One of the West’s classic hikes, Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim is an epic walk that takes you through the heart of one of the most geologically interesting areas on Earth. At 22 miles (35.4 km) long and with 10,310 ft (3142 m) of elevation change and often hot temperatures, this is a tough hike for most people. It is usually recommended to break it up over the course of two or three days, using the designated campsites. Plan in advance and reserve camp sites well before your trip. If you’re day hiking, you don’t need a permit, but you will still need to plan carefully. This post describes the North Kaibab-Bright Angel Route.

Warning: People die hiking the Grand Canyon! Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim is a challenging hike and should not be undertaken without careful planning and good physical fitness.

Quick Links:

Trail Map
Planning Your Trip
What to Pack
Food and Water
Driving Directions
Navigation
Warnings
More Information
Photos

Quick Facts

Hike Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim North Kaibab to Bright Angel Route
Highlights An incredible “bucket list” walk with stunning views, amazing rock formations and diverse habitats
Location Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
GPS, start 36.21928,-112.056184
GPS, end 36.055604,-112.139729
Overall Rating 5/5 – Wow!
Difficulty Difficult
Distance, Round Trip 22 miles (35.4 km)
Starting Elevation 7260 ft (2213 m)
Low Point 2546 ft (776 m)
Ending Elevation 6860 ft (2093 m)
Animals Permitted Pack mules with guides on Bright Angel Trail. No dogs below rim.
Restrooms Several locations, see map
Driving from Flagstaff See driving directions
Entrance Fee $25 park entrance fee, or annual pass

Map with Notes and Photos


View Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike, South Kaibab & Bright Angel Trails in a larger map

Planning Your Trip

The Rim-to-Rim is a demanding hike. Here are some of the key points to help you plan and enjoyable and satisfying trip.

Time of year: Avoid this hike in the summer! Although temperatures at the rim can be cool even in July or August, you drop to much lower elevations on your way down and the heat can be uncomfortable or worse, typically 100 degrees F (>38°C). Summer hikers often get dehydrated and even die. Winter can also be extreme, with North Rim road closures and icy trails making the trek next to impossible. The best times of year are fall and spring. I found early November to be a perfect time to go. Note that water stations may be closed as early as September and may not be operating again until May, so plan accordingly. See detailed climate information on the National Park site.

Car shuttle: If you’re doing this as a one-way trip (recommended), you’ll need to have someone who is not hiking (the smart one) drop you off at the North Rim and then drive to the South Rim to meet you. See driving directions below. In order to recruit this person, it is important to explain the contrast between the grueling, painful hike you’ll be undertaking and the leisurely and scenic drive, followed by loafing at the Bright Angel Lodge, that awaits him or her.

Permits: As of the time of this post, there are no permits required for day hikes in the Grand Canyon. If you prefer to make the hike in two or three days, there are multiple campground options, and Phantom Ranch cabins, at your disposal. Plan well in advance and make reservations early. You can reserve campsites up to 4 months in advance.

How long does it take? For a single day hike, plan on a very full day, 10-12 hours or more. If you are in extremely good shape it can be done. Plan to leave before sunrise and finish after sunset. A headlamp and extra batteries are a MUST. It could be a life or death choice. Most hikers camp and break up the trip into two or three days.

What to Pack

Clothing: Most of the trail is fully exposed to direct sunlight, and temperature swings can be dramatic. For fall and spring hikes, I recommend a basic outfit consisting of lightweight nylon pants, a lightweight shirt (long sleeve is best for sun protection) and a shade hat. Other essentials:

  • High quality sunglasses, polarized
  • A banadana is to wipe sweat from your face and wear open around your neck for sun protection.
  • An insulating layer for the start and end of the hike when it can be cold
  • A lightweight water resistant hooded jacket
  • Lighweight fleece gloves
  • Winter hat. It can be quite cold at the start of the hike.
  • Extra pair of socks. You’ll want to change your socks on the trail to prevent moisture buildup and blisters.
  • Shoe spikes for traction in ice, such as Kahtoola MICROspikes® or Yaktrax. At the trailhead, you can ditch these in the car if no ice is on the ground.

