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Rim to River to Rim Grand Canyon in a Day, Hike Guide

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Soak in views of emerald green Colorado River lined by the red and purple canyon walls - Grand Canyon, millions of years in making



Let's start with a caution ⚠️ first - The rim to river to rim hike is extremely strenuous and not really recommended as a day hike. With more than 5000 ft elevation change and temperature variation from the rim to river along with the long distance of over 17 miles it surely is monster of a hike. Know your limits and hike safely. Outdoorsy tribe survived the longest, toughest and most spectacular one day hike to the canyon!


There are a few routes into the canyon the two most popular ones from the South Rim are the South Kaibab trail or the Bright Angel trail. You can make this a loop so you don't go down and up the same way. Outdoorsy tribe took the South Kaibab Trail for the descend, its best done in the morning, there is no shade and no water source. Besides the sunrise view on the canyon are spectacular on this side. The trailhead is best reachable via the Hiker Shuttle, they do pickup and drop offs at all times. Be sure to check the timing on the National Parks website (https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm) The other option is the Xanterra Taxi Service, be sure to call 30 minutes ahead of your departure and meet them at the designated spot. Since the tribe was staying inside the park at the Yavapai Lodge (https://www.visitgrandcanyon.com/yavapai-lodge) it was a easy pick up in front of the main lobby. We set off at 4:30 AM from our lodge for a start time of 5:00 AM it was freezing and windy, layering was crucial.


With headlamps lit we started descend into the canyon, soon enough we were crossed by a train of horses carrying load down to the Phantom Ranch. Be sure to give way, and stay on the mountain side letting them all pass, you will continue to see similar trains through the day on their way up or down. As the sun rose we were grateful we were at the most amazing point the Ooh Aah Point, aptly named and you will know why when you get there. Sun was starting to get brighter as we continued our march past the Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles) and Skeleton Point (3 miles) continuing down the canyon. Fellow travellers some making a run down the canyon, others climbing back up having spend the night at Phantom Ranch and yet others riding the horses kept us engaged. The views continued to get better till we spotted the emerald green Colorado River flowing at the base of the canyon. That gave us an indication of how much further it would be..

5000 ft, 17 miles and a memorable journey into millions of years of geological history



There are sharp downhills as you descend South Kaibab, so keeping hiking poles handy to manage your speed down will be beneficial, additionally these take pressure of your knees. You know you are at the bottom when you stand on the black metal bridge ready to cross to the other side via a rock cave. Take a stop at the Phantom Ranch which is a short distance on this trail and enjoy the best lemonade. There are also other amenities like restrooms that you can use at this point and if you have time soak your feet in the river water. Some people were just lazing around on the river while there were other groups rafting the river. We took our break, enjoyed lunch before we could start a long ways up the canyon.



Unlike the rim to river to rim, most hikes typically have a ascend in the beginning when you are fresh in the day. The thought of climb up ~5000 ft in the middle of the day was seeming daunting, especially when the legs were already tired from constant downhill pounding for hours. Our attempt was is reasonably good weather, but if it gets hot by the time you get to Phantom Ranch then it's a good idea to let the sun go down before you start the climb.

Incredible views and epic day down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel Trail

To start up onto Bright Angel trail, there is one more bridge to cross post which a good portion in the beginning starts and stays close to the river with a gradual climb. At about 13 miles in you will get to the Indian Garden which is a camping site, with source of water to refill. Use this as a rest stop, tribe was also surprised seeing vegetation along the canyon on this side of the trail. Remember the big incline is ahead of you, the last 3-4 miles will test your spirits. The Tribe continued to push along, without taking many breaks, we were aiming to get back to our cars before sundown. That did not happen, last couple miles seemed like forever. By the time we were about 1.5 miles to the trailhead sun had set and it was completely dark, time to get the headlands backout. Occasionally we would turn the headlamps off to get a view of the clear open sky which was simmering with a million galaxies.



Finally we could see the lights on the other side and we knew our car were close. We had successfully completed one of the most stunning, brutal and memorable hikes of our lives. It was now time to celebrate the 5000 ft, 17 miles and 14 hour day and give the tired legs some rest.


Here are some tips to that we used to make this hike successful

  1. 17 Miles is a long day - take only breaks if needed. We took 2 long breaks one at the river to grab lunch and second at the Indian Garden

  2. Energy Gels - these are essential to keep replenishing your body

  3. Numm Tablets - you tend to lose salts even if the temperatures are cold, any form of electrolyte is great

  4. Water - each of us carried 4 liters, we hydrated the day before as well

  5. First Aid - carry first aid, as the temperature, distance and the sheer task of getting out of the canyon can be overwhelming


Learning's from the tribe - Only attempt this if you are in good condition both physically and mentally, this is a monster of a hike to do in one day. Watch the weather before you attempt this.

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