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Grand Canyon Rim To River Hike Guide

Grand Canyon Rim to River Hike Guide

In This Guide
  • Should You Even Try This Hike?
  • Video & Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Rim to River Hike
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations
Total Distance (?)17 miles (27.4 km)
Hike Time9-11 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Very Hard
Total Ascent (?)4,800 feet (1463m)
Highest Elevation7,200 feet (2195m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Grand Canyon National Park
Park Phone928-638-7888
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The Grand Canyon “rim to river” hike from the South Rim to Colorado is the one hike that the NPS asks you not to do. Why? Beginning hikers underestimate the effort of hiking back up to the rim after enjoying a casual downhill to the river. I’ve written this guide to help experienced hikers who understand the challenges of the “rim to river,” and for those who are not experienced yet will do it anyway. This guide gives you all the information you need to do the hike safely if you are up to it and the conditions are right.

Should You Even Attempt the Rim to River Hike?

Bright Angel Trail 13
The Grand Canyon is not a forgiving place. Temperatures can go as high as 120F. In the winter, the trail can become a sheet of ice. Make sure you feel confident in your experience and skills before trying the “rim to river” hike.

I’ll sum the (main) danger up for you clearly. You have an easy hike downhill, it gets hot, and then you have to hike back up through steep exposed sections of the desert with names like the ” Devil’s Corkscrew.” If you can’t make it, you don’t get a helicopter ride. A ranger will usually walk you back out to the top if you don’t die from heatstroke first.

The National Parks Service says this about the hike:

Hiking to the river and back in one day is not recommended due to long distance, extreme temperature changes, and an approximately 5,000- foot (1,500 m) elevation change each way. If you think you have the fitness and expertise to attempt this extremely strenuous hike, please seek the advice of a park ranger at the Backcountry Information Center. Know how to rescue yourself. YOU are responsible for your safety and the safety of your family and friends. Rescue is not guaranteed, and assistance may take hours or days due to weather or other emergencies.

If you have second thoughts, why not try a shorter hike where you can see the river, such as the hike to Plateau Point or the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. Both hikes are tough in their own right and give you a taste “below the rim.”

What Does the Rim to River Start and End?

Technically there are several trailheads where you can actually hike to the river from the South Rim, but the traditional route descends on the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, and then ascends back to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail. This routing allows you to make the (relatively) easier descent with no water (you have to carry your own), take a break at Phantom Ranch canteen at the mid-point, and then climb back on the Bright Angel, which has water (after a stretch).

Rim To River Overview Map
Start at the South Kaibab Trailhead on the right, and then end at the Bright Angel Trailhead on the left.

Map locations: South Kaibab Trailhead – Bright Angel Trailhead

The way most people tackle the logistics of the two different trailheads is this:

If you want to do the “rim to river” as an overnight trip, I suggest you check out my Rim to Rim guide for a deeper dive on camping options.

Suggested Timing

In the summer this hike is a big no-no. You’re going to want to check the weather forecast at Phantom Ranch. If it’s going to be over 100F by noon, it’s prudent to try a different hike like Bright Angel to Plateau Point, which has water throughout and shaded rest areas. Ideally you want to be back up to Indian Garden (more below) before the real heat hits, which can mean starting as early as possible when it’s warm. In the winter, the upper stretches of the trails can be covered with slick ice, and even with spikes on your shoes, you’ll go very slow. The sweet spot for this hike is when the temps are cooler but not extreme.

Here’s a rough timetable for the average hiker.

LandmarkDistance (miles)TimeGradient
South Kaibab Trailhead0--
Cedar Ridge1.50:45Steep Downhill
Skeleton Point31:15Downhill
Tip Off4.42:00Downhill
Phantom Ranch7.43:00Downhill
Snack Break-3:30-
River Resthouse9.74:30Gradual Uphill
Indian Garden12.96:30Mixed Uphill
Three-Mile Resthouse14.47:30Steep Uphill
Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse15.58:30Steep Uphill
Bright Angel Trailhead179:30Steep Uphill

Again, you are responsible for your own safety. The hottest part of the hike is usually between Phantom Ranch and Indian Garden. And if you get to Indian Garden and it’s very hot, you need to delay your plans, rest in the shade, and wait for it to cool down. People die every year from heatstroke. I’m sure no one thought it would happen to them.

