By Michael Lanza
Whether you backpack it or hike it in one very long day, trekking across the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim is one of our National Park System’s most scenic and aspirational adventures, in one of the planet’s most magnificent and unfathomable landscapes—as this photo gallery illustrates better than any words. Want to take this hike? Read on to learn how.
For the ultra-fit and experienced, hiking across and back in a day—known as a rim-to-rim-to-rim or “r2r2r,” and comprising at least 44 miles and 11,000 vertical feet—could be the greatest single day of hiking of your life (unless, of course, you do it again). After more than two decades of ticking off the best backpacking trips in America and the world, I still consider it one of my top 10 adventures ever.
To say the least, this isn’t a hike to be taken lightly: Rangers and officials at Grand Canyon National Park caution people against attempting to hike from the South Rim to the Colorado River and back up again in a day. Crossing the canyon from South to North represents an even longer distance with more elevation gain, a challenge compounded by the desert sun and heat and few water sources. But for very fit hikers and trail runners, or backpackers prepared to hike across in three moderate days (there are shuttle buses between the South and North rims) or six days if returning on foot, few treks compare to this one.
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Backpacking across the Big Ditch is so popular that upwards of 75 percent of people who apply for the permit each month are denied. And the demand never really tapers off, because the season for it is short: Prime weather occurs from late March or early April through May, and mid-September through October (although good hiking weather can extend into November, but days are short). Summers are too hot for the hike.
The season for hiking off the North Rim is even shorter: The main road opens May 15 and closes on Oct. 15. Similarly, staying at Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon, is so popular that all available spots get reserved within minutes on the first day of each month (you have to book 13 months in advance).
So in a way, dayhiking across is both the hardest way physically and the easiest way logistically to accomplish this classic hike—but only if you have the gas for it.
Score a popular permit using my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”
See all of my stories about Grand Canyon National Park at The Big Outside, including my story about a rim-to-rim-to-rim dayhike across and back, which provides plenty of trip-planning information for backpackers, too, and all of my Ask Me posts where I offer tips about hiking and backpacking in the Grand Canyon. You’ll find a menu of stories about the Grand Canyon that I’ve posted at this blog by scrolling down to Grand Canyon at my All National Park Trips page.
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