Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim Hike

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
GPS receivers will experience 'multi-path' inside of the Grand Canyon (they also do this whenever there are high-reflective, obstructive views such as tall buildings and around water features). In addition, the GPS constellation of satellites give you better results when the satellites being tracked are spread out. In a canyon, you're limiting your line-of-site to a relatively small space above you, giving you a 'bad' geometry (referred as geometric dilution of position in GPS circles). The former issue isn't as big of an issue these days, with all of the satellites available and correcting algorithms in today's receivers. The latter, however, is physics and there's not a whole lot that can be done about it. More expensive 'survey' grade GPS receivers use on-site correcting methods to resolve these problems (such as laser 'base stations'). There are other methods, such as phase wave receivers, that help, but I don't think any rec-grade GPS receivers have those.
Shannon
McDonald
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
Hi Mary Ann...I am 46 and was 37 the first time I hiked it. I am a CrossFitter so my recommendation to you is incorporate squats into your daily routine, even weighted squats as well as steps. Any stadium steps you might have access to while certainly help you be better equipped. Cardiovascular exercises such has burpees, jogging, jump rope, biking will also help as well.
Donna
Richter
I would be interested in any training plans which I could use.
Larry
Stone
Larry, I have developed multiple hiking training programs over the years if you are interested let me know and I can email you a four or six week training program. I am a certified personal trainer an avid outdoorman.
Cole
Farmer
Greetings Cole. May I impose upon you for a rim to rim training plan? I'm 65 and run 3 miles 4 or 5 times a week (average pace 34 minutes). Thank you.
Lonnie
Buckels
Cole, I'd love to get a copy of your training regimen!
Lydia
Sugarman
Could I get a copy of your training regiment. My family and I plan to hike this May and want to be prepared. Thank you in advance.
Jenny
Robinson
Cole, may I please get your training guide? thank you, Carol
Carol
McCain
Cole, My group plans to do the rim-to-rim in one day at the end of May. I would really love a 6-10-week training regimen! Thank you.
Carla
Hill
Cole, I would like to see your training plan. I am doing a lot of core work with a personal trainer but I would like to focus on endurance for the R2R. Julie
Julie
McMinn
Cole, please e-mail me your 6 week training program. I am 67 years old and in good shape. Thank you.
Debbie
Spiering
Cole, I would LOVE a copy of your training program! My twin and I hike most days of the week when weather permits. We are planning to embark on the rim-to-rim hike next year. We'll be 46 and although we're in decent shape, I worry a bit, haha!
Rosa
Ramirez
Hi Cole. If you're still sharing, I request a copy of your training plan. Planning a R2R trip, with local back packing and personal training to prepare. Thanks in advance. Vince
Vince
Desjardins
Cole, I have hiked rim to rim in the past in one day. I am planning on hiking rim to rim again this June, I have a workout partner that will be joining me. I am concerned with her hydration, what are your recommendations? Thanks
CeCe
collmorgen
Hi Cole! I'm wanting to convince a few hiking friends of various ages/skill levels to hike rim to rim with me! I would be so appreciative of any training materials you have to offer, if you are still offering them.
Alexa
Gunther
Cole, I would also appreciate a receiving your rim-to-rim training plan. Thank you for your generosity.
Kelly
Rush
Hi Cole! would you mind if I had a copy of your hiking training program? Thank you sir!!
Stephan
Stillwell
Hi Cole, I’m planning on hiking the rim to rim trail this October. I would love to have your training guide. I really appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge. I am doing my best to be prepared so that I can really enjoy this experience. Thank you, Linda
Linda
Reeves
Me as well!
Cole
Timbol
I would love the training info as well!
Suria
Nelson
Hi Cole, We would love a copy of your plan as well. We have permits for August and want to be ready for the heat! Thank you, Erica
Erica
Kreske
My group was planning on going in June and you recommended not to go in June. Could you let me know why not in June? Thank you
Lacy
Castleberry
Heat. The temperature might change 50-60 degrees from the morning at the rim to the afternoon near the river. Strenuous hikes are best in cool weather.
D
H
Hi Brenda, I am a 61 year old female planning to do the R2R in a day in May. I’ve been training hard for the past 6 weeks. I would love to have a copy of your training plan if you are willing to share. Thanks so much
Kathie
Defrancesco
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

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