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Grand canyon phantom ranch weekend - 3 day, activity level and qualifications.

This trip is rated Vigorous (4) . Trip members will carry their large daypack weighing 15-25 pounds for 7 miles (4,780' elevation loss) down to Phantom Ranch and 10 miles (4,300' elevation gain) back up to the rim of the canyon, maintaining a 2+ mile per hour pace which allows the distance to be completed safely and within the allotted timeline. There are some steep sections and exposed overlooks on the various trails we hike. The main thing that we stress is that your training MUST include hiking. The most difficult hikes are mandatory to complete the itinerary.

Both the descent and ascent to/from Phantom Ranch is challenging to even very fit hikers. We recommend a conditioning regimen beginning at least 2–3 months prior to departure which includes hiking with a daypack and strength training combined with other forms of cardiovascular exercise.

Important Note : The departures affected by the reroute (see Day 3 on the itinerary) up South Kaibab must note that it will be more challenging due to steeper terrain and no access to water resulting in the need for guests to carry all their water needed for the hike out. 7 miles; 4,780’ elevation gain.

Bask in the vast and timeless beauty of the Grand Canyon on an exhilarating 3-day hiking adventure into the heart of this magnificent national park.

Challenge yourself on an unforgettable hiking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, covering 17 miles in just two days! Our short but incredibly sweet journey down to the mighty Colorado River includes hikes on two of the park’s most scenic corridor trails and includes one night at canyon bottom at historic Phantom Ranch.

Beginning on the canyon’s South Rim, we descend almost 4,500 feet along the spectacular South Kaibab Trail, enjoying classic Grand Canyon views the entire way down. Our overnight at Phantom Ranch provides an opportunity to relax and recharge our muscles before our long ascent back up Bright Angel Trail the following day. During our hikes, our guides will share their deep knowledge of this geological wonderland and offer encouragement to keep you motivated along the way. Although the hiking can be demanding at times, this trip provides a fantastic opportunity for very fit hikers to enjoy a truly immersive experience in the Grand Canyon wilderness.

As we leave the rim and travel further down into the canyon, we trade crowds of tourists for inquisitive lizards in the tranquility of this desert wilderness.

Trip Highlights

  • Challenge yourself on an epic hiking adventure in Grand Canyon National Park
  • From the South Rim, hike down (and back up) some the park’s most scenic trails
  • Exceptional guides enlighten you on the canyon’s geological and natural history
  • Spend a night at canyon bottom in historic Phantom Ranch
  • Roundtrip transportation from Phoenix included

What's Included

One night in a hotel (double occupancy/same gender), one night in mixed gender cabin(s) at Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon; guide leadership; round trip van transportation from Phoenix; meals as noted in the daily itinerary, snacks, and park fees.


Your adventure itinerary.

Itinerary map for Grand Canyon Phantom Ranch Weekend - 3 Day

Catch your first unforgettable views of the Grand Canyon.

Our trip begins this morning in Phoenix, Arizona. We rendezvous with our guides at our host hotel, and after introductions and a brief orientation we drive north through the Sonoran Desert towards Grand Canyon National Park. We enter the park from the east and stop for lunch at iconic Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot-tall stone tower perched on the canyon’s edge. Designed by Mary Colter in 1932, Desert View contains a wealth of murals depicting various Hopi traditions and stories. Continuing to our hotel near the South Rim, we check in and have some free time to stretch our legs on a walk along the Rim Trail, enjoying panoramic views of this awe-inspiring natural wonder. At dinner this evening, we feel the excitement rising as our guides enlighten us on what to expect during tomorrow’s adventure down to Phantom Ranch. Overnight tonight at a South Rim hotel. Lunch and dinner included.

Hiking: Up to 3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +100' / -100'; Van transfer: 4 hours

The grand descent! Hike down to Phantom Ranch on the South Kaibab Trail.

We gather for a 7am breakfast in the El Tovar dining room before slinging on our daypacks and tightening our laces in preparation for our big hike. We begin our journey into the inner canyon on the most direct—and one of the most scenic—routes to the Colorado River. The hand-built South Kaibab Trail follows open ridgelines that provide jaw-dropping 360-degree views throughout the seven-mile descent. Hiking down along a series of switchbacks, we eventually reach the aptly named Ooh-Aah Point before continuing on to Cedar Ridge, a flat plateau where we may encounter a mule train en route to the bottom of the canyon. At Skeleton Point, we peer down and catch a glimpse of the mighty Colorado, perpetually carving its way through the canyon as it has for millions of years. The last part of our hike leads us along the big river itself, then over a suspension bridge as we approach Phantom Ranch, serenely nestled on the banks of Bright Angel Creek. Tonight, we enjoy a hot meal at the Phantom Ranch Canteen before stepping outside to gaze up at an inky canopy speckled with countless twinkling stars. Overnight tonight in mixed gender cabins at Phantom Ranch. All meals included.

Hiking: 7 miles, Elevation loss: -4,780'

Conquer the Canyon! Hike back to the South Rim via Bright Angel Trail.

Rising before the sun this morning, we eat a hearty breakfast in the canteen before beginning our 10-mile hike back to the South Rim. Our exit route follows Bright Angel, a classic Grand Canyon corridor trail. Unlike the South Kaibab Trail which follows a ridgeline, Bright Angel follows a natural fault, making it less exposed but equally awe-inspiring. After bidding an early farewell to Phantom, we cross the Colorado River and follow the trail as it snakes its way up to the shady oasis of Havasupai Gardens, our halfway point. After a short rest, we tackle the final steep ascent up Jacob’s Ladder through the canyon’s Redwall layer. While always a tremendous challenge, our guide is nearby sharing helpful tips and stories to keep you energized along the way. Reaching the South Rim by early afternoon, we celebrate our epic accomplishment and gaze into the depths of the canyon one last time, enjoying a newfound appreciation for its hidden treasures that only a small percentage of visitors ever get to see. Loading into our van, we begin our drive back to Phoenix, planning to arrive at our host hotel (stay not included) late this evening. All meals included.

Hiking: 10 miles, Elevation gain: +4,300'; Van transfer: 4.5 hours

Important Note : The Transcanyon Waterline Construction Project in the Grand Canyon is underway. Dates falling between 12/1/2023 - 4/14/2024 and 12/2/2024 - 3/14/2025 will require a reroute, exiting the canyon via the South Kaibab trail (7 miles; 4,780’ elevation gain) rather than our original exit trail via the Bright Angel.

Trip itinerary

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

Provided by REI

  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Ice Traction Devices
  • Trekking Poles

What to pack

Provided by you (required).

  • Base Layer Tops and Bottoms (Lightweight, Synthetic)
  • Casual Shoes for Travel and Free Time
  • Day Pack (36L-50L)
  • Fleece/Wool Gloves
  • Fleece/Wool Hat
  • Headlamp with Fresh Batteries
  • Hiking Boots
  • Hiking Pants (Quick-Dry, Lightweight)
  • Hiking Socks (Synthetic or Wool)
  • Insulated Jacket and/or Vest
  • Long Sleeve Shirts (Synthetic, Lightweight)
  • Personal Bathroom Kit: Toilet Paper, Ziplock Bags, Personal Wipes, Hand Cleaner
  • Prescription Medications
  • Rain Jacket (Hooded, Lightweight, Waterproof, Breathable)
  • Water Bottles (Three 1-Liter) or Hydration System Plus One 1-Liter Water Bottle


  • Bandana or Buff for Sun Protection
  • Duffel Bag or Soft-Sided Suitcase
  • Electrolyte Drink Additives
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Hiking Shorts (Quick-Dry, Lightweight)
  • Large Plastic Garbage Bag
  • Luggage Tags and Locks
  • Pack Rain Cover
  • Rain Pants (Lightweight, Waterproof, Breathable)
  • Sunblock and Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses and Accessories
  • Tee Shirts (Cotton and Synthetic)
  • Water Shoes (Full Foot Protection)

You might also consider

  • Camera and Accessories
  • Energy Snacks and Drink Mixes
  • Gaiters (Low)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Liner Socks (Synthetic)
  • Personal First Aid Kit/Medications (Lightweight)
  • Reading and Writing Materials
  • Small Binoculars

Travel documents

  • Final Bulletin (Emailed Prior to Departure Date)

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 800-426-4840 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Practical details

Mon–Fri 7am–5pm PT

Not Included

Flights to/from Phoenix, AZ; airport transfers; alcoholic beverages; guides gratuities; excess baggage charges or insurance of any kind.

Consider as you sign up

Airline tickets - Please check with us before purchasing your airline tickets to ensure your trip is confirmed with the minimum number of participants required to operate.

Travel insurance - To protect your travel investment, we highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance .

REI membership - Get a member discount on most REI Adventures trips plus other valuable benefits .

Get a $50 annual statement credit towards future Experiences - With the REI Co-op Mastercard, members get a $50 statement credit for our classes, day trips, and multiday outings. Earn a $100 REI gift card after your first purchase outside of REI within 60 days from account opening. See details & sign up.

Additional Information

Special Payment, Cancellation, and Transfer Policy

A refundable deposit of $400 is required at time of booking to secure space. Full payment is required 90 days before departure date.

If you decide to cancel your trip, the following fees apply and are due when we receive notice of your cancellation:

  • 91+ days prior to departure = $0
  • 61 to 90 days = $400
  • 31 to 60 days prior to departure = 50% of the total trip cost is non-refundable
  • 0 to 30 days prior to departure = 100% of the trip cost is non-refundable

If you instead transfer to another trip, the following fees are due at the time of the request:

  • 61+ days prior to departure = $0
  • 31 to 60 days = $400

If a transferred reservation is later canceled, the original reservation's cancellation penalties will apply.

See the cancellation and transfer policy details page for more information.

To protect your investment, we recommend that you purchase travel insurance .

There is usually little rain in the Grand Canyon, but participants should be prepared for a stray rainstorm or even snowstorm, especially during winter (which can run through April some years). July and August have sporadic afternoon thunderstorms. In spring and fall, temperatures at Phantom Ranch are usually from 80°–90°F+. June through August can top 100°F. Nighttime temperatures will be about 30°F cooler than daytime highs. Because of the significantly lower elevation, it is common for Phantom Ranch to be 30°F warmer than the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Packing a variety of clothing layers will help keep you comfortable throughout the adventure.

Single Travelers

South rim lodging is shared with a same gender roommate, there are no single rooms available. The cabin(s) at Phantom Ranch are mixed gender with no option for single accommodations.

  • Single supplement 2023 - $450
  • Single supplement 2024 - $450

General Information

This trip is subject to the booking information set forth in the current REI Adventures Weekend Reservation Information. Please read this information carefully and call us if you have any questions. Additional trip information will be provided upon sign up. We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance through REI Adventures. If coverage is purchased at the time of your initial reservation, the 'Pre-existing Conditions Exclusion' is waived (certain exclusions apply).

We look forward to having you join us for the trip of a lifetime! Why wait? Space is limited, reserve your adventure today.

Meet your guides

Amanda was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has guided clients on the glaciers of Alaska, in the Appalachian Mountains, and many places in between. She has a particular fondness for geology which ultimately led her to the Southwest. Amanda is an avid backpacker, skier, hiker and cyclist and is a certified Wilderness First Responder and Leave No Trace Master Educator.

Born and raised in Chicago, Kevin is an avid backpacker, having hiked trails in Switzerland, Costa Rica, New Zealand and Nepal, as well a great many in Arizona.  He’s happiest when given the opportunity to teach his trail companions about the natural world surrounding them and has a passion for making every subject accessible and exciting. Kevin is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

Adventure Expert

Short in duration but packing enough amazing scenery and mileage to satisfy any experienced hiker, this 3-day adventure in Grand Canyon National Park provides big challenges, immense rewards and memories guaranteed to last a lifetime.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.

Select your trip dates

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Grand Canyon Hiking: The Best Tours, Trails, and Tips

Hiking in Grand Canyon National Park isn’t for the faint of heart (or weak of quads). The canyon is a vast, desert landscape, full of cliffs, steep drops, and loose, rocky earth. Weather is a mixed bag that can range from intense heat to severe thunderstorms, depending on the season and which part of the canyon you choose to explore.

“There is no easy trail in the Grand Canyon,” says Andrea Ross, a former Grand Canyon park ranger and hiking guide. From the East Rim to the West Rim, the Grand Canyon reaches 277 miles long. It's about 18 miles wide from the North Rim to the South Rim, and more than 6,000 feet deep from the top to the canyon floor. But for those who are physically prepared for the steep descents and seemingly steeper ascents, hiking in this, the grandest of canyons, pays off with jaw-dropping views and epic wilderness experiences.

From day hikes to multi-night backcountry excursions that take you past slot canyons, waterfalls, and more, it’s no wonder the Grand Canyon is a bucket list destination for any adventurous hiker.

Grand Canyon Hiking Tours

For more than 100 years, people have been exploring the vast and timeless beauty of this designated national park on foot. While individuals can acquire hiking permits via a lottery system up to a year in advance for some trails, reputable outfitters offer a variety of tours that can remove the difficulty of logistical planning, while adding an extra layer of knowledge and safety. “When you’re in the backcountry, people like to know they’re with someone who knows the routes, has first aid training, and has a way of communicating to assist you if needed. Guides provide all that,” says Andy Kronen, the REI Adventures North America program manager, who designs REI’s Grand Canyon trips in conjunction with local guides. “There is also the interpretive aspect, wanting to be down there with someone who can fill you in on anything you are looking at, including natural history, geology, flora and fauna.”

One of REI Adventures’ most popular Grand Canyon hikes is a seven-day backing trip that includes two nights at the legendary Phantom Ranch . Guiding, meals, permits, and difficult-to-secure reservations for Phantom Ranch are included in the cost of the trip.

The Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute has been working with the National Park Service (NPS) for more than two and a half decades, “to provide educational opportunities that complement the park's interpretive efforts.” They offer day hikes and multi-day trips, including mule-assisted trips.

Wildland Trekking offers dozens of hiking and backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. Its base camp trips allow hikers to establish a campsite at a campground in the park and set off from there on day hikes along the rim and into the canyon, returning each night.

Grand Canyon Hiking Trails

Beginner: Cape Final – This 4-mile hike (roundtrip) along the North Rim is isolated, quiet, and relatively flat, making it approachable for all levels. The trail takes hikers off more populated routes and ultimately provides sweeping views of the eastern Grand Canyon, including Vishnu Temple and Jupiter Temple.

Moderate: South Kaibab Trail – Beginning near Yaki Point on the South Rim, hikers descend 4,500 feet for nearly seven miles along a ridge line to Kaibab Suspension Bridge, which spans the Colorado River. Considered a moderate hike, the 1.5-mile hike to Cedar Ridge is a perfect day hike, or you can continue to the river and spend the night. This trail connects easily to Bright Angel for a longer, but more gradual climb out the next day.

Moderate: Ribbon Falls – Once on the canyon floor, Ribbon is an 11-mile day hike (roundtrip) from Phantom Ranch or a campsite. A great way to find comfort in the heat, the hike to Ribbon Falls takes trekkers through lush vegetation to a secluded, cool, and wet location.

Expert: Grandview Trail – One of the Canyon’s lesser known trails, Grandview is not as maintained as others, and it is considered an expert hike. Originally built as a mining route, this trail has extreme drop-offs, and upper portions can be snow-covered and icy in non-summer months.

The Best Grand Canyon Day Hike

At nearly 10 miles one-way, Bright Angel is the most popular hiking trail in the Grand Canyon. Not only is it easy to access from the South Rim— its trailhead is located just west of Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village— it also offers great views and can be shortened at any point to complete in one day. This dirt trail has several water stations and covered rest stops, and it is considered the safest trail in the canyon. The first four miles of trail are steep as hikers navigate a series of switchbacks until reaching Indian Garden, where the trail flattens and finally ends at the Bright Angel Campground.

Grand Canyon Hiking Tips and What to Know

Park entry fees: According to the National Park Service website , a Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit costs $35, admits one vehicle and all of its passengers, and is good for seven days. An annual pass is $70. The cost is $30 for a motorcycle. If you arrive at the Grand Canyon by other means of transportation, including bike, park shuttle bus, on foot, on a private rafting trip, or via the Grand Canyon Railway, you are required to pay $20 per person for an individual permit (children under 15 years old are admitted for free).

Northern Arizona experiences all four seasons, and hikers should be prepared for extreme heat or cold, depending on the seasonal variations. In summer, temperatures can soar above 100 degrees, which means many hikers will begin their days before dawn and end hiking by noon. Ideal hiking seasons are spring and fall.

Safety Tips

Desert hiking is all about hydration and nourishment. With dry air, higher altitudes, extreme temperatures, and very few water sources, hikers are encouraged to bring ample water and plenty of food with salt to help retain water. The sun is intense during summer months, so proper head wear is also required. For some steep sections, hikers should have good balance and be prepared for extreme heights and exposed trails.

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Camping at Bright Angel Campground - Grand Canyon National Park Forum

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Camping at Bright Angel Campground

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' class=

We've never actually camped before however. We are planning to rent camping gear at REI in Phoenix after we land at the airport. What equipment will we definitely need? I am thinking a tent, sleeping pads, and possibly sleeping bags (although we may not need those in the heat!). Is REI a good place to rent from?

I was thinking of using the mule duffel service to carry the camping gear to/from Phantom Ranch . Would this work- is it possible to fit a tent in a duffel bag? I think the duffel bag we have is about 24-28 inches long. This may be a dumb question, but do tent poles collapse? Can't seem to figure out how they would fit in the bag!

Thanks for your help! Any camping tips/advice appreciated!

' class=

Most here would suggest you 86 the sleeping bag and tent... Such might be useful up on the rim ... Go into the canyon with simply a pad and bag liner... Pay special attention to foot care items ... & enjoy... carracar

Thanks for your advice! Unfortunately, as first time campers we will definitely be using a tent! Just not ready for the no-tent experience with all the creepy-crawlies out there haha.

Anyone know if a tent fits in a duffel bag? Thanks!!

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

Do you have backpacks? (Since you don't list those.) You only need minimal shelter in the GC in August. There will be no bugs but it's monsoon season and you should be prepared for a little rain. Definitely get sleeping pads. I would take a lightweight summer down sleeping bag but you could probably do with one rectangular fleece bag that you can open up into a blanket for the both of you.

If you don't have experience backpacking, I would suggest hiking poles. And yes, tent poles will collapse down small enough for the duffel service.

REI's rental equipment differs from store to store but, in general, their rental gear is heavy and bulky. Not a big issue if you're doing the duffel service. You can call the individual store and ask what they have for rental gear and make reservations. See if they have a tent that can be quick-set with just the footprint and fly. You don't need the mesh inner body in the Canyon.

If you want to go the backpacking route instead of using the duffel service, consider renting your gear from Lower Gear ( http://lowergear.com ) in Tempe instead. They have a decent selection of UL gear for rent. Call them and talk to them, they are GC hikers and will have a good idea of what you need.

In addition to what you have listed, think about:

- hiking poles - may or may not be necessary depending on personal preference, how much weight you're carrying, etc.

- kitchen - if you don't have all of your meals reserved at Phantom Ranch , you'll want a backpacking stove, stove fuel, a pot, mugs, utensils

- water containers - bladders, bottles, etc. Again, personal preference on type but have enough containers to carry 1 gallon per each.

- back-up water purification - tablets, filter, steri-pen, etc.

- headlamp or flashlight

If you rent your gear you should be able to obtain a "backpacking" tent! One that is light weight and smaller then a "normal" tent!

You have a 30lb weight limit on the duffel service and you will be able to fit a bunch of stuff into a duffel for 30lbs!

Thanks all so much for the tips!!

We're getting excited! Doing lots of weekend hikes and other training to get in shape!

To be on the safe side you should check with your airline !

You can rent hiking poles. If they don't have them at REI, they do rent them at the Market right in the park.

The TSA rules do address ski poles, which cannot be carried on. So it depends whether hiking poles are considered more like ski poles ( which they resemble) or walking canes, which they do not resemble at all. We have never tried challenging the regs and always put ours in checked baggage.

As for the tent, REI generally rents good backpacking gear of their own brand, like the REI Half Dome for a tent. If this is your first time camping out, you will probably feel more comfortable in something like this, that can be enclosed, rather than an ultralight setup whichnis more complicated and may not be fully enclosed. If you are sending gear down on the mules the weight will not be an issue. Those tents weigh around 6 or 7 pounds, if I recall correctly. And do not worry, the poles do collapse, usually into lengths of 15 to 18".

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity.

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Matching REI Half Dome tents at Bright Angel Campground - Grand Canyon | by Al_HikesAZ

Matching REI Half Dome tents at Bright Angel Campground - Grand Canyon

These two couples had matching gear that i don't think had ever been used before. these are rei half dome 2 tents. i have never seen anything like this and it just struck me as funny. i worried that they were going to start a tent owners association or something.   phantom ranch is almost a mile down and 10 miles by trail from the south rim. approximately 4.5million people visit the south rim each year and maybe 50,000 make it to here.  .

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

Grand Canyon Backpacking | Ultimate Rim to Rim to Rim Guide

North Kaibaba Trail on the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

Home / Plan Your Adventure / Adventure Ideas / Grand Canyon Backpacking | Ultimate Rim to Rim to Rim Guide

Backpacking the Grand Canyon inevitably ends up on every adventurer’s bucket list.  For a backpacker visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, the 21 mile journey (33.8 km) from the South Rim to the North Rim is the ultimate trip to cut your teeth.   You’ll descend the South Kaibab Trail deep into the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River before climbing a punishing 5700ft (1700m) up the North Kaibab trail to the Grand Canyon’s quieter North Rim.

Perhaps, the only better way to backpack the Grand Canyon for the first time is to do it all over again in reverse  for an epic backpacking trip known as the rim to rim to rim (R2R2R2).  During the late spring, summer and fall when the North Rim is open and shuttles are available, this add-on makes limited sense.  However, when the North Rim shuts down backpacking the Grand Canyon this way is an incredible opportunity to find a level of solitude unimaginable at other times of the year.  If you’re thinking about this trip, dreaming of this trip, or have secured a permit, this epic guide to backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim was written just for you. So, let’s stop with the formalities and dive right into it! 

There’s tons of detail in this post, so here is a quick, clickable summary of what you’ll find here:

  • Need to know for backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim  
  • Things you’ll love
  • Things you won’t love

How many days does it take to backpack the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim?

How hard is it to backpack the grand canyon.

  • How do you get a permit?

Do you need a park entrance pass if you have a backcountry permit for the Grand Canyon?

Which direction should you hike.

  • Should you hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim or rim to rim to rim? 

Which trails do you hike for the rim to rim to rim?

When is the best time to hike the grand canyon rim to rim to rim, can you have campfires inside the grand canyon.

  • How do you get to the South Kaibab Trailhead? 

How do you get to the Bright Angel Trailhead?

  • Squirrels in the Grand Canyon  

Where to stay before hiking or backpacking the Grand Canyon

  • Trail Sections and descriptions
  • Campsites in the Grand Canyon on the rim to rim to rim
  • Itinerary options

What to pack for backpacking the Grand Canyon

  • What to wear in the Grand Canyon
  • Final thoughts

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Need to know for backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim

Days Required:  2 – 7 days Difficulty: Moderate, but extreme heat and weather can increase difficulty dramatically.  Distance:  44.5 miles (72 km) Elevation Gain:  10, 141 ft (3,090 m) Elevation Loss:   10, 541 ft (3,210 m) Permit Required: Yes, competitive. Navigation: Easy, trails are very well marked. Water Sources:  Frequent potable water sources available between May and December.  Large portions of the Bright Angel and North Kaibab trails have access to water for purification year during the rest of the year. South Kaibab trail has no water.  Food Storage:  Provided at designated campsites. Best Campsite Walked Past or Stayed At:  Cottonwood (below the rim), but read section on the u ltimate hack for backpacking the rim to rim  to rim for a special campsite tip.  

Deer on Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon

Things you'll love about backpacking the rim to rim to rim

  • Remarkable geology and natural scenery that will leave you awestruck at every turn.
  • Incredible trail infrastructure.
  • Established trail with no navigation required. 
  • Readily available potable water via taps at numerous points (seasonal and not on the South Kaibab).
  • Numerous campsites allow for very manageable daily mileage and different itineraries.
  • Opportunity to camp on the seasonally isolated North Rim.

Things you won't love about backpacking the rim to rim to rim

  • The squirrels. Take your eye off your bag for a second and they are in it.
  • The heat can be the most challenging factor.
  • Competitive permit process that requires using a fax machine.
  • Navigating the throngs of day hikers at the beginning (and end).
  • Keeping a constant ear out for trail runners coming in hot. 
  • Busy campsites that are close together with limited privacy. 
  • Did I mention it can get deathly hot?

A backpacking trip of the Grand Canyon’s rim to rim to rim is typically done in 4-7 days.

That said, you’re likely to encounter many ambitious trail runners and a few speed hikers pushing to complete the 44.5 mile (72 km) rim to rim to rim in one very, very long day.

