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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, United States

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim

Four days across the Grand Canyon you will never forget!

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    This guide contains photos
 (8 votes, 8 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 23 miles / 37 km
Duration: Multiple days
 
Overview: There is a secret to a Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike: Take four days to do it, even if you can do it in one. I have friends who go South to North in one day, and some do North to South the next. That's good for bragging rights, but how much of the Canyon do they really get to see?

- How much time can they spend at Ribbon Falls? It's a destination unto itself. 
- Can they spend a couple of hours drinking beer at Phantom Ranch and hanging out with other hikers? 
- They miss the incredible night breeze at Cottonwood Camp. 
- And they miss sunset at Plateau Point, which must be seen to be believed.

So, take your time--take four days for the hike. Each day's trek is six miles or so, and you have all kinds of time to actually see the Canyon and marvel at its beauty. Spend your first night at Cottonwood Camp, and marvel at the lights from the North Rim Lodge twinkling a mile above you. Spend the second at Bright Angel Campground, and enjoy a steak dinner at Phantom Ranch. Spend your third night at Indian Garden, and just relax. The fourth day's hike out is much easier, since you are already nearly halfway up the south rim.


Tips: Take the Trans-Canyon Shuttle from the South Rim to the North Rim and stay at the NorthRim Lodge or the North Rim campground the night before you start out. The best time to do a rim-to-rim is mid-May through mid-June, and mid-September through mid-October. The North Rim Lodge is generally closed from October 15 through May 15, and July and August can be brutally hot. Since the hike window is relatively narrow ond only a few camping permits are issued, they are notoriously difficult to get. Do a guided hike, or plan on going to the Canyon four months in advance to get a permit in person. Faxed permit applications are unsuccessful more often than not.

Dress for the desert and carry plenty of water. A water filter is a good idea, since there are streams that run along much of the trail. As for clothing, I recommend a long sleeve shirt and pants to keep the sun off. There are very light, wicking shirts and pants that actually keep you cooler than a T-shirt and shorts. And a good hat, either a bush hat with a wide brim or a foreign-legion cap, is a must. Take plenty of snacks, since you will be burning calories faster than a raging fire. And be sure to take an electrolyte supplement, like Gatorade powder or Camelbak Elixer tablets. More people get sick in the Canyon from electrolyte deficiency than from lack of water.

Points of Interest

Junction
map

North Rim to Cottonwood Camp

The hike starts in Roaring Springs Canyon, which begins as an evergreen forest that will remind you of Colorado. It will continue that way until you reach the Supai Tunnel, about two miles into the hike. Pass through the tunnel, and you will emerge into a desert environment. The descent on this first day is very steep; you will drop about a mile over the course of a five-mile hike. About two miles past the Supai Tunnel, you will come upon Roaring Springs itself, where Roaring Canyon emerges into the mugh larger Bright Angel Canyon. A few hundred yards after you enter the larger canyon, you will come on the old caretaker's cottage for the pump station at Roaring Springs. Definitely stop here for a drink (tap water is available) and a snack. Continue on for another mile or so until you reach Cottonwood Camp.
Campground
map

Cottonwood Camp

Cottonwood Camp is the first night's campground. There is not a lot here; just the campground, tap water (in addition to Bright Angel Creek), and a ranger station that is only sometimes manned. Many of the campsites have no shade, but there are plenty of shady spots over by the Ranger station, and Bright Angel Creek is a welcome relief for feet that are beaten up by the descent from the North Rim. Cottonwood has tap water and compost toilets. There are no sinks to wash up in, but Bright Angel Creek is next door.   If you get in early, drop your pack and rest for a while. Then head about a mile or so farther down the trail to Ribbon Falls. It is one of the most gorgeous spots on the corridor trails, and you can easily spend an hour or so hanging out and cooling off. If you are exhausted when you arrive at Cottonwood Camp, don't worry. Just leave a bit earlier the second morning and stop on your way to Bright Angel Campground.
map

