The National Park Service does not recommend you do the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hike. However, they probably state it in half a dozen places, either in literature or on signs throughout the park.
However, if you’re in good enough physical shape and the weather is in your favor, this is a fantastic way to hike the Grand Canyon. And before we go any further, I cannot stress enough that you need to be in excellent physical shape and have a suitable climate.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll repeat it. The Rim to Rim Grand Canyon will kill you if you are not cautious and prepared. So, with that behind us, we shall move ahead with the understanding that you’re in good shape and you’re not going to try this during the summer months. Deal?
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A Trail Report on the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike
Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Key Figures
- Miles: 21.5 or 24 depending on your route
- Elevation Change: 4,400/4,800 on South Rim and 5,800 North Rim
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Beauty Level: Jaw Dropping
- Estimated Time: 10-16 hours (for one day)
How to plan for Hiking Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon
Before you hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, you’ll have to figure out transportation and which side of the canyon you want to start from. I used the Trans-Canyon Shuttle from the South to the North Rim. I’ve also heard of people exchanging keys at the bottom. Whichever way you do it, make sure you have a way back — unless you want to hike it again.
You’ll also likely need to find lodging on one of the rims. The south rim has more options than the north rim, so make sure you plan to ensure you aren’t sleeping in the forest.
Additionally, it would be best if you were not doing this hike from June through August (even May and September are questionable). The ‘box zone’ at the bottom is dangerous as temperatures rise to over 100 degrees. That is a recipe for disaster.
The Rim-to-Rim Route in the Grand Canyon
There are two ways to do rim-to-rim. North to South and South to North.
Most people do North to South as the north rim is 1,000 feet higher, and most would instead conquer that going downhill versus uphill. The brave amongst us may want the extra challenge of starting at the South and going north. (I did North to South.)
North to South – 24 miles
If you go North to South, you’ll head down the North Kaibab trail, which is 14 miles long to Phantom Ranch at the bottom. From there, you’ll take Bright Angel Trail up – 10 miles in its own right.
You take Bright Angel because it’s less steep, but more importantly, it has water every 1.5 miles starting at Indian Gardens. This is crucial to staying well hydrated and keeping your pack weight low.
I would stress upon you to not take South Kaibab up unless you know what you’re doing, as it has no water and no shade. (Even then…I still wouldn’t take it.)
South to North – 21.5 or 24 miles
This route gives you a little more flexibility.
I’d suggest doing South Kaibab down, which is 7.5 miles in length, and then you take the 14-mile North Kaibab up. You’ll likely be doing this in the early morning, so you won’t need to refill your water before you hit Phantom Ranch.
Plus, this is shorter, and the scenery is better. Bright Angel is your pick if you want a somewhat longer hike that is less steep.
Water Availability – Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
There is plenty of water on Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab, as well as at Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. Just remember that these are seasonally on, and you should check with the NPS before going.
You are also hiking next to a creek most of the way up on the North side, which would allow you to filter water if you wanted to go that route.
On Bright Angel Trail, there is drinkable water at the following:
- 1.5-mile house,
- 3-mile house
- Indian Gardens (4.5-miles down)
- Phantom Ranch (10 miles)
On North Kaibab, there is drinkable water at:
- Supai Tunnel (1.7-miles)
- Roaring Springs (4.7-miles)
- Manzanita Rest Area (5.4-miles)
- Cottonwood Campground (6.8-miles)
- Bright Angel Campground/Phantom (14 miles)
Update: They added a water station before the Black Bridge if hiking towards the south rim.
Expectations – Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Depending on how good of shape you’re in will determine how much you enjoy rim-to-rim. Going down will obviously be the segment you are freshest. However, the continued pounding on your knees will work your quads in ways they are not used to. Make sure to take breaks when needed, especially at the bottom, and stay hydrated and well-fed.
The last mile was the roughest for me, as I was up around 6,500 feet, and my body was fatigued. Outside of that, the rest of the hike was quite enjoyable.
Remember to listen to your body and take time if needed. At the top, there’s no grand prize (other than ice cream and whatever massive food quantity you decide to eat).
What to Bring for your Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim
I packed as light as I could (though looking back, I can cut further weight), and you can do this because of how plentiful the water is on the rim-to-rim trail. If we hadn’t camped, I could have trimmed at least 5 pounds from this list – and brought a lighter/smaller backpack for the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim.
The following is what I had in my bag during the hike
- Dried bananas
- 2 Sandwiches
- Nuun electrolyte tablets
- Camera and Harness
- 36L Backpack
- 2.5L bladder
- Energy Chews
- Beef Jerky
- Hammock and Ropes (I hammocked the night before)
- Sleeping Bag
Wrapping Up – Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Rim-to-Rim is an incredible accomplishment that should not be taken lightly. I would recommend first doing Rim to River on the south side before starting this hike. But if you are ready, enjoy the hell out of it!
Have fun, and best of luck hiking rim-to-rim of the Grand Canyon!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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