Fortunately, backpacking allows the benefit of time to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon, not to mention some of the best night skies you’ll see in your life. So, less mileage is often more enjoyment. We spent 6 nights on the trail and that was absolutely perfect.  I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to move much faster since we had daily high temperatures approaching 110 Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) on several occasions.

For fit, ultralight backpackers this trip could be done in as little as 2 days, spending 1 night on the North Rim. That said, the heat in the Grand Canyon adds a whole new variable that can force schedule interruptions on even upon the most determined hikers.

The rim to rim to rim backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon is a deceivingly challenging hike.

On one hand, the corridor trails that make up the R2R2R2 route (South Kaibab, North Kaibab, and Bright Angel) are impeccably maintained, require no navigation skills, campsites feature numerous amenities, and potable water is readily available during many times of the year. 

On the other hand, the Canyon coaxes you into a false sense of security with its upside down mountain topography. You start with the ease of descending and gravity on your side, you finish working against it. You’ll descend 4780 ft (1450 m) from the top of the south rim only to climb 5700ft (1700m) up to the North Rim, before doing it all over again in reverse.

The biggest challenge you may face is the elements. The intense sun and searing heat, lack of shade (especially on the South Kaibab), and lack of water and requirement to haul extra (exacerbated during non-peak season when many taps are shut off) are variables unique to those unfamiliar with desert hiking. The heat can be so intense that you’ll find yourself kneeling with gratitude at the smallest amount of shade and setting your alarm earlier each day in a futile attempt to beat the worst of it. 

During the winter, fall and spring, cold weather is also a major part of the equation. Snow, ice and below freezing temperatures are commonplace higher on the South Rim and the North Rim. 

Ultimately,  backpacking the rim to rim to rim can be tough, but with proper planning and respect for the environmental conditions, most backpackers encounter no issues. 

North Kaibab Trail

How do you get a permit to backpack the Grand Canyon?

To backpack in the Grand Canyon you need a permit which is obtained through an antiquated process that involves either sending a fax, mailing the permit request or dropping it off at the North or South rim information center. 

Permit requests are accepted during the 10 day period, 4 months before the month of your desired start date.  If you wish to hike in November, you would submit your completed permit application anytime between June 20 and July 1. The order permits are received doesn’t matter, this period is simply the window in which applications are accepted. Once the deadline passes you’ll receive a response within a couple of weeks.

To complete the application one member of your group will need to complete the  permit request form  with y our group size and desired itinerary (nightly camp location). Additional details and complete instructions on backcountry permits can be found  here . 

To maximize your chances of obtaining a permit follow this common sense logic:

  • Selecting a big window for alternative start dates or the entire month, if possible.
  • Selecting a lower minimum number of nights (know your limits and conditioning though).
  • Selecting a lower minimum group size. There’s always one friend you kinda want to drop anyways…

With this sage wisdom you’ll hopefully score a permit and ideally write an even better blog post than this after your epic backpack through the Grand Canyon, thereby saving future readers the misery you’re presently enduring in reading this one…

Yes,  you require a park entrance pass  even if you have a permit for backpacking the Grand Canyon. The lines to pay entrance fees at the gate can be long, so make sure to purchase your entrance pass in advance to save time. 

America the Beautiful Annual Pass  if the best bet if you plan on visiting multiple parks or multiple times within the year of purchasing it. The Grand Canyon charges $35 per vehicle for a 7 day pass, so it doesn’t take many visits to National Parks or federal public lands to pay back the $80 dollar cost of the  America the Beautiful Annual Pass . 

You can also pre-purchase your 7-day entrance fee at  recreation.gov  i f this is the only time you’ll be visiting a National Park this year.

The rim to rim to rim trail is started from the South Rim, taking either Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab trail down before ascending the North Kaibab to the North Rim and then doubling back. The primary reason for this is the seasonal closure of the North Rim that typically begins on the 1st of December until May 15. 

Should you hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim or rim (R2R2R) to rim to rim (R2R)?

When the North Rim is closed to vehicles you’ll only have the option to hike the rim to rim to rim if you wish to complete this hike in its entirety. This provides a couple of advantages. You can camp on deserted North Rim (more on that below) and you will run into fewer and fewer people the further you get from the South Rim. Purely from a solitude perspective, the R2R2R takes the cake while the North Rim is closed to vehicle access.  It will take double the time thought, so this itinerary might not be feasible for everyone. 

During the later spring, summer and fall months when the North Rim is open, I’d gravitate towards doing the R2R as you get no real benefit from the extra days and mileage at this time of year aside from getting to look at the views in reverse, spending more time in the grand canyon, and avoiding a 4-hour shuttle ride.

View from the Bright Angel Trail

The most popular and recommended way to backpack (or hike) the R2R2R is to begin your hike by descending the South Kaibab trailhead. After climbing the North Kaibab and returning to Phantom Ranch you’ll be faced with a choice of climbing the South Kaibab or hiking up the Bright Angel Trail. Despite being 2 miles longer, Bright Angel is the wiser choice, especially if there is any kind of heat whatsoever. The South Kaibab is relentlessly exposed with virtually no shade and no opportunity for water. Descending it at the heat of the day on an unexpectedly hot day in April left us completely bagged, I couldn’t have imagined hiking up in these conditions. The smart choice here is to ascend Bright Angel as it provides numerous opportunities for water and shade making the already challenging experience of climbing out of the Grand Canyon significantly more enjoyable. 

If you can secure a permit, April is the ideal month to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. The heat typically is not yet in full force (It did get to over 110, so extreme heat is still possible), the likelihood of winter conditions (ice, snow) at the higher elevations is reduced, the days are long, and the North Rim is still closed. Hiking the R2R2R while the North Rim is closed affords a couple key advantages. First, it reduces some of the day hiker traffic descending from the North Rim (although according to the park service only around 10% of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the North Rim) and most importantly it provides an unprecedented way to obtain some solitude on what is a very busy trail by spending a night camping on the North Rim.

The ultimate rim to rim to rim backpacking hack : Book a night on the North Rim and beat the crowds

I was lucky enough to speak to an informative ranger before requesting our permit who was kind enough to advise me that despite the North Rim being closed, the campground remains open to backcountry travelers venturing from the Grand Canyon’s south side. As long as you’re equipped with warm enough gear for the high elevation of the North Rim, (the daily average low is 32F (0C) in April), this can be an incredible experience. With luck, you’ll have an empty campsite and the opportunity to explore the viewpoints of the North Rim in near isolation. 

No, ​​ fires are prohibited throughout the backcountry in Grand Canyon National Park. 

View from the South Kaibab Trailhead

How do you get to the South Kaibab Trailhead?

After parking your vehicle at the Backcountry Information Lot you’ll hop on the free Hikers’ Express shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead. The hours change depending on the season, but they typically leave as early as possible to ensure hikers beat the heat. Check this page on the Grand Canyon’s site to determine the times the bus departs during your trip dates.

The Bright Angel Trailhead is only a ¼ mile from the Backcountry Information Lot making a return to your vehicle seamless on completion of your trip. 

Food storage while backpacking the Grand Canyon

Metal food storage containers are provided at each campsite along the corridor trails of the Grand Canyon. If you’re planning an itinerary that includes campsites off the main corridor trails bring something to protect your food, like a ratsack . 

Squirrels in the Grand Canyon

Along the corridor trails one of the largest annoyances and potential dangers you’re likely to face is the Grand Canyon famous rock squirrels. It’s rumored that they  hold the title for most dangerous animal in the Grand Canyon and this becomes immediately obvious after witnessing the behavior of the first squirrel you see. Extra caution is required! Do not leave your bag or clothing unattended and ensure all food is placed inside the metal food storage boxes. Leave your pack open and hanging from the metal bars at each campsite.  Apparently, this allows them to climb inside and take a look around before realizing there is nothing good to eat and thereby preventing them from chewing though your pack to investigate. Be extra aware of the squirrels nearest to the South Rim.  The high volume of day hiker traffic here seems to have further emboldened this cohort, likely due to many people feeding them. If you sit down and pull out a snack, you may look over to realize there is a squirrel uncomfortably close. You’ve been warned. 

How do I have dinner at Phantom Ranch?

In the middle of a long hard day of backpacking it’s only natural to have visions of your favorite dinner pop in and out of your head. Maybe it’s your favorite pizza, steak frites, or marinated tofu delight. Whatever your fancy, you’re usually constrained to dining on some form of dinner that involves adding boiling water to something dry. One benefit that comes with the sometimes diluted wilderness experience around Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch is your ability to treat your hiking buddy (or have them treat you) to a sit down meal at the Phantom Ranch Canteen. You’ll have your choice of steak, stew or vegetarian option at the heart of the Grand Canyon. A great meal and backpack weight savings all at once! Like any good restaurant, reservations are required, so make a booking for dinner well in advance if this is something that tickles your fancy. 

View approaching the top of Bright Angel Trail

To ensure an early start and guarantee you catch the H ikers’ Express Shuttle Bus from the Backcountry Information Center it’s most convenient to spend the night before your hike close to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The best option is to stay inside the park itself which allows for exploration of the rim area and historic district during the day before your hike. These options book up incredibly fast, so make your booking as soon as you’ve secured your permit. 

Best accommodation options inside Grand Canyon National Park

Camp at mather campground.

The most economical option is to camp at one of the 327 campsites at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. The campsites include all the amenities you’d expect plus flush toilets and potable water throughout the campground. If you’re tenting, Pine Loop is a tent-only area where generators are prohibited. Book a reservation on recreation.gov well in advance to secure a spot. 

Stay at one of the Grand Canyon’s historic lodges

Sometimes nothing beats a comfortable bed before (and after) multiple nights in the tent. Fortunately, the Grand Canyon offers numerous historic lodges to get a good night or two of sleep before heading out on your rim to rim to rim adventure. The majority of these are within easy walking distance of the Canyon Rim. 

El Tovar Hotel i s considered to be the crown jewel of Historic National Park Lodges. Constructed in 1905 of local limestone and Oregon Pine, this historical hotel is located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon. 

Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins  – Another historic lodging option at the rim of the Grand Canyon. This lodge was originally constructed as a less expensive option to El Tovar. This National Historic Landmark features 90 rooms ranging from cozy lodge rooms (some with shared, some with private bathrooms) and several historic cabins. For one of a kind accommodation consider a stay at the historic Buckey O’Neill Cabin or Red Horse Cabin. You can find more information on these historic cabins and details on how to book them  here .

Kachina Lodge , Thunderbird Lodge , Yavapai Lodge and Maswik Lodge –  These lodging options in Grand Canyon Village are slightly more contemporary than the first 2, but do offer more conventional hotel amenities still within easy access of the Canyon Rim. 

Hotels outside Grand Canyon National Park

If the options in the park are booked up there are several notable options just outside of the park gates in the small village of ​​ Tusayan. Only 7 miles (11 km) south of the south rim is a suitable backup option that leaves a very manageable drive for the morning of your departure.The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is most sought after choice here with several other decent chain hotel options available .

Trail sections and descriptions

The three trails that make up the rim to rim to rim of the Grand Canyon are referred to as the Corridor trails. These include the South Kaibab Trail, North Kaibab Trail, and Bright Angel Trail. The most common route for hiking rim to rim to rim is to descend the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch. From there you’ll climb the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim before doubling back to Phantom Ranch and taking Bright Angel Trail back to the South Rim. The trail sections are broken down with descriptions in this order, 

Mule train coming up the South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trailhead to Bright Angel Campground

7 miles (11.3 km), 4780 ft (1450 m) elevation loss.

After disembarking from the Hikers’ Express Shuttle bus, take a moment to top up your water supplies (this tap is seasonal and may not be turned on until early May). This is your last chance to do so prior to reaching Phantom Ranch and you have 7 miles of very exposed hiking to get through with almost no shade.  After approaching the Canyon rim and dropping, in it doesn’t take long before you come across a series of switchbacks before traversing the slope in a straight shot until coming up on the sublime vista at the aptly named Ooh Ahh Point. You’re already 800ft  (250m) of descending in with plenty to go!

Hiker looks at the view from Ooh Ahh Point in the Grand Canyon

After Ooh’ing and Ahh’ing for as long as you feel is required, continue along the trail as it descends the ridgeline to Cedar Ridge where toilets (no water) are available to anyone feeling moved by the views… The South Kaibab continues its descent along the ridgeline before skirting around the west side of O’Neill Butte and descending to Skeleton Point. Depending on the season, you’ll likely be ready to de-layer by this point as you notice the substantial increase in temperature as you descend towards the canyon floor. After Skelton Point the trail drops down dramatically via a series of switchbacks which descend 650ft (200 m) of elevation in just over half a mile (1 km) towards the Tonto plateau.  By this section, hiker traffic thins substantially as all but the boldest, fittest or most naive day hikers have turned back.  After completing the switchbacks and continuing your descent at a rapid, but slightly more gradual pace you’ll reach the Tonto Plateau and a small rest stop at the Tipoff. The Tipoff has a shaded pavilion and toilers (no water) and is a terrific spot to have a snack, rehydrate, and embrace the shade before tackling the final leg of the South Kaibab. 

