2006 Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike May 29, 2006

The ultimate hiking challenge:

Crossing the Grand Canyon in ONE day. A 24 mile adventure, starting at the North Rim, hiking 15 miles down to the Colorado River, followed by a 9 mile climb back up to the South Rim.

Description of the hike:

The North Kaibab Trail provides the only maintained route from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, although at 14 miles long and with a descent of nearly 6,000 feet, it would take most of the day to hike the all the way, and overnight camping would then be required. Still, it is a lot shorter than the 215 mile journey by road.

The North Rim: Because of the high elevation of the north rim, the North Kaibab Trail is only fully open (usually) between mid May and October. The path is rather longer than the popular south rim routes as the buttes, peaks and side canyons extend much further north of the river than south, hence the paved entrance road along the flat Kaibab Plateau cannot approach as close - from the north rim visitor centre it is over 6 horizontal miles to the Colorado whereas the south rim road is often only 2 miles away. As a consequence, the river only becomes visible near the end of the North Kaibab Trail and most of the views are of Bright Angel Canyon rather than the main gorge but the trip is just as memorable, and much less traveled.

The Trailhead: The trailhead is two miles before the visitor centre and has a large parking area with a fresh water supply. Adjacent are some stables for the mules which provide an easier but smellier way to descend into the canyon. Due to the elevation of the north rim - 8,300 feet at the start of the path - the immediate area is quite densely forested, and the pine trees persist for some way down, providing welcome shade from the sun. The first five miles are the steepest, descending along the edge of Roaring Springs Canyon and crossing a seasonal stream several times; the Springs themselves do indeed roar and can be heard some distance before they come into view.

Water: Beneath the springs is a small visitor complex and more stables (the mules travel no further), which are reached by a short side-track; this location is the usual destination for an all day round-trip hike. The main trail continues past a private residence with public drinking water (which is also available 3 miles from the start of the trail), as Roaring Springs Canyon meets the much larger Bright Angel Canyon. The path crosses Bright Angel Creek across a small bridge and rounds Manzanita Point after which the inner Colorado gorge - to where the trail leads - can be seen in the distance.

The River: Bright Angel Canyon continues almost straight, descending gradually for 7 miles to the river; for overnight hikes, the primitive Cottonwood Campground is located a few miles after the bridge, however places are limited and a (free) permit is required. At the river, the path joins the Bright Angel trail, allowing for a rim-to-rim crossing of the canyon.

Bright Angel Trail.

One of only two maintained hiking routes into the Grand Canyon from the south rim, the Bright Angel Trail begins near the main visitor center complex and follows the course of Garden Creek, reaching the Colorado after 8 miles and a descent of over 4,000 feet. This is the most popular trail, and the 'easiest' by which to hike to the river, although most hikers turn back a long way before - one common target is the first of two rest stations after 1.5 miles (the other is after 4 miles), which makes for a round trip of 2 hours or so.

Start of the Trail: Much of the well used and often very dusty trail is along a side canyon so the views are more restricted than those on the other main route (the South Kaibab, which follows a ridge downwards) but the scenery is of course still breathtaking. Many people prefer to travel by horse or mule, which requires reservations many months in advance. Livestock have priority on the trails they use so travelers on foot have to stop and let them pass, and since the mules walk in convoys of a dozen or more and can be slow moving as well as quite smelly, they can be rather a nuisance.

Indian Gardens: Some of the steepest sections are near the start, where the path descends quickly with many switchbacks. The second rest station is near a tree-lined spring at Indian Gardens and is more appropriate for an all-day hike; beyond this the path divides - one branch goes almost flat for two miles to Promontory Point (see the second photograph) which has great views of the Colorado along the inner canyon gorge.

The River: The main trail continues steeply down to the river and then alongside for a while before crossing it on a suspension bridge. Another trail, Tonto, crosses the Bright Angel on its journey following the canyon along the Tonto Plateau a little above the river for over 100 miles, mainly westwards, and a trip over the full distance would take up to two weeks