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

We're planning a rim to rim hike in June of 2022. If we don't secure a reservation via the Phantom Ranch lottery, I suppose we have to plan to camp out. Where should we camp, considering a three day hike, 2 nights of camping. Do we need reservations or passes to camp?
Ron
Hayes
I would love a copy of your training plan as well. My husband & I would love to hike the rim to rim and would like some pre-training tips.
Judi
Jamieson
I am 58 years old and in very good shape. I CrossFit and run and have my entire life. my 24 year old daughter who was a cross country /track 4 year athlete and still runs wants to hike the rim to rim in Late July to early August. she wants me to do it with her and I really want to see the canyon. we want to do it in one day the entire hike. Looking for advice on how to prepare and where to stay at each end etc... Will we be in shape enough?
Sindy
Jacovetti
Looking to do a R2R this year (North to South), late September or early Oct. I have about every detail worked out except how to get from the South Rim Bright Angel trailhead into Tusayan. There are no hotel reservations available ever inside the park. Is Uber working there?
Johns
Stevens
Four of us (my wife and the other couple) did this bucket-list trail between Aug. 25-28, 2021 with all the relishes one can gather from trekking down to the bottom and then back up to the surface, somewhat like walking the book of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Out of all the variations of routes, days, and times, we chose the seemingly most manageable combination: from North Rim (North Kaibab Trail) to South Rim (Bright Angel Trail), three nights and four days backpacking, and only hiking in the morning before temperature reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some highlights of our journey. Day 1: North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground (7 Miles) No sooner we have a quick group selfie with the North Kaibab Trailhead board (Elev. 8241 ft) than we eagerly jump on the trail at 8am like our long prepared marathon was finally triggered by the inner pistol firing. After about 0.7 miles down, we come to the Coconino Overlook with the first wide open view of the Grand Canyon, where you can savor a deep breath of morning breeze in the lush North Rim forest with many aspen trees. The trail then quickly switchbacks into the canyon. For about 1.7 miles fresh hiking, we catch up with the morning mule ride at the Supai Tunnel (Elev. 6800 ft), the first rest area with water where we meet a park ranger telling us we'd better reach the next rest area, Manzanita, before the temperature gets really high . Heeding the ranger's advice, we immediately start moving in order to cover the 3.7 miles to Manzanita before noon's 110 degrees heat. It turns out this 3.7 miles downhill hiking is most dangerous segment we have experienced in these four days. The single most likely cause is the underestimated of ramping up speed of the heat intensity and its impact on our body's capacity to regulate the heat. As we cross the Redwall Bridge and approach the Roaring Springs, we feel hotter, extra sweating, and more tiring. One of group members is getting some signs of heat exhaustion, fatigue, dizziness, and headache. Another member with weak left knee starts to slow every step down to reduce the pain inflicted by varieties of harder rocks towards the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We are only about a mile away from Manzanita, but the sizzling sunshine blasted on the zero-shade trail and the unrelenting pounding force erect a seemingly insurmountable barrier to break through. Just like everything else in the world, sometimes God intervene at unexpected time. Right after we turn a corner, there comes a short but shaded area on the trail by the overhanging rock. We all quickly rush to the shade, unload our heavy backpacks, and rest for about 15 minutes with some much needed in-take of carbohydrates. After about 15 minutes rest, everyone, esp. the most heat-stressed but tough member, recovers nicely so we can avert succumbing to the excessive heat trap even before reaching the Cottonwood Campground (Elev. 4080 ft). We arrive at the Bright Angel Campground (Elev. 2480) at around 10am and spend the rest of the day cooling down and relaxing in Bright Angel Creek, right beside our campsite. Day 2: Cottonwood Campground to Bright Angel Campground (7 Miles) With overnight rest, all of us feel much refreshed in next morning. By the time we are ready to leave the Campground around 6:30am, most other backpackers are already on the trail. It looks like we are making progress to start early due to yesterday's memory, but still not learning the lesson hard enough to take heat out of equation. The total elevation change for this 7 mile segment is only 1600 feet, so it is an overall much easier descending compared to the day before, but still some uphill climbing adds a little spice to the otherwise smooth hiking or a quick rehearsal of what's coming