Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim Hike

June 1, 2015Happy Trails

There’s no question about it, the rim-to-rim hike in Grand Canyon National Park is a classic bucket list adventure. But it’s no stroll through the park, that’s for sure. Being unprepared can have catastrophic results. However, when you’ve trained properly, have the right gear and know what to expect, it can be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

  • Recommended Route: North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
  • Length: 24 miles (one-way)
  • Level: Strenuous
  • Best Time to Go: May - October

Hikers in Grand Canyon National Park (OARS)

The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Experience

For the hearty souls who are willing to work for it – less than one percent of the Grand Canyon’s five million annual visitors – the real magic lies below the rim. On this epic Grand Canyon hike, you’ll leave from the North Kaibab Trail on the North Rim, challenging your personal limits as you descend 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon before connecting with the Bright Angel Trail and climbing 4,500 feet and 9.6 miles back out again to the South Rim.

Along the North Kaibab Trail you’ll take in mesmerizing scenery as you pass through two billion years of the Earth’s history and eleven layers of ancient rocks. Eventually, after hours of knee-pounding hiking, you’ll reach the sandy banks of the Colorado River. Here, in the heart of Grand Canyon National Park, dozens of massive rock formations will tower above you on all sides. For those with a love of the natural world, it’s pure sensory overload – thrilling, dizzying, enlightening.

Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon (OARS)

At the bottom, you can enjoy a much-needed rest and overnight stay (maybe longer) at Bright Angel Campground, or one of the most exclusive lodges in America – Phantom Ranch – where a cold beverage, warm meal booked in advance, and a cozy bed await. Soak it all in, because the real adventure still lies ahead.

Climbing out of the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail, considered to be the park’s premiere trail, may be rewarding, but it’s no easy feat. However, ample shade, seasonal water sources, and views framed by massive cliffs make it a more pleasant, even enjoyable experience, for most hikers. Many, many switchbacks later when the journey is over, you’ll stand along the top of the South Rim, knowing that you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in all of its glory.

Work For It

Everyone from small children to the elderly have successfully hiked into the Grand Canyon, but even the most avid hikers and physically fit people need to take training seriously. To put it into perspective, many people compare the Grand Canyon’s rim-to-rim hike with climbing Mt. Whitney in California, the Lower 48’s highest peak, which is a 21.6-mile, 6,000-foot undertaking. In preparation for this demanding trek, it’s critical to work your heart, knees, and hips in the months prior to going. Even if you’re in the best shape of your life, whatever work you put into targeted training will make your experience that much more enjoyable and safe.

Hikers in Grand Canyon National Park (OARS)

Gearing Up

Training isn’t the only thing you need to keep in mind for a successful rim-to-rim hike. Bringing the right gear is also critical. To lighten the load, many hikers opt to hire a mule service to transport their gear to the bottom of the canyon and back out again for a fee (only available from the South Rim). But either way, you’ll need to carry a well-thought-out daypack including a variety of clothing and essentials for temperatures that can swing dramatically. At the very least you’ll want a good pair of sneakers or light-weight hiking boots, a hat, sunscreen and lip protection, sunglasses with UV protection, a hydration system or several water bottles, a first-aid kit, and plenty of snacks with a mix of salt, protein, and carbs.

Plan Your Trip

If you’re serious about hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, you’ll want to start planning more than a year in advance, especially if you plan on staying at Phantom Ranch. Reservations for Phantom Ranch, which is operated by Xanterra, open up 13 months in advance and are best attained by calling 888-29-PARKS. If you prefer to camp, backcountry permits for camping at Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch and the other campsites below the rim – Cottonwood along the North Kaibab Trail or Indian Garden along the Bright Angel Trail – become available on the first of the month, four months prior to your start month. And don’t forget this is a one-way hike. Unless you want to do it all over again, you’ll need to stage cars, leaving one at the Backcountry Information Center on the South Rim for the completion of the hike. Or, plan to be shuttled back to your car at the North Kaibab Trailhead by a service such as Trans Canyon Shuttle.

Of course, if you want somebody else to handle all the planning, including snagging reservations at Phantom Ranch without the hassle, you have options. You can choose to go with an experienced outfitter like O.A.R.S., which has been guiding rafting and hiking trips in the Grand Canyon since 1969, and offers several guided Grand Canyon hiking itineraries.

Looking for more recommendations on trails and treks for all ages and ability levels? Download NPF's Happy Trails: 25 Unforgettable National Park Hikes, a must-have for planning the perfect national park adventure!

Travel Idea and images provided by O.A.R.S. Grand Canyon, Inc., an authorized concessioner and commercial permit holder in Grand Canyon National Park. 