Cottonwood Camp to Bright Angel Campground

The second day's hike to Bright Angel Campground is relatively flat, but it has its challenges. Not the least of these is 'The Box', a deep canyon that turns into an inferno in the midday heat. So get an early start; we typically break camp at about 5:00 AM, just after first light. You will be walking along Bright Angel Creek the entire way, so water should be no issue, so long as you have a water filter or tablets.    If you didn't do Ribbon Falls on the first day, leave a bit earlier, to give yourself time at Ribbon Falls. You will want to be through The Box by mid-morning, which will give you the added benefit of reaching Phantom Ranch before lunch. Step into the cantina and have a beer or two--it's air-conditioned, and the absolute best place to spend an afternoon.
Campground
map

Bright Angel Campground

 Bright Angel Campground is about a half-mile past Phantom Ranch, and if an afternoon at the cantina isn't your cup of tea, there is a beach just beyond the campground, at the Colorado River. Either way, stay cool until after sunset, and turn in early! You will want to get an early start the next morning. The campground has tap water and bathrooms with sinks, so you will be able to wash your face. After two days on the trail, that's a welcome treat!
map

Bright Angel Campground to Indian Garden Campground

It's best to get a very early start; we generally hit the trail about 5:00 AM. You will see why in a minute. The trail starts out across the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge, then follows the Colorado River on a fairly easy up-and-down slope for a couple of miles. At Pipe Creek, the trail turns inland and heads up Pipe Creek Canyon. A couple of miles after that, you will hit The Devil's Corkscrew, a set of switchbacks that climb up the side of the Canyon to the Tonto Plateau. The Corkscrew is a killer (literally) in the midday heat, so once again, it is best to try to get through it by mid-morning. We generally do it about 9:30 AM, and it's not half bad. Once you make it up The Corkscrew, you will follow a creek up a gorge in the Plateau to Indian Garden.
Campground
map

Indian Garden Campground

Indian Garden is a delightful spot. It is well shaded, with a creek at its lower end. Hikers climbing out in a day often rest here until the midday heat subsides, then finish their hike out. That's kind of a shame, because they miss one of the most amazing sites on the planet--sunset at Plateau Point.   The Point is about a mile-and-a-quarter out from Indian Garden, at the edge of the Plateau. The show is not in the direction of the sunset, but rather 180° away, as light and shadow play off the rock formations in the Canyon. The picture on the right will give you some idea what you can expect to see. Once again, call it an early night, so you can start out early the next morning.   Indian Garden has tap water and compost toilets, but no sinks. However, you can wash up in the creek.
Junction
map

Indian Garden to the Bright Angel Trailhead.

This is the part of the hike that intimidates a lot of people, but it really isn't bad at all. The keys to an enjoyable climb out are first, hit the trail early. As you probably guessed, we usually get going about 5:00 AM. And as you hike out, don't push it unless you really want to. Our motto is "hike a little, rest a little." We generally hike out in about six hours. There are rest houses, with toilets and tap water, as mile-and-a-half intervals, and these are good places to drop your pack, stretch your legs, and relax. We spend about a half hour at each one. In 2009, I spotted the longhorn sheep on the left just below the mile-and-a-half resthouse, mugging for hikers. You could see him from the rest house, and he hung out there even longer than we did.   We generally top out about 11:00 AM, feeling pretty good. Stop in the gift shop at Bright Angel Lodge and buy yourself a rim-to-rim t-shirt. You've earned it!
Pictures in this guide taken by: mhansen514, LagunaHiker, slingle, ybwhiker, CCF_Hiker, chris, mafo
Reviews
tombohl1
Hi, unfortunately I am not able to contribute anything to this amazing trail, because in 2005, when we approached the canyon from the south rim, our car broke down and spoiled the whole trip. In 2013/14 we will try again. We - that means 9 people age 6 to 51 - would like to hike from rim to rim in at least two days. Our group gathered some experience, when we did the Kepler Track (NZ) in 4 days in 2011. We would like to do the rim to rim track in December / January and would like to know what particularly has to be considered. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.
Visited on Jul 18, 2013

by tombohl1 on Jul 18, 2013
atularora80
Hi, I want to do this trail ranging from 16th march to 20th march, 2013.

