Trip Report: Hiking the Grand Canyon's Rim to Rim

Journey along the Grand Canyon's Rim to Rim with recent Basic Alpine Climbing course graduate, Christina Black.
Christina Black Christina Black
Two-year member and avid hiker, climber, and skier
October 12, 2023
Trip Report: Hiking the Grand Canyon's Rim to Rim
Christina and her hiking partners Kati and David in front of the Grand Canyon. All photos courtesy of Christina Black.

Last year, I took the Basic Alpine Climbing course with the Foothills Branch. To prepare for Basic Climbing trips – which can cover long distances, thousands of feet of elevation gain, and 12+ hour days – I completed regular conditioning hikes with The Mountaineers through the winter and spring.

Conditioning at Mt Si.jpegMe and fellow Mountaineers on a conditioning hike at Mount Si.

After working so hard on my conditioning for Basic Climbing trips, I decided it was the perfect time to tackle the Grand Canyon’s “Rim to Rim,” a hike that crosses the entire Grand Canyon. I chose a 21-mile route with 6,400 feet of elevation gain, similar metrics to many of the Basic Climbing trips.

My group started planning two months in advance, which is apparently short notice for the Grand Canyon. (Experts recommend planning your trip at least a year in advance.) This meant that none of the campsites or lodging in the Grand Canyon were available. So, we decided to do the hike in a single day.

About two weeks before attempting “Rim to Rim”, I did a “test” hike of similar length and elevation gain. I hiked The Enchantments in a day, ~19 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain, with Mountaineers friends. While I felt some minor aches and pains during and after the hike, overall I felt good. I was ready.

enchantments.jpegI completed the through-hike of The Enchantments in a day as a “test” hike two weeks before I hiked the Grand Canyon.

Two days before “Rim to Rim”, I flew in to Salt Lake City, where my friends picked me up. We drove seven hours south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and camped there. Then we took a five-hour shuttle to the South Rim, where we would start our hike. We spent the night at a nearby hotel.

We woke up at 4:15am and called a taxi to take us to the trailhead. We started hiking around 6am. By then, it was light enough that we did not need headlamps, but we could see the headlamps of other hikers below us in the Canyon. It was crowded as there were many other hikers starting at the same time.

PXL_20231007_130847692.jpgDuring the first mile of our hike, we could see the headlamps of other hikers below us in the Canyon.

We broke the hike up into three sections: a seven mile descent to Phantom Ranch, seven miles of gradual uphill to Cottonwood Campground, then seven miles of steeper ascent to the North Rim.

The downhill section was rockier than expected, but we got through it quickly. We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 9am. If you are lucky enough to score a reservation here, you can sleep in a cabin on the floor of the Grand Canyon. But even without a reservation, you can buy a snack or cold drink and mail postcards stamped “mailed from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.” We each bought a cold lemonade, ate a snack, and wrote postcards. We left around 9:30am.

PXL_20231007_161651265.MP-EDIT.jpgWe drank lemonade and wrote postcards at Phantom Ranch, the rest stop at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The next section of the hike was a gradual, seven-mile uphill. The first four miles are known as “The Box.” This is the hottest section of the hike due to proximity to the Canyon floor and narrow Canyon walls. Luckily, we got through most of this while it was still shaded. For me, this was the most beautiful section of the hike as we were following a rocky creek through the steep Canyon walls. We passed many hikers going the opposite direction.

PXL_20231007_165001108.MP_2.jpgWalking through the bottom of the Grand Canyon, we followed a rocky creek through steep Canyon walls.

As soon as we hit the sun, it sapped our energy. We knew it was only a few more miles to Cottonwood Campground, the next major stop and the start of our third and final section, but this stretch felt interminable. We decided to stop at 11am around mile 12 for another longer snack and water break. I took some ibuprofen for foot pain, but otherwise felt good.

Finally, we arrived at Cottonwood Campground. This was where the climbing began in earnest. With 6.8 miles to go, we still had to cover approximately 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Our energy levels were fading between the heat and the incline.

20231007_133456.jpgStarting the long ascent up to the North Rim from Cottonwood Campground.

Happily, within a couple of miles we were back in the shade, and remained shaded for the rest of the hike. We opted for a final long break near the junction for Roaring Springs (mile 16.7) before tackling the final steep ascent. This was around 1:30pm. Pumpkin spice poptarts really raised our spirits.

The features of the Canyon were a nice distraction in this last section, as we walked along narrow ledges and impressive red rock columns and cliffs. We went through some steeper switchbacks and noticed the terrain shifting from red rock to gray sand, and more trees.

PXL_20231007_212902984.MP_2.jpgAs we ascended to the North Rim, we walked along narrow ledges through impressive red rock columns.

Finally, we popped out at the North Rim around 4:30pm, for a total hike time of 10.5 hours. We walked back to the campground to pick up our car, then drove to the Grand Canyon Lodge for pizza and a celebratory beverage. We watched the sunset on the patio facing the Canyon.

PXL_20231008_010106543.jpgWe watched the sunset from the patio at the Grand Canyon Lodge.

After the hike, my body felt good, except for some lingering pain in my left foot. All my conditioning hikes and Mountaineers trips had prepared me well. My friends and I are already looking for our next objective. In fact, one group member is talking about doing Rim to Rim to Rim (twice the distance and elevation gain of this hike), so I may be back again in the next few years!

I am happy to share information and trip planning details with anyone interested in hiking the Grand Canyon. You can email me at


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