Comments

Did this 7/22-23, north trail tough and no water from Cottonwood to Phantom - 12 miles. Bottom 130 temp in sun. BA trail relatively easy.
Brian
Ruberry
In September 2017 we hiked from North Rim to Phantom Ranch. Several in our group had GPS's. They registered with each GPS over the 14 miles.....anywhere from 16.4 to 17.8 miles. Then hiking out via Bright Angel trail the GPS's registered over the 9.5 miles....anywhere from 11.2 to 12.1 miles. Any idea the "real" mileage and as to why we would be so "off"?
Jan
Ballman
The variation in your GPS data is not surprising. Two friends & I did the Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim last year in 22 hours or less & our readings also varied pretty significantly. We also connected with several ultra runners who experienced the same issue. The core of the issue is the erratic GPS signal in the Grand Canyon & the nature of how GPS gadgets work. The large cliffs "block" the GPS signal at times throughout the hike. Each time the signal is lost & then regained the gadget interpolates your track based on algorithms that are generally fashioned for areas where the signal will only be lost for a few seconds at a time. My Garmin GPS was constantly signaling that the signal was lost & regained. The map it drew of my route was hilarious as it had me on mountain tops one minute & deep valleys the next. Needless to say the measurement was an approximation at best. On the other hand, one of the ultra runners also wore a foot pod measurement device that measures distance using an accelerometer and those devices are generally correct to within 2%. Unfortunately, since the R2R2R took 16-22 hours to complete some of us ran out of battery power before we finished the hike impacting our distances. FYI, for those of us whose GPS' did not run out of juice the GPS's ranged from 44 to 50 miles & the foot pod 49 miles. Our route was S. Kaibab to N. Kaibab then N. Kaibab to Bright Angel. Hope this helps.
George
Gregoratos
This was an epic hike.... Our group was 58 to 73. We trained hard. One member struggled and we received lots of moral support from rangers and hikers, but ultimately we all made it. I would do it again but never in June. The best made it really difficult.
Brenda
Joyce
Hi Brenda Joyce, Would love to hear how your group trained, what issues there were and what their hiking background was. I’m a 61 year old female who has done lots of walking over the years...usually 3 mi/walk...but not much trail hiking. I would absolutely love to do this hike with my three 20 something sons...my idea not theirs...lol! Please share any info you can. Thanks, MA
Mary Ann
Williams
Great write-up and tips for hikers/backpackers! I finally got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time in January and hiked down the South Kaibab Trail, stayed at Bright Angel Campground for one night and then went back up the Bright Angel Trail and loved it! Ready to explore more!
Kara
Maceross
How does he R2R 26 mile hike compare to that of Machu Picchu which is also 26 miles?
Christine
S
R2R is 22 to 24 miles depending upon your route. I went down N Kaibab and up S Kaibab. I figured I can do 7.5 miles without need for more water. Unlike the GC, Machu Pichu on the common Inca Trail, requires a guide, and a permit. The IT has more people on the trail, the steps are very high and quite steep. As you approach the Sun Gate, the trail is so steep you use your hands to help you climb. Also the IT reaches 13,800 feet elevation.
Randy
Park
I am 35 years old and did this with a partner who is 32 years old. We hiked down South Kaibab because it is a quicker descent, and up Bright Angel because it is more gradual. All said and done, it took 4 hours to hike down to Phantom Ranch, a one hour break at the Ranch, and 7 hours to hike back up. We did this in early April when temperatures were still bearable, though- I would NOT do this hike in the hot weather (May-September). Other tips: Maybe pack your own PB&J lunches and skip the Ranch? It adds a lot of time. Also, don't forget that the hardest/steepest part of BA is actually the last several hours; the going gets really tough after Indian Garden, and you hike slower than normal due to the steepness and the sheer number of hours you have hiked. Finally, beware timing. We started at 6:45 AM (taking the 6 AM Hiker's Express Shuttle to the trailhead) and finished just after 7:00 PM after sun was setting. We do NOT recommend this for someone who has not hiked 8+ hours previously.
Greg
Rodriguez
In 1970, I was in Memphis and set out to hitchhike to California. I partnered up with another guy in the Texas Panhandle. We detoured off of Hwy 40 with the intent of seeing the Canyon but we fell asleep in a car when the guy said he was going that way. When we woke, we found that we were no where near the South Rim Park but closer to the North Rim. Once there, we decided to walk down to the bottom and then walk across and up to the South Rim Park where it'd be easy to get back onto the westbound highway. | We had no idea what the "walk" would be like but we were young, how far could it be? We carried food and drank water out of the stream that followed the trail. I carried a large backpack and he carried clothes and other things wrapped in a jacket. He tied the jacket sleeves around himself. We spent three days. We were sunburned and exhausted at the end but we were young and loved it all ... well ... um ... that last steep stretch wasn't so much "fun" as it was excruciating torture ... but the elation when we made it! We put our thumbs out to catch a ride within the park to the place we were told we would find showers. A ranger pulled over to write us a ticket. He didn't believe that we had not seen all of the "No Hitchhiking" signs as we came into the park ... when we told him that we'd come in from below after walking from the North Rim he stood back and took another look at us. It was a look of respect (not something that hippies often received from men in uniform those days). I enjoyed seeing all of the warnings about needing to train and carefully prepare for such a trip and I would encourage anyone thinking to walk this route to think carefully first ... and ... do it!
