What is Rim to Rim
Before attempting the rim to rim hike at Grand Canyon National Park in one day, there are definitely a lot of factors, details, and logistics to consider. In this guide we’ll break down what to consider, how we did our hike, and what we packed. However, we do not have a specific training plan, but we can suggest what to be prepared for.
Rim to Rim or sometimes seen and better known as R2R means hiking from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other. Hiking in the canyon is considered backcountry hiking. It can be done in multiple days if you’re able to snag the highly sought after and limited quantity permits for the campgrounds, or if you’re able to book the even harder-to-get stay at the Phantom Ranch Lodge. Rim to Rim can also be done in a day because you didn’t get a stay at the bottom or because you wanted to challenge yourself; no permit required. We chose the latter, and that’s what this post is all about!
Now that you know what Rim to Rim is, you need to know that there are three different trails, one is required and you can pick from the other two. On the north half, North Kaibab Trail runs from the North Rim Lodge to Phantom Ranch. At Phantom Ranch you can choose from either Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail to cover the southern half of the canyon, both leading you to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. We hiked from North to South taking North Kaibab to Bright Angel – we’ll explain why later on!
Click on the image or here to get the full pamphlet to review, courtesy of the National Park Service
Essentials to Know:
- The hike ranges from about 20 miles (all Kaibab trails) to 24 miles (N. Kaibab and Bright Angel trails).
- There are restrooms along the trail and water spigots. HOWEVER, the water pipes are very old and have had a lot of leaks and failures over the last few years, which causes the water to be turned off. Please make sure you’re up-to-date on their status before you start and have a back up plan.
- The first half is all down hill and it can be cumbersome on the knees and quads, the second half is at least a mile, 5,280 feet, in elevation gain and works the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and back.
- The North Rim is about 8,000 feet above sea level while the South Rim is about 6,000 feet above sea level, hence why most people hike north to south.
- The Grand Canyon rangers will advise agains attempting Rim to Rim in a day because it is very difficult and they don’t know your capabilities or level of prep.
- It’s extremely expensive to be helicoptered out; make sure you’re prepared and physically capable.
- Bring hiking poles. Make sure your footwear works for you. Bring snacks for energy. Have plenty of sun protection.
When to hike Rim to Rim
The best times to hike Rim to Rim are in May and October. Specifically, May 15th-31st and October 1st-15th. This is when the North Rim facilities are open and the bottom of the canyon isn’t too hot. The North Rim services close on October 16th unless significant snow closes it earlier, and it completely closes December 1st. North Rim services return on May 15th depending on the weather and the last two weeks of May are typically a really good window to hike across the Grand Canyon. Late September to early October is really pretty on the Kaibab Plateau where the North Rim Lodge sits. We hiked Rim to Rim on October, 6th 2022 and booked our stay in February 2022.
Check the park website for up to date information
We knew we wanted to hike Rim to Rim in one day and that we wanted to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim because of the differences in rim elevations. And because we were hiking together, we knew we’d need a ride to the other side of the Grand Canyon no matter what. We decided we only wanted to bring one car, and that we wanted to end at our car versus be shuttled back. With that in mind we arranged a shuttle through Trans-Canyon Shuttle from the Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim to the North Rim Lodge for the day before our hike, October 5th. Some people plan the other way around too, or plan for more time at the Grand Canyon before and after hiking.
Quick Recap: On October 5th we drove from Phoenix, AZ to Grand Canyon Village, parked at the Backcountry Office parking lot, took a 4.5 hour long ride on the Trans-Canyon Shuttle to the North Rim Lodge, stayed the night, and then hiked rim to rim on October 6th ending at the South Rim where our car was.
We use AllTrails+ (the paid version) for downloadable trail maps and always download the trail just in case; however, this one is well maintained and fairly easy to follow. Additionally, we made sure to pick up a paper map from the Backcountry Office because it gave more detail on where the water and restrooms were as well as the distance between each marked point on the trail. We hiked North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail (BAT), picking BAT because it ended closer to our car and the facilities at GC Village.
