Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a day (May 25th, 2019)
May 28, 2019
We came up with the plan of hiking Grand Canyon R2R in a day during a long weekend trip to Utah in November 2018 after hiking Angel’s Landing. As is customary we toss around ideas and google photos after we have just accomplished something new. That’s how in the last two years we have hit up Joshua Tree, visited five national parks in five days, climbed Mt. St. Helens, camped in snow on South Sister to name a few.
Originally it was a plan for just two, then three and finally four Estonians with a support team to make this trip easier. This is what you need to know if you want to complete Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike in a day and live to tell the story.
Start planning early
The most common route is starting from the north trailhead and finishing at Bright Angel in the south. You do not need a permit if you do this in a day however I would not recommend doing this in a day if you have never experienced almost 10k of elevation change in a day or have never hiked more than 10 miles. Total mileage is 23.5 miles and it will take you anywhere between 12 and 16 hours unless you are running it. Additionally, you will need to decide on transportation and lodging. Campsites on the north side are usually booked way in advance - we stayed at Jakob Lake which is about an hour from the trailhead. We were lucky enough to have a support crew to drive the car from the north end to the south, set up camp and come cheer us on for the last brutal uphill miles. An alternative option is to take a shuttle back to the north TH.
Plan your hike with weather conditions in mind! Weather in the canyon is always a major concern - we lucked out with a cooler day (forecast said 80F) but it was still very hot in the middle of the canyon. On the north side we started out with snow and ice that turned into mud a mile in. I would not even attempt this during summer months.
Hike steep trails and run stairs in preparation for this hike. Get in at least one 20 mile slog to get used to the idea of walking for so long. R2R is definitely not for the faint of heart nor is anyone going to come and rescue you in a timely manner. Essentially once you start from the north you commit to making it - or spending the night in the canyon in which case you better be prepared to do so.
Make a list of gear you will need
I have yet found a complete list of items to bring for Grand Canyon R2R hike but this is our list which may be of some use:
- Backpack (one that fits all your grear and is comfortable for > 12 hours)
- Trekking poles
- Headlamp + batteries
- Maps - downloaded Gaia map + paper map
- GPS unit - I brought my inReach Mini
- First aid kit - tape your feet beforehand if you tend to get blisters.
- Emergency bivy
- Bandana - for runny nose and/or keeping you cool
- Hiking boots
- Water filtration system - there is generally water available on the trail. Check the updates page to verify where you could get more water.
- Water purification system
- Water storage - we all brought a 2 liter bladder plus a bottle so that we could drop electrolyte tablets in the bottle to prevent water bladder from taking on the smell of electrolytes. You will go through more water than you think - fill up whenever possible. Our range was from 4 liters to 8 liters for the day.
- Electrolyte replacement tabs + energy gels. We planned one per hour.
- Chapstick with sunblock
- Food - both salty and sweet. Potato chips, apples, nuts and a lunch sandwich
- Socks- wear a pair and bring extra
- Leggings - for hiking in the morning when it is close to freezing
- Sun shirt - having this absolutely saved us. None of us got sunburned despite it being blazingly hot.
- Midlayer - for am part of the hike
- Light puffy - for am part of the hike
- Light rain jacket or umbrella
- Sports bra
- Sun hat - a must
- Poop bags/TP - there are toilets on the trail though
- Extra battery for your phone + charging cord
- Tutu - because we hike in style
Make a plan for the day
We knew we wanted to start no later than 5.30 so that we could hike out without having to use out headlamps. Because we had to drive to the trailhead we woke up at 3.15am, cooked breakfast, cleared the camp and hit the road by 4.15 am. We hit the trail by 5.20am and followed this slow but steady plan I had come up beforehand which worked well for us (I didn’t want to stop in crowded spots unless necessary):
- Stop #1: Roaring Springs - 4.7 miles from TH
- Stop #2: Ribbon Falls - 3.7 miles from last stop
- Stop #3: Phantom Ranch (longer break) - 5.6 miles from last stop
- Stop #4: River Resthouse - 1.5 miles from last stop
- Stop #5: Indian Garden - 3.2 miles from last stop
- Stop #6: The 3 Mile House - 1.7 miles from last stop (this is where our support crew would meet us)
- Finish - Bright Angel TH - 3.1 miles from last stop
Because we had a GPS unit people back home and our support crew could tell where we were with some accuracy. Our only goal was to hike the trail without any major injuries and for all of us to make it within 12-16 hours.
We could have roughed it but we like to have fun on our adventures so we all sported bright pink tutus while hiking R2R. It definitely made people smile but it was also very useful for spotting us on the trail - in the end when we broke up into two group it was easy to see where the other half was at.
Finally - be kind to each other. Every person is different and has different challenges. The hardest part for me was not the endless slog up to Bright Angel TH but the crossing of Colorado River in the middle.
All of us made the hike - the first group in 14.5 hours, the second in 15 hours (we split up 3 miles before the end). Between the four of us there was only one blister and some sore muscles. We used anywhere between 4 and 8 liters of water each but did not go through all the electrolytes we brought nor all the food (most of us didn’t touch the bars at all). We gave away some of our stuff to a guy having some major leg cramps on the trail. Most importantly, we still like each others company and are plotting another adventure soon!
Written by Katrin Valdre who has a permanent address in Portland, OR but does not believe in one physical location. You should follow her on Twitter