to the junction of the Tonto in about 3.5 hours...and took 15 min to enjoy the view and a few Jelly Bellies. The flowers were beautiful, the cacti were just starting to bloom. Even saw some wild orchids along the side of the trail...
Once we were on the West Tonto, we had about 12-13 miles of hiking until we reached the Bright Angel Trail at Indian Gardens...this is the heart of this hike. Three large drainages are crossed along the way (Monument Creek, Salt Creek, and Horn Creek). Each has it's own personality, and adds to the interest of the hike.
We hiked well along the Tonto, stopping occasionally to enjoy a view. The weather was just about perfect, hovering in the 70s with a stiff breeze that kept us cool. We reached Indian Gardens around 3:30 PM, where a good rest and re-fill of our water was in order to get us the last 3000' and 4.5 miles to the Rim.
It actually went very quickly, and felt strong the entire walk up to the Rim - making it to the top right in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset.