The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim day hike should be a bucket-list experience for anyone who loves the outdoors and hiking. While the hike itself is life-changing, the logistics and planning can be daunting for many reasons. We put together this ultimate guide to the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim day hike based on our own experience to help you.
Important Things to Know Before the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike
First, how hard is it to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day? IMO, this hike should not be taken lightly even by the fittest hikers. Know these important things before you go and prepare well for a successful and enjoyable experience.
- The rim-to-rim hike is around 24 miles in total length. For those who have the aspiration and physical strength to challenge rim-to-rim-to-rim, the distance is 44-47 miles.
- The rim-to-rim elevation change is 10,000 feet.
- The North Rim sits on 8,300 feet in elevation. The South Rim is only slightly lower. Most people start to feel the altitude above 7,000 feet.
- The rim-to-rim hike takes from 12 to 15 hours for an average hiker.
- On average, temperature swings can be over 70 degrees in one day.
- The weather conditions can be unpredictable in the canyon so check the forecast on the day you plan to hike.
- Water supply can be unreliable so always carry plenty of water with you.
- Managing to carry just the right amount of gear, supplies, and water to “stay out of trouble”.
- Poor logistics planning or preparation could make a lifetime experience turn south.
Planning logistics around this adventure can be complex and cumbersome. But don’t worry. We are here to help you to plan and prepare for it, so you will be all set and ready to enjoy this epic experience!
When is the best time to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim?
May and September are the best months to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim. The best time should offer higher lows and lower highs in temperature. If it snows (which is still possible in May and September), the North Rim can be closed and you won’t be able to do this hike. We did our hike in mid-September and we had really good luck with the weather.
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the Grand Canyon in general. Because of high demand in spring and fall, we recommend booking your hotels near the start and endpoints of this hike way ahead of time.
Should I hike from south rim to north rim, or, from north rim to south rim?
Hiking in either direction would give you a rewarding experience. We did the hike from the North Rim to the South Rim for the following reasons for your consideration:
- It is easier, relatively speaking. The north rim is on a higher elevation than the south. Therefore, ascending out of the south rim is easier with a shorter distance up and, more importantly, with less reaction to the altitude.
- It helps to avoid “the Box” during the hottest part of the day. The Box is a section on the north side containing a lot of heat after sunrise and has no tap water supply.
- Lodging availability around your travel days can dictate the direction you take. Keep in mind that lodging options are tight on both rims. We will talk about lodging later in this article.
There are many posts online about which trail on the south side to take so I won’t explain in detail in this post. We decided to ascend the south side via the Bright Angel Trail instead of the South Kaibab Trail based on the water supply situation.
How to plan transportation and lodging around the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hike?
Good and bad news here: options are limited which makes it a simple decision. After we exhausted tons of research and creative ideas, we narrowed it down to two options. One is to take a shuttle ride from one rim to the other on the day before the hike and hike back to where your car and belongings are. The other is to hike rim-to-rim-to-rim in two days. We don’t recommend the round-trip hike because you will be looking at the same scenery mostly and the physical exhaustion can sink in on the second day. Unless you will have family and friends taking you to one rim and picking you up on the other side, we recommend the shuttle service.
We used the Trans-Canyon Shuttle company which runs two trips each direction per day seasonally between the South Rim Bright Angel Lodge and the North Rim hotels. Find out their schedule here. You can book on their website with a credit card easily. They have a reasonable cancellation policy in case your plan changes. It is the only company providing the rim-to-rim service when we visited. Clean vans, professional drivers, and reasonable cost for the distance they have to take you.
It is a 4-5 hour ride. The scenery is beautiful throughout the entire route. We even got to see some buffaloes before arriving at the North Rim. The drivers will stop 2-3 times to refuel and allow passengers for bio-breaks. If you bring a book to read on this ride, just remember you will have to carry it back on your hike.