In your pack (day hikers):

  • First aid kit with blister kit
  • Your painkiller/anti-inflammatory of choice
  • Knee, IT band or ankle brace, if you are inclined to have trouble with these joints
  • Headlamp and extra batteries – essential!
  • Sunblock
  • Trekking poles, lightweight and collapsable
  • Map
  • A small amount of duct tape, rolled onto itself (useful for broken shoe/boot/trekking pole/pack repair on the go)
  • A bundle of lightweight nylon twine (similar functions to duct tape)
  • Pocket knife or small multi-tool

Food and Water – What and How Much?

You won’t get far on this hike if you don’t have enough food and water. And given the length and remoteness of most of this hike having a little extra is a lot better than not having enough.

Water: It is essential to check the status of seasonal water stations before you start. I hiked in November and many of the stations were still operating. This has a huge impact on how much water you carry and of course the weight of your load. You should always be able to get water at Phantom Ranch. I don’t recommend filtering or treating stream water as you because it will rob you of essential time. General rule: If no on-trail water is available, carry about a gallon per person, per day.

Electrolytes: Pre-load your water with electrolyte power before starting the hike, and add more when refilling. This is important to replace minerals lost in sweat while hiking, and prevents cramps on the second leg of the hike.

Lunch: I packed a larger-than usual trail lunch of four high-calorie almond butter and honey sandwiches and two apples that can be broken into two smaller lunches. Eating too much all at once will slow you down, so eat over smaller breaks or even while walking to keep your momentum.

Salty snacks: Salted nut mixes are very satisfying and help offset salt loss due to sweating. I found one Ziploc® bag of salty nuts is enough.

Sweet snacks: Great for the last few miles, when the quick energy they provide gives you a real boost. I prefer dark chocolate, vegetarian gummy bears and Newman-Os cookies from the natural food store.

Driving Directions

NOTE: Road access to the North Rim is often restricted in winter. Check conditions before beginning your trip.

To North Rim from Flagstaff

  • From Flagstaff, AZ, plan 3.5 hours to drive 165 miles to Jacob Lake, AZ. It is advised to stay the night at the Jacob Lake Inn and drive to the canyon rim the next morning.
  • From Flagstaff head north on 89, go 105 miles (169 km) to the junction with 89N. Turn left.
  • Go 55.3 miles (89 km) to the junction with AZ 67-S. Take an immediate right to Jacob Lake Inn.
  • The next morning, drive from Jacob Lake south on AZ 67-S for 41.6 miles (67 km) to the North Kaibab Trailhead on your left.

From North Rim to South Rim – 210 miles (338 km), 4.5 hours driving time

  • Head north on AZ 67 for 41.6 miles (67 km) to 89N, turn right.
  • Go 55.3 miles (89 km) to 89. turn right (south)
  • Go 58.4 miles (94 km) and after passing Cameron turn left on AZ-64 W
  • After 52.3 miles (84 km) turn left on S. Entrancd Rd.
  • Go 1.3 miles (2 km) and turn right onto Center Road.
  • After 1.6 (2.6 km) miles turn left onto Village Loop
  • Find parking and walk to Bright Angel Lodge. The Bright Angel trailhead starts/ends just behind the lodge.

Back to Flagstaff – 79 miles, 1 hour 40 minutes

  • Navigate back to Center Road and go south
  • After 1.6 miles (2.6 km) Turn right on AZ 64
  • Go 27 miles (43.5 km) to US 180 and turn left
  • Go 49 (79 km) miles back to Flagstaff

Navigating the Trails

With well-marked trail junctions, navigation is simple and easy to follow. See the map above for visual references.

