After two months of sitting in Arizona’s 100-degree furnace (with two breaks to Colorado), I joined back up with Austin to put an exclamation point on the Pandemic Roadtrip. I’d been super angsty and wanted a significant hike, so we decided to hike the Grand Canyon. On this trip, we did the classic Rim to River Grand Canyon trek, AKA: down and up in one day.
I met with Austin in Flagstaff and headed to the Grand Canyon’s south rim. The two of us set up shop in the small city of Tusayan just outside of the park entrance. After carboloading, we headed into our tents for an early evening as we were primed to wake up at 5:30 am.
Rim to River – Hiking the Grand Canyon
There’s a lot to cover for hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in a single day. The park rangers will say you should not do this. If you have to wonder if you can do it, you probably shouldn’t.
This is only for endurance hikers who can endure a long day on the trail.
Planning Your Trip for Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon and up in a single day.
How hard is it to hike down and up in the Grand Canyon?
The Rim to River hike is one of the hardest in the Grand Canyon. It is only bested by the Rim to Rim hike and other more rugged backpacking trails. While hard, it is still very doable. You have to be okay with a very long day on the trail and be okay with pushing yourself on the final uphill sections.
What route should I take to hike the Grand Canyon in one day?
There are three possibilities, but I’ll tell you my recommendation and thoughts:
Option 1: Down South Kaibab, Up Bright Angel (Recommended)
Option 2: Down South Kaibab, Up South Kaibab
Option 3: Down Bright Angel, Up Bright Angel
- The South Kaibab trail is shorter but steeper. It also doesn’t have water or shade.
- Bright Angel Trail has water and is longer but more gradual. It also has three different water locations: 1.5-mile house, 3-mile house, and Indian Gardens (if you hike in the winter, check that the water is on)
How many miles is the Rim to River trek?
If you go my recommended route of down SK and up BA, it will be in the ballpark of 17-18 miles. Seven of it is down, and 10 of it is flat/up.
Do I need a permit to hike the Grand Canyon in one day?
No, you do not need any permits for hiking the Grand Canyon. That’s one of the beauties of doing this.
How long will the Rim to River hike take?
For my three times down and up, I usually start around 7 am and finish around 4-4:30 pm. So that’s about a 9-hour day, including breaks.
Where do I park my vehicle(s) to hike the Grand Canyon in one day?
I would park your car at the main village area and hop on the first hiker shuttle of the morning that will take you to the South Kaibab Trailhead. This will help you beat the crowds, and it is an express shuttle, so you don’t have to go to any other stops.
Is there water on this trail? And how much water do I need?
There is NO WATER on the South Kaibab Trail. New water facilities are at the bottom, closer to the trail, so you no longer have to hike to Phantom Ranch to fill up. Additionally, Bright Angel Trail has three spots to fill up.
What time of the year is best to hike the Grand Canyon in a single day?
Not the summer, that’s for sure. I’ve always liked doing it in mid to late October. This way, the temperatures on the South Rim are cool but not cold, and the canyon temps are warm but not hot. You can also do April/May. If you do it any earlier/later, bring microspikes, as the higher portions of the trail could have snow/ice.
Hiking the Grand Canyon: On the Trail
South Kaibab Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
Even though the park shuttles were working at low capacity in 2020, we got a ride to the South Kaibab trailhead.
It’s shorter, albeit steeper, and doesn’t have water; Perfect for an early morning send downhill hiking the Grand Canyon. We began the long day at 7 am, and by 9:30 am, we were crossing the Black Bridge over the Colorado River.
Even though I did Rim to Rim last year (Full Trail Report here), I noticed there were sizeable renovations/additions to the bottom of the Canyon regarding bathrooms and water availability. Anyways, enough of my architectural thoughts.
As Austin and I walked across the Silver Bridge to eat in the shade, we ran into my good buddy Adam and his girlfriend! What are the freaking odds!?
Hiking the Grand Canyon: Lunch Break on the Rim to River Trek
So instead of eating on that side of the river, we joined them on the side we were just on and enjoyed the company. By 10:45 am, we were trekking through the soft sand at the bottom of the canyon on our way up.
Hiking The Grand Canyon: Up the Bright Angel Trail
While this part isn’t the hardest regarding steepness/elevation/tiredness, it’s definitely the hottest section of hiking the Grand Canyon with no relief from the shade. From here to Indian Gardens is soul-crushing, especially the aptly named Devils Corkscrew.
This is a gnarly section of switchbacks with the hot Arizona sun beating down from above.
Resting up for the home stretch
As we made our way to Indian Gardens, we crossed over a few streams, and oh boy, were they nice to cool off in.
Either a quick hat dip or a full shirt soak, we made sure to take advantage of the chilly water. Once at our water haven, the four of us rested for a half hour or more, refueling and rehydrating for the final 4.5-mile ascent to the top of the south rim.
The first third of that isn’t too bad, as the incline isn’t dramatic. As you start nearing the three-mile house, the switchbacks get steeper, and you begin to question why you wanted to do this in the first place.
Hiking the Grand Canyon: The Final Push to the Top
Austin had a little trouble with cramping on the way up, which delayed us. Adam and Bridget kept humming along and left us for the final 4 miles. That left us, the two brothers, to complete the Rim to River hike and symbolic end to the Pandemic Roadtrip we had begun four months earlier.
When we arrived at the three-mile house, the temperatures were in the mid-80s, much too warm for October in the Grand Canyon. Once you’re 14 miles into Rim to River – Grand Canyon, you are exhausted from the multitude of miles and now battling the ever-thinning air. (It’s not dramatic, but 5,000-7,000 feet is still sizeable when you live at 1,000 feet normally.) The two of us took our time, enjoying the trail’s ever-growing shade as you complete switchback after switchback.
Towards the end, with yards remaining, we ran into a group of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep hanging out on the trail. With a young one near, we were cognizant not to spook the adults and give them a reason to charge at us. After looking as harmless as possible and taking a wide route around them, we skirted past and finished the trip. We both were bonked and immediately collapsed on a bench before grabbing ice cream for a sugar pick-me-up.
Hiking the Grand Canyon: Sunset from Yavapai Point
Once we caught our breath, we headed to Yavapai Point to watch the sunset over the canyon. The sky lit up and produced a sky on fire. Sitting here, enjoying the view, was the perfect way to “end” the trip after hiking the Grand Canyon. While Austin’s home, the adventures will always continue!
Wrapping Up – Hiking the Grand Canyon
If you’re physically fit enough, this is a fantastic opportunity to see the Grand Canyon without the crowds and how it was truly meant to be seen. Hiking the Grand Canyon will blow you away and bring you incredible awe and pride!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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