[UPDATE]: Want to share a good alternative our reader suggested (Thanks, Mike!) They also did the hike from north to south. But, instead of taking the shuttle, they drove their car to the North Rim and spent the night before the hike. They parked the car in the trailhead parking lot the morning they headed out on the hike. After they finished, they spent a night on the South Rim. They shuttled back to their car parked on the North Rim the following day. This plan works as well. Pros: avoid the challenge of getting to the trailhead in the morning. Cons: may add some distance to the next destination as the North Rim is more remote, and have to carry more weight with fresh changing cloth for the hiking night.
Where to stay on north rim and south rim?
You cannot avoid spending at least one night on the rim where you start your hike. Ideally, you want to leave all your luggage and car on the finishing side of the hiking day. Hotel supplies are extremely limited, so BOOK AHEAD!
On the South Rim, there are several lodges you can choose from that are within walking distance to the trailheads. They are all owned by and booked directly through Xanterra. They most likely won’t come up in search results on bookings.com or similar platforms. In our opinion, the Bright Angel Lodge is at the best location. But all these properties are near or connected along the rim ridge. Staying near the trailheads is highly recommended if you can book a hotel in the Grand Canyon Village.
The Grand Canyon Lodge, operated by Forever Resorts, is the best choice on the North Rim due to its location. It is important to know the lodge is still 2.2 miles away from the North Kaibab trailhead. This means you will have to walk on the main road for almost an hour before or after your hike officially starts or ends. We recommend arranging drop-off or pick-up to save time and energy for the trails. Our driver from the Trans-Canyon Shuttle kindly offered us a ride at 3:45 AM from the lodge to the trailhead, which saved us almost an hour to backtrack on a paved road
If you plan to hike from North to South and spend the night at the Grand Canyon Lodge, we highly recommend you make a dinner reservation in the restaurant. The seating is very limited. Enjoy a sunset from the dining room and the outside patio is incredible!
Your second best choice would be the Kaibab Lodge which is 15 miles away from the trailhead.
How long does the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike take and what time should I start hiking?
The rim-to-rim hike should take 12 to 15 hours to hike through for an average hiker depending on how much time you spend on taking photos and at the Phantom Lodge. It took us 12 to 13 hours. You don’t want to feel rushed along the way. Take breaks intentionally to replenish water and salty snacks.
We recommend starting the hike no later than 4:30 AM. It would be most likely pretty dark when you start the hike, so a good headlamp is crucial. If the weather is clear, don’t forget to stop once in a while to watch the starry sky on your way down.
If completing this hike within a day doesn’t sound enjoyable to you, break it down into two days with a one-night stay in Phantom Ranch (which requires even earlier planning and a bit of luck in its lottery system). Or, you can take your time to backpack into the canyon and spend a few days enjoying the natural beauty around you.
Our Experience and A Suggested Itinerary for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike
- Day 1: Arrived at the South Rim Village in the afternoon. Spent one night at the Bright Angel Lodge.
- Day 2: Spent the morning in South Rim Village visiting the South Rim, museums, and shops. After checking out of the Bright Angel Lodge, we parked our car in their parking lot with most belongs locked in the trunk. We got picked up by the driver of Transcanyon Shuttle in Bright Angel Lodge’s lobby around 1-1:30PM and headed for the North Rim. Spending one night at the Grand Canyon Lodge.
- Day 3: Picked up by our driver at 3:45AM and started the hike a little after 4AM. Hiked through coming out of the Bright Angel trailhead. Walked to our car and checked into Kachina Lodge (Bright Angel Lodge was not available.) “Crawled” into shower.
We had only one and a half months to plan for this trip so we had to scramble around the hotels a bit. If you plan further ahead, you should have more options.
With the right amount of planning and preparation, this hike would be one of the top experiences in your life. You won’t regret it. Use our Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Day Hike Packing List to prepare for gears and supplies.
Hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim in a day is an incredible experience and challenge! Your planning will pay off to make this adventure happen.
Leave a comment below to ask a question or share with us how you planned for the R2R hike.