R2R2R – North Rim to South Rim – Grand Canyon

Rt Length: 29.15 miles

Elevation Gain: 7482’

Time:  10 hours

This hike has been on my bucket list since I’ve had a bucket list.  About 18 months ago I made a reservation to stay at the North Rim, and figured I’d do this hike for my 40th birthday.  Well, COVID happened and my reservations were cancelled and they stopped the shuttle service between rims.  I was bummed, and for a while wasn’t sure what I should do.  Then I got a topper on my truck and everything changed:  I can now sleep wherever I want, so I didn’t need those North Rim reservations anymore.  All I needed was a willing shuttle driver. 

At the last minute I was able to get Eric to be my shuttle river, and we were off.  After a full day of driving and a side trip to Horseshoe Bend, we made it to the North Kaibab Trailhead.  We did a little exploring, ate dinner (Subway) and met some of the other hikers in the lot.  In my opinion, the views from the North Rim aren’t as good as the views from the South Rim. 

Here’s what the trailhead looks like.  There’s a lot of signage and free water. All of the water spigots were turned on, so water wasn’t a problem on this trail.  However, since this is the Grand Canyon I brought extra water anyway. 

The trail starts at the south end of the parking area.  I took a picture of it before I went to bed because I knew I’d be starting this hike in the dark

I made it an early night and was on the trail by 1am. I’d initially wanted to wear a hat that said “Happy Birthday” on it, but it was way too cold for that:  25 degrees at the North Kaibab Trailhead at 1am.  I put on my jacket and gloves and was off.  This trail is extremely easy to follow, even in the dark. Here are a few pictures from along the trail in the dark.

Initially I hiked down into the canyon, and once there crossed from side to side on several bridges.  There was water flowing under the bridges, and I saw quite a few bats.

It started to get light around 6am.  Much of the trail looked like this once down in the canyon

Finally, I saw a sign indicating I was close to Phantom Ranch

I made it to Phantom Ranch around 6:30am, after hiking for 5.5 hours and 16.5 miles.  There were dozens of neat little cabins set up, and deer in the area who couldn’t read the ‘no trespassing’ signs. 

I was a bit tired, but I didn’t want to sit down.  I hadn’t had a drink of water all day, but figured now was a good time to start.  I made my way around the cook house and found the water spigot.  I drank half my water bottle and filled it back up again.

While I was there the camp cook opened the door (wearing a mask of course) and asked if I was hiking thru.  He then offered me a small carton of orange juice, which I gulped down. He also offered me an orange, but I declined.  He was a very nice man.  I also heard someone comment on how good the breakfast had been.  I may just try to schedule a trip down here one day (maybe with a Rim to Rim to Rim?).  Here I took off my outer jacket and put on mu “Birthday Girl’ ribbon.

I passed through Phantom Ranch and saw the mules ready for their day.  They looked very well groomed and well fed.  There was also place to ‘vote’ on your favorite Grand Canyon experience.  I thought that was kind of cool. 

I continued hiking past the tent campsites.  Only 2 were taken, and I’m sure that was due to COVID as well. 

Here I saw a doe and baby deer.  They were directly on the trail and let me pass withing 2 feet of them. 

I’d been told via facebook groups the bridge to Bright Angel Trail was out, and to take the bridge to the South Kaibab Trail instead.  Indeed, signs at the trailhead corroborated this information, so I took the further bridge across the river. 

This ended up adding a few miles to my trip, but since this was a long hike in the first place I didn’t really mind.  I crossed the bridge, went through a tunnel, and then followed the River Trail to the Bright Angel Trail. I was glad I was doing this in daylight so I could enjoy the view of the river.

As I hiked, I saw the Mule Train start their day from across the river

And as I passed the Bright Angel trail, I was surprised to see the bridge was open!  I’d made that detour for nothing!  Oh well, at least I got in some extra miles.

From here it was all up, starting gradually

The trail had several small stream crossings

The trail was still very easy to follow.  Here’s a look back

While the trail was easy to follow, it also didn’t feel like I was gaining any elevation.  The rim always looked the same distance away

Water on the trail

One good thing about starting so early and hiking in the morning were the shadows. This kept me from getting too hot.  I’d definitely recommend starting either late at night or super early in the morning (before 2am)

Indian Garden was kind of neat.  I filled up my water bottle here, and found someone’s cell phone (and was able to return it to them). 

From here there was a sign stating it was 4.5 miles to the South Rim.  With this news I was ecstatic, and after filling up my water bottle I took off towards the rim. The trail is easy to follow, but difficult to see from below.  The trail actually goes to where the arrow is pointing (eventually, after many, many switchbacks).

I passed a mule train, and one of the riders asked me why I was smiling.  I told him it was because I was almost done with the hike (little did I know the rest of the hike would still take a few hours). They all wished me a Happy Birthday!

I continued along the trail for what seemed like miles

Imagine my surprise when I made it to the 3 mile rest area.  I thought for sure I’d already hiked 3 miles past Indian Garden, but apparently, I’d only hiked 1.5 miles.

That rim just wasn’t getting any closer!  The sun was starting to heat the trail up

I had a beautiful view of my path to this point however

Around the 2 mile point I saw a park ranger talking to everyone on their way down.  He was trying to get them to understand hiking back up was going to be more difficult than their hike down.  The people he was talking to had a hard time believing if it took them 3 hours to get to Indian Garden it would take them 6 to get back to the South Rim.  I had no trouble believing him.  The 1.5 mile rest area seemed to take forever to reach as well.  In fact, the last 5 miles were one long trudge uphill

I started seeing more and more people, especially near the rim.  I was hot, tired, and sticky, and the people hiking down were still fresh.  I was huffing at this point.  They looked at me like I was insane, but I just kept trudging on.

I made it to this sign and saw Eric

He’d seen me from above and decided to join me on the last little bit of the hike.  He was encouraging and seemed excited to see me.  I made it to the Bright Angel trailhead at 11am, took off my pack, and took some pictures.  It was close to 100 degrees (a 75 degree difference from my start at the North Rim).

I hiked from the North Rim to the South Rim in 10 hours.  Bucket list item checked off.  Happy 40th Birthday to me!   Check out the topo!

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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