Several years ago when Catherine and I went on our first trip to the Grand Canyon we hiked 3 miles down Bright Angel Trail. As we staggered back up we kept running into this couple who were on the same break schedule as us. In an effort to prolong our break time we started chatting. Turned out they had hiked about 11 miles down into the canyon to stay at Phantom Ranch, one of the hardest National Park lodge reservations to snag. They went on to tell us about crazy people who hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim (Rim to Rim hikers). This was an idea that I didn’t even know was possible. It was in that moment that we decided we were going to do that hike someday.
Well, someday turned into this summer. Yep, you heard me right. This summer Catherine and I are going to do the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike. Since it’s a little difficult to navigate and plan I thought I’d write a post each month until August (our hike month!) to give you all the details on the trip, the planning, and our training. First things first.
What is the Rim to Rim hike?
For me, it’s a bucket list hike. I know it’s not going to be easy, and quite frankly I’m pretty freaked out by it, but we have committed to doing it. One thing I’ve taken comfort in so far is the fact that it’s been completed by kids, young adults, people my age, and many elderly hikers. With planning and some training anyone can create a hike on these trails that will work for them.
How Long is Rim to Rim?
24 miles (one-way). I say one way because there are people even crazier than us who do the Rim to Rim to Rim hike. Yes, that’s right they go there and back again…sometimes in one day!
Level of Rim to Rim
Most hikers know that trails or long distance hikes come with a difficulty rating. Rim to Rim is rated as strenuous. Not too surprising, right?
North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
This is the first option for most hikers for several reasons. Starting at the North Rim means you hike downward for 6,000 feet, cross the canyon, and then climb out 4,500 feet. Looking at those numbers it seems obvious why most people go from North to South. In addition, Bright Angel Trail has several water stops, rest areas, bathrooms, a ranger station and some shade. This is super important because the climb out is going to be the toughest park of the whole hike.
Other Option – North Kaibab Trail to South Kaibab Trail
A second North to South option is to hike back up on the South Kaibab Trail. While this route is shorter than the Bright Angel Trail route it has no water stops and very little shade. I’ll take shade and water in exchange for a little longer hike.
How Long does Rim to Rim Take?
The answer to that my friend is completely up to you and how prepared you are. If you can’t be bothered with booking Phantom Ranch and patiently waiting for a backcountry permit, you can hike Rim to Rim in one day. As long as you’re in and out in one day none of that paperwork is necessary.
Catherine and I will be hiking Rim to Rim over 4 days. So from here on out I’ll be describing the trip we’ve planned.
Planning Our Rim to Rim Hike
Where to start:
If I were to tell someone how to go about planning this trip I would say start with the hardest reservation to get, Phantom Ranch. Reservations for Phantom Ranch open up 13 months in advance (yep!), so if you have a date in mind make sure you’re online or on the phone when the reservation lines open.
For more information on Phantom Ranch check out this post I wrote about all the Grand Canyon Lodges (scroll down to the bottom for Phantom Ranch). You can also check out the reservation page for Phantom Ranch to enter the lottery or you can call 888-29-PARKS.
Snagging this reservation can be tough, but if you have some flexibility in your dates that can really help. Truth be told I didn’t get my first choice date, but when I called there were two other days open so I grabbed one. Being flexible will help you a lot as you plan this trip.
With your Phantom Ranch reservation booked you can start building out the rest of your trip. If it’s possible financially, I highly encourage you to book your other hotel stays at the same time as your Phantom Ranch booking. This can get expensive pretty fast, but lodging options inside the Grand Canyon Village and at the North Rim fill up fast. If you want to stay at National Park properties book as soon as you can.
We knew that we wanted to start our hike from the North Rim. Since we’ve never been there we thought it would be fun to stay one night in the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim. This was the next reservation we booked. This meant we had the night before we left arranged and one night in the canyon. We also went ahead and made a reservation at El Tovar for the night we made it out of the canyon. I’m pretty sure we will be clamboring for a shower by that point so I wanted a place right on the rim.
While it’s best to book everything at once I totally understand that that’s not possible for everyone. I had to spread out these bookings in order to afford them. I booked Phantom Ranch first, then a couple months later the North Rim and several months after that El Tovar. We were lucky to get all the dates and locations we wanted. All this is to say book early if possible, be flexible and you can spread out the expense if need be, it’s gonna be okay.
I know it seems like all of the reservations should be done by now, but sadly they’re not. We wanted to spend several days down in the canyon and take our Rim to Rim hike slow (we’ll be averaging 6-7 miles per day). That might seem ridiculous to you, but we figured that we wanted to have lots of time to enjoy the trip, explore, take in the views and not be rushed. If you want to get things done faster you can completely skip this step.
BUT if you want to camp in the Grand Canyon you are going to need a backcountry permit. Applications for backcountry permits need to be submitted 4 months prior to the month you plan to hike. So, for example, we’re going to hike in August, so our application was due April 1st. For a list of application dates relative to your start date head over to the Backcountry Permit page and scroll down to the bottom.
I highly advise that you add a reminder to your calendar to alert you to apply for the backcountry permit. I thought I’d done this. Maybe I put in the wrong date or the information didn’t transfer over when I got a new phone. This meant that I faxed off our application for a backcountry permit on April 8th. Cue the sad Charlie Brown music. Yes, after all of my planning and reservation making I missed this crucial deadline. I’ll find out in the next couple weeks whether or not we got a permit. If you could keep everything crossed for us it would be most appreciated.
I think that’s enough information about Rim to Rim for now. I said at the beginning of this post that it’s an involved process. So far we’ve covered the length of the hike, the recommended route, my recommended order for making reservations and how to get a backcountry permit.
What’s next in the series
- Training for a big hike
- Gearing up for Rim to Rim
- What do do right before you set out on your big adventure