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

Hi Mark, I am thinking of hiking this trail during the same time next year, can you give me the list of things you packed, I am more interested on what you need for the overnight camping stay?? Thanks Sam
swaminathan
vadivelu
I just (July, 2019) completed the rim-to-rim hike. I started on the north rim, stayed two nights at Bright Angel campground and then hiked the Bright Angel trail to the south rim. I should have reversed my hike. I left the north rim at 3am but the 'box' (the last four miles of the hike) was an oven. Leave from the south rim and hike down the Bright Angel trail. There is lots of shade past Indian Garden and the heat will not be so intense. Get the 'box' out of the way early in the morning and it will not be too intense. There is also lots of shade going up the north rim.
Katie
OBrien
I’m planning my R2R for July 2020 and have reso overnight at Phantom Ranch but now struggling with the other travel logistics. Where did you stay before/after the hike and how did you navigate getting down one side and up the other side travel wise? Did you have two cars - one on each rim?
Cindy
Sattler
Use Trans-Canyon Shuttle to get from one side to the other https://www.trans-canyonshuttle.com/ We parked at the south rim Lot D near the Backcountry Office, took the shuttle to the north rim & then hiked back to the car. We stayed two nights on each rim.
Terry
Fazio
Are there any hotels on the North Rim? Lists pop up when I Google the question but some on the list are clearly not on the North Rim. Thanks
Bob
Pepin
Hello, I am travelling from Australia to Phoneix and have 3 days to explore prior to work. I really am desperate to see the grand canyon and get on a hike..I am pretty fit and have done a lot of hiking. 11-15th October would be fantastic? Can anyone let me know any tours?
Portia
weeks
12 years ago at the age of 63 and 11 years after coronary bypass surgery, hiked rim to rim with my 2 sons-in law from the North Rim, staying overnight at Cottonwood and at Phantom Ranch Campground. Did the Hike in late September when cooler. Hard to train in Indiana since no hills or elevation so did some day hiking near Salt Lake City in July. Carried 30-40# backpack while walking in Indiana and used treadmill with maximum incline. Didn't get backcountry permits with 2 attempts, however secured them on-site for day later. GREAT experience--PREPARE, break in hiking shoes, keep hydrated (even in Sept. carried 4 liters), and take time to enjoy the part of the Canyon that few people see.
Kenneth
Petersen
Am starting to plan a rim to rim hike of the GC. This has been on my bucket list since I first stood at the South Rim gazing out. I've started training and plan to do the hike in May, Memorial Day Weekend, if the weather allows. At this point all of the campgrounds in the Canyon are booked well out into late 2020 and early 2021 so I'm looking to backcountry camp. As I put together the application for a backcountry permit it's asking for specifics about where I'm planning to camp. My plan is to make this a 3-4 day hike, preferably a 3 day, with a day to get myself back to the Rim where I start. My questions for anyone who has done the Rim to Rim and camped in the backcountry are, where did you camp or where would you recommend camping? I'd also recommend suggestions on which Rim to start at, North or South. I'm thinking starting at the North Rim as it is the highest elevation of the two. Lastly, I'm exploring options to get myself from the Rim I end at, back to the Rim I start at. Any suggestions here would be great. As much as I'd like to hike it back, after doing the Rim to Rim one way I don't think I'd have anything left to even contemplate doing it a second time in succession.
David
Colson
Hi. I am a 72 year old somewhat fit gentleman who is contemplating undertaking the rim to rim hike this coming September. I took the overnight mule ride several years ago, and enjoyed it, so perhaps now, the hike. I was wondering if there are any other adventuresome people who would be interested in participating. I was considering starting at the North rim, and ending at the South rim, and perhaps staying at the Phantom Ranch if possible (might be difficult to make reservations there), or if not, just camping out. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who is interested in participating.
David
Horowitz
When is the snow/ice melted of on the North rim? Looking to complete South rim to bottom, to top of North rim, then back to bottom and back up south rim, have heard this can be done in one long day starting at 5 am finishing by 9 PM. In March of 2014 my daughters and I started on bright angle at 5 am the path was still snow packed, got to the bottom in just over 2.5 hours, then went back up the shorter south trail in just under 2 hours. The bright angle trail still had some ice on the path, but it was only spotty patches. Looking to complete this years journey the week of April 20, 2020.
Frank
Scarpelli
I am having a baby in mid July and have a goal to hike R2R North to South at the end of September or sometime in October depending on how both I feel and the baby because I want to bring my baby... I need advice though. Specifically how should I pack both smart and light with a baby. Has anyone brought a baby? Obviously I'm planning on being very careful, but I want to hear from others who have tried this. Also how is the weather around this time? I definitely need to be really cautious of the weather with that small of a child. Any advice helps, thanks!
Erin
Smoot
My wife and I hiked rim to rim in a day in July 2002. The way to get around the hot temperatures during the summer is to hike the bottom of the canyon during the night. It's an amazing experience, and you don't cheat yourself of the magnificent views from the decent and ascent. We started on the North Rim at 1 pm and came up the South Rim at 10 a.m. We had great head lamps and hiking poles. The only challenging part was the middle portion, where few hike, where the trail is a bit tricky to follow. Not sure night time hiking is sanctioned, but it is a magnificent experience and the only practical way to hike rim to rim in a day in mid-Summer. We both trained hard, doing stadium stairs for 1 to 2 hours a day two months before the hike. And yes, bring lots of water for the first leg of the hike. The hike was still challenging but quite doable after that training.
Joe
Mendez

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