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Grand Canyon Hike | Once in a lifetime experience

I've taken a lot of beautiful hikes in my life, but there is one that really stands out above all others: the Rim-to-river hike in the Grand Canyon (America† Are you adventurous and do you like hiking in the mountains? Then this hike should really be on you bucketlist.† In this blog I share my experience about this impressive hike in the Grand Canyon.

General info Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the world's largest and longest canyons, located in the US state of Arizona. The Canyon is approximately 435 kilometers long and varies in width between 15 and 29 kilometers. These distances mean that the Grand Canyon can even be seen from space. Oh yes, don't forget the average depth of 1600 meters, this makes the Grand Canyon a challenging but cool place to hike.

The canyon was created by the water of the Colorado River that flows through the canyon and provides erosion† This process of wear and tear has made the Grand Canyon what it is today over millions of years. Researchers are not quite in agreement on how old the Grand Canyon really is, measuring between 6 million and 70 million years. Either way, it's one of America's top draws and we understand that!

Also read: East Coast vs. West Coast | United States

View of the Grand Canyon from the Rim Trail
View of the Grand Canyon from the Rim Trail

Grand Canyon trails

There are various trails on and in the Grand Canyon, with something suitable for everyone's level. To give you an idea of ​​this, I will explain three well-known trails.

rim trail

Perhaps the most famous, the Rim Trail is a 19-mile (mainly) paved trail that traverses the south rim of the Grand Canyon. From the Rim trail you have spectacular views over the Canyon. Because there is a dry and desert-like climate here, you can look out for miles.

The fact that this path is 19 kilometers long does not mean that you have to walk. There are plenty of people who just get off the shuttle or tour bus here to shoot some pictures. However, most visitors enjoy a short walk. A common route for this is to take a shuttle bus to Hermit's Rest and walk back to Grand Canyon Village from there. This part of the trail is very busy by the way! The further you walk, the quieter the path becomes. 

The Rim trail in December
The Rim trail in December

South kaibab trail

The South Kaibab trail is a popular trail that starts at Yaki Point. It is a walk of about 10 kilometers where you have beautiful views of the Grand Canyon the entire time. You also follow this trail when you walk all the way to the bottom of the river (the Rim-to-river trail). For the average hiker, this 1-day hike is a very nice way to get acquainted with the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon | Fantastic view during the South Kaibab trail
Fantastic view during the South Kaibab trail

Rim to River Trail

The hike we did is the Rim-to-river trail. This route runs in a circle and is 27 kilometers long with a height difference of 1,5 kilometers. Don't do this hike in one day, but just take 2 (or in our case 3) days to enjoy this hike. On the way there are, as far as I know, two campsites where you can pitch your tent at night.

De Rim to river plan hike

Before we went to the Grand Canyon we had no idea what was possible in terms of walks. While I now enjoy nothing more than reading up on destinations, I didn't do that at all back in 2015. All activities were just spontaneously conceived on location, and so it was with the Rim-to-river trail.

After a day of walking on the Rim trail, we visited the Visitors Center where we were informed about the hiking options IN the Grand Canyon. Soon we made the choice to go 'all the way' by walking all the way down to the Colorado river.

It's a good thing we paid a visit to the Visitor Center, otherwise we would never have come on this hike. You also need to buy a permit to use the camping spots in the Grand Canyon. And of course the road map that we receive also came in handy.

Grand canyon | View during the Rim-to-river trail
View during the Rim-to-river trail

Rim-to-river trail: our experiences

The next morning we got up at 05.30:XNUMX am so that we could catch the first shuttle bus to South Kaibab trailhead. There were only a handful of people who started this trail so early.

Note: we were at the Grand Canyon in December. Unlike many others, we have not experienced the heat that occurs during the summer months. We experienced the other extreme: a layer of snow on top of the Rim! It was very cold in the mornings, but secretly that was very nice. I wouldn't want to do this tough hike in warm temperatures.

Grand Canyon: steep and impressive

The first part of the walk is very steep and intensive. Since you are descending, you have to constantly keep your eyes on the ground so you don't miss a step. But oh my god, the views here are already spectacular! After 2,9 kilometers you reach the 'Ooh Ahh' viewpoint, which is a nice place for a break. If you look further down, you can sometimes see the path meandering hundreds of meters in front of you. Phew it's a really long way down, but every meter is worth it.  

