Backpack the Grand Canyon: Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon NP

Explore one of the Natural Wonders of the world and get the experience of backpacking both Grand Canyon rims.

Start at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park at the North Kaibab Trail. You have 14 miles and 5,761 feet of elevation to descend to the Bright Angel Campground, so bring those trekking poles if you have bad knees (like myself).

Along the North Kaibab Trail a few noteworthy trail markers are the Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs, the Pump House Ranger Station, and the Cottonwood Campground.

Just before you reach the halfway mark of 7 miles, you will come to a fork in the trail to see Ribbon Falls. I highly recommend you take the time to see this unique waterfall. Ribbon Falls is an oasis in the canyon and provides a gorgeous detour. The thin fall of water is full of plenty of photographic opportunities and a great place to dump your pack for a little rest and relaxation.

Right after you arrive at Phantom Ranch, you will soon come across the Bright Angel Campground. Camping at the Bright Angel Campground can be tough to come by as it's a very popular destination, so plan ahead and reserve your permits months in advance. In this adventure we camped both nights at the Bright Angel Campground, which has water, restrooms, and even a restaurant in the nearby Phantom Ranch.

If you are able to get reservations for a meal or two at the Phantom Ranch Restaurant--do it! It is worth it, not only is it way convenient to not have to worry about packing and cooking for a meal or two, the food is extremely tasty and super filling.

The second day is the longest of the three as you will hike the most miles (19 round trip) and see the greatest change in elevation up and down (4,380 feet up AND down). You will be leaving from the Bright Angel Campground, heading to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail. Be sure to have an early start, and get on the trail well before sunrise. This allows you to beat the heat, gives you enough time to hang out at the South Rim, as well as time to make it back down to Phantom Ranch at a reasonable hour. Bring a daypack and leave your overnight gear at camp to travel lighter.

If you left Bright Angel Campground before sunrise, you will experience some beautiful photography moments watching the sunrise light the various canyon walls over time.

Once you reach the South Rim, be sure to take the time to explore a few viewpoints as the southern rim is more iconic and grand. Also take advantage of the Lodges Cafeteria and order some breakfast, brunch, or lunch, depending on what your body is in the mood for. Relax and let your body recover a little before you descend down 4,380 feet over 9.5 miles into the canyon back to the Bright Angel Campground.

The Bright Angel Campground has a gorgeous river that flows nearby offering great photographic opportunities. Note that shooting in the canyon can be very difficult as the massive narrow canyon walls will cast shadows most of the day, and so it is tough to tell when the “best” lighting will be. So I recommend you get creative and just make the most of wherever you are when the lighting is the way you like it.

The third and last day you will hike back out towards the North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail. You have the long haul of 14 miles and 5,761 feet of elevation gain ahead of you. Start early to beat the heat and enjoy the change of scenery.

The National Park has several places along these main trails to fill up, but be sure to double check with a Ranger to see which ones will be running before you leave, as a few are only seasonal. The majority of these pump stations do have restrooms.

Pack List

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent (for privacy and gear)
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Cookware
  • Backcountry permit from the NP Service to camp overnight
  • Headlamp
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Food
  • Lighter
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking socks (and extra socks)
  • Zip-off pants
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Knife
  • Daypack
  • Trekking poles
Show More
RT Distance 47 Miles
Elevation Gain 10141 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Autumn, Winter
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Bathrooms
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife

Reviews

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Grand Canyon

You can't go wrong no matter what direction you take here. Breathtaking from every angle! Just be mindful what time of year you go. I went in Mid September and temperature was still terribly hot so make sure you bring a lot of water!

Rim to Rim in June

I hiked North to South Rim in June 2017. Even applying for a permit more than four months in advance, didn't get my first preference. So, it was VERY hot. Start your hike no later than 4am if you hike in the summer, and take advantage of soaking in the creeks that you pass along the way. Also, go to Plateau Point near Indian Garden Campground. It's the most amazing overlook!

A+ Trail Run

My friend and I completed the R3 trail run on Halloween of last year. As a first-timer to the canyon, my breath was truly taken away (and not just from covering that insane amount of distance + elevation in under 15 hours). The very first Story I published on The Outbound is "5 Things I Learned Trail Running The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim," check it out if you're thinking of picking up the pace on your next visit!


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