Complete Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Itinerary with Photos

Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim was one of the most exhilarating (and by far the hardest) day hikes I have ever done. For those thinking of attempting this hike, we’ve written this day-by-day itinerary of where we stayed and the breakdown of the hike itself.  For more information, on planning your Rim-to-Rim hike, read Hiking Rim to Rim Grand Canyon: Everything you need to know

We chose to hike Rim-to-Rim going South to North, which is the less popular way to complete the hike, so if hiking from North to South, just do everything in reverse.

Day 1 Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Itinerary: Travel to the South Rim

I had flown into Utah the day before to meet up with my family, so it was fairly easy to coordinate driving ourselves the nine hours to the South Rim.  If flying in from out of state, the closest airport is the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, located about 90 minutes from the South Rim.  However, many people choose to instead fly into the bigger Phoenix Sky Harbor or Las Vegas McCarran airports, each located about five hours from the canyon.  The extra three hours of drive time is often worth having more flight, hotel, and rental car options.

Where we stayed

We stayed in a hotel room at Yavapai Lodge, located just one mile from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.  There are many more hotel and Airbnb options on the South Rim compared to the North Rim, and one of the reasons we decided to start from the south side was to be able to be within walking distance of the shuttle to take us to the trailhead the following morning.  

Day 2 Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Itinerary: Full day of hard hiking

We woke up the next morning around 6 am, and because the shuttles were running a little behind schedule didn’t start hiking on the South Kaibab trail until around 7:20.  Most people attempting a Rim-to-Rim hike start much earlier than this, often before 5 am, but we didn’t want to be hiking out the north side in the afternoon sun.  Read more about when to start your hike here

About a mile into our hike, we ran into a park ranger on the trail who asked about our hiking plans for the day.  When we told him we were hiking rim to rim he immediately grilled us about our hiking experience, what we had done to train, and why we were starting so late.  Our recommendation: have good answers to these questions!  Be prepared to answer well.  The rangers are wary and often frustrated with inexperienced hikers who attempt this trail and then end up needing rescue from the bottom of the canyon. 

Sunrise over the South Kaibab trail

We had chosen to hike down the South Kaibab Trail instead of the more popular Bright Angel trail because it was slightly shorter, making our rim-to-rim hike 21 miles instead of 24.  We were on the trail by 7:45 and reached our first rest stop, Tipoff point, around 9:30 a.m.  From there it was another 3 miles to Phantom Ranch, a larger rest area with water and an emergency telephone.  We reached the ranch by 11:00 and took a short rest to refill our water bottles and reapply sunscreen. 

Around 11 a.m. just before reaching Phantom Ranch

We were hiking on September 16th, and at this point, the temperature was still in the low 80s, but the sun was out and we could feel the air getting warmer.  We spent the next seven miles walking through the hottest part of the canyon called ‘the box’.  Luckily, this stretch is only slightly uphill (slightly downhill if hiking from North to South), and for us, the temperature only reached about 90 degrees.  Which is still warm, but much safer than the 110+ temperatures in July and August.  

Hiking through ‘The Box’

We reached Cottonwood Campground shortly before 2 pm where we took a longer lunch break and filled our water bottles again.  All of us had drunk almost all of the three liters of water we had refilled at Phantom Ranch (there are no water stops in the 7-mile stretch between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood campground, although if you bring a water filter, which we recommend, you can always refill in the river).  We took our time at Cottonwood Campground because we wanted to wait until the North Kaibab trail was shaded (after about 2 or 3 p.m. in late September) before starting our climb.

The climb up North Kaibab was steep and was more difficult than we were expecting.  What makes the rim-to-rim hike so difficult is having to ascend over 4,000 feet at the very end of the day after already having hiked over 14 miles.  We took frequent breaks, plugged in our music, and made it out around 6:30 p.m., just as the sun was setting.  We were happy and sweaty and very tired.

About halfway up our ascent via the North Kaibab trail

Visit the national park’s official website for a full list of all trail rest stops and trail distances here

Where we stayed

After completing our hike we drove straight from the North Rim to our cabin room at Jacob’s Lake, about 45 minutes from the North Rim.  We had decided to stay at Jacob’s Lake because the Grand Canyon Lodge (the only place to stay inside the park on the North Rim) was temporarily closed.  But this ended up being a great option for us because it cut off a portion of our drive time home the next day.

Jacob’s Lake has three types of rooms: more modern hotel rooms, simpler motel rooms, and small shared cabins.  Our family stayed in one of the shared cabins.  The two rooms each had a queen bed and were connected with a shared bathroom in the middle.  We didn’t love the bathroom setup, as the bathroom area was literally the walkway between the two rooms and there were no locks on the bathroom doors.  But besides that it was a great spot to stay; the beds were comfortable and we loved being able to eat at the Jacob’s Lake restaurant after our long hike.

Day 3 Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Itinerary: Head home or continue exploring

We had decided to keep our Grand Canyon trip short, and we traveled straight home the following morning in order to meet school and work deadlines.  However, there are so many incredible places to explore within driving distance of Grand Canyon National Park.  With more time, consider adding some of the following to your own itinerary:

  • Explore the incredible red-rock hikes and slot canyons of the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness
  • Drive up to Zion National Park (located only 2 hours and 10 minutes from the Grand Canyon North Rim)
  • Experience the wind-formed sand formations of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

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