View during the Rim-to-river trail
View during the Rim-to-river trail, as if you are on another planet

When you think everything is going well…

At some point you will reach a flat part, certainly not wrong after all those steep descents! The temperatures are now rising nicely and we no longer need our coats. I honestly don't remember the details of the hiking times, it has been 6 years since we made this hike. What I do remember is that the walking is really doable, it is even a bit not that bad!

Also read: Route 66 | The ultimate roadtrip through America!

Local Grand Canyon
On the flat part of the hike we meet a few locals

Perhaps that thought made me overconfident, because not much later I sprained my ankle. On an easy piece, of course…shit! As if my friend foresaw this, he had brought sports tape with him. I was lucky with that! Fortunately, after taping my ankle and a long break, I was able to continue walking.

The Colorado River (and the long hiking trail to it) in sight
The Colorado River (and the long hiking trail to it) in sight

Camping on the Colorado River

At some point the Colorado River is in sight and that is very cool! It feels like we're almost there, but we're wrong there. It really is a long way to go. When we finally see the big suspension bridge, which takes us from one side of the river to the other, we are really almost at the campsite. Yeey!

After a full day of hiking we arrive at Bright Angel Campground just before it gets dark. No places are reserved at the campsite, but it is a matter of 'first come first serve'. Since the Grand Canyon is so quiet in December, we have plenty of options to set up the tent. There are only 10-15 other adventurers at the campground. After a tiring and impressive day we go to bed early. Tomorrow we have to go all the way back up!

The view from Bright Angel Campgroud, in the background you can see the suspension bridge over the Colorado River
The view from Bright Angel Campgroud, in the background you can see the suspension bridge over the Colorado River

back up

Because my ankle is bothering me a bit more the next morning than I thought, we decide to take it easy. Fortunately, there is another campsite within a few hours walking distance, so that will be today's goal. We hike back up along beautiful rock formations and enjoy the view. Because we are walking in a loop, the way back is a lot different than the way out, for example we come across many streams on this side. 

In the early afternoon we arrive at Indian Garden Camp, where we pitch our tent. For the rest of the day we take it easy. Every now and then other hikers pass by, but here too we see no more than 15 other people. We do come across some residents of the Grand Canyon: a deer family. Strangely enough, they are not shy and we were able to take a good picture of them. What a beautiful gift. Once the sun goes down, we crawl back into our tent. Tomorrow the last piece!

Face to face with a local resident of the Grand Canyon

The home stretch

The last part of the walk is the hardest again, because we have to climb steeply up the Canyon again. A little less fun. Slowly we come back to the snow line and step by step we finish our spectacular walk. Because it took us two days to return, we are already at the top in the early afternoon. 

Most hikers do the Rim-to-river hike in two days, and it's also doable if you're not the handy Harry who sprained his ankle. Once we have completed the hike we are exhausted but proud, what a beautiful adventure this was.

Grand Canyon
The flat part of the hike

Best time to visit the Grand Canyon

In the summer, the temperature in the Grand Canyon quickly rises to about 30 degrees. Not the ideal weather conditions for an intensive walk. It is best to do this in the spring or autumn when the temperatures are a lot more pleasant.

As indicated, we were there in December and this was fine in terms of cold. Of course you have to be well prepared and wear many different layers of clothing. What we liked about our visit in December was that there were few other tourists hiking. At times we had the Grand Canyon all to ourselves.

The Grand Canyon in winter
The Grand Canyon in winter

Grand Canyon preparation

Are you also planning to go hiking in the Grand Canyon? Super awesome! Prepare yourself well by getting information at the Visitor Center, just like us. In addition, make sure you have the right equipment while hiking. We did the hike ourselves without a guide, the trails are well marked so you will not get lost quickly. If you prefer to go with a guide, this is also possible.

Also read: Roadtrip West America: convenient route and most beautiful parks in 1 to 2 weeks

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Lieke Thijssen

- Latin America lover
- Travel & hospitality copywriter
- Next: West Coast Mexico

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