Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim The “Right Way”

Grand Canyon National Park draws millions of visitors from around the world to experience its iconic beauty. As seen from the edge of the canyon, it’s incredible. But when seen up close on a rim-to-rim hike, it’s near spiritual. Here’s how to do it safely.

After you finish hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim, ask someone to check your back—that’s because you’ve now achieved super-hero status and quite possibly have sprouted a cape. The 24-mile trek is beautiful and a bucket list memory. It’s also tough—you need to be in great shape to do the journey.

That’s why we asked Helen Ranney for tips on the journey. She’s a long-time canyon hiking guide and Grand Canyon National Park volunteer who’s made the rim-to-rim hike dozens of times.

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim The “Right Way”

The Route

Ranney prefers going from the North Rim to South Rim, starting the hike down the North Kaibab Trail and then up Bright Angel Trail, so that the descent into the canyon is quieter and less busy.

Getting There

Though the North and South rims are just 10 miles across as the California condor flies, the drive between trailheads is more than 200 miles and takes about four hours. You’ll need two cars or a pal to drop you off at the North Rim trailhead. You can also take advantage of a private service like the Trans-Canyon Shuttle to drive you from the South Rim to North.

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim The “Right Way”


May through October to take advantage of the North Rim’s facilities, which are only open during those months. More specifically, May or October are best as they help hikers avoid summer’s heat and monsoon storms.

How To Do It

“The park service does not recommend doing the hike all in one day,” emphasizes Ranney. “Even ultrarunners have had problems doing the 24 miles all at once.”

Instead, she says, you should plan on spending a few nights along the trail to make the trip enjoyable and to soak up the canyon’s beauty. She also recommends spending the night before at the North Rim — either camping or at the lodge — so you can start your hike refreshed.


Hiking a mile down into the canyon is like traveling from a Canadian ecosystem to a Mexican one. You’ll start out in pines and aspens, then descend into a riparian setting marked by cottonwood trees and finally through a desert zone filled with cactus and agaves. It can easily be 20 degrees warmer at the bottom of the canyon than at either trailhead.

You’ll go past steep canyon walls, open spaces and geologic wonders carved by time. Along with the swift, cold waters of the Colorado River, other waterways like Bright Angel Creek, Roaring Springs and Ribbon Falls also offer cooling delights.

Look for fossils, vestiges of ancient human occupation and more recent park service structures. You might see bighorn sheep, deer, California condors and snakes. Don’t feed the rock squirrels—they bite. By night, the stars dazzle.

“Take your time to enjoy the beauty,” says Ranney.

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim The “Right Way”

Where To Stay

Cottonwood Campground, about 7 miles down from the North Kaibab trailhead, Bright Angel Campground, 14 miles in and Havasupai Gardens—off the Bright Angel Trail and about 4.5 miles from the South Rim and the end of the trail—are camping options.

If you’re lucky and get a room via the lottery system, Phantom Ranch has cabins near the Colorado River. You should plan at least four months ahead to get a backcountry permit for those campgrounds. The Phantom Ranch cabin lottery runs about 14 months out.

“Spend a few nights at the Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch,” says Ranney. “You can relax, take short hikes or visit Boat Beach, where the rafting trips stop.”

Phantom Ranch also sells merch, like t-shirts and postcards. Mail the cards there. They’ll be carried out by mules and stamped as such.

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim The “Right Way”


Make sure to pack the following items:

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Clothes for layering because of the disparity in temperature and weather between the rim and the bottom of the canyon
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Food
  • Comfortable camp shoes like water sandals
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp for campground nights
  • Backpack that fits your body appropriately

Salty snacks with protein and carbs are also recommended. Bring a credit card if you want to “shop” at Phantom Ranch.

Although there are water spigots along the way, Ranney recommends bringing at least a day’s worth of water with you as well as a water purification method.

“Sometimes, there are breaks in the water line through the canyon,” she says. “The park service puts out notifications on the water situation, but it’s always good to have backup.”

Logistics Made Easy

If you don’t want to make the arrangements yourself, you can opt to go with an outside outfitter, who can handle the logistics of hiking rim to rim.

“Make sure the outfitter has an agreement with the park service,” cautions Ranney. “It’s called a commercial use authorization.” Otherwise, the outfitter would be operating illegally in the park.”

Note: Construction on the new Transcanyon Waterline, which provides potable water and fire suppression for the South Rim and inner canyon, is scheduled to begin in 2024. Some trails might be temporarily closed during construction. Check the Grand Canyon National Park’s website for updates.

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About the Author

Nora Burba Trulsson

Nora Burba Trulsson is a long-time Arizona resident and a freelance writer specializing in travel, food, lifestyle, architecture and design topics. Her articles have appeared in Phoenix Home & Garden, Arizona Highways, Sunset, houzz.com, Valley Guide, Modern Luxury Scottsdale and other publications and websites.

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