If you want to experience epic scenery seen by less than 1% of the world, and you’re ready to work harder than ever before to get there, then the rim to rim Grand Canyon trek may be for you. Months of preparation can help you endure this strenuous hike, along with my 5 tips for hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
I’ve actually accomplished this hike 9 times. This includes when I took it to the next level and completed the R3 (rim to rim to rim) in 20 hours in late September 2021. I love a good challenge…and running/hiking from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other, is definitely it! 21+ miles, 6,400 ft total elevation and temp changes of around 50 degrees from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch take true grit.
Yet I keep coming back for the breathtaking beauty, the appreciation I have for my body after the completion of each hike, and the opportunity to go where few others have dared run.
5 Tips for hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim
Education, preparation and training are key to a successful Rim to Rim hike. While these tips aren’t all you need to know before starting this epic journey, they will help you get started.
1. Planning in advance
There aren’t many accommodations on the rims (especially the North Rim). Make sure you start looking for rooms several months in advance. I’ve had to get creative making sure I had a place to sleep on a few of my trips!
Hotels: My favorite south rim hotel is Bright Angel Lodge. If you can snag a cabin, even better. The rooms have been recently renovated and are super cute and as close as you can get to the Bright Angel trail head. There’s also a shuttle in front of the lodge that can take you to the South Kaibab Trail too. For the North Rim, I would stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge, the only hotel on the north rim.
There are also campgrounds on each rim. You can also sleep in your car—many people do this.
Plan your trip either in May or October. These are the best times of year weather-wise to hike. You may still get snow or temps over 100, yet most of the water stations should still be open. On the subject of water, check to make sure the water stations along the trail are operating during your visit, so that you can plan accordingly.
I suggest starting on the North Rim and finishing on the South. If doing the R3, I suggest starting on the South and ending on the South since there are more services available close to the rim. This is helpful when you finish super late at night… which can happen.
2. Focused training
Even if you are in-shape or at the top of your game physically, you need focused training to successfully complete the rim to rim Grand Canyon journey. A typical week of training includes several short runs, one long run/hike, yoga or stretching, weight training, and focused climbing.
Living in Florida means I miss out on important elevation training. So instead, I spend a lot of time climbing stairs, hills, and stadium steps to ensure my body is prepared for the miles of stairs I’ll encounter. I’ve even flown out to Denver for a day to hike with some serious elevation.
I seek out elevation whenever possible as well as find trails to hike instead of only running on pavement. And I also know that even with all the training, I’ll still hurt when I finish a canyon hike. Yet I train so I can enjoy the hike and finish in one piece.
While everyone has their own preferences on brands, length and weight when it comes to gear, here are the pieces you wanna look for when prepping for an R2:
- Hydration pack– one that can carry around a 2 liter bladder. Mine is a Nathan 12L pack and it carries 1.8 L of water.
- Cross-training shoes– I opt for running shoes over hiking boots as they help me better maneuver the red dirt trails. Make sure you get properly fitted for shoes at your local running store so you get the proper support for you feet + ankles.
- Moisture wicking clothes– Running shorts and tops help minimize chaffing (which is inevitable when sweating for 10+ hours). Wear the clothes you want to wear in the Canyon during training to watch where they rub, hike up or down, and move with you. Adjust accordingly. My fav Canyon outfit includes Lulememon shorts and a Oiselle tank top + long sleeved shirt. Yet as you can see from my photos with friends, we all wear different stuff!
- Snacks– While I go into more detail about food below, I always pack in the following categories: protein, electrolytes, sugar, salt, high-calorie, fun. You’ll probably hate everything you packed by the last few miles of the hike, so pack things you love and that fuel you + replace what you are losing on this hike.
- GPS tracker + watch– I use my Garmin watch to know how many miles I’ve gone as well as a GPS tracker with emergency signal capabilities so that my loved ones can track me all day long. You’ll see other people on this hike, yet it is also super remote and dangerous, so you need a way to call for help if you get stuck somewhere.
- Headlamp– My hike always starts in the dark so a good light is necessary. Even if your goal is to end during the day, you don’t know what might happen along the trail, so taking a light that has power to get you out of the Canyon as well is necessary. I would use a headlamp that uses batteries and bring extra with you!
- First aid kit– Ace bandage, mole skin, bandaids, ibuprofen, and medical tape all come in handy. Blisters, twisted ankles, skinned knees, and sore muscles are all par for the course during a rim to rim hike. Be prepared!
This is by no means a complete list, yet it’ll help get you started when training. Even if you won’t need all this during training hikes, practice hiking with your gear so you know what to expect for the real deal.
