Grand Canyon Rim to Rim - A Day Hike

 Grand Canyon Rim to Rim is 26 mile strenuous hike with altitude drops of more than 9000 feet and elevation gain of 4000 feet. It starts in North Kaibab trail head of North rim and ends in Bright angel trail head in South rim.  Everywhere you will be seeing a warning board like this. Doing rim to rim as day hike is of-course very tough but it is not something dangerous or unachievable. Planning the day well and training your body for elevation gains and high heat weather conditions will make your hike achievable and rewarding

How to train for Grand Canyon Day Hike

GC rim to rim hike from North to South can be split into 4 parts

  • 7 miles downhill - Usually cold, windy and taxing on your knee
  • 8 miles medium downhill, dry/flat box zone
  • 6 miles medium elevation with high heat tiring zone
  • 5 miles of high elevation stairs

Above split is my logical break and based on the plan that you start early in the day in north rim and finish during sunset in south rim.

Base building

For any endurance work, we need to do base building. Start with a good consistent workout that maintains a medium stress heart rate(120 to 145 bpm) 3 times a week with maximum of 45 mins to 1 hour per session. I suggest to do speed walking or cycling. Let your body go through a consistent medium stress. Rest a day or do stretching between these workouts. Remember my mantra consistency over intensity. This workout has to be done for 3 months without missing a week. 


Second stage of strength training is endurance. Every weekend of base building week, perform 1.5 to 2 hours of short high intensity work(20 mins) and long medium intensity work(1 to 1.5 hrs). Pick a hike near you that provides a short high elevation but long flat hike. Do the same hike every weekend of your base building. If you are in Arizona, I suggest following hikes however you can choose any hike or activity that you can do for couple of hours.

  • gateway-trail-out-and-back in Mcdowell mountains
  • shaw-butte-and-charles-m-christiansen-loop-trail

Heat conditioning and Combat dehydration

After your build a base and did endurance training for 3 months, its time to raise the intensity and environment. In GC R2R hike, you will need to maintain strength, stamina for 13 to 16 hours. With good base building and endurance training, you can do 4 to 5 hours hike however anyone who is doing more than 5 hours of hike in Arizona will be hitting up brutal sun. Heat changes the body composition and dehydrates your body/muscle and slows you down heavily. Combating heat/dehydration with a clear plan and slow preparation is keep to your success. Repeat the same above endurance hikes but try it during 8 to 11 AM Arizona time. Practice this type of late morning to mid afternoon hikes for 3 months. Be don't do this heat conditioning without below. Goal here is to train not to faint. Slowly increase your limits. 

  • Enough water(0.75 gallons or more and Hydration drinks)
  • Salt tablets to avoid cramps
  • Cooling aids(Great wet cotton towel at back of your neck, Hat, Sun protection sleeves, water on your head :))
  • Healthy food(Banana, salt snacks, fruit & protein bars)
  • A decent wrist based heart rate monitor( Your goal is to maintain safe heart zone during high heat. Heart rates should not exceed 170 bpm during your training)

Perform this heat conditioning for 3 months. With your consistent 3 months of base+endurance training and 3 months of heat conditioning, now you can increase the length/distance of your weekend hike training 1 hour per week. Pick trails that has gradual elevation. My favorites are below. Remember, take your time to train in one category and only graduate to higher distance category after your feel comfortable in one 

7 to 8 mile range

  • piestewa-peak-circumference
  • gateway-to-bell-pass

10 to 12 mile range

  • bell-pass-trail-to-windgate-pass-trail-loop
  • toms-thumb-via-gateway-trail

12 to 14 mile range

  • gateway-prospector-thompson-peak-road-trail
  • gateway-loop-bells-pass-prospector-trail-and-thompson-peak

How to Plan

Plan to book North rim hotels(There are only two with limited slots) around the 2 week of September to 2 week of October. This is the best time to do your first R2R hike


Along with hotel bookings, book your shuttle to North rim from South Rim Bright Angel hotel and shuttle to trail head from the hotels

Before you plan your hike, these are mandatory things you need to get and be ready. Detail info is giving in the hiking guy website. Refer to the link below