Leading up to our hike, the water was on for all but one water stop on Bright Angel Trail, the very closest to top of the South Rim. However, it did get turned on while we were hiking. Owen brought a 3L reservoir and Lauren brought a 2.5L reservoir. We planned to refill our waters at Cottonwood, Phantom Ranch, and Havasupai Garden (FKA Indian Garden). For long endurance hikes like this it’s important not to over drink wanter (yes it’s a thing) and to not carry more weight than you need. To sustain energy in addition to hydration, we brought snacks and electrolytes.
We started our hike in the dark at 5:10am with a large crowd of fellow hikers, most of us with headlamps on and something to keep us warm! The trailhead is about 2 miles from the lodge so we arranged a ride at 5am from our shuttle drivers staying the night to take us, it was an extra $20/person but very much worth it.
The first 12 miles are all downhill and it slowly wears you down, we can’t stress enough how helpful poles are in addition to shoes that fit, and are comfortable. The poles help take some of the pressure off each stride and keep you balanced as you step down for the billionth time. We did not go out to Ribbon Falls because we didn’t want to add the extra milage for our first attempt and we heard the trail was hard to follow with the small foot bridge across Bright Angel Creek washed away.
The Canyons (The First Half)
As you come down Roaring Springs Canyon the geological layers of the Grand Canyon are mesmerizing. The sun is starting break the horizon and light up the walls, creating these soft earth tones that really pick out the layers, each signifying a major chunk of earth’s history. You’re literally walking through a time capsule of the earth’s surface. The trail is heavily switchbacked for the first mile or so but it crosses the creek with a few bridges and hugs the canyon wall at points, making for some very scenic shots on the trail. We stopped at Manzanita Rest Area to turn our pants into shorts and replenish some carbohydrates.
Now we were in Bright Angel Canyon hiking along Bright Angel Creek and it felt like the world was our oyster, ok maybe not the world, but at least the canyon. It was an absolutely stunning morning! We could hear the water flowing down the creek, birds chirping, and the crunch of our boots on the dirt. Cottonwood Campground was only 1.4 miles away. After assessing our water situation we did not refill, but we did fill our little nalgeen with water and make an electrolyte heavy drink. Next we used the vault toilets, had a small snack, and we were on our way. We were even treated to a flyover from a helicopter!
The Box + Phantom Ranch (The Midpoint)
The next water spigot was at Phantom Ranch, almost seven miles away and after the infamous section known as The Box. The bottom of the Grand Canyon is nothing like the top of the rims. It’s so far below that its temperatures are much warmer; basically, the canyon walls are trapping the heat. If you’re passing through the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the middle of the day, it can be very hot, talking mid 90s to 100s. The forecast for our day was a high of 90 degrees at Phantom Ranch, so we knew we wanted to be long gone before the temperatures peaked.
We ended up entering The Box around 9:40am according to our pictures. We stopped at Phantom Ranch, filled our water, ate some PB&Js, had snacks, took more electrolytes, and re-applied sunscreen. It was starting to get warm! We ended up leaving the ranch around 11:35am and started crossing the Silver Bridge of Bright Angel Trail around 11:45am. The roar of the river was tremendous and it felt so special crossing!
Tonto Platform (Final Stretch)
In our opinion, this next part was the most brutal part of the hike, but not necessarily the hardest, that’s saved for the last 3 miles. The next 4.5+ miles had very little to no shade, all uphill, and we were still close enough to the bottom to feel the temperatures rising. We were so looking forward to getting to Havasupai Garden.
As we continued what felt like an endless uphill hike (really 10 miles) we were really starting to feel it, and we took less photos. Our focus was on continuing our pace and staying cool. At this point we put on neck gaiter designed to get wet and keep us feeling cool. We dipped them in the Garden Creek when possible! On our way up we stopped a lot more to rest, and we were able to absorb the beautiful timeline of rock layers covering 2 billion years of geological activity.
