Tackle Hiking The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim

January 16, 2019

The Grand Canyon is indeed a natural wonder of the world. This ancient picturesque gorge measures 277 miles in length, 18 miles wide, and over a mile in depth. Outdoor enthusiasts have trained for the pure purpose of challenging their bodies to cover the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Only a small percentage of visitors to the Grand Canyon, come with the mission to either hike or run the distance of the landmark from rim to rim. Breathtaking sights, hidden dangers from wildlife, and extreme changes in temperature and sea level are all part of the hiking adventure. Hiking or running rim to rim should not be taken lightly, and the canyon deserves the utmost respect.

Choose Your Destiny

The Grand Canyon has four different points of interest, with different trails for you to hike or run. Ideally, if you wish to traverse the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, it is better to start from the Northern Rim and work your way toward the Southern Rim. Most hikers will prepare themselves to cover about 21 to 23 miles on foot, which can be completed in a day, or over several days for comfort. The Northern Rim receives a lot less foot traffic and has fewer accommodations, but it is cooler and less crowded than the Southern Rim.

It is best not to hike or run alone but to bring a friend in case of a mountain lion attack, fatigue, or injury. When venturing rim to rim, it is better to take Bright Angel Trail instead of the South Kaibab Trail. Bright Angel has rest stops along the path like Indian Garden, where you can find respite from the heat in the shade, use toilets, refill your water bottle, or visit the ranger station. Make sure to plan ahead regarding lodging if you are going to take more than a day to travel rim to rim. Leave emergency information and your itinerary with a loved one, as there is no cell service.

Go The Distance

Prepare yourself mentally and physically before surmounting the challenge of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim. Typically, hikers can take an average of 9 to 14 hours to complete the distance. It is best to attempt a rim to rim hike or run during mid-May close to May 15th or visit the canyon in September. During these two times of the year, the temperatures are a bit more bearable, especially if you start your hike from the cooler North at a higher elevation. Try to start hiking early, so you can sit out the hottest part of the day in the shade. Beware of hiking in “the box” which is where you enter the Inner Gorge from the North Kaibab Trail. Temperatures in the canyon can easily reach 100 degrees to 120 degrees.

Record holders like runner Tim Freriks managed to travel rim to rim in 2 hours 39 minutes and 38 seconds, covering 21 miles. Female runner Cat Bradley ran the distance of rim to rim to rim in 7 hours 52 minutes and 20 seconds. Condition yourself for the physical challenge of the Grand Canyon and train for at least 12 months in advance if you are not in top shape. Pack a daypack weighing no more than 30 pounds, and carry snacks that cover protein, carbohydrates, and electrolyte needs. Make sure to have at least a minimum of 3 liters of water to stay hydrated, and prepare to stop at rest stops to refill. The risk of dehydration, heat stroke, rattlesnake bites, scorpion stings, or being ill-prepared is real.

Health Risks And Hydration

As you hike along the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, you will encounter a descent in sea level, and then the challenge of climbing back out to higher elevation. Your heart, muscles, and fluid levels will be challenged by plummeting temperatures or sweltering heat depending on the time of year and your location in the canyon. It is easy to underestimate how much electrolytes and water your body can lose through sweating, leading to the risks of severe fatigue, dehydration, or hyponatremia.

Ranger stations are located at Indian Garden and Phantom Ranch year round, so it is best to get acquainted with their position along your chosen route. Know the signs of dehydration, and be prepared with extra water bottles, a water bladder, and a first-aid kit in case of emergency. Every hiker is responsible for their health and safety and should avoid hiking in the high heat at specific locations where there is no shade or water available. It is best practice to drink half or one quart of water or electrolyte-based fluids every hour of your hike to replenish what your body loses.

Prepare Your Mind And Body

Hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim requires mental fortitude and physical conditioning. Train your body for the event by doing 20-mile endurance runs, and strengthen your legs for ascending the canyon with squats and lunges. You will want to do research ahead of time to plan your route and grab the right gear. Stock up on waterproof sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, and sunglasses with adequate UV protection. You can refill your water bottles at Cotton Ranch, Phantom Spring, 3 Mile House, or other rest stops.

When hiking, you may want to change clothes once you become drenched with sweat, or if you need to layer up because of dropping temperatures. Pack an extra hat, pairs of socks, electrolyte capsules, water, and ready-to-eat protein bars, trail mix, and healthy salty carbs. Make sure the hiking boots you wear have already been broken in to prevent blisters, and make the trek more comfortable on your feet and legs. It is best to wear cotton t-shirts for layering and keep a first-aid kit handy for minor injuries.

Majestic Beauty And Wonder

The Grand Canyon attracts thousands of visitors during its visiting hours, and many beautiful pictures of the landmark are taken at its Southern Rim. The Southern Rim is 7,000 feet above sea level and is usually where many first-time visitors come to glimpse a view of the gorge. If you don’t mind crowds and are looking for plenty of amenities to start, you can begin your descent into the canyon, hiking rim to rim from the South. If you visit Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands, you can check out the views on the skywalk, or visit the nearby Havasu Falls.

The Grand Canyon East is known for Horseshoe Bend, where you can take a picture of the scenic Colorado River in the background. The Northern Rim is a lot quieter because it is at a higher elevation of 8,000 feet, has fewer amenities and nearby lodging, and sees heavy snowfall. The Northern Rim is a peaceful start to a rim to rim hike and is open only from mid-May to mid-October.