  • Great light weight backpack with reservoir (My choices below)
  • First aid 
  • Mole Skin bandage
  • Headlamps
  • Poles
  • Googles
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Water(1.5 liters)
    • Osprey 2.5 liter reservoir - Buy it separately from REI or any other store
  • Cooling towel
  • Camelback water bottles
  • Electrolytes(Nuun, salt tablets, gummies)
  • Energy bars
  • Lunch 
  • Power bank
  • Chargers
  • Salt snacks 
  • Knee brace 
  • Filter

Pro Tip : Once you have bought all the above items, do atleast a 10 mile hike with actual gears and water to see if you are comfortable doing hikings with backpack. Also check on your day of hike if all water stations are open in grand canyon. My advise is please do carry only quantity of water needed and refill in all the spots. Water is heavy part of your backpack. Check in backcountry office at South rim on water availability before you start.

On the day of Hike

I suggest to start early 4 AM is the first shuttle that takes you from Kaibab or North rim lodge to North Kaibab trailhead. Use of your headlamps is must as it will be pitch dark when you start however weather will be cold and windy, plan some base layers and start slowly walking down the canyon. After 1.5 to 2 hours, you should be good as sunrises and warms you up.  Most rest spots should have water and you should refill water rather than carrying a lot. 

Rest stops
  • Manzanita rest area ( 4 to 5 mile from North rim trail head)
  • Cottonwood camp ground(7 miles from North rim trail head
  • Phantom Ranch(14 miles from North rim trail head)
  • Indian Gardens (19.5 miles from North rim trail head
  • 3 mile rest house(22.5 miles from North rim trail head
  • 1.5 mile rest house(24 miles from North rim trail head)

If you start at 4:30 AM, you should reach Manzanita rest area around 6:30 to 7 AM. Have good bite filled with peanut butter or any protein bars, nuts etc. Refill your water as the Manzanita creek water is so tasty. 

Rest time 15 to 20 minutes


Rest time : 5 to 10 minutes


If you plan good, you should reach Phantom ranch rest area before noon. Try to have good quantity of carbs and protein along with fresh lemonade from Phatom ranch canteen. Rest ample time. Stretch your legs and check your legs for any blisters. Apply creams or blister skin protection. 

Rest time : 30 to 45 minutes

Remember, starting Phantom ranch it will be going up with sunny weather and less shades until Indian gardens. Go slow and also have wet cotton towel behind your neck always. This is mandatory step to cool your body. Drink lots of electrolytes every 10-15 minutes. With my experience this part of the hike is most crucial as you need to fit against dehydration and hot weather.

If you plan good and do your heat combat trainings, you should clear this patch with 2.5 to 3 hours to reach Indian gardens. This applies to most of the folks who have trained well and follow the above schedule. 

Evening Refreshment

If you reach Indian gardens around 2:30 to 4 PM in the evening, spend atleast 15 minutes in shade with water poured on your head. You need to cool down your body and soak in oxygen. Indian gardens has lots of shade and benches to rest. I urge you to spend atleast 25 to 35 minutes relaxing/stretching and eating good amount of carbs, nuts and protein bars

The Uphill journey

Many of your friends who have already completed either rim to river or rim to rim hikes, would have warned you about the famous last 4.5 miles stairs to bright angel trailhead. But to be honest, if you take it slow and make frequent small rests(2 to 4 mins max), I am sure you will be able to complete it. Average trained hikers would take 3 to 4 hours to complete the stairs. Key to this uphill journey, is you need to be patient with your body and do lot of stretching in every stop. You can even carry small massaging stick ( ) to massage and increase your blood flow to the leg muscles. Also make use of the hiking poles to the maximum by leaning into them in every uphill step. Trust me, hiking poles are your best buddy in this entire hike. Make use of them to the most. Invest in great hiking poles. My favorite brand is black diamond, one of the best poles in the market. Now that you have an idea of what it takes to do rim to rim hike, its time to plan for base training. Lets go!!! 

Believe in yourself, take on your challenges, dig deep within yourself to conquer fears. Never let anyone bring you down. You got to keep going

- Chantal Sutherland


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