Gear For the Hike

Trail Runners In Grand Canyon
You’re best served by comfortable trail running shoes, rather than heavy hiking boots. The hike is long, and you want to keep your feet cool and light.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Latest Price on Men’s Shoe
REI | Amazon

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Latest Price
REI | Amazon

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2021.

My October 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Planning Your Water

Grand Canyon Rim To Rim South North Directions 3
Look for the water fill station at the start of the South Kaibab Trailhead, which is by the bathroom and shuttle stop. Or better yet, fill up your water before you get on the bus and skip the lines to fill when you get there.

Luckily there are running water fills at key points on this hike. You need to check the backcountry alerts page on the Grand Canyon NPS website – sometimes water is shut off at spots, there is low pressure from leaking, etc.

Rim to River Trail Maps

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Rim To River Elevation Porfile
The tough thing about rim to river is that you start with the downhill, and then do the tough uphill to get out. Generally people descend around 2.5-3 mph, but do the last few miles of the climb up at 1-2 mph.

3D Map

Rim To River 3d Map
The descent follows a ridge, and then plunges down to the Colorado River. You have a short flat stretch along the bottom, but then from River Rest House it’s all uphill to get yourself out of the canyon.

Rim to River Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 2
Start at the South Kaibab shuttle bus stop. The trail is down this paved path.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 3
There’s a toilet at the top, and usually there’s a line when the bus drops off. It’s smarter to go before you leave. There are toilets along the route.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 5
Head down the paved path from the bus stop and then look for the official start of the trail on the left.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 6
Start down the epic South Kaibab Trail, which has dozens of switchbacks on the way down to the Colorado River.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 7
Continue down the steep switchbacks.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 8
The trail levels out and at about 1 mile, you’ll reach Ooh Ahh Point. Continue downhill on the switchbacks.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 9
The trail follows the spine towards spectacular O’Neill Butte.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 10
At about 1.5 miles you’ll read Cedar Ridge.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 11
There’s a toilet at Cedar Ridge (but no water).
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 12
The trail continues from Cedar Ridge on the far side of the flat area, down to the right.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 13
You’ll hike toward O’Neill Butte, and then bass below it on the right.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 14
The trail levels out for a stretch.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 15
At 3 miles you’ll reach Skeleton Point. If you go 2 minutes to the left, there’s a viewpoint to see the river. Continue down to the right and tackle more switchbacks.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 16
As you descend you’ll have a nice vantage point as the trail unwinds below.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 17
At about 4.4 miles you’ll see the Tip Off. There’s a bathroom and a shaded pavilion.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 18
Don’t accidentally take the (very primitive) Tonto Trail, which intersects the South Kaibab Trail here. Stay on the well-worn South Kaibab Trail.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 19
The South Kaibab Trail continues on the left part of the flat area at the Tip Off.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 20
Hike down the switchbacks after the Tip Off.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 21
And here it is, the Colorado River. When it is “normal” it’s greenish like this. After rains (which could be far upstream), it can be brown and muddy looking.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 22
Continue down along the spine.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 23
This section is very scenic, with the switchbacks below, and your first glimpse of Black Bridge, which you will cross in a short while.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 24
Avoid the small unofficial trail to the viewpoint and continue on the main trail.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 25
When you get to the junction with the River Trail, make the right and continue down to Black Bridge. If you wanted to skip Phantom Ranch and the bridges (not recommended), you could make the left here.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 26
There’s a short tunnel before the bridge.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 27
And then you’re out on the 440 feet of Black Bridge. It was built in 1928 and was the only bridge over the river in the Grand Canyon until the 1960s.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 28
Keep your eyes open for rafters and enjoy the river views.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 29
At the other side of the bridge, you’ll go right and then left to continue the hike.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 30
As you follow the river you’ll pass a historic pueblo site which dates back 1000 years.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 31
Continue straight along the river. If you desperately need water, there’s an emergency fill station here. Otherwise there’s water in just a few minutes.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 32
When you get to this big trail junction, bear right onto the North Kaibab Trail toward Phantom Ranch.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 33
