Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in One Day

The Grand Canyon is absolutely a heaven for adventurers who are looking for more of a challenge, something that can really make them feel what an outdoor adventure is all about. Grand Canyon is not just about walking through a difficult trail. It is about situational awareness as well and how well you know your own body. A true test of stamina, adaptability, and endurance.

The Grand Canyon is a canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, United States. The canyon and the adjacent South Rim are a part of the Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon is 277-miles long, about 18-miles wide and more than 6000-feet deep. It is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. All trails in the Grand Canyon take you below the rim where the weather gets dry and warm. Grand Canyons contains 300-miles worth of hiking trail. But the most famous hike among them all is the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike that attracts hikers from all over the world.

Rim to Rim

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike is among the longest hikes in the Grand Canyon, a 44-mile round trip taking about 5-7 days to complete. It is a strenuous hike, one, about which hikers say as being “not a stroll in the park”. According to the National Park Foundation, “you’ll leave from the North Kaibab Trail on the North Rim, challenging your personal limits as you descend 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon before connecting with the Bright Angel Trail and climbing 4,500 feet and 9.6 miles back out again to the South Rim.”

However, some brave souls want more challenge and so they opt to complete the Rim to Rim hike in a day. Now here’s the thing, the Rim to Rim hike in a day is not something taken lightly at all. The National Park Foundation, in fact, advises against it. Trying to conquer Rim to Rim in one day can result in an emergency situation because the conditions at the bottom are rough. The National Park Foundation states that every year, 250 rim-to-rim hikers are rescued from the canyon. The temperatures at the bottom normally reach 100 degrees and sometimes exceed 120. On peak weekends, there are so many calls for help that every paramedic ranger in the park has to be called.

If you are looking to hike Rim to Rim in one day, however, then here is what you need to do.

Train yourself for the Olympics

This is no joke. Hiking the Rim to Rim, even in normal circumstances, requires extraordinary fitness. But going for a one day hike on this hike is no less than a marathon and a casual jogger won’t suddenly decide to run a 30 or 40-mile marathon. It requires hard work. You can’t just quit because that is not an option whether you feel like it or you feel like it. No cars, no helicopters, nothing can come for you. As the park service puts it, “hiking in is optional, hiking out is mandatory”. So you need to make sure you are fit enough to get out, once you get in. Focus on cardiovascular training such as cycling, running and as many outdoor activities as possible. I would personally recommend you start calisthenics, lunges, squats, and core body training because you would need strong ankles and knees to go downhill.

The ideal season

It is impossible to get to North Kaibab trailhead in the winter because of the road (SR 67) being closed due to snow. The road closes on the first snow and then remain closed till May 15th. Although, it is highly unlikely that it opens even after May 15th. Although the 8,000-feet elevation may have freezing temperatures, the 2,400-feet depth in the Canyon would still have a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That is to say, even in winter, the bottom of the Grand Canyon is still as hot as a hot summer day in Phoenix. So it is better to plan your trip in late September/October or as close to May 15th.

Where to start?

Hikers usually have the question of whether they should start from the North Rim or the South Rim. For new hikers, it is recommended that they should start from the North Rim because the South Rim has less elevation (almost a 1000-mile difference) that they would have to climb. The recommended trail is the North Kaibab Trail (8,241-feet elevation and 14.3-miles) and the Bright Angel Trail (6,860-feet elevation and 9.6-miles) in the South Rim.

The South Kaibab Trail (7,260-feet elevation and 7-miles) is shorter and steeper compared to the Bright Angel Trail but it is recommended for more experienced hikers because there is no water and no shade on this trail. Whichever path you choose, you would want to spend the night in there before you go on the trail the next morning before the sunrise. However, your starting point also depends on the time of the year.

The North Rim lodges are open from May 15th to October 31st and remain closed rest of the time due to snow. The South Rim and the Phantom Ranch are open all year. You can get a free shuttle from the Bright Angel Lodge that would drop you off right at the trailhead. However, if you are willing to start from the North Rim, you can take the scheduled shuttle between the two rims but, you would need to reserve your seats and that is not an easy task itself. The North Rim is not easily accessible.

The day hikes and other activities in the day don’t require a permit. But overnight hike, overnight camping in certain areas (Mather Campground, Desert View Campground, North Rim Campground) require a permit. Other commercial and Academic activities and lodge Reservations also require permits. The permits are given away a whole year in advance on a first-come-first-serve basis. The PDF forms for the permits can be downloaded from the National Park Service website.

Water availability and food

Water is the most important item for a hike in the Grand Canyon. Make sure that you have enough water for your trip. Although a pipeline runs from the Roaring Springs to the South Rim, most often it is broke so always keep a water treatment system as a backup for water wherever you come across it at Colorado River, Pipe Creek, Graden Creek, Bright Angel Creek. When the pipeline is working, you get filtered water at Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs, the Pumphouse, Cottonwood camp, Phantom Ranch, Indian Garden, 3 Mile Resthouse and Mile and a Half Resthouse. You would also need a lot of electrolytes along the way.

Due to excessive sweating, you lose a lot of electrolytes, especially sodium. The sodium level in the blood drops fast developing Hyponatremia. To avoid that, you may want to keep certain drinks with you. But it is recommended that you keep real food with you that includes salty snacks, protein bars, and fruits. Be careful not to leave any trace behind. Also, try the dinner at the Phantom Ranch. It is awesome!

What to pack for a Rim to Rim hike?

Hiking the Grand Canyon requires some extra preparations due to many unusual factors. You would need at least 3 liters of water with you as mentioned that it will get really hot at the bottom and you may not find water, especially on the South Kaibab Trail. One other thing that matters is your clothing.

Bring extra pairs of socks; you would need them. Also, bring layers of clothing for keeping you warm. Yes! Keeping you warm. The Grand Canyon is known to have a 20-degree Fahrenheit shift in the temperature in just a few hours. Plus, you never know when you are slow only to find out that the sun has started to go down. The nights in the desert are really cold, and you would want to make sure that you won’t be shivering your way out. This also makes bringing a bright torch and headlamp with you, a good idea.

As for the hot weather during the day, make sure you wear cotton and not a wicking shirt. Now, this may sound counter-intuitive or I may also sound like crazy but, the reason for wearing cotton is that the weather is extremely dry and hot down there. The maximum humidity in the Grand Canyon is 14%. In this weather, you would want to keep yourself wet to stay cool, and cotton does exactly that. Cotton is good enough to keep you wet for as long as half an hour by not allowing the sweat to escape fast which will keep your body cool and you won’t dehydrate quickly. Wicking shirts will do the exact opposite. Denim is also cotton but, do not wear denim. And yes, wear durable mountain climbing shoes.

Don’t forget to rest

The most important tip perhaps is knowing your own limits. Don’t give in to ego or haste. The canyons have seen 115+ degrees temperature in shades in mid-May. Be aware of when the temperatures are rising. Take a dip in one of the creeks or wait for the sun to go down so that the temperature comes down. If going North to South, Indian Garden is perfect for a long break and Cottonwood if you are going from South to North. If need be, wait for the sun to go down and take out your headlamp. You will also be passing from Phantom Ranch so be you can refill water, get lemonade and some more snacks.

If you follow these tips, you will be able to hike Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a day without needing to call the paramedics for help. Hike safe out there.