Tom
Noddy
This is such an amazing story!! Inspiring!
Densie
H.
Love this! I just signed up with a group of friends who've been preparing for awhile, and I have 45 days to get ready. After reading your story, I'm all about it!!!
Kim
Chrisman
A great story. Thank you.
Colette
Rhoding
Could you please specify why you mention May–October as the best time for hiking Rim to Rim?
eleonora
provozin
I hiked R2R between June 30th and July 3rd of this year. The North Rim is often closed due to weather in the winter, so rim to rim hiking is impossible then. That being said, Phantom Ranch hit 125 degrees while I was there, so either way, hikers have to take precautions due to weather. Both rims were pleasant though and early morning hiking to avoid the heat helped a lot.
Alex
McNair
My sister and I (21 and 24) are planning to hike R2R at the end of May 2019 for our graduation celebrations. We don't want to do it in one day because we want to enjoy the canyon. What experiences do any of you have with staying in the canyon a couple of nights and hiking out? Thinking about hiking in down N Kaibob staying at Cottonwood, hiking/staying to Bright angel, hiking to Indian garden and staying, and then hiking out by BA. We have been to both rims and hiked parts of both trails but were with our parents so couldn't do the whole thing. Any tips/advice? We both have hiked a lot and are starting a training program specifically for the elevation and temperature changes. Thanks!
Sharon
Witt
If you're in good shape, you might want to think twice about a two-night trek. You'll want to start your hike early to avoid the heat. I've done it twice and started no later than 5:00am. Last week, we made it to Cottonwood by approx. 8:15am. That would have made for an extremely long day if we stopped their for the first night. Instead, we completed the full hike by 6:30pm. (I'm 57 and my daughter is 24). Temps were good by GC standards - 100 down below with a breeze most of the day. We took a lunch break at Phantom Ranch and a 2-hour rest at Indian Garden before completing the hike by 6:30pm. When I made the hike last summer in August, I crashed at Bright Angel campground. A good thing as the temp down below was close to 120. Spent most of the time wading in the creek at the campground. Started the next morning at 5:00am and finished sometime around noon. Got a little heat exhaustion at the end but made it. I hope to do it again next year and will probably go as far as Indian Garden the first day. Toughest stretch is the last four miles -- approx a 4,000 climb up. The key is packing the right stuff -- plenty of water and the right food, headlamp, extra batteries, first aide kit, sunscreen, etc. Bring a water filter. That's the one thing we didn't bring last week -- tried to keep the packs as light as possible -- only to discover that the stops on the north side didn't have water due to cracks in the pipe. Fortunately, we were both carrying enough to get us to Phantom. It's a great experience!
Bill
Webb
Thank you, Bill! We are both cross country runners so I think we are in relatively good shape just not used to the heat. We are planning on starting really early at the North Rim taking Kaibob to Bright Angel campground and staying the night. Again, getting up early and hiking the rest of the way out through Bright Angel trail. Instead of two nights just one so we can play in the river. We have all of those things on our list and have our own filtration systems. We will be driving in from Missouri and if our backcountry permit gets approved hopefully we will be able to do it! My biggest concern was time but I just assumed it would take use a lot longer than what you are suggesting. Have you had trouble getting a backcountry permit? I have mine all ready to send in as soon as they start accepting them for May! Thanks again!
Sharon
Witt
3 of us are hiking R2R September 11th-13th of this year..how’s the weather on the canyon floor that time of year day and night?
Karen
Sexton
My boyfriend and I hiked the S Kaibab trail down to Colorado and then came back up to the south rim via Bright Angel in just under 7 hours. It was absolutely amazing! I personally liked the S Kaibab better than Bright Angel...it was steeper but the views are breathtaking and the hike was just more interesting in my opinion. We took a shuttle from Bright Angel Lodge to the trailhead at 8:00 and it was 29 degrees out, but by the time we got to the bottom, it was about 70 degrees. I feel like you just can't visit the Grand Canyon without checking this epic trail off of the list. Just don't forget your trekking poles...they are a life-saver on this trail!
Yolanda
Lewis

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