4. Food to pack
I change up the kinds of food I take every time I do a Grand Canyon rim to rim hike… mostly because I get bored easily and food is a great motivator! I keep electrolytes in my water pack while hiking to make sure I not only stay hydrated, but keep my sodium and energy levels up as well. Plain water just won’t cut it for 24 miles in the Canyon!
High calorie + high protein foods will ensure that the fuel my body is rapidly burning gets replaced. When hiking these long distances, you can’t rely on ‘I eat when I’m hungry’ to get you through. Replacing calories every 45 minutes will give you the energy you need to get through the final up-hill climb, when your body is ready to give up.
- Dried fruit: mango, pineapple and strawberries are my fav
- Bread: croissant, pizza, pb and j, fig newtons, etc have all been my lunch in the canyon
- Sugar: Gushers, dried fruit leathers, sports jelly beans
- Protein: salted nuts, jerky, Crunchsters
A few foods with caffeine also help energize the body on an intense hike like this one. I recommend waiting until you’re over half way through the hike to start with caffeinated items though. Waiting will help you not crash as easily or early as caffeinating yourself right at the start of the hike. The last thing you need is a sugar crash when you’re in the Box (the hottest part of the Bright Angel Trail).
- Tailwind Buzzed Electrolytes
- Skratch Matcha Powder
- Sports Beans Caffeinated Version
- M&Ms, chocolate, etc
Bonus tip: I don’t pack smoothies for my trip, yet I drink them before + during + after training as a great energy boost. They are easy ways to replenish nutrients, provide energy, and fill you up with whole food while training.
5. Enjoy the journey
You’ll be way more likely to succeed in your Grand Canyon rim to rim hike if you enjoy your training. I’m not saying there won’t be days you dread that long run, or annoying hiccups along the way that have you questioning if all this is worth it. My training takes me away from time with my family and requires so. much. laundry. Yet it is 100% worth it.
If you plan to do this trip by yourself, invite friends to train with you! I’ve done these trips solo and with friends, yet I always have extra friends participate in training with me to keep it enjoyable and to hold myself accountable. Plus, some training buddies throughout the years actually caught the Canyon itch and completed a rim to rim trek as well!
Rim to Rim Grand Canyon FAQs
If you are hiking (not running) it takes an average of 12-15 hours. This is based on the average time of trained hikers. Definitely train before attempting this! I do a mix of hiking and running, and it typically takes me about 9 hours.
It is 24 miles from the North Kaibab trail down to Phantom Ranch then back up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. 6,000 ft of elevation loss then 5,000 ft of elevation gain.
This is an incredibly strenuous hike. I often start with temps in the 30s-40s at the rim, and reach up to the 120s at the bottom. Elevation loss/gain in and of itself is difficult for anyone not living in the mountains. I typically train for 4-5 months before each hike, with a mix of long and short runs, weight training, yoga and climbing (the stair stepper for me).
It depends! You’ll need to factor in flights, car rental, hotels on or near the rim, gear (clothing, shoes, hydration pack, trail snacks, medical supplies, hiking poles, etc). This hike is an investment that I think is worth it, yet should be taken seriously. You want good gear to avoid unnecessary chaffing, blisters, heat rash, proper hydration throughout the hike, and the right kind of energy foods. This last trip, I spent $1200 in flights, rental car, hotels, food, etc.
How to complete an R2 in 1 day
In the past 4 years, I’ve completed either the R2 or R3, nine times. Now, I am not saying that makes me an expert, but it does give me some leverage when sharing my top 5 tips and fav moments from Grand Canyon. I experience different parts of the Canyon each time I go! Here’s what a typical trek looks like when trying to complete an R2 in one day:
Start before dawn
Remember when I recommended a headlamp for your packing list? That’s because I start each trek before the sun comes up. I do this to give myself plenty of time to finish the rim to rim hike during daylight hours, though I haven’t always. The Hiker Shuttle Service starts at 5am and will take you to the South Kaibab Trailhead and also the North Kaibab Trailhead, depending where you’re starting.
