Hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim has been a dream of Lori’s and mine for a while now. Trips like that take a lot of planning and preparing, but you just have to go for them. It was such an incredible hike; filled with memories I won’t soon forget.
The rim to rim trail normally is about 24 miles, from the North Kaibab trailhead on the North Rim to the Bright Angel trailhead on the South Rim. Unfortunately, Lori and I missed the shuttle from the North Rim lodge to the trailhead (poor planning on my part), so we ended up hiking an extra 2.5 miles, making it a fun 26.5 miles in two days!
I’ll tell you one thing, make sure your hiking boots are the right size! I discovered around mile 7 that mine were a little too small. Take it from me, that is the last thing you want to find out when you’ve got 9 more miles of downhill hiking to do. Ouch.
The rim to rim trail is completely stunning. Actually, from the North Kaibab trailhead to the Bright Angel trailhead, hikers pass through every ecosystem you can find in North America. We passed through lush forests, beautiful waterfalls and streams, hot and dry deserts, and of course the incredible Colorado River.
While rim-to-rim hikers can begin on either rim, Lori and I decided to start our hike on the North Rim since there are more lodging options in close proximity to the trailheads on the South Rim (since we wouldn’t have a car over there). It really worked out well!
The night before we stayed at a quaint inn called Jacob Lake Inn about 45 minutes away from the rim. Everyone there was so kind. We arrived in the early afternoon which gave us a good amount of time to pack our back packs, get a good meal, and go to bed early (not before watching Mama Mia! on my phone, of course).
We woke up the next day a little after 4am to finish packing and head out. If I remember correctly, we had cookies for breakfast, haha. Probably wouldn’t recommend it, but it worked for us.
After getting to the lodge at the North Rim, we parked our car and hiked to the North Kaibab trailhead. There we began the long trek (14 miles) down to Phantom Ranch, descending some 8,000ft in elevation. The first 7 miles to Cottonwood Camp were really nice. We stopped there and had lunch, and met some really nice hikers that we became friends with for the rest of the hike.
The next 7 miles were LONG. Unfortunately, there weren’t really many landmarks to break up the trail, like waterfalls or campgrounds, similar to the first 7. There were times when Lori and I felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings on our way to Mordor because the trail was so long and desert-ish.
We made it to Phantom Ranch at about 3:30pm. Not the best time, but we were fine with it. It still gave us time to get our beds and soak our feet in the Bright Angel Creek.
When we were originally planning this trip, we were hoping to camp at Cottonwood, Bright Angel, and Indian Gardens campground taking 4 days for the trek. Unfortunately, our backcountry permit applications were denied.
So, we (Lori, my mom, and I) called Phantom Ranch everyday (many times a day) waiting for beds in their dormitory to open up. They only have 20 female beds and those open for reservations 13 months in advance, so our chances were slim.
By the Lord’s grace we were able to nab 2 beds and 2 stew dinners (the BEST thing about Phantom Ranch). Actually, we called the day before to confirm the reservation and got 2 breakfasts at their canteen too! The Lord was looking out for us.
The dorm worked out well for us. They actually have flush toilets and a shower that everyone shares. All the hikers were so kind and we all just kind of bonded over the long trek. The conversations around the dinner table were fun!
After dinner, we hung out with a few other hikers for a couple hours just talking and writing postcards to loved ones. Those are some really great memories. You may be tempted to go to bed early, but you have to try and savor the night your spending at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
We woke up at 4:30 the next morning, packed quickly, and went to breakfast. The first half of the hike up Bright Angel trail was so much nicer than going down! Halfway we stopped at Indian Gardens and took a nice break to prepare for the last 5 miles, which we knew, would be the hardest part of the whole rim-to-rim hike.
I believe you climb about 5,000 feet in elevation in the last 3-5 miles. It’s all switch-backs, very steep, and not much shade. Thankfully the National Park Service has placed water stations every 1.5 miles, and boy do you need those stations.
Towards the end, Lori and I worked out a little system where we would sprint 1-2 switch-backs and then take a break. Haha! It totally sounds like we’re wimps, but if you were there you would understand!
You know you’re close to the top when you start passing people that smell good, are wearing nice clothes, and only caring one water bottle.
It was such a glorious feeling to make it to the top ( by 12:40pm!) and know we had just finished 26.5 miles. After calling our family to let them know we were still alive, we went straight to the ice cream shop on the South Rim (duh).
I think our rim-to-rim trail experience can be summed up by the words of a fellow hiker we befriended along the way, “We made it, boys!”
Do you have dreams of hiking the rim-to-rim trail at the Grand Canyon? Check out my money saving travel tips so you can do it on a budget!