View looking down to the Colorado River on the South Kaibab Trail

The section following Tipoff can feel like a race against time, especially for those hiking in late spring, summer or during an unseasonably hot day.  In 1.5 miles (2.5 KM) from the Tipoff to the fork with River Trail you rapidly descends nearly 1280ft (390 m). Despite the rapid descent, you’ll do so without t he major switchbacks you encountered earlier and almost no shade.   We hiked during an unseasonably hot day in April where the temperature got to well over100 and this section felt like the most challenging of our entire hike.     The Park Service advises that everyone start hiking well before dawn or in the late afternoon during May to September and advises against being on the trail between 10 am – 3 pm to avoid medical risk and potential need for rescue.  So start early!   After reaching the fork with River trail continue to the right. head through the tunnel and across the Black bridge. 

Black Bridge Over the Colorado River from Boat Beach in the Grand Canyon

After crossing black bridge you’ll pass by Boat Beach ( a nice spot to check out on the Colorado River) before walking for another ½ mile to reach Bright Angel Campground, shade, and most importantly water.  

North Kaibab Trail

Bright Angel Campground to North Kaibab Trailhead or North Rim Campground

14 miles (22.5 km), 5761 ft (1756 m) elevation gain.

After leaving Bright Angel Campground and passing through Phantom Ranch the trail meanders alongside Bright Angel creek as the Grand Canyon enters one of its narrowest sections, the Inner Gorge or “the Box”. The hiking here is quite flat and easy, but with dark rock walls and low elevation this section can feel like the parking lot at a Phoenix Target in August, so once again, make sure to start early. 

the box area of the grand canyon

After leaving the Box, the trail remains a gradual incline for the entire 7.2 mi (11.6 km) stretch from Bright Angel to Cottonwood Campground. After negotiating a small hill around 5.5 miles from Bright Angel, you’ll have the option of making a wonderful side trip to the cool oasis of Ribbon Falls. 

This trip is well worth it and can also easily be made as a quick afternoon trip directly from Cottonwood campground, if you’re overnighting there. Going to Cottonwood first adds  a 1.6 miles (2.6 km) each way, but gets off the trail before the heat of the day and helps you secure a better campsite at Cottonwood by getting there early. 

To get to Ribbon Falls follow the path until you hit Bright Angel Creek before crossing and following the fork to the left to lower ribbon falls. If you have the energy, a longer trail (0.9 miles or 1.4 km)  forks right and climbs 330ft (100m) of elevation to the less visited Upper Ribbon Falls,   Note that at time of hiking the bridge to access to this trail was removed and an easy ford of Bright Angel Creek was required to access the trail to both upper and/or lower Ribbon Falls. 

Hiker rests by Ribbon Falls an Oasis in the Grand Canyon

After reaching Cottonwood campsite or overnighting there, you’ll hike for  1.4 miles (2.3KM) gaining about 390 ft (120 m)  alongside Bright Angel Creek before crossing a final bridge to reach the Manzanita Rest Area.  Seasonal water taps are available at the Manzanita Rest area.  During the winter and spring months,  you’ll a have a final opportunity to fill and treat water by taking the short, ¼ mile side trip to Roaring Springs which lies ⅔ mile (1.1 KM)  up from Manzanita Rest Area. Regardless of your water needs, the short side trip to Roaring springs is worthwhile as it brings you closer to the incredible stream of water that gushes out from the cliff above before making its way down to Bright Angel Creek below. Once you’re filled up and ready to get started, backtrack along Roaring Springs Trail back to the North Kaibab and take a breath. The big ascent is about to get started. 

For the next 1.7 miles (2.8 KM) after the junction with Roaring Springs the trail picks up nearly  1000ft (300 m) of elevation before reaching Redwall bridge. During this section you’ll pass along beautiful sections of trail with sheer cliff faces dropping off to the right hand side. For anyone afraid of heights, this section is the likeliest to potentially test your nerves. Fortunately, the wide trail provides ample room to hug the cliff wall so the exposure never feels truly frightening.  This section of the North Kaibab trail is stunning example of a time when trail construction involved blasting away giant sections of rock to accommodate a hiking trail.

Hiker takes in a view on the North Kaibab Trail

After descending slightly to Redwall Bridge you’ll begin another big uphill slog gaining close to 850ft (260 m) in 0.9 miles (1.4 KM) before reaching Supai Tunnel. Supai Tunnel offers a restroom and a seasonal water tap. At an elevation of 6800 ft (2073 m) you’ll begin to notice a change in both vegetation and temperature with large coniferous trees becoming more prevalent.

Redwall Bridge on the North Kaibab Trail

From the Supai tunnel the North Kaibab trail pushes on, snaking its way up another another 850ft (250m) of elevation with a dozen switchbacks over the next mile (1.6km) to the Coconino Overlook. Take a moment to savor the view here, as this is the last panoramic view you’ll get of the Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail. 

After enjoying the view, take a deep breath and crush out the final 0.6 mile (1 km) to the top of the North Kaibab Trailhead. Hopefully, you took a moment to enjoy the view from the Coconino Overlook, as the terminus of the North Kaibab is somewhat anticlimactic with no view to speak of. If time permits, consider the 2 mile (3.2 KM) easy trek to Bright Angel Point for a spectacular view back across the Grand Canyon. During the quiet months that North Rim is closed to vehicle traffic this trip is particularly worthwhile. If you’re fortunate enough to be camping on the North Rim, head west for just under a mile (1.4 KM) of easy walking to the BIker/Hiker section of the North Rim Campground on the far west side adjacent to the rim. After getting your site set up, ditch your big pack and take the 1.6 mile (2.6 KM) trail along the rim’s perimeter to Bright Angel Point. 

Hiker takes in the view from the Coconino Overlook

Return to Bright Angel Campground

14 miles (22.5 km)​, 5761 ft (1756 m) elevation loss.

Double back the way that you came on the North Kaibab Trail following the same route until you reach Bright Angel Campground. Hopefully, you were able to enjoy a night on the North Rim. 

View down Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden

Bright Angel Campground to Bright Angel Trailhead

9.5 miles (15.3 km), 4380 ft (1337 m) elevation gain.

From Bright Angel Campground you’ll have the option to hike out on the South Kaibab Trail or take the recommended route out on Bright Angel Trail (see  earlier section  for the reasons why). From Bright Angel Campground  take the Silver Bridge to the west across the Colorado River. After crossing the river you’ll hike along sand dunes alongside the Colorado River for around 1.2 miles (1.9 km) until the trail begins its ascent back to the South Rim at the Pipe Creek drainage. At this point you’ll find the River Resthouse, a toilet and a convenient spot to fill up and treat water if you happened to forget to do so before leaving Bright Angel. 

You’ll begin your ascent up the Pipe Creek Drainage a fter departing the River Resthouse   . For the first mile (1.6KM) the trail follows alongside Pipe Creek and picks up about 350ft of elevation (100m). After crossing the creek a final time, you’ll encounter a series of switchbacks called the Devil’ Corkscrew which rapidly gains another 500ft (150 M) of elevation. This section is likely to be one of the most unshaded parts you’ll encounter on Bright Angel Trail, so an early start (or late in the day) is recommended to ensure safe passage here. 

the Devils Corkscrew on Bright Angel Trail

T he trail links up with Garden creek about a mile  after starting the switchbacks of  Devil’s Corkscrew. From here, it’s a gradually elevated mile (1.6 KM) along the creek gully to Havasupai Gardens Campground.  Just before reaching Havasupai Gardens Campground the trail forks with an option to hike out to Plateau point or gain access to the westbound side of the Tonto Trail. The trip to see the view from Plateau Point (1.4 miles or 2.3 km one-way) is a worthwhile side trip if you have the time. 

After staying the night at Havasupai Gardens or stopping to refill and refuel, it’s time to buckle up for the final push back to the South Rim. Following the Garden Creek drainage the trail gains around 500ft (150 m) in the first mile before rapidly gaining another 330ft (100m) in a series of switchbacks to reach 3 Mile Resthouse.  Fortunately, the rest stop provides ample opportunity to catch your breath before the next big push. By this point of your hike, you’ll notice an increase in the trail traffic as you start to encounter a higher frequency of day hikers coming down from the South Rim. 

Morning light from Havasupai Gardens Campground

When you’re feeling re-energized and ready for more elevation push towards the 1.5 Mile Resthouse 1.5 Miles (2.4 KM) up the trail. Nearly a dozen switchbacks and nearly 1000 ft of elevation gain (300 m) separate you from the final rest stop on your rim to rim to rim journey. As you continue upward, take a look back and see where you’ve come from looking for Havasupai Gardens way down below. After the final rest stop of your adventure summon your legs for the final set of switchbacks that lead you up the last 1.5 miles and 1100 ft (340m) of elevation to the Bright Angel Trailhead.  

Congratulations, you’ve just completed the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim.

Final part of Bright Angel Trail before the SOuth Rim

Campsites in the Grand Canyon on the rim to rim

Along the corridor trails you’re limited to camping in the established campsites which serve as a sufficient place to bunk down with some incredible dark sky views over the canyon walls. The night skies and sublime mesas and canyon walls that adorn every section of the Grand Canyon more than make up for the somewhat lackluster campsites themselves. Many of the sites are close together, with limited privacy. The vast majority of backpackers are respectful of lights out times and quiet time, but bring ear plugs for the one night you inevitably come across a snorer or someone that fails to observe the rules.

Bright Angel Campground

Located near historic Phantom Ranch and near the confluence of Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River, this is the busiest campground along the Corridor trails. It is also my least favorite. The 30 small campsites are close together with limited privacy, the squirrels are relentless (unquestionably due to the constant prevalence of easy meals) and the cantina, restaurant, and lodging at Phantom Ranch take away slightly from the backpacking/backcountry experience. Not to mention the flush toilets and running water. The entire experience at Bright Angel Campground feels more analogous to car camping than backpacking. All this said, it still has many things to love especially for a one night stay. Bright Angel Creek runs right through it and the cold water is balm to any weary joints and muscles. The site also provides easy access to an incredible beach along the Colorado River that more than makes up for the sleep you’re likely to lose from your neighboring backpacker’s snoring. 

Havasupai Gardens Campground (f.k.a. Indian Gardens)

This is an excellent final night option if you plan on exciting your trip via the Bright Angel Trailhead. The 15 small group sites lie 4.8 miles from the South Rim and about halfway up the Bright Angel Trail making for a relaxed half day hike to exit. The campsites are quite close together with some offering more privacy than others. It’s situated in a beautiful cottonwood grove and adjacent to a small creek. Staying here also provides easy access to add on trips along the Tonto Trail or Plateau point. 

Cottonwood Camground

Camping at Cottonwood is a delight. It’s a smallish campground with 15 sites located 7.2 miles (11.6 km) from Bright Angel Campground on the North Kaibab Trail. This site feels a little more spacious and private than both Indian Garden and Bright Angel and this was definitely my favorite site below the rim. Bright Angel creek bubbles joyfully alongside providing several incredible spots to cool down or soak and relax. Sleeping here was a delight with mesas rising from all around the campground to provide an enchanting silhouettes in contrast to some of the most incredible stars you’ll ever see. Earplugs may still be required, but this site is not even on the same level as Bright Angel. Look for a couple sites on the left as you head toward the North Rim after passing the toilets.  Potable water is seasonal here, so ensure you have a treatment method if traveling between the middle of October and the middle of May. 

tent at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

North Rim Campground - Winter Camping

As I mentioned before, I believe staying a night on the North Rim is the ultimate hack for hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim. It can be very cold at night with the possibility of waking up to snow. That said, the solitude provided here is unmatched by any of the other campsites on the R2R2R2.  You need to be prepared with proper layers and sleeping gear. We camped here and had the entire place to ourselves which was quite the change from the chaos of Bright Angel Campground. You’ll set up camp in the section near the canyon rim at the west end of the campground about a 1 mile walk from the North Kaibab Trailhead.  The view here is breathtaking! Additionally, you can explore the lookout at Bright Angel Point without another person anywhere in sight. The entire experience of staying here in winter feels almost post-apocalyptic .Ultimately, I believe staying here also makes for a much more enjoyable experience hiking the North Kaibab Trail as it provides an epic conclusion to the day. Otherwise, you’ll reach the trailhead (which has no view) after the big push up and turn around.