Getting up Tonto Platform (large plateau within the canyon) was a physical and mental challenge. Luckily we had our hiking poles and a map. The map helped us break down the hike into segments and motivated us to get to he next major rest stop. Once on top of the platform you can tell Havasupai Garden is near; there is increased vegetation and some more shade. We eventually made it! At the garden we refueled with our snacks and topped off our reservoirs at the water spigot. From Havasupai Garden we had our final 4.5 miles to the top of the South Rim
For us, the final 3 miles to the top were the hardest. By then, we were 21 miles in and starting to really feel the exhaustion from the day. The constant uphill was taking its toll on our hips and it was harder and harder to lift our feet up; our march slowly turned into a scooch. We received some extra motivation from a beautiful rainbow that appeared over the Grand Canyon! We say it was a sign from Lauren’s late grandmother that passed away in 2021. As we got closer to the top we started to compete for space with visitors coming downhill. At times it was frustrating as they didn’t follow proper trail etiquette and give us the right away. After 11 hours and 45 minutes we did it, we had completed the Rim to Rim hike across the Grand Canyon in one day!
What We Brought
Our goal was to hike smart, meaning be prepared for different situations, have plenty of replenishing snacks, and keep our packs as light as possible. The day before we hiked, we wore clothes we’d wear the next day or we were content with throwing away. Our packs were 20L and 22L and we pre packed them before leaving home to confirm everything would fit. We wore hiking boots that we trusted and were broken in, but not over used. Many hike in trail runners too.
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What to Wear
Lauren wore REI convertible pants because she knew the start of the trail would be cold, but wanted to be able to easily take layers off. This North Face hat is one of Lauren’s favorite hats to hike in. It’s easy to pack up in her pack when she doesn’t want to wear it
We started the hike in the dark so we both wore Black Diamond headlamps. Lauren also started the hike in a half zip jacket because it was only in the 30’s
Lauren brought this bag because she needed enough room for her layers and snacks, but also didn’t want too big of bag because she didn’t want a lot of weight on her back
Lauren wore Salomon 4 mids for this hike. She wore these because she knew they were comfortable and wanted the ankle support. They are currently sold out on REI’s website so instead we linked the GORE-TEX boots
Owen brought this pack for similar reasons as Lauren. He needed space for his layers and enough room for snacks
Owen loves to hike in this hike REI hat because it is super lightweight and breathable. He loves this belt because it is a strong material and pretty universal for belt loops
Owen wore Salomon Mid 4 hiking boots because he knew they are comfortable and he wanted the ankle support
What to Pack
We always keep paracord on us in case something breaks like a shoe lace, strap, belt, etc. or a bone; paracord can be used in stabilizing a splint. It’s a very strong rope used throughout the outdoors industry
Our Osprey packs do have a small whistle attached to them but Lauren likes to carry a larger whistle on our pack for emergencies
What to Consider in your Prep
We didn’t necessarily train for Rim to Rim with a set plan or specific training hikes, but we are avid hikers and we both workout at the gym four days a week. Owen goes to a personal trainer and Lauren goes to Orange Theory Fitness. However, we do wish we did more workouts like extended time on a stair master and more workouts specific to building strength in our knees and quads. By the end of the hike both of our knees ached pretty badly. Great gym workouts include step ups, lunges, squats, deadlifts, and other similar type leg muscle workouts.
Additionally, we recommend doing some long hikes prior to try to get used to long distances. There are some massive loops in the Superstitions, McDowells, and South Mountain to name a few Phoenix areas. Some great hikes to help with the vertical ascent could be Thompson Peak in the McDowells, Telegraph Pass in Yuma, Mount Wrightson Peak near Tucson, and Pusch Peak in Oro Valley to name a few.