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Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

Grand Canyon National Park, USA

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Overview

Once you hike rim to rim, you’ll never look at the Grand Canyon the same way again. Over the course of 22.5 mi, you’ll descend nearly 1 mi into the canyon, cross the mighty Colorado River and climb back up the other side. It’s a hike that should be part of everyone’s bucket list.

Typically done as a 2 or 3 day trip, it can also be done in a single day if you are extremely fit. Starting from the North Rim, the Bright Angel Trail is the more popular trail up to the South Rim, as it offers less elevation gain, more shade and several water stations along the trail.

Length
22.5 mi
Duration
2-3 days
Elevation Gain
5079 ft
Difficulty
Strenuous
Best Time To Hike
Mid May - Jun & Sep - Mid Oct
Trail Type
Point to Point

Logistics

When To Go

The best time to do the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike is from May 15 through mid June and from mid September through October 15. North Rim facilities are generally closed from October 15 to May 15, and we recommend avoiding the summer months of July and August as temperatures can get brutally hot.

It’s possible to hike rim to rim from October to May, but you’ll have to start your hike on the South Rim. On day 1, hike down to Bright Angel Campground. On day 2, hike to the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and return to Bright Angel on the same day. Finally, on day 3, hike back up to the South Rim.

How To Get There

The closest international airports to Grand Canyon National Park are in Las Vegas (4.5 hrs by car) and Phoenix (5.5 hrs by car). Since this is a point to point hike, your best bet is to park on the South Rim and take the Trans-Canyon Shuttle (4 hrs, needs to be reserved 3-4 months in advance) to get to the trailhead on the North Rim. Best place to park on the South Rim is in Parking Lot D at the Backcountry Reservation Office.

From the North Rim Visitor Center, it’s another 2 mi to the trailhead. The Grand Canyon Lodge runs a free shuttle service to the trailhead from May 15 to October 15 at 5:45 am and 7:10 am every morning. Reserve space 24 hours in advance at the Grand Canyon Lodge front desk.

Permit

A backcountry permit is required for camping anywhere within the Grand Canyon, including Cottonwood, Bright Angel, and Indian Garden campgrounds. To give yourself the best chance of securing a permit, submit your request by 5 pm MT on the 1st of the month that is four months prior to your proposed start date. For example, if you want to start the hike in September, apply for a permit by May 1 (by 5 pm MT).

Permit requests need to be faxed, mailed, or brought in person to the Backcountry Information Center, located inside the park on both the South Rim and the North Rim. Requests are not accepted by phone or email. After allowing at least three weeks for processing, requests are responded to via U.S. Mail or email. You can download and print the backcountry permit request form from the National Park Service website.

Where To Camp

There are three campsites along the trail: Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Garden. If you want to hike the trail in two days, we recommend staying at Bright Angel. If you opt for a longer three day hike, Cottonwood is a good choice for your first night on the trail.

You also have the option to stay at Phantom Ranch, where accommodations consist of dorms and cabins. However, space is extremely limited and reservations have to be made via their lottery system up to 15 months in advance. See the Phantom Ranch website for more info.

Know Before You Go

The National Park Service does not recommend hiking this trail in a single day. The extreme 100+ °F temperatures and elevation changes make this a very strenuous hike, so don’t attempt to do it as a day hike unless you’re extremely fit.

Even if you’re doing it as a 2-3 day hike, you need to be well prepared for the soaring temperatures and the added weight of your backpack. Staying hydrated on the trail is crucial, so we recommend carrying a Camelbak water reservoir that holds at least 2-3 L. Remember to replace your electrolytes by frequently eating salty foods as you hike to avoid hyponatremia (being too low on sodium).

Links & Resources

National Park Service

Shuttle between North and South Rim

Accomodation

Map & Trail Notes

Day 1

North Kaibab Trailhead - Cottonwood

6.5 mi
180 ft
4380 ft

Your first day will start bright and early with a shuttle ride from The Grand Canyon Lodge to the trailhead (remember to reserve the shuttle 24 hours in advance).

You’ll descend from Roaring Springs Canyon into Bright Angel Canyon, dropping 4380 ft over the course of a 6.5 mi hike. Stop by the old caretaker’s cottage at Roaring Springs for a drink and a snack.

Day 2

Cottonwood - Bright Angel

7 mi
187 ft
1713 ft

Although the hike from Cottonwood to Bright Angel is relatively flat, you’ll pass through a deep canyon known as “The Box” which gets scorchingly hot by midday, so be sure to get an early start. You should reach Phantom Ranch by mid-morning, which is a great place to stop for lunch and grab a beer or two.

Day 3

Bright Angel - Bright Angel Trailhead

9 mi
4711 ft
377 ft

The last day is all uphill until you reach Grand Canyon Village. Once again, be sure to get an early start to escape the midday heat. A great place to stop for lunch is at Indian Garden - it’s well shaded with a creek at its lower end.

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