Itinerary options for backpacking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim

There are numerous ways to structure an itinerary for backpacking the Grand Canyon rim rim to rim depending on your desired mileage, your fitness level, and the weather conditions/season. When planning your itinerary, note that both  Havasupai Gardens Campground and Bright Angel Campground offer several great options for day hiking off the main corridor trails which may make them worthy of an extra night’s stay! Simply add another night or 2 to these campsites on your permit request. These base camp stops get you day hiking off the highly trafficked corridor trails, not to mention the reprieve of lightening your load for a day of exploration. 

Remember when planning your itinerary, it’s critical to recognize that the Grand Canyon is a place of extremes where both heat and snow/ice can impact trip feasibility. On our trek through the Grand Canyon at the end of April we watched our daily wakeup time increase to a nadir of 3:00 am in a futile effort to bike before the heat during an unseasonably warm spell. Best be prepared for the unexpected. 

With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few options:

hikere near Havasupai Gardens Campground

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 2 days 1 night

  • 21 miles (33.8 KM)  (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to Campground)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 5761 ft (1750 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 4780 ft (1457 m)
  •  23.5 miles (37.8 km)  (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) from North Rim Campground to Trailhead)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 4380 ft (1337 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 5761 ft (1750 m)

Itinerary notes

This is an extreme itinerary that is not to be taken lightly and is only recommended for experienced backpackers and thru hikers that have experience with pushing 25+ mile days.  This length of mileage is challenging backpacking anywhere, but the climate and environment of the Grand Canyon may at times make these distances impossible, completely unenjoyable, and often dangerous.  In the late fall, winter and early spring, snow and ice cannot be ruled out and may dramatically slow down your pace. In the spring or fall, unseasonal temperatures have the potential to make the Grand Canyon dangerously hot, making hiking during mid-day hours nearly impossible. If you’re thinking about taking this on, recognize that you may be forced to spend a significant part of your trek hiking in the dark and know your limits. Less is often more in the Grand Canyon, but if you’re limited on time and have the experience and conditioning, this might be the itinerary for you. 

View looking down to Havasupai Gardens Campground

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 3 days 2 night

  • 14.2 miles (22.9KM)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 1600ft  (480 m)
  • 20.8 miles (33.4 km)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 4160 ft (1268 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 5760 ft (1756m)
  • 9.5 mi (15.3 km)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss negligible

Itinerary notes​

Completing a R2R2R backpacking trip in 3 days is no small feat with several tough days and one seriously long day. Similar to the sprint of doing it in 1 night, this trip is only recommended for individuals very comfortable with their backpacking abilities and some knowledge of the conditions/extremes one is likely to encounter here. The first day provides for an early morning descent down the South Kaibab and the opportunity to take some time to cool down and wait out the heat (as applicable) in the Phantom Ranch Area. In the later afternoon or on cooler days, the section between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood is smooth sailing. Day 2 is the most challenging, requiring an early departure from Cottonwood on days where heat may be a factor. The final day features shorter mileage with significant elevation gain made manageable by the availability of water and shade along the Bright Angel Trail. The downside of this itinerary is the lack of time it affords to experience or camp at the North Rim. Additionally, I found Havasupai Gardens Campground to be nicer than Bright Angel, but this itinerary makes camping here for the last night logistically awkward. Or maybe it’s just a good excuse to get a dinner reservation at Phantom Ranch for your last night in the Grand Canyon.

Hiker on the North Kaibab Trail

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 4 days 3 nights

  • 6.8 miles (10.9 KM)  (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to North Rim Campground)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 4161 ft (1268 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss Negligible
  • 14 mi (22.5 km)  (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) from North Rim Campground to Trailhead)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain Negligible
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 5761 ft (1756 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss negligible 

Completing the rim to rim to rim in 4 days and 3 nights is likely the choice for you if you seriously considered doing it in 2 days, but really wanted the opportunity to stay a night on the North Rim. This itinerary groups heavy mileage with heavy descending and low mileage with ascending. The only downside here is the requirement to stay at Bright Angel on the last night vs the nice Havasupai Gardens Campground. That said, get a dinner reservation at Phantom Ranch and it might be the perfect way to spend your last evening in the Grand Canyon. 

The North Kaibab Trail near the Box area

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 5 days 4 nights

  • 6.8 miles (10.9 KM) to North Kaibab Trailhead (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to Campground)
  • 6.8 miles (10.9 KM) (+ 0.9 miles (1.4 km) from North Rim Campground to Trailhead)
  • 7.2 mi (11.6 km) + 4.7 mi (7.6 km) = 11.9 mi (19.2 km)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 1320 ft (400 m)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 1600 ft (480 m)
  • 4.8 mi (7.7 km) 
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 3060 ft (930 m)

This might just be the perfect itinerary for hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim. The daily mileage is manageable with one long day that is primarily descending.  Additionally, you’ll avoid staying at my least favorite campground (Bright Angel), and have plenty of time to take in the splendor of the Grand Canyon. ’d likely choose this route, i f I were to do this trip over again.  The biggest consideration you’ll  here is ensuring you get a very early start on day 1. If you don’t start early enough and the heat becomes unbearable, you may be forced to pitstop for a couple hours at Phantom Ranch between 10 am – 3 pm. The same goes for Day 4 when you’ll hike from Cottonwood to Havasupai Garden.

View from the North Rim

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 6 days 5 nights

  •  7.0 mi (11.3 km)
  • Approximate Elevation Loss 4780ft (1457 m)
  •   7.2 mi (11.6 km)
  • Approximate Elevation Gain 1600 ft (480 m)
  • 11.9 mi (19.2 km)

Daily mileage is very manageable and affords the ability to avoid hiking during hot temperatures if you encounter them. This was the itinerary that we hiked on our rim to rim to rim trek. In ideal hiking conditions it may have felt a little relaxed, but with unseasonal temperatures well over 100F, we were happy to have the time.  We’d start hiking shortly before sunrise and finish many days before 11am.  Day 2 will be short with limited elevation gain, but this provides the option of setting up camp and then using the afternoon to hike to and relax at nearby Ribbon Falls. 

View to Bright Angel Campground from the South Kaibab Trail

Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in 7 days 6 nights

  • 7.2 mi (11.6 km) 
  • Approximate Elevation Gain negligible
  • 4.7 mi (7.6 km)

This option is like the 6 day option, but splits the trek up between Cottonwood and Havasupai Gardens. Doing it this way allows you to conquer the hottest part of your ascent up the South Rim first thing in the morning and takes significant mileage and elevation off your final day’s trek out. 

The lighter your pack, the more enjoyable your backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon is going to be. A lighter backpack helps you cover more mileage and more elevation with way less effort making big days more realistic, not to mention more comfortable!

If you’re  new to backpacking , don’t stress out about buying the latest and greatest equipment. Save money and use things you already own that can be repurposed for backpacking, rent gear or borrow stuff from a gear-head buddy. Later, when you’ve gained more experience, modify your kit and change out gear as you get a better understanding of what creature comforts you can and can’t live without. 

Here’s a complete list of gear to pack for backpacking the Grand Canyon. Click any item below to jump ahead in the post for a detailed recommendation. 

Essential Items 

Sleeping mat, backpacking pillow.

  • Sleeping bag or quilt 
  • Water purification 
  • Trowel & TP
  •   Swiss army knife
  •  Stove & fuel canister
  • Lighter/matches
  •  Backcountry cookset
  •  Water bottle or reservoir
  •   Water storage container
  •   First aid kit
  •   Trekking poles

Headlamp with red light mode

  • GPS, compass & map
  • Battery back-up & charging cable

Luxury Items

What to wear, convertible hiking pants, a pair of shorts.

  • Shell Jacket
  • Puff Jacket (seasonal)
  • Base Layer Top
  • Base Layer Bottom
  • Hiking Socks
  • Hat & Warm Hat (seasonal)
  • Gloves (seasonal)
  • Trail Runners or Hiking Boots
  • Camp Shoes (optional)

Additional Items

Microspikes (season dependent), low trail running gaiter (optional).

  • Sunscreen & SPF lim balm
  • Tooth Brush & Toothpaste
  • Emergency Medical Insurance (if traveling from outside the US)

Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 Tent in Sequoia National Park at Rae Lakes

Best tent for backpacking the Grand Canyon

I upgraded to  Mountain Hardwear Strato UL2 since backpacking the R2R2R2 and it’s been great, that’s it above at Rae Lakes in Sequoia National Park. It’s the perfect tent for backpacking the Grand Canyon as it’s semi-freestanding, double walled and weighs in at a mere 2.5 lbs. Unlike many 2-person tents, it doesn’t have a tapered floor and is able to fit 2 extra wide sleeping pads side-by-side with no overlap,  a rarity in this class of tent! It’s cozy for two, but palatial for one!  

If you’re looking for a completely freestanding tent that doesn’t need to be staked out to stand, check out the  Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2.  It’s  unique blend of functionality, livability, weight, and durability earn high praise and Big Agnes’s customer service is outstanding!  

For an incredible ultralight option, check out the single wall  Durston X-Mid Pro  which weighs in at a mere 20 oz (565g). There’s a reason this tent has developed a serious cult following among ultralighters. 

osprey exos backpack

Best backpack for backpacking the Grand Canyon

If you’re just getting into backpacking, there is nothing wrong with using a large-size backpack with a decent suspension system (and good hipbelt) or borrowing one from a friend. Going this route gives you time to decide what features you need and whether or not backpacking (and the gear) is something you want to invest in.  Whatever backpack you use, make sure you have a good fit before by following this  guide to backpack sizing.   When I first started backpacking, I used a 60L travel backpack, our  Khmer Explorer Travel Set  on Canada’s West Coast Trail.   While not designed for hiking, it worked great despite my ridiculous overpacking!  

If you’ve begun dialing in your backpacking kit and moving towards a lightweight set-up, check out either the Osprey Exos or Woman’s Eja.  At under 3 lbs these packs provides a great compromise between barebones ultralight packs and the heavier feature-laden packs.   Their excellent suspension systems prevent the dreaded swampy/sweaty back on hot days. That’s my Exos hiking the Narrows in Zion in the photo above. 

Learn more about the Exos and Eja:

Or view the women’s Eja at REI . 

Or view women’s Eja at Backcountry  

For a similar option that checks in even a little bit lighter in weight, check out the Gregory Focal and Facet (women’s) lineup:

Or view the women’s Facet at REI . 

Or view women’s Facet at Backcountry  

If you’re an extreme gram counter, you might like the  Hyperlite 3400 southwest . It’s 100% waterproof and constructed from ultralight dyneema fabric.  Being ultralight you’ll sacrifice features, so if you hate getting a swampy back (that’s me) you may prefer the Osprey or Gregory despite the weight penalty. Backpacking gear is always a zero sum game! 

C heck the price of the  Hyperlite 3400 southwest :

I used to have terrible sleeps in the backcountry until I switched to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite.  It’s incredibly lightweight, comfortable, and packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. This is probably one of my favorite backpacking items! Get one. You won’t regret it. Sleep well! 

Patagonia Sleeping Bag in a tent

Sleeping bag or quilt

My Patagonia   Sleeping Bag kept me nice and toasty on the North Rim. Plus at only 822 g (29 oz)  it’s lightweight and packs down small!  I found the 30°F / -1°C  to be perfect for most outings – if it gets colder you can always layer up! Like all Patagonia products, it’s not cheap, but they stand behind their gear and the quality matches the price point. If you spend a lot of time in colder environments they also make a 20°F / -7°C version .  These bags are a worthwhile splurge! 

If you’re looking for an even lighter-weight option, consider going for a sleeping bag quilt. Feathered Friends  Flicker UL Quilt Sleeping Bag has won numerous awards and is a stalwart among ultralight backpackers. With a weight starting at  526g ( 1 lb 2.5 oz), I can see why! 

Yes, you can sleep with a pillow not made of bunched up clothes in the backcountry. Check out the Nemo Fillo Elite. It packs down ultra small and provides a new level of comfort after long days on the trail. Once you try one you won’t imagine how you lived without! 

Water purification

Outside of the summer months you’ll need to bring something to purify your drinking water.  I love the Steripen . It’s light, portable and only takes minutes to purify a liter of water using only UV light. Press the button, place the pen in your bottle, and stir for a couple minutes it’s that easy!  

Make sure to bring tablets as a backup though should you run into any technical problems/dead battery with your Steripen.

Trowel & toilet Paper

The rim to rim to rim offers a number of toilet facilities along the way and you should do everything you can to make use of them and avoid the alternative! That said, it’s always a good idea to pack a  trowel  just incase nature urgently calls at an unexpected time. Follow minimum impact camping principles and be sure to go at least (650 ft) 200m away from any established trails, campsites, or water (creeks, lakes, rivers etc.), dig your cathole at least 6 inches deep, and pack tp out. 

