Rim To River, Grand Canyon.

Rim To River Grand Canyon: 4 Stunning South Rim Routes

Hiking rim to river in the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list worthy challenge many hikers set for themselves. With the Grand Canyon being one of the seven wonders of the world, many want to be able to see as much as they can during their visit, and knocking out a rim to river hike is one way to do so.

If you are considering hiking rim to river, or searching for new routes to challenge yourself, you are in the right place!

In this post I’ll guide you through 4 of the best rim to river hike options in the Grand Canyon, how to plan your hike, and what to pack. Let’s get started!

*Disclaimer: the below links may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through my links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please see my disclosure for more info.

What Does ‘Rim To River’ In Grand Canyon Mean?

First, you may be wondering what rim to river even means. So let me fill you in on this crazy idea.

Hiking rim to river in the Grand Canyon entails hiking from the rim, all the way down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon, and back up to the rim, in one day.

Typically this is accomplished by embarking from the South Rim since most trails that lead to the river start from there. The North Rim only has one trail that leads to the river- North Kaibab Trail. I don’t suggest hiking this one round trip due to the mileage. At that point you might as well just hike rim to rim.

Which leads us to this – don’t mistake a rim to river hike for rim to rim!

  • Rim to river = embarking and returning on the same rim – usually South Rim.
  • Rim to rim = hiking from South Rim and ending at North Rim, or vise versa.

Why Even Hike Rim To River?

Inside you may be thinking this sounds absolutely crazy yet awesome at the same time. I promise hiking rim to river in a day is a very challenging yet rewarding adventure that will humble you and fill your soul at the same time.

Here are some reasons hiking rim to river is even a thing:

  • You don’t need a permit to do this, whereas if you backpacked you’d need to enter a lottery system.
  • Sometimes schedules are tight and we just want to jam pack as many Grand Canyon views in as we can.
  • Reaching the Colorado River by foot is a huge endeavor and accomplishment!
  • It is a way to challenge yourself both physically and mentally.
  • Depending on the route you take, you can order drinks from the Phantom Ranch Canteen down at the bottom!

Phantom Ranch is a lodge located inside the Grand Canyon but is unique since it is located at the very bottom! It sits along Bright Angel Creek in a very lush, oasis-like portion of the canyon. Guests can book lodging via. a permit system months or even years in advance. You can only access this lodge by hiking in or riding a mule. For day hikers, though, they have a little store called the Canteen where you can order fresh lemonade, alcoholic drinks, snacks, bare necessities, and Grand Canyon stickers!

How Difficult Is Rim To River In Grand Canyon?

Rim To River, Grand Canyon.

While it all sounds fun and amazing, I don’t want to downplay how extremely difficult a rim to river hike is.

You must be an experienced hiker and fully capable to hold your own if anything were to go wrong. You also need to be in great physical shape.

The difficult thing about hiking in the Grand Canyon is the fact you descend the elevation first, and then after hours and many miles of hiking, you have to climb your way out of the canyon. You will most likely be tired well before you start ascending the elevation.

If you are questioning your abilities, or at all concerned, consider the following:

Are you or do you…

  • Able to be on your feet for 10+ miles.
  • Able to carry a 20L or larger pack for 8+ hours
  • Know how to read a map, follow a GPS, and stay on trail.
  • Have (or willing to get) the proper gear needed (keep reading for packing list!).

If this is your average weekend or even once a month outing then I think you’ll be just fine. However if any of this makes you nervous, then consider training or gaining more hiking experience beforehand.

4 Rim To River Grand Canyon Routes

Map of rim to river trails via South Rim.

Now for the fun part! I’ve hiked down to the Colorado River 4 times myself, so all of the information in this guide is from my own experiences.

I have to say South Kaibab to Bright Angel is the one I’d recommend first to anyone looking to hike rim to river. It is the all around best experience and bang for your buck. Next, if you’re looking for something more challenging, Hermit Trail is my all time favorite trail on the South Rim!