The trail splits as you enter Bright Angel Canyon and hike up the creek, away from the river. The official trail is left, but you can also stay right for more shade. Be respectful as you pass by residences and work areas.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 34
Follow the trail up for several minutes until you reach the buildings.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 35
When you start walking through all the buildings, look for this building, which is the canteen.There’s usually a group of hikers hanging out there, it’s easy to spot.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 36
Okay, here you are at the canteen. Grab a snack and cold drink (they have ice!), refill your water, and then start heading back the way you just came, back towards the river.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 38
When you get back to the big intersection by the river, make the right this time toward the Bright Angel Trail.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 39
Stay on the main trail and go through mule pens and buildings, downstream toward the Silver Bridge.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 40
Cross over the Silver Bridge.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 41
And at the end, make the right to continue hiking downstream.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 42
The trail has a bit of up and down as it follows the river. The views of the river here will be the best.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 43
The trail winds away from the river and you’ll see the shed at River Rest House. Keep hiking up away from the river.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 44
if you look back from the shed, there’s a small sandy beach. It’s not safe to wade or go into the water here.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 45
And just pass the shed you’ll find the actual River Rest House, just across Pipe Creek. There’s no water here FYI.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 46
Now you start heading uphill. In the beginning the climb is nice and gradual. The rock around you is called Vishnu Schist, and at 2-billion years old is among the oldest rock in the Grand Canyon. The microclimate here is notorious for getting extremely hot.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 47
Start climbing up a section called the Devil’s Corkscrew. It’s tough and usually hot. Just ake it one switchback at a time.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 48
Look down as you climb to see your progress.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 49
At the top the gradient eases and the trail winds around to the left, joining Garden Creek (where the green trees are).
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 50
Now you follow scenic Garden Creek up towards Indian Garden.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 51
You’ll see the Tonto Trail join from the left. Continue straight.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 52
And then you enter the start of the Indian Garden area.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 53
Hike past the pump house, which pumps water up to the South Rim.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 54
When you get to the intersection, make the left.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 55
And here you are, Indian Garden. This is a good place to take a break and refill your water.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 56
Hike up from Indian Garden. The main trail continues straight, and on the right you pass by the campground, mule pens, ranger station, and other structures here.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 57
You have a nice section of gradual uphill as you leave Indian Garden. Enjoy it, after this, it’s much tougher.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 58
And now you start climbing up the switchbacks toward the South Rim.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 59
This section of switchbacks before you reach the 3-Mile Rest House is called Jacob’s Ladder.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 60
After a steep climb, you’ll be able to see 3-Mile Rest House in the distance.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 61
The actual rest house and water fill is back to the left. Refill here if you need to.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 62
Then continue uphill for another 1.5 miles, to the 1.5-Mile Rest House.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 63
It’s steep, but if you need to stop for a breather, you can enjoy the views.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 64
Soon you’ll see a building ahead. That’s the 1.5 Mile Rest House bathroom, which is back off the trail to the left. The trail and water fill continues up to the right.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 65
Here’s the 1.5-Mile Rest House. The water fill is just before the rest house. This is your last chance to refill your water before the top.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 66
Almost there! You’ll be hiking up to that notch in front of you.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 67
If you look down from here as you climb, there are nice views into Indian Garden, where you just came from.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 68
More steep switchbacks as you tackle the last mile or so.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 69
Here’s the first tunnel. Only a mile to go from here.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 70
Stay on the main trail.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 71
When you pass through the upper tunnel, the tough stuff is behind you.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 72
Stay straight, avoiding the trail back to the left which leads to the Kolb Studio.
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 73
And here it is, the end of the trail!
Grand Canyon Rim To River Directions 37
Don’t forget to check out the Bright Angel Trail sign at the top. It’s a nice place for a photo after your epic hike.

This guide last updated on September 19, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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