Swiss army knife

For fixing gear or cutting food, make sure to bring  swiss army knife .

Stove & fuel canister

Lightweight, convenient, and reliable, the  MSR pocket rocket   has been my go-to backpacking stove for years. 

Lighter and matches

A little baby bic lighter is all you need. I often bring a small pack of matches wrapped in ziplock bag as well for backup or you could bring a small pack of waterproof ones.

Backcountry cookset

I love the GSI Halulite Microdualist II   , two-person cookset. It’s lightweight and I can fit my MSR pocket rocket  and a fuel canister inside.

If you’re looking to buy a minimalist stove and cookset c heck out the  MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit   for an all-inclusive solution. 

Water bottle or reservoir

Nalgene  are always a backcountry favorite. C heck prices at  Backcountry  / REI .  If you’re cutting weight or looking for a way to save a buck, a simple smart water is the go-to for ultralight backpackers.  

Alternatively, a hydration reservoir allows you to stay hydrated continuously without stopping to grab and open a bottle. 

Water storage container

Extra water capacity is important for safety on your hike of the rim to rim to rim. So make sure to bring a MSR DromLite Bag  or Dromedary for additional water storage.  They are also convenient to have around camp for cooking and cleaning up. 

First aid kit

From blisters, to scrapes, and cuts, a first aid kit is an essential item to have.  The pre-built kits from  Adventure Medical Kits  offer varying sizes for party size and trip length.  At the end of your trip write down any items you used and replace them right away so your kit is ready for your next adventure. 

trekking poles in the Grand Canyon

Trekking poles

The huge elevation gains and losses in the Grand Canyon make trekking poles an essential item in your kit!  I resisted getting them for years, but take it from a former skeptic, poles are incredible at reducing the strain of long, grueling descents and providing extra stability on exposed sections.  Leki makes some the best trekking poles on the market, I bought the Leki Micro Vario before doing the R2R2R and just look at how much fun I’m having with them in the photo above. If you’re looking for a premium hiking pole check out the new version, the MCT Vario.  

The Grand Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) and you’re likely to encounter some of the most beautiful night skies you’ve ever seen. You’re also going to see numerous signs asking you to use the red light mode on your headlamp to preserve yours and others night vision. 

The Black Diamond  Spot 350  is the way to go with 6 modes including the night vision saving red light! Red light mode takes a minute to get used to, but once you do it’s a total game changer trust me! Hello stars!!  

GPS, compass and map

The rim to rim to rim trail is extremely well marked and easy to navigate, but make sure to download the GAIA app for maps and gps. Additionally, I always bring a traditional compass and  map  for use in the case of technical problems or dead batteries.

Battery back-up and charging cable

Keep your phone charged for photos and gps. View options at  REI .

Hammock at the North Rim Campground at the Grand Canyon

Luxury items to pack for backpacking the grand canyon

Should you pack a camp chair.

No need to bring a backpacking chair on the corridor trails as picnic tables are provided at every established campsite. Hello luxury!

If you’re heading to a more remote site and this item makes your weight cut, check out the   Helinox Chair Zero.  At just over 1lb and is light enough to justify bringing on slower/easier backpacking trips where weight isn’t as big of consideration.

A hammock can be the ultimate luxury item  or even a replacement to sleeping in a tent. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon is hit and miss with spots to string one up.  Havasupai Gardens has a couple man-made options for hanging a hammock and it’s possible and allowed on the North RIm.  However, you are not allowed to use trees at Bright Angel or any of the other sites below the rim. 

If it’s worth it to get horizontal with some great reading material in the pre-dinner hours or take in an amazing sunset from your own outdoor couch, the   ENO Double Nest  has room for two and at ½ kg  it’s hardly even a splurge in weight to pack.  

P.S. don’t forget the straps are sold separately (view them at  Backcountry  /  REI ).

What to wear in the Grand Canyon

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

Sun hoodie - the best clothing item to pack for the Grand Canyon

When I did this hike a few years ago, I was shocked to see throngs of Arizona Trail thru-hikers wearing hoodies in the 100 degree (40 C) heat. Turns out they were onto something! A sun hoodie has been one of the best items I’ve added to my backpacking kit. They keep you burn free, are surprisingly cool, and let you get away with leaving the bottle of sunscreen at home (or bringing way less). The Sahara Sun Hoodie  from REI is one of the best items I’ve added to my backpacking wardrobe and you can’t beat the price. 

I never thought I’d see the day I embraced the zip-off. But they really are the best of both worlds and can’t be beat for quickly changing Grand Canyon conditions and keeping warm in the evening  during the non-summer months when the temperature drops. Check out the Patagonia Quandary Pant.

They are also available in a  women’s version.  

Should you hike in shorts or pants? Should you wear shorts or leggings in the Grand Canyon?

Regardless of the season you’ll almost certainly get hotter as you descend. During many months of the year, that may mean going from near freezing temperatures to heat stroke temperatures all in the matter of hours. As we descended the South Kaibab Trail, a ranger took one look at my wife’s black leggings and said “You’re going to regret those”. Sure enough, an hour later she was making a trail side outfit change. To avoid this situation, just remember layers are key. If you have convertible hiking pants, wear those. If not, wear a pair of shorts underneath a pair of hiking pants. Layering makes it easy to adjust your temperature depending on the environment and how much you’re exerting yourself.

In addition to hiking pants, it’s nice to have a pair of shorts to change into after a long day on the trail or as a backup option.  Trail running shorts  are light and comfortable. 

Shell jacket

An essential piece for wind, rain, and snow. The Arc’teryx Beta shell is the best all around shell jacket. While you’re unlikely to encounter much rain here this shell performs in all adverse conditions and is the perfect outer layer for the North Rim. Arc’teryx gear is expensive, but impeccably designed. I was skeptical for years, until I purchased a few pieces of their trail running gear and got hooked. If you’re looking for the best reviewed hiking shell out there this is the one. 

For another excellent option that is more economical,  check out the Patagonia Torrentshell  3L. 

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

Puff jacket

I’ve had the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody  for years and it works great on it’s own or underneath a shell for extra warmth. It’s a perfect multi-functional item for everyday, backpacking, and pretty much anything where you might need a bit of warmth. I’m still looking for an activity it doesn’t work for. This item likely won’t be needed in the summer months, but is ideal for cold nights on the North RIm.

Base layer top

In addition to a sun hoodie, I also bring one base layer top to change into after hiking or have as an alternate. The   Capilene Cool trail   t-shirts work great for me on long hikes and trail runs, but pretty much any athletic quick-dry top will work fine. 

Base layer bottom

A merino bottom baselayer  is perfect for warming up at night or during chilly mornings especially during the non-summer months.

I’ve had the best luck with these Patagonia underwear for hiking, trail running, mountain biking and skiing and found them to be more durable than the more expensive ones from lululemon. I usually bring a 2-3 pair depending on trip length. 

They also make  women’s underwear , but I am unable to advise on fit, form, function, or durability on this front. C heck them out for yourself at  Backcountry / Patagonia .

Hiking socks 3 pairs

I typically bring 3 pairs of socks. 1 pair for hiking, 1 pair to change into at camp, and a reserve to throw into the rotation as needed.   Darn Tough Vermont makes the best hiking socks hands down. They’re guaranteed for life/replaced free of charge and they don’t stink. So go ahead and try to get holes in your socks. Really! 

Sun hat & warm hat (seasonal)

A ball cap  or tilley hat keeps your face protected from the sun. Check out these options  at  REI  /  Patagonia / Backcountry . 

 For colder months, bring a  winter hat  or beanie to warm up during chilly mornings or evenings. 

This little item  was super helpful on the rim to rim to rim.  It helped block sun exposure on my head and neck and worked great to cool down with by soaking it at every creek or water stop. 

Don’t forget to pack your favorite pair ! 

I bring a thin  weatherproof pair  if you’re camping on the North Rim. 

Trail runners or hiking boots

Unless you’re hiking in the winter with the potential for snow and cold or you’re carrying the gear for your whole family, I’d choose trail runners for this hike. I’ve had great luck with the La Sportiva Bushido II.

The Altra Lone Peak are also a thru-hiker favorite and award winning trail shoe! 

I do have a larger more traditional hiking boot, the Scarpa Kailash that I occasionally use when I’m carrying more gear/weight or heading somewhere with lots of snow. I actually wore these on this hike as I didn’t have my pack weight nearly as dialed as do now. I prefer trail runners now, but these are still a great boot. 

Crocs are back! Well for backpacking camp shoes they never left… They’re lightweight and ugly as ever. Many backpackers find them to be the perfect camp shoe for resting sore feat after a long day in boots/shoes. 

Personally, I still hate them. I have an old pair of  Tom’s  which I occasionally bring. They are light and less bulky than Crocs. If I’m wearing a trail runner, I’ll often ditch the camp shoe altogether and just loosen my laces. Your call!  

Additional items to pack for backpacking the Grand Canyon

Kahtoola Microspikes  slip effortlessly over your boots and make walking on snow and ice a breeze. If you’re tackling this hike when snow and ice are possible, bring these! 

Low gaiter s can be helpful for keeping rocks, sand, and snow out of your trail runners and saving you from blisters.

Sunscreen & SPF lip balm

Duct tape (repairs and blisters), tooth brush & toothpaste, food for backpacking the grand canyon.

Everyone has different takes and caloric requirements, diets, and preferences so I won’t tell you exactly what to bring. I generally try to avoid/limit the  just-add-water meals  you find at REI . They’re overpriced and often don’t rehydrate as well as you’d like.  I usually head to the grocery store and search for things like lentil rice , ramen, or plant-based mac & cheese . They’re basically just add water/boil quickly meals and way cheaper. Always re-bag/re-pack this type of food, as there is no reason to carry unnecessary packaging on the trail. If you’re looking for convenience consider P atagonia Provisions soups and chilis . I’ve found them to be a better bet than the other just add water options. 

If you're coming from outside the US, don't forget this!

If you’re traveling from outside the US don’t forget to purchase comprehensive travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation. Check out  World Nomads * for a quote.  Hopefully, you never need to make a claim, but if you do you’ll be beyond happy you were prepared! I broke my collarbone traveling a few years ago, which hurt enough! I can’t imagine how much worse it would have hurt if I had to pay the $15,000 in medical bills out-of-pocket… 

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

Final thoughts on backpacking the Grand Canyon

  • Terrific first backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon that provides a great introduction to the nuances of backpacking here, not to mention the incredible scenery. 
  • First and last sections felt busy with day hikers from the South Rim.
  • The heat was unbearable at times and felt like the biggest obstacle to overcome, much more so than elevation gain. 
  • Would avoid staying at Bright Angel Campground if possible due to congestion. 
  • Would take the earliest possible Hikers Express on day 1. South Kaibab trail is much more enjoyable this way. 
  • Would love to camp at the North Rim again while it’s closed to vehicle traffic. 

Your Thoughts on backpacking the Grand Canyon

Have you backpacked the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim? I’d love to hear from you. Questions about backpacking the rim to rim to rim? Drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help! 

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I Hiked the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and Couldn't Walk for Days

And my toenail was black for months.

Headshot of Melissa Matthews

That’s how I found myself in Arizona at the end of August–a period of time when no sane person willingly enters the state as temperatures soar above 114 degrees. Naturally, that’s when REI Adventures had openings on their Grand Canyon backpacking trip.

There was a heat wave when I arrived in Phoenix. My mother, who’s lived in the area for more than 30 years said only two words when I told her my plan, “You’re crazy.”

After driving from Scottsdale and camping overnight near the North Kaibab trail, we set out after 3 a.m. to limit our sun exposure during the 14-mile trip to Phantom Ranch , a lodge at the bottom of the Canyon. I grew up hiking nearly every weekend in Phoenix. I’d climbed the highest peak in the state several years earlier. I faithfully went to the gym four days a week and ran a 10K just days before my trip. All that is to say I thought I was prepared.

“I’ve got this,” I thought to myself.

And I did—for the first half. I kept pace with Lisa, an enthusiastic hiker who treated our journey as nothing more than a little nature walk. She regularly completes 15-hour hikes back home in California with her friend, Donna, who was also in our tour group.

But my swagger—and quick pace—didn’t last long. Turns out, I did not have this.

I’d love to proclaim that breathing in the desert air gave me a fresh perspective on life. I’d like to boast about the pure joy that swelled in my heart after looking up at the towering mountains surrounding me.

grand canyon rim-to-rim

In reality, the sprawling canyon, which I admired at dawn, became a vacuous prison by 10 a.m. The phrase, “Are we there yet?” played on repeat as I willed myself not to complain.

