Having ogled the Other Grand Canyon by way of two very easily-accessible ground-level overlooks, we decided it was time to end the laziness and tackle a reasonably strenuous challenge. We chose what sounded like the most promising (and thrillingly-named) destination within my range: the Brink of the Lower Falls.
While the path to the Brink isn’t a particularly long trail, it’s also not the easiest trail. It works its way down the canyon wall by working its way back and forth through 180-degree turns, sort of like San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street, but narrower. Here you can see four different legs of the path.
The path is narrow, and while it’s mostly smooth, it does have its imperfections. Also, as the above photo shows, aside from the handrails at the turns, there are no fences or handrails to prevent an unfortunate visitor from accidentally taking a painful shortcut to the bottom. (The good news is that there is a fence at the bottom to prevent that unfortunate visitor from accidentally taking a refreshing swim at the end of his painful shortcut.) I doubt most visitors worry much about the open edges, but as I walked down the trail, my questionable balance and propensity for stumbling prompted me to be unusually cautious — especially when oncoming traffic had the inside of the path, forcing me to walk near the edge.
The canyon wall around the path holds fine examples of plants adapting to grow in difficult places; for example, because of the steep incline and the intrusively supportive rock, this particular tree is sponsored by the letter J.
The walk to the bottom of the path took me about 15 minutes, but as I noted, I sacrificed speed for caution; if you’re not entirely out of shape and you trust your balance, you could make it in 10 minutes. (I’m sure you could make it in even less time, but there’s no real reason to hurry. It’s a fun trail; just enjoy it.) When we reached the end, we found that the overlook’s name wasn’t exaggerating: it truly does let you stand at the brink of the falls. To illustrate its crazy location, here’s a photo of the lower falls from Artist Point; the Brink overlook is circled in red.
The path to the Brink provides little in the way of canyon views, so there’s really no clue to what awaits at the end of the path. That’s good, because when you’re finally presented with the view from the Brink, the impact is incredible. I’ve been blessed enough to have seen beautiful sights across the United States and even in Europe, and I can say the view from the Brink of the Lower Falls is, without a doubt, among the most beautiful I’ve had the privilege of seeing. That was my first thought when I reached the end of the path and saw the canyon bathed in sunlight and capped by a gorgeous summer sky, and even now, a year later, it’s still my thought when I see the photos of the canyon from the Brink. I can’t fully elucidate the qualities that pin the scene at or near the top of the list, but I know it’s there.
What makes the whole scene even more remarkable is the adjacent presence of the waterfall. There’s no optical illusion or misleading angle in the above red-circly photo; the overlook lets you stand at the edge of the cliff right next to the river, with only a fence separating you from a refreshing swim of certain death. So while I was showing my shocked face to the canyon, I was listening to the thunderous roar of endless gallons of water pouring over the cliff and crashing onto the rocks below. It’s one thing to admire a waterfall from afar, but it’s something else entirely to get an up close and personal experience of the power of a waterfall.
So: enough jabbering. Here’s the view.
Those pictures don’t even have the phone number of doing the canyon view justice, but they’re enough to provide an idea of the stunning panorama that awaits. If you ever visit Yellowstone — and you should, post-haste — and you’re wondering what to visit on a beautiful sunny afternoon, go to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and walk the trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. It’s one of the highlightiest highlights of the park.