This is one of the best day hikes in the world, and a must do for the serious marathon day tripper. One optimal time for this Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike is as late as possible in the season but while the North Rim Lodge is still open, which around October 15, the day I did it.
It’s 21 miles from South Kaibab trail or 24 miles on the Bright Angel trail. The total elevation climb is about 6000′. These statistics match a one-day Mt Whitney hike (24 miles, 6000′) but is easier due to 6000′ less altitude – “easier” of course being a relative term. Like all hikes on this site, you need to be in shape, and plan and execute the hike diligently. The Park Service and all printed guides heavily discourage this hike – too many people get in trouble and need evacuation. Please don’t be one.
With dinner reservations at 6pm, the schedule was set. After a taxi ride from a Grand Canyon rim hotel to the South Kaibab Trail at Yaki Point, I was on the way by 5:20 am. Parking is not allowed at the trailhead, but there is a free rim shuttle service that would get you a little later. Sunrise was 6:36am so a small penlight flashlight was useful for 30 minutes to negotiate the steep, rocky switchbacks, and the fresh deposits by the mule train that had left 5 minutes earlier. Trekking poles allowed for a fast and balanced pace minimizing stress on joints on the steep decline.
Compared to the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail is more scenic (once daylight hits). The river and canyon is more visible because the trail follows a ridge rather than a small valley.
A fifty foot rock tunnel leads to a large suspension bridge over the Colorado. Another mile is Phantom Ranch. Then begins a very pleasant 7-mile stroll (or run as some do) up the Bright Angel Canyon, a large tributary to the main canyon. With all the talk about heat in the canyon and dehydration I was pleasantly surprised with the early morning hours being cool and the east side of the canyon being in the shadows.
Phantom Ranch. Don’t bother getting water until reaching the Phantom Ranch store. There is water earlier at the Bright Angel Campground but it’s out of the way. All Phantom ranch meals are by reservation, but there is food available (sack lunch, sport bars).
Ribbon Creek crossing. There is a fork. The one to the right goes up and over a large hill. The one to the left, assuming late season, is crossable by taking your shoes off. This is a good idea. Good time to change socks and you save some time avoiding the hill.
Cottonwood Campground. Nice water and rest stop with benches under trees.
Roaring Springs. No need to go there for water. It’s a 20-minute diversion from the main trail down to the river and back; water (and sometimes a pitcher of lemonade) is available a mile earlier at the caretaker’s house. But remember, from this point it is the last water for about 4000′ of elevation climb to the top .
North Kaibab Trailhead. Get there by 4:30 PM to take the free shuttle the 2 miles to the North Rim Lodge, a very desirable option after a long day.
Arriving at the Trailhead at 3:20pm, I had plenty of time to check-in at the Lodge (get the more expensive cabin, it’s worth it), have a hot shower, sit on the observation deck to view the sunset and the day’s work, and, make that 6pm dinner reservation for a nice meal and a fine wine. It doesn’t get any better than this.
There are three options for the return to the South Rim.
1. After an overnight of comfort, walk back the next day.
2. After an overnight of comfort, take the shuttle back and remain in comfort.
3. For the complete masochist, after reaching the North Kaibab Trailhead, turn around and go back immediately. The goal is to get back with 24 hours which requires sleep deprivation, pushing muscles to the limit, and convincing yourself this is a neat thing to do.
For this year, I chose option 2. Maybe I’ll try option 1 or 3 next year when I forget how far it is. Nevertheless, recent research has indicated possible new brain neurons grow with physical exercise. If more exercise means more neurons this hike might make you smarter prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease
Check-out the DayHiker forum “Favorite Hikes” for some more hiking tips and cautions about this memorable extreme day hike.
And for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim totally insane option read this journal from an internet hiking buddy, Rich Hale, who has done it 4 times before hanging up his internet site, adventurehiking.com, a few years ago. He covers an unabridged encyclopedic volume on this topic and is a must-read for those inclined to attempt this over-the-top (under-the-rim?) saga.
Header image Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grand_Canyon_Powell_Point_Evening_Light_02_2013.jpg