Walking downhill seems easy, but it's not—all that pressure strains your feet and ankles.

My pace slowed. My ego deflated. I wondered whether crawling went against hiking etiquette.

Twenty-five thousand steps later, we made it to Phantom Ranch . That wasn't enough of a workout for Lisa.

"I don't consider it a real hike unless I walk at least 30,000 steps," she said.

Dallan, our guide, suggested we stroll to the Colorado River, to boost our step count. He promised it would only take 10 minutes.

"We're gonna do what?," I thought, but hobbled behind the group. Once there, I laid on the blazing hot shore, which felt indulgent compared to hiking. Donna scored her steps on the walk back to the lodge.

The next morning, my ankles throbbed. In the bathroom, I fell on the toilet while trying to stand. Panic set in.

“I could live at Phantom Ranch and work away my housing debt, since I’ll be stuck here forever,” I mused. “Or maybe I’ll be one of those hikers who are helicoptered out of the mountain.”

The embarrassment of either scenario forced me to lace up my hiking boots and finish with the tour group.

Mountainous landforms, Formation, Hiking equipment, Rock, Wilderness, Canyon, Wadi, Escarpment, Adventure, Badlands,

I was semi-invigorated by the uphill battle. Climbing up mountains has always been my favorite part of hiking. I thrive on heart-pounding, gasping-for-breath cardio. The fire in my legs from conquering a stone staircase is more satisfying than any Stairmaster-induced burn. I stumbled along the 10-mile trail in a love-hate haze.

To distract myself from the pain—and sweat seeping into every bodily crevice—I thought up new ways to treat myself once I escaped the desert. I pondered the first thing I’d drink: Diet Coke. I dreamed of gas station gummies. I imagined eating a giant slice of frosted cake with my Coke. It sounded like heaven.

After hours of climbing, I saw a peculiar sight: denim-clad hikers holding Starbucks cups.

“What’s happening?” I asked Dallan. “Why are people strolling through like this is the scenic route to the Starbucks parking lot?”

He explained that most visitors walk into the Grand Canyon for a few minutes, snap some pics, and leave. This meant we were getting close to the park entrance.

Elation spurred me forward every time I passed people sipping iced coffee. And then I heard something downright magical.

“Can you hear me now?” someone said into their phone at the start of the trail.

It took two days of recovering at The Phoenician before I could walk again. I flung off my hiking boots the moment I entered my room. In the shower, I scrubbed away all traces of the desert. My first night back in civilization was celebrated with a hot bath, room service, which included cake and Diet Coke, and laying down. I'd never been so thankful for crisp, white sheets and a soft hotel bed.

The next day, I went to the resort's spa for a massage and facial. When the massage therapist asked if I had any troublesome spots, I mentioned my ankles.

“Well…there really aren’t any muscles there,” he responded.

To his credit, the therapist paid particular attention to my tired legs and feet, and maybe it’s the power of the placebo effect, but I felt better. The rest of my time was dedicated to recovering at the pool, eating at one of my favorite hometown restaurants, FnB , and ensuring every meal included dessert.

the phoenician resort

Back in New York, I often think of this trip when motivation wanes. In my first post-Arizona workout class, the group fitness instructor told me her friend cried while hiking the Grand Canyon. That same hiker conquered Kilimanjaro without shedding a tear.

“I’m a survivor,” I mused. The thought carried me through a very tough 45-minute workout.

Last month in CrossFit, I dreamed of laying on the ground during a WOD consisting of burpees and box jumps.

I felt the force on my toe as I hauled myself off the ground and thought, “If you hiked the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer, then you can jump on a box in an air conditioned gym.”

Although I rely on this memory whenever my physical abilities are tested, it's time to find another form of motivation. 2020 brings a new challenge to tackle and a budding pink nail to bruise.

Gear to Hike the Grand Canyon

Patagonia Men's Long-Sleeved Sol Patrol® II Shirt

patagonia Patagonia Men's Long-Sleeved Sol Patrol® II Shirt

Protect yourself from the shade with this shirt that includes SPF. 

Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Logo T-Shirt

Smartwool Merino Sport 150 Logo T-Shirt

This cool, lightweight shirt makes the desert heat bearable.  

Patagonia Men's Quandary Shorts - 8"

Patagonia Men's Quandary Shorts - 8"

Move with ease in these stretchy shorts.  

Smartwool Men's Hiking Medium Crew Sock

Smartwool Men's Hiking Medium Crew Sock

You'll need a good pair of socks to keep your feet comfortable. 

Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Men's Travel Backpack

\ Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Men's Travel Backpack

Keep everything easily organized in this Osprey backpack. 

Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir, 3 Liter

Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir, 3 Liter

Nearly everyone you meet on the trail will have this pack.  

Vasque Mens Breeze LT Low GTX Gore-tex Waterproof Breathable Hiking Boot

Vasque Mens Breeze LT Low GTX Gore-tex Waterproof Breathable Hiking Boot

These lightweight boots are perfect for hiking in the desert. 

Ray-Ban RB4105 Wayfarer Folding Sunglasses

Ray-Ban RB4105 Wayfarer Folding Sunglasses

Headshot of Melissa Matthews

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Grand Canyon in the Winter — the Secret to Fewer Crowds

Visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the winter is a perfect way to beat the crowds and still have great weather for hiking. It is located in Arizona and the closest major cities are Las Vegas and Phoenix. We’ll give you what to expect when visiting the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in the winter as well as things to do. The Grand Canyon’s landscape is massive and colorful with breathtaking views that prove why it’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park averages 6 million visitors a year but it’s difficult to imagine how a place so vast can feel so crowded most of the time. Visiting in the winter brings fewer crowds at all the popular sights, less competition for Phantom Ranch reservations and backpacking permits, as well as stunning views of the Canyon with the upper cliffs dusted with snow.

Disclosure: when you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we would use ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. Read more about our privacy policy.

There are so many ways to experience the Grand Canyon. We’ll give you ideas whether you only have one day, are traveling with kids, or are an avid hiker looking to complete a bucket list Grand Canyon hike, there’s something for everyone.

Rim Trail near Mather Point Grand Canyon in the winter

Mather Point and Grand Canyon Village

Table of Contents

This is the historic heart of the Grand Canyon and where many of the famous lodges and businesses are located and is a great starting point for exploring the park. There is a large parking area and then a short walk to the rim to begin the paved Rim Trail. You’ll find the best viewpoints as well as the most crowds at Mather Point and Yavapai Point. These are must-see stops and are very accessible if traveling with kids.

Desert View Drive

This scenic route 64 travels between Grand Canyon Village and the East Entrance running alongside the Rim for about 25 miles. It connects some of the most breathtaking viewpoints and stops in the park and is open year-round. Great stops along the way are Desert View, Navajo Point, Lipan Point, Moran Point, Grandview Point, and Duck on a Rock. These can be easy quick stops if you have limited time. One of the best stops is the Desert View Watchtower designed by the architect and pioneer of her time, Mary Colter. The watchtower was modeled after the architecture of the Ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau.

Grand Canyon in the winter Desert view watchtower

One route option is to come in the South Entrance and see Mather Point and the rim trail and then take Desert View Drive and exit through the East Entrance. This allows you to see a lot of the Grand Canyon in one day.

See a Sunrise or Sunset

To get to see the grand canyon come to life and fill with color at sunrise is an experience not to miss. At sunset, the vivid colors, shadows, and light can change within minutes. There also are fewer people trying to view the canyon during these times so you can often catch it in a quieter moment. The best spots to view the sunrise or sunset in the South Rim are Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, or Hopi Point. Check here for more tips on locations and timing.

Sunrise Grand Canyon rim in the winter

Grand Canyon South Rim Mule Trips

If you can plan in advance, Mule trips into the Grand Canyon are a great option if visiting in the winter. This is great for kids who may not be able to hike that far into the canyon, but consider that they must be at least 9 years old. This is very popular and tickets are available by reservation 15 months in advance. There is a day-before cancelation list and you can call (928) 638-2631 for more information.

Fun fact: mules actually train for three years before visitors can ride on them.

Planning Tip

If you can’t score a park service mule ride check out Apache Stables right outside the South Entrance to the park in Tusayan. They offer National Forest Trail Rides that are one and two-hour rides on horses or mules through the pines of the Kaibab National Forest as well as a twilight campfire and wagon rides.

Helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon

A helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is a great way to see both the north and south rims during the winter when the north rim is closed. You can see aerial views of the Painted Desert and Desert View Watchtower as well as see the Kaibab National Forest, which is home to the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest as you approach the edge of the canyon. 

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway

For those eager to skip the lines at the South Entrance gate, the Grand Canyon Railway is a fantastic option. The train leaves from the historic Williams Depot, just steps from Route 66, and is a restored streamliner-era train that goes to Grand Canyon Village where you’ll disembark in front of the historic El Tovar Hotel. The journey by train takes just over two hours and along the way they recreate the Old West with music, sing-a-longs, history, and stories as you travel back in time. You get four hours for sightseeing in the park before you return back on the train. There are shuttle buses inside the park that allow you to get between the sights.

Find tickets to the Grand Canyon Railway here.

Grand Canyon Railway in the Winter

When hiking in the Grand Canyon, mules have right of way along the trails, so if you come across one, step off the trail and follow the directions of the mule wrangler. Best title ever!

Hiking in the Grand Canyon

Hiking in this park can be classified as either easy if you stay along the rim or strenuous if you hike into the canyon and there’s very little in between. Many of the strenuous hikes into the canyon allow you to turn whenever you’d like so don’t let the high mileage scare you. Although every year, many unprepared hikers, are deceived by the easy initial downhill descent, they don’t account for the uphill climb and the extra time that is required to return. Weather and trail conditions can also change greatly based on the elevation and time of day. 

(Easy walk, 14 miles, paved and no elevation change) This trail provides great views of the canyon and you can walk as far as you want and then take the shuttle back or turn around.

Rim Trail Grand Canyon in the Winter

Trail of Time

(Easy walk, 2.83 miles, paved, and no elevation change) It is very difficult to capture the enormity of the canyon and how it was formed. This trail is designed to be an interactive geologic timeline. Each meter walked on the trail signifies one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. There are a series of rock formations along the way showing the various stages in the timeline. The start of the Trail of Time is at Yavapai Geology Museum, a half-hour walk from Mather Point and the Canyon View Visitor Center. The trail continues to Grand Canyon Village and beyond. You can stop in the Village or keep walking out towards Hermits Rest.

Grand Canyon in the Winter Trail of Time

The hikes below are all rated ‘hard’ due to significant elevation gain on the way back, but for all of them, you can do any portion and then turn around if you still want to get some views of the canyon. These hikes do require planning ahead and bringing the necessary water and gear. They definitely are strenuous, but bucket-list hikes that get you into the grand canyon.

Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim

(Hard, 15.3 miles, elevation gain 4,478 ft) Bright Angel is the most popular trail in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a good reason as it provides iconic views of the canyon and the Colorado River. The route starts right in Grand Canyon Village, it is an out-and-back, so you can turn around whenever you want. It is a fault line trail that is primarily north-facing so expect packed snow and ice for the initial three miles in the winter. Also, water is typically shut-off at the 1.5 miles, and 3-mile rest houses in the winter (bathrooms still open). Water is available all other times of the year.

Tip: This trail can also be made into a thru-hike by going down Bright Angel and back up the South Kaibab trail. Another option is combining it with the North Kaibab Trail which will take you to the North Rim. This is not advised in the winter.

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon

The Hermit Trail

(Hard, 17.5 miles, elevation gain 5,059 ft, out and back) This trail can have less snow and ice than other trails on the South Rim, but allow extra time as this trail is more difficult than the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. It can be very steep and rocky but trail conditions have to be right in the winter.

Most of the Hermit Trail was originally created with large hand-fitted rock slabs that made a smooth surface. Ongoing erosion has claimed much of this paving, but a few isolated fragments survive, especially in the Coconino Sandstone. There are springs as well as Hermit Creek that provide a water source along the way. All water must be purified before drinking. From December 1st through the end of February, the Hermit Road is open to vehicles. The park shuttle buses do not operate along Hermit Road during this time.

South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch

(Hard, 14.3 miles, elevation gain 4,872 ft) This is a ridgeline trail that receives considerable daytime warming. The initial 1/4 mile, known as the Chimney, is north-facing and holds ice all winter long. Below the Chimney, ice is intermittent. There is no water on this trail so come prepared. Consider starting this hike early and making it to Ooh Ahh Point to watch the sunrise. There are breathtaking views and it’s a well-maintained trail overall, but necessary to be in shape to make the return trip all uphill.

