I must first start out saying that if you have never been to the Grand Canyon, it is a must. It boasts an impressiveness that cannot be described or seen in mere pictures. It gives you a glimpse into perspective of just how powerful and absolutely beautiful nature can be. Being a part of this rugged beauty instills a sense of God and if you are not religious, it will leave you with a spiritual experience just being a part of this grandeur.
The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike was a great adventure and no doubt, it was a bucket list item for many of the friends in our large group who undertook the adventure! For years, friends have asked me to plan this trip. I’m so glad we finally did. Read on for how I planned this adventure. What a fantastic time!
Route: North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
Length: 24 miles (one-way) plus about 1.5 miles or so for Ribbon Falls side hike.
Best Time to Go: May – October
What I Packed
Camel-back filled with water/electrolytes. I love packing Nuun, which is easily transported and provides quick electrolytes on the go. There are rest areas that have bathrooms and water, but check to be sure they are open ahead of time or make alternate plans.
Snacks. I prefer trail mix and Stinger Brand waffles. Check out the Stinger brand gummies. Packing enough water should be your top priority.
Sunscreen. Hat. Layers for clothing. The Grand Canyon has a varying climate. While it’s cold in morning, the temperature rises as your climb. Wearing a pair of zip-off hiking pants are a great option.
Footwear: Trail-running shoes are a perfect choice. They’re comfortable and you won’t have to worry about stones getting inside your sneakers. Trail runners are also great options if you’re planning on running parts of the hike. Make sure you wear good socks, I like Smartwool ankle length for this hike. My final tip: be sure to break in your shoes before the hike. Blisters are the last thing you want to worry about when trekking through a canyon all day.
I use Hiking poles and find them to be beneficial even while running, but their not for everyone. Try them out before you go. They are great stabilizers when terrain gets rocky or steep.
First Aid. Such an important item to pack. For blisters, pack mole skin. You’ll also need Advil and bandages. We had a large group, so a few people carred Mylar blankets and splints for major emergencies. It’s important to remember that while hiking, if you run into a problem, aid and help will be difficult to find. Your options? You can hike out, or be carried. Anticipate any problems and plan accordingly.
Our large group took training very seriously. While we’re an older crowd (40’s, mostly 50’s and even late 60’s), we’re all runners who understand the importance of patience, training, and dedication. To kick things offs, we practiced running or hiking on hills back home in Chicago. We also practiced wearing the full camel-back setup and our hiking shoes several times. To train for elevation, a group of us visited Devil’s Lake Park in Wisconsin to practice several times. We were lucky that we took the time and effort to train. This hike tested our endurance. Pacing was a critical element.
Will I need permits?
There are no permit required if you are doing this route in one day. While there are several other options available at the Grand Canyon, like overnighting at Phantom Ranch, I’ll stick to the plan we implemented. Just as an aside, reservations at Phantom Ranch are difficult to get. In addition, backpacking in the canyon is also an option, but you’ll need to apply for a permit and reservations. No matter what you decide, it’s important to remember that if you start on one side of the canyon and end on the other side, you may need to shuttle to return back.
Planning Our Accommodations
The first thing to arrange are your rooms. Since we were traveling with such a large group, had to plan well ahead of your trip. Reservations on the south rim can be made one year in advance. They are reserved through an organization that manages the lodges. South Rim lodge reservations are managed by Xanterra. Rooms on the North Rim can be booked earlier. We decided to book at the Grand Canyon Lodge in the Frontier Cabins. The North Rim reservations are handled by US Park Lodging. What can I say about our accommodations? The lodge was beautiful and the views were breathtaking. While the cabins are rustic, they’re a perfect option for the night before the hike.
Planning a trip with such a large group had its challenging. Because we all flew in on different flights, we decided to meet in Las Vegas before jumping on a shuttle to take us to the North Rim.
The shuttle also took our extra gear from the North Rim on the morning of our hike and shuttled it over to the other side where we met up with the members of our group who were unable to join us on the daylong adventure.
This drive from Vegas to the North Rim is roughly 5.5 hours, but it’s very scenic passing through Utah. The red plateaus and rock walls line the highway, and as you get closer, alpine forests invite you closer to the North Rim..
We stopped for a few photos in Point Imperial which was our first sightings of the canyon on this trip. It is worth the stop if you have time. We then checked into the Grand Canyon Lodge and our rooms were in the Frontier Cabins. The lodge itself is a beautiful old stone and wood structure with breathtaking views everywhere. As the sun sets and rises the colors change and the view change and you feel you are a part of something that is alive. We had dinner that night in the Lodge which was great. Then, we crammed into the cabins and tried to get a good night’s rest. Our hike would start the next morning 5:30 a.m.
We broke our group of 24 into 4 separate small groups based on our intentions. This helped divide the group to let those who wanted to run parts of the trail. My group’s plan? Visit Ribbon Falls with little intention of running. We’d be tired enough hiking! As we hiked, our original groups changed, but we were never without at least one buddy. I believe this to be a good idea in case of any emergency situation.
On The Trail
Sunrise broke gradually on the North Kaibab Trail, and then seemingly all at once. The colors, the views, even the trail itself began to change. We traveled through little tunnels, next to rock walls and big drops. We ran into two people who looked tired. They were ending their hike from the South Rim which they started at 6pm the night before. The trail itself is mostly dirt and rock. The north Kaibab is fairly steep and we did not start to run until roughly we passed the Cottonwood Campground area. Just down the hill from the Cottonwood Campground is the little hike diversion to Ribbon Falls which was beautiful and worth the time and effort to get there. I’d estimate maybe a 1.5 miles off course round trip to do this. At the end of this trail we came to a beautiful waterfall covered with moss. You can even climb to the top and check out from there. The grade and trail conditions improved from this point and my little group ended up running the rest of the way down to Phantom Ranch.
We had arranged for lunch at Phantom Ranch ahead of time. We had a great time catching up with others from our group as they came in from their hike.
After leaving Phantom Ranch we crossed the Colorado River, and began to make our way up the Bright Angel trail. There are sandy areas making it very difficult to run, so it was hiking the rest of the way. I was now with just three people from my original 6 that had run down the bottom section of the North Trail with me. I do remember at one point checking the map feeling like we should have been to a rest area, only to realize that we hadn’t gone that far yet.
We hit the rest stop on Bright Angel trail where the Indian Campground is located. This is about 4 to 5 miles down and where one of our local Arizona friends hiked down that morning to greet us on the way up.
When we reached the top it was crowded with visitors. We were tired and dirty and sweaty. It was an incredible experience and one that I hope everyone gets to experience. I have to admit I was happy that the hike had ended. It was a taxing day!
The fastest man in our group finished the hike in about 10 hours. For me, it took about 10:20, with various stops and rests along the way. It’s a long day, but doable as long as you train properly.
We went into El Tovar, the main lodge on the South Rim. There, we found their bar for drinks and food and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. Our shuttle bus had the remainder of our luggage and it was wonderful to change clothes. What I’d do differently next time? Book a hotel near the end point on the South Rim. I can’t deny that it would have be awesome to shower and change clothes while waiting for all of the others to finish the hike.
After spending the night in Flagstaff, we headed back to Vegas for a celebratory night on the town. It was a great end to this incredible adventure with a night of celebration. If you’d like to hear about parts of the trip more in depth, write to me!