in the following days. One noticeable change in rock formation as we descend to the level of the Colorado River is the transition from the Bright Angel Shale Layer, which is the gently sloping soft blue-green-gray rock layer, to the Vishnu Basement Layer, which is the oldest metamorphic hard black rock layer and forms the walls of the Inner Gorge. The power of water erosion is amplified while walking towards the bottom layers, and you are constantly reminded of the force of nature where the trail is blocked or altered by the rock slide during recent flash floods in the monsoon season. Since we are in a hurry to finish this leg before 10, we bypass the short side trail to see the Ribbon Falls. Later, we are told by another backpacker, Chris, that due to the flood damage, Ribbon Falls Bridge is closed, so it is an extra effort to cross the creek and get to the bottom of the Fall, which we can kind of see the thin water flowing down right from the main trail. We arrive at the Bright Angel Campground (Elev. 2480) at around 10am and spend the rest of the day cooling down and relaxing in Bright Angel Creek right beside our campsite. A hot meal in the nearby Phantom Ranch with venerable best lemonade ever magically rejuvenate your energy and accelerate your recovery from any fatigue still lingering around after two days hiking down to the bottom. Day 3: Bright Angel Campground to Indian Garden Campground (4.7 Miles) Bright Angel Campground is the point of rendezvous where you meet day hikers or mule riders, or R2R single day hikers or multiday backpackers like us, or rarely R2R2R backpackers like Chris who starts from South Rim at 3am a couple of days ago and hikes to the Cottonwood first day, and then ascend to North Rim next day and coming back to Cottonwood where we meet and converse, then we basically hike the same route from Cottonwood to Bright Angel Campground where we share some of the pool time in the creek and enjoy walking the Silver Bridge across the Colorado River together, but today Chris is going to ascend back to South Rim by the South Kaibab trail in one shot where he parks his car. Before we all go to sleep in our tents around 9pm, his parting words are like, “I want to get this R2R2R thing done and leave it behind me, so I can enjoy the civilization again”. We wish this young, energetic, and big fellow good luck. We stick to our plan like an aged clock ticking but not rushing towards the next oasis, Indian Garden Campground sharply starting at 6am. The branching point between two trails to South Rim is right out of the campground and before you cross the Colorado river: The Black Bridge to get on the South Kaibab Trail and the Silver Bridge to get on the Bright Angel Trail via Indian Garden Campground. The view along the Inner Gorge is just amazing and even more astounding as you gradually hike away from the majestic Colorado river while early morning sunshine cuts through the cool air and projects varieties of shapes and hues on the vertical granite walls along the trail. It is the most magic hiking in my very first backpack experience. As a matter of fact, the hiking is so enjoyable that we don’t even realize we have reached the Indian Garden Campground (Elev. 3800 ft) around 9:30, a 30 minute ahead of our expected arrival time. Day 4: Indian Garden Campground to South Rim (4.8 Miles) The last stretch is supposed to be the hardest one just like any sport or adventure, but as we can already see the top of South Rim from where we camp, sort of like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we feel we just need to slog it out no matter what. On the other hand, my mind is still being constantly reminded of the first day of near-miss experience of heat exhaustion, especially when I see a thermometer hanging outside a shed reading 120 degree. So I consciously encourage our group to get up as early as possible next morning and start our last day before 5:30am, hopefully to reach the top around 10am before the temperature gets really scorching. We manage to get up at 3:30am, to pack everything including all the garbage, and to start the last day hiking with headlamp on at 5am. It turns out that the respect to the nature as well as National Park’s guideline gives us real advantage to hike the last 3 miles with about 3000 feet elevation gain. By the time we reach the final tunnel near the top, we look back the grandeur scheme the mother nature has created for our human being, it is absolutely most rewarding as well as humbling experience I have had for my existence so far on earth! Epilogue Since the first time I see the word, Kaibab, I have been wondering what this geological term means. Looking up on Google gives the following definition: Mountain lying down from a Native American word. I should have guessed that.
Alan
Li
Planning a R2R trek (one day) from North to South in May, 2022 and interested in joining someone/group with similar goals. Hiking solo, committed to completing the hike and a team effort.
James
Thacker

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