A quick breakdown of my rim-to-rim hike, followed by a few things I learned.
What: Hiking the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim
Where: Grand Canyon National Park
When: July, 2016
How long: 3 days, 2 nights in the park total
Route: From the South Rim, took the Bright Angel Trail down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon, and then up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim.
Mileage: 24 total - 10 miles down, 14 miles up
Altitude: 8,241 ft / 2,512 m at North Kaibab trailhead, the highest point
Weather: HOT. 115 degrees in the hottest part of the day.
Thing #1: Do your research.
Google ‘hike the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim’ and what do you find? Besides maps, trail descriptions, play by plays of people’s experiences, lists of what to carry and what to wear, you’ll find that virtually anyone on the Internet who has ever taken the time to write about hiking in the Grand Canyon will also tell you to NOT hike it between the months of June-August.
So, naturally, we went in the middle of July.
For two reasons. First, the middle of July just happened to be a good time for both my friend and I to take off work (she has a crazy work schedule that makes taking time off tricky). Second, there were two spots open at Phantom Ranch, the lodge at the bottom of the canyon. Spots are highly coveted. Reservations can be made 13 months out from when you want to travel to the canyon, and believe me, that’s when people start calling. And you have to call, because space is so limited and demand so high that they don’t do online booking.
In fact, demand is getting so out of hand, the park is implementing a lottery system for Phantom Ranch as of January 2019, where you have to submit your lottery entry FIFTEEN MONTHS out from when you want to stay. For example, for a January 2019 stay, you’ll need to submit a lottery entry in November 2017.
So when I called the reservation desk a mere four months in advance, I was stoked to get anything. I figured we would lock in whatever we could get and just make it work. All of this to say, we booked first and did our research second.
Which, for the record, is NOT a practice I advocate. Always do your research, and when it comes time to make plans, err on the side of caution. This is true for taking on any new activity or adventure, but especially when preparing to hike 24 miles over 5,800 feet of elevation change and in temperatures that were topping out at 115 in the hottest part of the day. For the record, don’t go in the middle of July. Go during a more reasonable time of year, temperature-wise, for goodness’ sake.
Right. I'm starting my research with this blog post. What are my options?
The three most common trails that will take you from rim to river are the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails on the south side and the North Kaibab trail on the north side. The South Kaibab trail is about seven miles from trailhead to Phantom Ranch, and while the Bright Angel trail is slightly longer, at 10 miles, there is more shade and potable water accessible along the trail. For these reasons, we chose to take the Bright Angel Trail down. The North Kaibab trail is longer still, at 14 miles, and takes you through Bright Angel Canyon and Roaring Springs Canyon, up to the North Rim.
You’ll have to account for shuttle time when making your plans. Unless you’re doing a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, you’ll need to allocate about four hours for driving around the canyon and getting back to your car. A shuttle service runs twice a day (6:00am and noon, respectively) and can take you around to either rim.
Thing #2: If you're going to hike in warmer temps, consider hiking at night.
This is maybe the most valuable piece of advice I can give you if you find yourself in the canyon during the hotter months of the year. I cannot overstate how miserable you will be if you attempt to hike during the hottest part of the day this time of year (10am-4pm).
This ended up being the BEST option for us, given the circumstances. And yes, it was also the safest option, given the heat. The trail is developed and maintained well, so we knew we wouldn’t get lost and we would have ample access to water. The weather was clear and the moon almost full so we knew that, even without our headlamps and flashlights, we would have ample moonlight. Most importantly, we knew we would be moving in cooler temperatures. Hiking the Grand Canyon is incredible, but hiking it at night ended up being one of my most memorable experiences to date. It was still the most challenging hike I’ve ever done (see Hiking the Grand Canyon: Part I), but it would have been much worse, and more dangerous, attempting to complete it during the heat of the day.
Thing #3: Wear appropriate clothing.
Appropriate clothing is critical when attempting a hike in extreme weather. It’s also important to remember that when hiking in temps like these, less is not always more. Meaning, don’t plan on wearing shorts and a sports bra and expect that you’ll be good to go. I wore my hiking shorts, but then I also wore a light, white, long-sleeve shirt over my sports bra and a wide-brimmed hat the whole day. Both helped shield my skin from the sun and ultimately kept me cooler. I definitely didn’t visit the Grand Canyon to work on my tan. I also carried a bandana with me. When we stopped I’d soak it in water and tie it around my neck. These items, along with sunscreen and sunglasses, kept me relatively comfortable and protected throughout the day.
Adjust your clothing for the time of year of your trip. Know well ahead of time what kind of weather and temperatures to expect and dress accordingly. I also like to keep an extra layer on hand if things get chilly, even if it’s just a long-sleeve t-shirt.
Thing #4: A quick word on water.
Yes, a pipeline runs along the corridor trails, meaning you have access to potable water along the Bright Angel and North Kaibab trails. Yes, this pipeline occasionally breaks. Bring a back-up water treatment system in case you happen to be hiking when the pipeline is down.
Thing #5 What will I do differently next time?
Definitely not go in the middle of July. Probably not bother with Phantom Ranch reservations and just camp. Probably take a little more time. You could easily extend your rim to rim excursion by a night or two with a stay at Indian Garden or Cottonwood Campgrounds. This would give you more time to explore the canyon itself with some pretty cool additional day hikes like Plateau Point, Roaring Springs, Ribbon Falls, or Manzanita Canyon. I’d like to tackle a rim-to-rim-to-rim next time, going north to south and then turning around and doing it all over again.
The bottom line is this.
Do your research, make a plan, and be realistic about your fitness level and what you’re comfortable doing. Hike smart, be prepared, and get stoked!! Hiking the Grand Canyon is an incredibly rewarding and visually stunning experience. What Grand Canyon experiences have you had? I’d love to hear about them!