Navigating the North Kaibab Route

14.2 miles (22.9 km) from the North Rim to the Colorado River

  • The first few miles involve rapid descent. At 1.7 miles (2.5 km) you go through Supai Tunnel and there is a seasonal water station (May-Sept.) and a restroom.
  • At 4.7 miles (7.3 km) you reach Roaring Springs (look to your left to see cascading water – you can’t miss it). There is a seasonal water station (May-Sept.) and a restroom. You’ll also notice a helicopter landing pad used to evacuate injured hikers.
  • At 5.4 miles (8.4 km) is a pleasant place to take a break at the pumphouse residence. Year-round water is available here.
  • At 6.8 miles (10.9 km) you reach Cottonwood Campground. This feels like an outpost of civilization. There is a ranger station, first aid, pay phone and restroom. This is a good place to get water (May-Sept.). If you’re making a multi-day trip this is one place you can camp. Make reservations up to four months in advance.
  • At 8.4 miles (13.3 km) there is a trail junction for Ribbon Falls. The Rim-to-Rim hike is long enough, I don’t recommend any side trips, but if your group is feeling extra perky and you started out very early, this might be an option.
  • After the Ribbon Falls junction you meander through a narrow canyon where the towering walls bring partial shade if you’re hiking in the morning or afternoon.
  • At 13.6 miles (21.8 km) you reach Phantom Ranch, where you can get refreshing cold drinks and snacks, use restrooms and air out your feet a bit. You’re not far from the Colorado River.
  • Just down the trail from Phanton Ranch is the Bright Angel Campground at 14 miles (22.5 km).
  • At 14.2 miles (22.9 km), the Colorado River is a short walk from the campground. Here you have an important choice as there are two routes up to the South Rim. For the hike outlined here, veer to the right. You’ll take the western bridge “Silver Bridge” over the river and head west on the other side to meet up with the Bright Angel Trail.

Navigating the Bright Angel Route

9.5 miles (15.3 km) from Bright Angel Campground to the South Rim.

  • You’ll be taking the River Trail for two miles after the bridge. This merges into the Bright Angel Trail.
  • At mile 1.5 (2.4 km) is the River Resthouse, with a restroom and emergency phone.
  • At 3.2 (5.1 km) miles is Indian Gardens. Here you’ll find water, a ranger station and restrooms. Trail At trail junctions for Plateau Point and Tonto Trails, just keep going forward.
  • At 6.4 miles (10.3 km) is Three Mile Resthouse, you guessed it, just three (3.1) miles to go! Water is available Sept. – May. The remaining three miles consist of a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. If you’re traveling in fall, winter or early spring, it may be getting dark already. Whip out those headlamps I recommended. You’ll want to see where you’re going on these steep switchbacks.
  • At 7.9 miles (12.7 km) is Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, with seasonal water. Now on to the last leg.
  • At 9.5 miles (15.3 km), you’ve made it. At the large open paved area behind the Bright Angel Lodge, stretch out your tired legs. Highly recommended: Go into the lodge to celebrate with a meal and drinks!

Words of Warning

The Grand Canyon can be a dangerous place for hikers. If you are prepared and pay attention during your hike, you increase the chances of having a good experience. This trail review is not intended to be comprehensive. Always get the latest information from the National Park Service directly.

  • Plan carefully. Pay attention to Park updates and warnings (see below).
  • Hike with other people.
  • Bring plenty of water. Depending on the time of year you go, water stations may be open or closed. Always check the current status of water stations before you start your hike.
  • On the trails, ledges can drop several hundred feet or more and have no railing. Be mindful of these edges and be careful when taking photos!
  • Ice can be present on the trail. If you are traveling in late fall, winter or early spring, use extra caution and consider using trekking poles and/or micro-spikes for your shoes for extra traction.
  • Try to avoid blisters by periodically airing out your feet and changing socks. But also be prepared for blisters. Carry a first aid kit that includes blister treatment supplies.
  • On a hike of this distance, you’re going to sweat a lot. Bring foods with natural electrolytes and add electrolyte powders to your water.
  • Don’t swim in the Colorado River! The currents are extremely dangerous. If you need to cool down, splash some water on yourself from the creek that runs along the North Kaibab trail.

For More Information

The National Park Service provides the information you need to plan a successful hike.

Photos