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Hike

The rim-to-rim hike is very popular and has become a bucket list adventure for many hikers around the world who come to experience this challenging hike. The Rim to Rim can be done in many different ways: as a one-day hike, as a multi-day backpacking trip, or as an overnight trip with lodging at Phantom Ranch. But during the winter the North Rim closes around Oct 15 (or after the first significant snowfall) until May 15 so the only option becomes doing a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, meaning hikers must turn around upon reaching the North Rim. This is a very strenuous hike that takes extensive planning and winter survival knowledge.  If you want to hike into the canyon The Phantom Ranch is the only accommodation option on the canyon floor. It is available only by lottery submission and with only 90 beds in cabins, competition can be very difficult. The Phantom Ranch is only accessible by rafting, hiking, or mule and not by vehicle.

Alert The National Park Service advised they will be doing planned infrastructure updates and pausing lottery entries/bookings for Phantom Ranch overnight mule rides. The lottery is currently paused for stays through March 31, 2024 and will resume beginning February 1, 2023 for stays arriving April 01, 2024 onward. Portions of the Bright Angel Trail are anticipated to be closed at different times throughout 2023. Monitor updates here.

Grand Canyon Trails not Recommended in Winter

Some trails are more difficult than others to navigate in the Grand Canyon in the winter so below are ones to take extra precautions, know current trail conditions, and pack the necessary gear. The rangers at the visitor’s centers can help answer any questions.

Grandview Trail is north-facing and at a higher elevation and thus receives considerable snow at the trailhead. There are many narrow sections of trail, exposure, and ice.

The New Hance Trail and the South Bass Trail are the least used South Rim trails in the winter and often have routing issues. Tanner Trail has a long north-facing section and the upper two miles tend to remain snow-covered throughout the winter.

Kaibab Plateau (North Rim) This is one of the most isolated locations in the lower 48 states in the US. It’s possible to cover the entire 45 miles between Jacob Lake and the North Rim and not see anyone else. The equipment and gear necessary for a North Rim winter trip are heavy and this hike is not advised unless very experienced with outdoor winter survival.

Grand Canyon White Water Rafting in the Winter

White water rafting on the Colorado River offers a different way to experience the Grand Canyon and doing so in the winter offers such a unique adventure experience. The official rafting season is typically April through October, and it can be very competitive to get a permit or find a guided trip. One way to increase the likelihood of rafting the Grand Canyon is to apply for dates that are less popular — specifically, in the winter. This option is only best for the adventure-seeking, experienced rafter. Learn more about this bucket list adventure experience.

Non-commercial self-guided river trips: there are only about 250 permits issued annually to experienced rafters who would like a self-guided rafting experience. The lottery opens yearly on February 1 and all the details to apply can be found here. Doing this trip in the winter takes more planning and gear, but can be such a unique experience. During this time commercial trips and motorized vessels are not permitted ensuring a quieter experience with far fewer people on the river. Overnight temperatures often drop below freezing and snow is not uncommon.

Others looking to stick to commercially guided rafting trips are typically offered April-October and book up quickly, but are not offered in the winter. You can find options for guided rafting trips here .

Grand Canyon IMAX Movie

If you have bad weather a day or are looking for a way to learn more about the Grand Canyon this IMAX movie is in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in Tusayan 7 miles from the South Entrance. Find tickets here.

Tips for Planning your trip to the Grand Canyon during the Winter 

For the most recent information on entrance fees, park passes and park alerts check the main park page here.

GyPSy Audio Guide is a great audio tour that teaches you about the park as you drive and shares what stops not to miss. The best part is the audio begins from Williams, Flagstaff, or Cameron so if you’re staying in these areas you’ll get to learn about the park on your drive-in. Download the app before you begin and it will tell you about what you’re seeing and so much more as you enter the park. Kids love it!

Check out our best tips for road-tripping with kids or the Ultimate National Parks Trip with Kids .

When to visit the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon in December can be quiet, with surprisingly great hiking conditions and fewer crowds. The last week of December between Christmas and New Year’s Day can bring greater crowds, but then January and February are some of the lowest visitor levels of any time throughout the year. 

Grand Canyon Weather in the Winter

Overall, the climate in the Grand Canyon National Park is relatively mild. However, low humidity generally allows large temperature differences between day and night as well as at different elevations within the canyon. Weather can change quickly at the Grand Canyon, and so does visibility, so check conditions before you go. Having a flexible schedule with multiple days can help ensure you’ll see great views. Below are the average temperatures at the rim of the Grand Canyon in the winter months. Locations inside the canyon, like Phantom Ranch and adjacent Bright Angel Campground, offer milder temperatures in the winter.

Winter temperatures in the Grand Canyon

Weather in December: high 45°F low 18°F. Averages 6.8” snow. Weather in January: high 44°F low 18°F. Averages 11.4” snow. Weather in February: high 46°F low 20°F. Averages 9.3” snow. Weather in March: high 53°F low 24°F. Averages 9.3” snow.

What to know before visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter

Currently, Grand Canyon National Park does not require reservations to enter the park, nor does it have timed entry.

The South Entrance Station, near the town of Tusayan, experiences long lines and up to two-hour wait time between 10 am – 5 pm so get in early to save time. You can view the park entrance webcams to get an idea of what the wait time might be.

The South Rim of the park is open year-round. There is the possibility of a winter storm that could close roads and/or make the trails icy but this is rare. Make sure to call the weather line below before arriving.

Weather changes quickly at Grand Canyon, and so does visibility. You can call the park weather line to check park road conditions and closures at 928-638-7496, or check the park page on Twitter . They give helpful updates on visibility and crowd levels.

Is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon Open in the Winter?

The North Rim typically closes to all vehicle traffic for the winter around October 15 (or after the first significant snowfall) and doesn’t open until around May 15th, but this can vary depending on weather and road conditions. State Route 67 and all services on the North Rim close during this time. The only way to see the North Rim in the winter is by hiking from the South Rim or a helicopter tour. When it’s open, it is about a four-hour drive from the South Rim to North Rim.

Shuttles and Bikes in Grand Canyon

The free bus shuttle service runs every 15-30 minutes year-round and routes can be found here.

Bus stops are clearly marked throughout the park and no tickets are required.

Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles during the peak summer season from March to September and during this time you can take the free shuttle service.

If you’ll be visiting between March – October check out Bright Angel Bicycles to rent regular or eBikes. They are located at the Visitor Center near Mather Point and offer tours as well.

Where to Stay for seeing the Grand Canyon in the Winter

It is most convenient if you can stay in the park. There are many historic lodges in the park that make it easy. Hotel and lodging options in the park and nearby.

When looking for options outside the park the closest town to the South Rim Entrance is Tusayan (only 2 miles from the South Entrance) but is quite a small town with very basic accommodations. 

Williams, AZ (1 hour, starting point for the Grand Canyon Railroad) has quite a few more accommodation options.

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel If you’re taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, AZ consider staying at this hotel nearby before and after your trip to the park.

Flagstaff, AZ (1.5hr to South Rim Entrance) This a great central location if you hope to do other parks and attractions in the area. We stayed here and also did Petrified Forest National Park, Sedona and so much more. 

Find Flagstaff Hotels or Vacation Rentals in Flagstaff We stayed in this home and really enjoyed it.

If you’re coming from Page, AZ the drive is 2 hours 20min, and near Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon for other attractions nearby. Check out our guide for Hiking Antelope Canyon and Things to do in Page .

The Phantom Ranch is the only accommodation option on the canyon floor. It is available only by lottery submission and with only 90 beds in cabins, competition can be very difficult. The Phantom Ranch is only accessible by rafting, hiking, or mule and not by vehicle.

Check out Turo to save on a car rental, but make sure to read our Things To Know Before Booking with Turo .

Camping in the Grand Canyon

Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village

During the winter months, December 1-February 28, camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis. From March 1- November 30 reservations are required and you can book up to six months in advance on recreation.gov.

If you want to hike into the Canyon and can’t get a reservation at Phantom Ranch there are other camping options.

The Indian Garden Campground is halfway down the Bright Angel Trail (3,000 feet below the South Rim) and is open year-round. 

The Bright Angel Campground is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, located about half a mile from the Colorado River, it provides a camping experience unlike any other in the park. Camping here requires a 5,000-foot descent into the canyon via the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails. Camping below the rim in the Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit, which you can get up to four months in advance of your trip, but it is extremely competitive. If you’d like to lighten your load, you can pay to have mules carry your gear in and out of the canyon. Contact the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim to make arrangements.

Trailer Village RV Campground is also open all winter and offers full hookups.

What to pack

It depends on what you plan to do in the park, but we’ll give you some of our top gear for hiking in the Grand Canyon in the winter. If you plan to only stay on the rim trail this requires less gear. If you plan to hike into the canyon you will want the right gear and clothing to stay safe. We find REI clothing and gear to be of great quality with a good return policy so we recommend their quality. We also provide some lower-cost Amazon options.

Hiking Gear

Crampons, microspikes, or traction cleats are needed for hiking into the grand canyon during the winter. R EI Kahtoola MICROspikes | Outdoor 360 Non-slip Crampon from Amazon

Trekking poles REI trekking pole options | Amazon Winter Trekking Poles

Headlamps are great to have for early morning starts or sunsetting early. When considering REI headlamps we like the Petzl brand. Amazon GearLight comes in a two-pack and fits both kids and adults and is of good quality.

Layered clothing can easily be added or removed to adapt to a variety of weather conditions. Women’s base layers from REI | Men’s base layers from REI | Kid’s base layers from REI

Down jackets are an important item when hiking in the winter. Down men’s jackets | Down women’s jackets | Down kid’s jackets

Hand, foot and body warmers are great for changing temps in the canyon. Warmers from Amazon

Our favorite winter mittens that are extra warm and stay dry are the Gordini brand. We recommend winter hats with fleece lining and fleece neck gators as well. REI | Amazon

Binoculars can be nice to have along to spot animals within the canyon. REI

When hiking it’s a good idea to carry a lightweight, small first aid kit.

Native Land Acknowledgement 

Many Native American reservations are in and around Grand Canyon National Park and Northern Arizona. There are 11 traditionally associated tribes – Yavapai-Apache, Havasupai,  Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Zuni, San Juan Southern Paiute, Paiute Indian, Moapa Paiute, Las Vegas Paiute, and Kaibab Paiute. The native American culture and way of life have made an indelible impression on this region. Designers like Mary E.J. Colter, who is responsible for many of the structures built on the South Rim, drew upon the inspiration of the surrounding native cultures.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in photos, this natural wonder is so impressive in person. Visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter is such a great way to beat the crowds and still see so much of the south rim of the park. Whether you experience the views from the rim or you plan a bucket list hiking adventure into the canyon it’s sure to be a trip you won’t forget.

rei grand canyon phantom ranch

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A visit to the Grand Canyon in winter would be wonderful

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice but never in the winter. Your pictures show a whole different perspective during the winter. I’d love to go back!

So much more to do and see than I ever imagined. I didn’t know there was a rail as an example. I went to the Grand Canyon about a decade ago, before I really had any appreciation for the outdoors. I feel like it was a waster trip! I need to go back!

Winter would be a great time to visit the Grand Canyon! The train sounds wonderful- thanks for the detailed tips!

I would love to visit this part of the states! The views of the canyon are incredible and definitely worthy of being a bucket list destination.

I remember the crowds when I visited the Grand Canyon. And the heat. I think visiting in the colder months would make the hiking and walking more enjoyable.

I love winter hiking trips and I love a good sunrise/sunset in the winter! Thanks for this, saving for my upcoming trip to the grand canyon!

Visiting the Grand Canyon is on my bucket list & you’ve shared some really useful information in this post. I love the idea of missing the crowds & visiting in winter. Some beautiful pics as well! Thanks so much for this!

It’s been several years since I’ve visited the Grand Canyon. So beautiful and the view never gets old. Visiting in the winter is a great idea!

Definitely one of the most gorgeous spots in the world!! Visiting in winter can be COLD but totally worth it for the low crowds.

Are you kidding me with these views!!!! Next trip to Arizona I have to get here – I bet these views are so impressive in person. Great list of how to view it during the winter!

I really need to visit more of the Grand Canyon! I love the outdoors and hiking, and this just looks incredible. Thanks so much for all this useful information

I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, but would definitely be interested in visiting at Winter to avoid the crowds. Plus, as a Canadian this will be a great escape from our colder and snowy weather. Love the tips you shared for planning.

I was so little when we visited GC that I don’t even remember! I would love to take a trip there with the kids now, and maybe even look into a mule ride! How cool!

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Grand Canyon in the Winter


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