HIKING THE GRAND CANYON, RIM TO RIM
We loved this adventure so much, we did it twice. Here’s everything you need to know.
This is truly a bucket-list experience not to be missed. Our first time was in 2019. We did the South Kaibab to Bright Angel route, and it took about 9 hours. Then in 2021, we hiked from the North Kaibab trail back up the Bright Angel trail, which took closer to 11 hours. We researched and planned thoroughly before doing this. It’s as rewarding as it is challenging, and it’s completely true what everyone says: no picture can ever do it justice.
9 straight hours of views
What other hike in the U.S. has epic views the entire time? We’ll wait…
We heart our National Parks
A random bonus that our first hike was during the park’s 100th anniversary!
Bridge crossing required...
IMO, crossing this bridge was scarier than hiking down in to the canyon.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING THE GRAND CANYON
How Do I Get There?
The closest major airport to the Grand Canyon is Phoenix. The next closest is Las Vegas. The Grand Canyon has it’s own small airport you can fly directly in to, but then you miss out on the hiking-prep opportunities in the Vegas/Phoenix areas. You have to do what is best for your schedule, and your budget. But if you come from a flat state like us, it would be smart to find somewhere to do some ‘prep’ hikes first. And it may help to acclimate to the dryer climate as well.
How Much Time Do I Need There?
The quickest reasonable trip is 3 days, 2 nights.
Day 1 you would fly/drive in, Day 2 you’d hike, Day 3 you’d return. Some people find it harder to adjust to the dry climate, altitude, or the big elevation change during the hike, so if you can give yourself more time on the front end it would be beneficial. We spent some time in Sedona the first time and Tucson the second time to do some ‘warm up’ hikes since our home base is in flat, humid Florida.
Where Should I Stay?
Hiking from the North to the South rim is a bit more complicated when it comes to logistics (see below – Which trail). On the South Rim you have a ton of options. We chose the Thunderbird both times. It’s a perfect location – only a short walk from the Bright Angel trailhead. The El Tovar is the most iconic, and therefor the most popular and pricey. You can still make dinner reservations here even if you opt to stay elsewhere.
There is also the option to book at Phantom Ranch, which sits at the bottom of the canyon near Bright Angel Creek. Due to limited availability, you often have to book over a year in advance, or hope to win the lottery.
What Time Should I Start?
If you are there during warmer months, you absolutely want to start before the sun rises. (4am-ish.) That also gives you the opportunity to be down in the canyon to watch the sunrise from there. There is actually a spot on the S. Kaibab trail called “Ooh Ahh point.”
What Should I Wear?
Layers. The temperature can (and probably will) fluctuate drastically from rim to river.
- The necessities are: Warm jacket, hat, rain gear, sunglasses, sturdy shoes, and doubling up on socks isn’t a bad idea.
- Warmer months you may want a long sleeve UPF top. It sounds counter-productive, but your skin will thank you. And a little hack we picked up along the way: When you get to a water station or the river, you can wet your clothes (or a bandana under your hat) to keep you cooler for a bit.
- There is very little shade, so think about protecting the back of your neck as well. With a bigger hat, a neck flap hat, or a towel.
Which Route Should I Take?
It depends on your preferences. You’ll want to consider how many days you have, what kind of transportation you have, or are willing to use, and your overall stamina.
NORTH TO SOUTH RIM
Whether you start on the North or South end, you’ll end up on the opposite side after doing a through hike. Which means your car will be on the departure rim. So your options are:
- Spend a night on the opposite rim and do the whole thing again the next day (only recommended for advanced hikers).
- Take the shuttle back, which is about a 4 hour drive.
- Keep in mind if you do this, you may have to retrace the route again to get to your airport of choice, so it’s a long day.
- Have someone in your party (like my amazing sister, who we love so much!) who doesn’t want to do the hike, and will volunteer to drive the car to the opposite rim for you.
From North to South you descend on the North Kaibab Trailhead. Then you can choose to come up either the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails. There is also the option to go down the N. Rim, stay at Phantom Ranch, and hike back up the N. Rim the next day to avoid the car/transportation issue.
SOUTH RIM TO SOUTH RIM
The two main trails are the Bright Angel and South Kaibab. The Bright Angel trail starts right in the heart of the village, close to the El Tovar Hotel. The South Kaibab is about 5 miles away. There is a shuttle that will take you from the village to the South Kaibab trailhead (or vice versa). You’ll want to keep an eye on shuttle schedules and keep in mind that you may need to reserve a spot in advance, especially for early morning departures.
The benefit of starting on South Kaibab and ending with Bright Angel is that once your hike is finished, you end up right in the village. We only had to walk a few (painful) steps to our room at the Thunderbird Lodge.
A few other notes, solely based on our opinion and experiences:
- The S. Kaibab to Bright Angel offers a better sunrise view
- The descent of the S. Kaibab was steeper, than the N. Kaibab, so if knee/joint pain is a consideration you may want to consider North to South Rim
- The Bright Angel is the most popular trail. Some park visitors will go down just a mile or two and then come back up, so be prepared for that part of your hike to be crowded.
How Hard Is It?
Really f*%king hard.
The Bright Angel Trail (which is only a portion of the through hike) is 15.3 miles. And a whopping 4,448 feet of elevation gain that primarily comes in the last 4 miles. If you don’t have prior hiking experience doing something similar, this may not be for you.
GOING DOWN IS OPTIONAL. COMING UP IS NOT.
What Should I Pack?
- See What Should I Wear? above, and pack extra clothes (especially socks) in case of rain
- Hiking poles
- Headlamp for early morning departure
- First aid kit – blisters on a 20 mile hike are no joke
- Snacks (trail mix, dried fruit, bananas, protein bars, jerky, candy, electrolytes, or my personal favorite – a PB&J)
- ALWAYS bring more water than you think you need, especially in drier climates
- Sun protection
- GPS device/compass/map – make sure you know where you’re going before you get out of wi-fi range
- We use the AllTrails app and always download offline maps before any hike
- TP and hand sanitizer
What Time Of Year Is Best?
Directly from the NPS website: DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day, especially during the months of May to September.
This photo is from Phantom Ranch on October 8, 2021
What Else Do I Need To Know?
- Always, always bring more food and water than you think you need
- There ARE water stations and rest areas with ‘hiking bathrooms’ along the path, but keep up with the park website as sometimes the water stations are not available depending on time of year.
- You’re going to share the path with mules. Be prepared for everything that goes along with that.
- Be prepared to “pack it out.” Meaning – anything you bring in with you, comes out with you. That includes things like banana peels, toilet paper, and water bottles.
SOME OF THE BEST SCENERY ON THE GLOBE
And no photo will ever do it justice.