Yes, you can hike Rim to Rim in one day! I’ve done it!
The ultimate Microadventure in the Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim!
It is completely possible to hike the Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim in just one day, as I have proven. While it’s not the most common way to hike Rim to Rim, a lot of people do it each year.
However, it is a difficult hike that you should prepare for months before you actually attempt hiking Rim to Rim in a single day. While you may be capable of hiking the 24+ miles in a single day, the terrain of this trail and really the time and energy involved makes conquering the miles a little more difficult than you think.
Here I give a little advice for those looking to hike Rim to Rim in a single day from my personal experiences doing this hike:
How do most people hike Rim to Rim?
Backpacking Rim to Rim
Most people choose to hike Rim to Rim during a backpacking trip because they can spread the hike out over two to three days. While you do need to obtain a permit for backpacking in the Grand Canyon, many opt to go the backpacking route for doing Rim to Rim rather than in a single day.
Phantom Ranch is a little more than halfway from the North Rim and South Rim. The Bright Angel Campground is located there and it is the perfect place for those who are doing Rim to Rim from the South Rim to the North Rim. It sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with the Colorado River less than a mile away from camp. If you are hiking Rim to Rim from the North Rim to the South Rim, Phantom Ranch is a little further than halfway and can be a stretch for those a little more “green” with backpacking or hiking in the Grand Canyon.
If you are backpacking Rim to Rim from the North Rim, the Cottonwood Campground is, in my opinion, the superior choice for camping overnight. It sits on the bottom of a flat mesa and is a great in-between spot before you make the long slog up the southern end of the Grand Canyon up to the South Rim.
Hiking Rim to Rim in a single day
For the completely insane Microadventurers (like myself), hiking Rim to Rim in a single day is a much more attractive option. This is for a number of reasons:
- You don’t have to apply for backpacking permits
- You can rely on a lightweight day pack instead of a backpacking pack
- Being mean and lean with weight means you can hike much faster than backpacking
- There’s way less red tape with hiking Rim to Rim in a single day
- Hiking Rim to Rim in a single day is a great way to earn bragging rights with your fellow Microadventurers or buddies
But hiking Rim to Rim in a single day is no easy feat. It’s a slog a lot of the time. 24+ miles across the Grand Canyon is a serious endeavor for anyone- regardless of your fitness levels and mental game.
For me personally, I find hiking Rim to Rim in a single day the far better option for completing the Rim to Rim challenge. I like the added level of difficulty- it makes the experience much more intense. In addition, getting backpacking permits in the Grand Canyon can be an absolute nightmare thanks to the competition from the bazillion people who apply every year for permits.
Hiking Rim to Rim in a single day bypasses all of that.
The true caveat of that fact is that you can’t just pick up a pack and head out. It takes more physical fitness and mental strength to push yourself the 24+ miles in a single push.
How long is Rim to Rim in miles and hours?
The length of the hike from Rim to Rim seems to vary per person, but personally, I made the trek in 24.8 miles. Now, I may have added a little bit of mileage when I was walking around during our lunch break, so my mileage may not be completely accurate. However, it is safe to say that you will want to plan on at least 23 miles for your Rim to Rim hike regardless if you do it in a single day or over the course of several days via a backpacking trip.
During the 24+ miles of hiking Rim to Rim, you will experience a 10,345-foot elevation change.
It will take most people between 10-12 hours to hike Rim to Rim in one day.
Personally, I finished the Rim to Rim hike in 10 hours and 32 minutes with my group. This time is right on par with the average hiking time of 10-12 hours. It’s worth noting that several of my friends who are slower hikers completed the Rim to Rim hike in 13 hours.
Something to consider: it is difficult to adjust to the elevation changes quickly and you can easily become dehydrated by the long miles if you are not careful. Therefore, I recommend bringing 3-5 liters of water with you on the hike.
It’s really important to check the availability of water on the trail. Depending on the time of the year, water may not be available at Phantom Ranch or Roaring Springs.
Here is a great resource that gives water availability and trail conditions issued from the Grand Canyon.
Only you know the answer to whether you should hike Rim to Rim in a day or backpack it over several days.
However, I can tell you that doing the Rim to Rim hike in one day is a slog and can be dangerous for the inexperienced. Hikers do get heat exhaustion in the Grand Canyon every year and it’s not unheard of for someone to die attempting the Rim to Rim hike.
Even an experienced hiker may have trouble with doing Rim to Rim in a single day.
If you’re worried about your ability to handle the mileage, elevation changes, heat, and conditions of the trail, go the backpacking route instead of a single day push.
If you do choose to hike Rim to Rim in one day, you will not be able to back out halfway through. You are committed to hiking out either by completing the whole thing or turning around and returning back on the trail you started on. You are not allowed to camp anywhere in the Grand Canyon without backpacking camping permits. Keep that fact in mind when you’re deciding whether to hike Rim to Rim in a single day or backpacking it.
Ok I’m in! Rim to Rim south to north? North to south? Which is better?
Once you decide you are going to do the Rim to Rim hike, you may be wondering which direction is best. South Rim to the North Rim, or the North Rim to the South Rim?
The South Rim to North Rim route via South Kaibab to North Kaibab offers a gradual descent for the first few miles to the Colorado River but is a much steeper hike up and out to the North Rim.
I’m personally a big believer in going the North Rim to the South Rim via North Kaibab to South Kaibab. Most of my friends have done this route instead of South to North. In fact, this is the preferred route of hiking Rim to Rim.
The first few miles North Kaibab are a steep descent- basically a few miles past Roaring Springs. It is much easier to keep your footing while counting down the miles than slowly dragging your feet uphill, as the miles never seem to add up.
The trail tends to level off past that and all the way to Phantom Ranch. From Phantom Ranch, it is a gradual incline up and out to the South Rim- long but totally manageable.
I’ve personally hiked from Rim to Rim taking both of the routes and I can honestly say the North Rim to South Rim route is much more enjoyable. The South Rim to North Rim route is way more challenging, especially the slog from Roaring Springs to the top-out at the North Rim.
Hiking Rim to Rim in a single day is the ultimate Microadventure in the Grand Canyon. It is on the bucket list for a lot of hikers- my friends included.
If you’re considering hiking Rim to Rim, it is worth weighing your options, your experience, physical fitness, and mental strength before you take the plunge. If you’re concerned about any of these factors, it might be a better option for you to hike Rim to Rim over a few days by backpacking it.
Either way, hiking in a single day or backpacking it, Rim to Rim is an incredible experience and should be a priority if you’re wanting to really experience everything that the Grand Canyon has to offer.
So get out there and hike Rim to Rim!
Rim to Rim resources
- Rim to Rim hike in one day versus backpacking
- Grand Canyon backpacking permits
- Length of Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike
- Trail conditions and water availability in the Grand Canyon
- An alternative to Rim to Rim: Rim to River and Back
Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.