Hike North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
Starting the trek on the North Rim gives you a less-steep down hill trek and a shorter uphill trek after Phantom Ranch. Ending at the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim also puts you right in front of several different hotels and lodges (no need for a shuttle!). There are the water stations + restrooms (yes, there are actual bathrooms) along this trail:
- North Kaibab trail head (bathroom + water) then 1.7 miles to
- Supai Tunnel (bathroom + water) then 3 miles to
- Roaring Springs (bathroom + water) then .7 miles to
- Pump House Ranger Station (bathroom + water) then 1.4 miles to
- *Cottonwood Campground (bathroom + water) then 7.2 miles to
- *Phantom Ranch (bathroom + water) then 1.5 miles to
- River Resthouse (bathroom) then 3.2 miles to
- Indian Garden Campground (bathroom + water) then 1.7 miles to
- 3-mile Resthouse (bathroom + water) then 1.5 miles to
- 1 1/2-mile Resthouse (bathroom + water) then 1.6 miles to
- Bright Angel Trailhead
There are ranger stations throughout the Canyon as well as a few emergency phones just in case. Mark these all down on a map you carry with you (I laminate an index card with all water stops + amenities so I can plan). You can also choose to camp (with a permit) at one of the campgrounds and split this hike up between 2 days, yet that means carrying more stuff for 24 miles.
*Note: The stretch between Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch is the longest between water, and also the hottest. It includes a section called The Box which heats up during the day and can easily be 130 degrees F depending on when you hit it. Be prepared, get as much water as you can, and try to stay out of this section during the hottest part of the day if at all possible. There is a waterfall and stream you cross— I always get my head wet and make sure my core temp is cool before leaving this area since it’s a long hot trek.
Top 5 Moments from the Canyon
If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re somewhat intrigued into actually doing the rim to rim yourself. That’s awesome! Just make sure to train well so your calves, quads and knees can handle the steepness and won’t leave you hobbling around for a few days afterwards.
Below are the top 5 places and activities I loved while in the canyon to make it a truly memorable experience.
1. Lemonade at Phantom Ranch
Nowhere in the world does lemonade taste more amazing than after trekking miles down through the dusty hot stretch of the Grand Canyon. After leaving the North Rim trailhead 13.7 miles ago, Phantom Ranch becomes an oasis to all who cross through it. The ice cold Minute Maid lemonade is the most refreshing thing on the menu, and gets you hydrated for the climb back up. First glass is $5, then refills are $1.
2. Sending Postcards up on a Mule
If you want to create a very special gift for your loved ones, write a postcard at Phantom Ranch. It’ll be taken outta the canyon the next morning on the back of a mule. Now that’s pretty neat! Pack a postcard + stamp so that you don’t have to rely on the Phantom Ranch general store being open.
3. Seeing the best stars in the early morning
I mentioned this above, but it cannot be overstated. Start around 4am for the best stars (and give you more time to dodge the heat). As you descend into the canyon, make sure to stop and turn off your headlamp every so often. Then look up at the sky and revel in the beauty of the night sky.
The stars will take your breath away and probably cause you to shed a tear or two. It’s a magical moment.
4. Dipping your Toes in Bright Angel Creek
On the way down from the north rim, you’ll pass by Phantom Ranch. Stop there to refuel. Yet don’t forget to stop further down the trail by the campground to recharge. There’s a great shady, grassy spot along the creek where I always stop. My feet and calves feel rejuvenated after a dip in the icy cold creek.
By this point in your journey, you’ll be hot, tired, and sore. Re-energize here and know you’re already over half way through the rim to rim hike! You’ve made it this far, and you will get yourself out. Dig deep and trust that your training and strength will see you to the other side.
5. Drinking cool water from the Creek
There is one main water line that descends into the canyon and occasionally it has issues. This is why it’s always recommended to bring a water purifier in case you need to hydrate from the creek. Whether you’re on the North Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel trail, you are by a creek almost the entire time.
Even if you have access to drinking water, I highly recommend filling up along the creek. This is the coldest water to drink. Gabby and I ran out of water in “the box” one time and happily filled up our hydration packs with 1.8 L of cool creek water. It acted as our built in AC systems. I used my backcountry SteriPEN to clean the water before drinking.
The Slowest Climb up the South Rim
Climbing up the rim of the Grand Canyon are the hardest, slowest hours of my life. Time and distance get a little wonky in the canyon. For example, a 1-mile hike on flat trails would take about 15 minutes while whistling. Well, 1 mile of Grand Canyon switchbacks will take you 60 minutes of pure pain. It’s hard to understand how it can possible take so long and hurt so bad, until you experience it.
Depending on the type of person you are, this sorta thing might repel you… Or have you packing your bags right now. I’m the latter. A true lover of endurance, pain, team work, and being outside as much as possible. You’ll get all that and more if you choose to embark on a Grand Canyon rim to rim.
Is the canyon calling you?
Have you ever dreamed of doing something soooo outside your comfort zone? Something so big and crazy, it scared you but also excited you? If you’re starting to feel like the Grand Canyon might be that, let me know!!! I love hearing from others who are on board for this crazy fun trek.