This will be the my first visit to Grand Canyon.

Can someone help and tell me, if one can do it during this period, since most of the places it reads, that North rim is closed during this time of the year.


by atularora80 on Feb 10, 2013
jjulie79
hello all. you will be laugh but we have the Grand Canyon (Crimea, Ukraine) also. Now I'm writing about my first hiking experience (http://jjulie.posterous.com/the-hike-to-crimean-mountains-beginners-notes). I have some friends in Arisona, I hope to visit America and famous Grand Canyon inter alia

by jjulie79 on Jul 03, 2012
Mavrick_RN
Me and five of my best friends did the four day (over-weight, over-forty) old-fart's hike exactly as written. By taking the shuttle from the South Rim to the North Rim the only way back to our cars was to walk. And walk we did, sometimes taking 50 steps at a time then stopping to breathe. It was glorious and I can hardly wait to do it again. (Over fifty now.) The "Kaibab Shuffle" is also a unique phenomenon to be individually experienced. The cold lemonade purchased at Phantom Ranch was priceless. It was inspiring to meet other hikers, including a 70+ year old who was a frequent hiker and knew all the best rest-rocks on the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim. Also interesting as we approached the Rim was to meet day hikers coming down. They were wearing short skirts, flip flops and only carrying empty styrofoam cups that had their morning coffee just an hour ago. Forgetting the golden rule "it takes twice as long to hike up as it does to hike down" Just a couple of corrections to this excellent trail review. The black suspension bridge (#5) is on the South Kaibab Trail and has a rubber floor to enable the mules to travel over it. The Silver Suspension Bridge has a grated surface that you can see through to the Colorado river below. (#6)is actually Plateau Point. A very nice side hike after setting up camp at Indian Garden. A lesson well learned - take care of your feet. Stop and check out all "hot spots", moleskin and goldbond powder and dry socks are your friend. Enjoy your hike, have a trip of a lifetime.
Visited on May 13, 2001

by Mavrick_RN on Mar 17, 2011
kcesarz
Just finished a video series on rim to rim from our Sept. 2010 trip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glDFryGtg4c It was my second trip, Lorrie's first. Video of Plateau, as well.

by kcesarz on Dec 02, 2010
rp401k
Great description of a magnificent hike. My son and I just completed this hike. We did hike up from the river in one day. The weather was cool and we took advantage of that. Sunset at Plateau Point gives us something to look forward to on our next visit. The Canyon is a beautiful place, no need to rush through it. Ribbon Falls was a little work, but very well worth it. You can sit behind the falls and enjoy the feeling the cool mist, seeing the beautiful falls, and listening to the soothing sounds, all at the same time. I would pay more heed to footware and foot care on the next trip as the downhill was brutal on our feet. Very important to avoid the hottest weather, hydrate, and eat. We witnessed a helicopter rescue of a distressed hiker.

by rp401k on Jun 24, 2010
mpsa92
take a siesta between 11am to 4pm. Temperature can get up to 120 under sun or 100 under shade. Don't stress yourself. Spend at least 4 days and enjoy it. Sure, you will need to book the camp site way ahead. It is not easy.

by mpsa92 on Jun 07, 2010
larrysul
Also nothing wrong with taking five days, with two overnights at Bright Angel. The campground is a real oasis, and there's good day hiking.(Plus More time to drink beer at Phantom Ranch!)

by larrysul on Mar 26, 2010

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About the Author

LagunaHiker
LagunaHiker
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Hiker and backpacker living in Southern California.

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