Each route has a full trail guide linked. Be sure to check those out for more photos and information on the specific trails you are interested in. The individual trail guides also provide more in depth information on water sources, trailhead access, planning, etc!

1. South Kaibab Trail

Hiking Distance | 14.3 miles RT
Main Destinations | Kaibab Suspension Bridge, Boat Beach, and Phantom Ranch.
Elevation Gain | 4,880 feet

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon Rim To River.

The South Kaibab Trail is one of the park’s main corridor trails so it is well maintained by park service members. Overall the trail 100% resembles the desert terrain – rocky, exposed to the sun, and steep. But, it is absolutely stunning during sunrise!

Hiking the full South Kaibab Trail will immediately lead you down switchbacks before it opens up to vista views. Along the way you will pass popular points like OOH-AHH Point and Cedar Ridge. Eventually you will hike along the east side of O’Nielle Butte, a prominent formation in the canyon, pictured above.

As you descend and near the Colorado River you’ll be provided with views of the river down below. Once at the river, you’ll hike through a tunnel that gives way to the iconic Kaibab Suspension Bridge- a stunning bridge spanning across the Colorado. This part is really picturesque!

Once across the bridge you’re able to take a break at Boat Beach to fill your water, dip your feet in the Colorado, and eat some snacks. You can turn around here to climb back to the rim, or, continue a little ways to Phantom Ranch to order drinks (yes, even alcoholic) and buy Grand Canyon stickers!

South Kaibab Highlights:

  • River access via. Boat Beach.
  • Get to cross the Kaibab Suspension Bridge!
  • Can access Phantom Ranch & Bright Angel Campground.
  • Most picturesque trail at sunrise.
  • Shorter in distance than other trails.

South Kaibab Cons:

  • No treated water sources for first 7 miles. This means climbing back out you won’t have water for the last 7 miles- be sure to pack enough!
  • Steeper than other trails.
  • Trailhead access is via. shuttle only.

Full trail guide: Best Guide To Hiking The Full South Kaibab Trail In One Day

2. Bright Angel Trail

Hiking Distance | 19.6 miles RT
Main Destinations | Silver Bridge, Pipe Creek Beach, and Phantom Ranch.
Elevation Gain | 4,676 feet

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, Rim To River.

The Bright Angel Trail is the other main corridor trail within the park, and to me, if feels like the safest. I’ve hiked it so many times that it feels like home now. With the great trail conditions, access to treated water, and rest stops along the way, Bright Angel Trial offers a lot.

From the South Rim you’ll immediately descend a series of switchbacks which take you past 1.5 mile and 3 mile rest houses- perfect stops for water or restroom breaks. Beyond the rest houses the trail continues to descend until you reach Havasupai Gardens, one of the most beautiful portions of the trail. It truly feels like an oasis due to Bright Angel Creek and the surrounding vegetation.

Once you near the Colorado River you’ll actually be hiking on cliff walls high above it, through one of the other stunning potions of Bright Angel Trail, pictured above. This time instead of crossing the iconic Kaibab Suspension Bridge, you’ll cross the Silver Bridge.

It’ll lead you to Pipe Creek Beach where you can access the Colorado River. If you continue past Pipe Creek Beach you can visit Phantom Ranch in another 1.5 miles, or turn around and head back to the rim. The hiking stats shared in this post include reaching Phantom Ranch!

Bright Angel Highlights:

  • Plenty of treated water and restrooms along the way.
  • River access via. Pipe Creek Beach.
  • Chance to see seasonal waterfalls.
  • Can access Phantom Ranch & Bright Angel Campground.
  • Trailhead access is the easiest of all!

Bright Angel Cons:

  • Near Havasupai Gardens the trail becomes a stream and your feet will get wet if enough water is flowing. This was a pleasant relief for me, but some don’t like it!
  • You do hike through a very sandy section that is technically a sand dune. Burns the calves.
  • Very populated trail.

