How to Hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day

By Michael Lanza

Minutes after we started hiking down the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail, we descended through short, tight switchbacks where the trail clings to the face of a cliff. The earth dropped away precipitously beyond the trail’s edge; we gazed down nearly a vertical mile into the bottom of The Big Ditch. Not much farther along, we stopped, awestruck, at a breathtaking overlook of perhaps the most famous canyon on the planet.

Those first vistas laid bare the audacity of our plans: to walk across this awesome chasm in one push, on a 21-mile, nearly 11,000-vertical-foot, rim-to-rim dayhike.

On a visit to the Grand Canyon in mid-October—one of the two brief windows annually that offer ideal weather for this adventure—my wife, Penny, and I, joined by our friends David and Kathleen Ports, made what has become possibly the most coveted grail for avid and very fit hikers and trail runners. A rim-to-rim hike traverses one of the most inspiring, rugged, vast, vertiginous, arid, and unforgiving landscapes in America. And that’s just a short list of the applicable adjectives.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.


A hiker on the upper South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
My wife, Penny, hiking the upper South Kaibab Trail. Click photo for my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim.”

I have both hiked and run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r) in one day—42 miles and over 21,000 vertical feet—and hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim over two consecutive days (that time combining all three corridor trails, making it 44.5 miles). Going r2r2r in one day is an enormous challenge, and spreading it out over two days, or hiking in just one direction in a single day is still a very, very big day.

My downloadable e-guide “The Complete Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim” offers expert tips specific to the unique challenges of successfully and safely hiking or trail running rim to rim in a day, including preparing for it, the ideal seasonal windows, tips on strategy and direction to hike, gear, and all possible hiking itineraries combining the three corridor trails, the North Kaibab, South Kaibab, and Bright Angel trails.

Find your next adventure in your Inbox. Sign up now for my FREE email newsletter.

 

A hiker on the Grand Canyon's North Kaibab Trail.
David Ports hiking the Grand Canyon’s North Kaibab Trail. Click photo to read my story about this two-day r2r2r hike.

It’s unquestionably one of the most beautiful dayhikes in the country. The Grand Canyon’s severe verticality and desert climate create a landscape where seemingly endless views accompany you almost every step of the way. In the canyon’s bottom, or Inner Gorge, instead of looking out over an infinite maze of canyons sprawling for miles, you pass through a more intimate environment. Rim-to-rim hikers follow the North Kaibab Trail’s winding course through lower Bright Angel Canyon, walking along a lively creek, between close, dark rock walls that shoot straight up for hundreds of feet on both sides.

Click here now for my expert e-guide to hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim!

A hiker on the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
David Ports hiking the lower North Kaibab Trail.

It’s also one of the hardest dayhikes in the country—quite likely the hardest you have ever attempted. Don’t underestimate its grueling difficulty. A rim-to-rim hike, or r2r, poses an extremely challenging outing. The shortest route, combining the South and North Kaibab trails, entails about 21 trail miles and a cumulative 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The heat can wilt even the fittest people.

I have seen numerous hikers struggling in r2r attempts, including one young couple whose one headlamp had died late at night two hours before we found them sitting beside the South Kaibab Trail, where they might have spent the night if we didn’t show up with lights and accompany them up; and a woman who was collapsing to the ground repeatedly and had to be rescued by helicopter.

Cold temps and wind are not unknown in early morning and evening, and although unusual, rain or snow can soak your ambitious plans. In fact, hard rain fell the day before the four of us hiked it south to north on a Saturday, and snow fell the Monday morning after David and I made the return hike north to south on Sunday (while Penny and Kathleen—perhaps wisely—took the shuttle from the North Rim back to the South Rim).

See my stories “Fit to be Tired: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day,” “April Fools: Dayhiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim,” and “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb.”

Read all of this story and ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus get a FREE e-guide. Join now!

 

A hiker on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.
David Ports on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Click photo for my e-guide to hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.

How to Hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

The following are some of my tips for hiking or running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim or rim-to-rim-to-rim. (Most of these tips are available only if you have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, which costs as little as 5 bucks.) You will find many more tips and planning details in my e-guide “The Complete Guide to Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim” (which can be purchased for $9.95 without a subscription).

I can also help you plan this hike or any other trip you read about at my blog; see my Custom Trip Planning page to learn more.

Use trekking poles, they’re critical on a hike this long with this much cumulative elevation gain and loss. I recommend an ultralight model like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles, the Gossamer Gear LT5, or the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z. See my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles” and my stories  “How to Choose Trekking Poles” and “10 Expert Tips for Hiking With Trekking Poles.”

A rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike delivers numerous moments of pure magic. Even on a popular trail like the Bright Angel, you can get gifted with a rare, thrilling surprise.

Click here now for my expert e-guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim
or my expert e-guide to dayhiking rim to rim.

As I hiked wearily up the Bright Angel, in the final mile of the return leg of our two-day, nearly 45-mile, rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, I heard a noise to my left. Two bighorn sheep burst from the sparse vegetation on the trail’s downhill side, dashed across it no more than 10 feet in front of me, and disappeared within seconds, clambering up the steep slope on the trail’s uphill side. At that moment, there happened to be no other hikers within sight. I was the only one to see them.

Minutes later, still electrified by that chance encounter, I watched the same two bighorns jump onto the trail again, this time maybe 100 feet uphill from me. They sprinted down the trail, passing so closely to me that for an instant I thought they might crash right into me.

Check out my picks for “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks,” as well as my “8 Pro Tips For Avoiding Blisters When Hiking,” my five-level difficulty rating system in “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be,” and my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.” And see all of my stories about the Grand Canyon by scrolling down to Grand Canyon on my All National Parks Trips page.

Let The Big Outside help you find the best adventures. 
Join now for full access to ALL stories and get a free e-guide!

 

Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

Previous

Review: Deuter Speed Lite 24 Daypack

The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking

Next

Leave a Comment

9 thoughts on “How to Hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a Day”

  1. I have 3 days / 2 nights… and trying to plan the best tour of canyon – ideally rim to rim starting north heading south – and wanted to take some time to enjoy some remoteness off major R2R throughways.

    can average 12-15 mile/day and just hoping for a couple suggestions as to campsites and trails – any thoughts greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  2. On a r2r2r did u try to get food at the north rim or just turn around. I know the lodge is at least a mile from the trailhead. Also did u think of syncing up your hike with the breakfast or dinner at phantom ranch? Just looking at ways to avoid carrying food for all 45 miles

    Thanks for your help

    Joe

    Reply
    • Hi Joe,

      Good questions. The North Rim Lodge, where I’ve stayed when I hiked r2r2r over two consecutive days, does have good food, but it is more than a mile each way and the time to cover those road miles, plus order and eat food while there, would be significant. Last time I ran-hiked r2r2r one partner’s spouse generously drove around and met us at the North Rim (North Kaibab Trailhead) with food and drinks plus a change into dry clothes, which helped enormously, of course. But it’s a 9-hour round-trip drive between the rims.

      I’m not sure it’s possible to buy a breakfast or dinner at Phantom unless you’re a guest; good question. Either would require starting from one rim very early and returning to the rim very late. I prefer to complete as much of the r2r2r in daylight as possible. But we did stop at the small store at Phantom on the return leg of the r2r2r last time and bought snacks. I’d definitely recommend carrying cash for that.

      Reply
    • In October 2020, there were a few metal boxes (similar to bear boxes) near the Phantom Ranch cabins. Not sure if they’re open for everyone to use, but we stored some food, powders, and gels there. It was about 4am, so no one was around for us to ask. Happy to report that they were all there when we got back! Also, the food selection at Phantom Ranch was pretty thin if you didn’t order ahead. Actually, I don’t remember if that was even an option during the COVID time.

      Reply
[login_form]
<form id="rcp_login_form" class="rcp_form" method="POST" action="https://thebigoutside.com/how-to-hike-the-grand-canyon-rim-to-rim-in-a-day/"> <fieldset class="rcp_login_data"> <p> <label for="rcp_user_login">Username or Email</label> <input name="rcp_user_login" id="rcp_user_login" class="required" type="text"/> </p> <p> <label for="rcp_user_pass">Password</label> <input name="rcp_user_pass" id="rcp_user_pass" class="required" type="password"/> </p> <p> <input type="checkbox" name="rcp_user_remember" id="rcp_user_remember" value="1"/> <label for="rcp_user_remember">Remember me</label> </p> <p class="rcp_lost_password"><a href="/how-to-hike-the-grand-canyon-rim-to-rim-in-a-day/?rcp_action=lostpassword">Lost your password?</a></p> <p> <input type="hidden" name="rcp_action" value="login"/> <input type="hidden" name="rcp_redirect" value="https://thebigoutside.com/how-to-hike-the-grand-canyon-rim-to-rim-in-a-day/"/> <input type="hidden" name="rcp_login_nonce" value="53c85034e4"/> <input id="rcp_login_submit" class="rcp-button" type="submit" value="Login"/> </p> </fieldset> </form>