Full trail guide: Hiking The FULL Bright Angel Trail To Phantom Ranch

3. South Kaibab To Bright Angel Trail

Hiking Distance | 18.19 miles RT
Main Destinations | Kaibab Suspension Bridge, Silver Bridge, Boat Beach or Pipe Creek Beach, and Phantom Ranch.
Elevation Gain | 4,639 feet

South Kaibab To Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon Rim To River.

If you’re having trouble choosing a trail, I highly suggest combining South Kaibab and Bright Angel! I always suggest this as the first rim to river hike because you get so much bang for your buck. Literally, you’ll get to see everything!

First, start by descending South Kaibab at sunrise to get those incredible saturated views. Hike South Kaibab to the Kaibab Suspension Bridge and cross it, visit Phantom Ranch to order a drink, cross the Silver Bridge, then hop on Bright Angel Trail. Along the way stop at Pipe Creek Beach to dip into the Colorado River, and afterwards continue your climb out of the canyon.

One of the other perks about hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel is that you’ll have plenty of restrooms and treated water supply on the way up, which is when you’ll need it the most.

Full trail guide: How To Hike South Kaibab, Phantom Ranch, & Bright Angel In One Day

4. Hermit’s Trail

Hiking Distance | 17.0 miles RT
Main Destinations | Hermit Creek and Hermit Rapids.
Elevation Gain | 4,690 feet

Rim To River, Grand Canyon Via. Hermit Trail.

The most difficult yet rewarding rim to river hike in the Grand Canyon, via the South Rim, is Hermit Trail to Hermit Rapids. This trail is not for the faint of heart as it isn’t one of the park’s maintained corridor trails. You’ll find that the trail is much steeper, the rockiest of all, and has no filtered water sources the entire route. Hermit Trail is not recommended for your first rim to river hike, let alone for inexperienced hikers.

Route finding skills are also a requirement on this Grand Canyon trail due to rock falls, intersecting spur trails, and lack of defined trail in some areas.

If you are experienced enough to accomplish this hike you will be rewarded! Besides the beginning of South Kaibab Trail during sunrise, Hermit Trail is the most scenic in my opinion. The trail drops almost 2,000 feet in the first 2 miles and provides many stunning canyon views along the way.

You’ll have the chance to hike in a smaller canyon, witness waterfalls, cold plunge into a pool of water, and hike along Hermit Creek until it meets with the Colorado River at Hermit Rapids. Out of all of the rim to river hikes I’ve done, Hermit Trail is the most thrilling yet!

Hermit Trail Highlights:

  • More secluded and less populated.
  • Get the chance to see waterfalls!
  • Possible cold plunge opportunities in Hermit Creek.
  • The canyon you hike through is simply amazing.
  • Get to see a different section of the canyon, so all new views.
  • Hermit Rapids are stunning.
  • This is just unlike any other trail!

Hermit Trail Cons:

  • Only restrooms available are at Hermit Campground.
  • No treated water along the entire route. Must filter your water from natural sources using a filtration system.
  • Very strenuous and more rocky than other trails.
  • Rapids are too strong to get into the Colorado River here.
  • Trailhead access is drivable only during Dec-Feb. Outside of these months you need to use the park shuttle.
  • You cannot reach Phantom Ranch via. Hermit Trail.

Full trail guide: Hiking Guide: The FULL Hermit Trail In Grand Canyon

Planning Your Rim To River Hike

Best Time Of Year To Hike Grand Canyon

Now that you’ve chosen your rim to river route in the Grand Canyon, it is time to plan when you’ll visit!

Did you know the bottom of the Grand Canyon can be 10-20 degrees warmer than at the rim? This means the temperatures can swing drastically while you are hiking.

Oftentimes you’ll begin your hike in 30 degree weather, hike down to 70-80 degree weather, and then end somewhere in the middle. Welcome to hiking in the desert!

  • May-September: not recommended due to high temperatures. Never hike deep into the canyon during the summer!
  • October-April: recommended depending on daily high temps and snow coverage. The canyon rim does receive heavy snowfall during winter months, but usually you’ll lose the snow covered trails within the first 1-3 miles.

Always check the weather at the South Rim prior to departing for your trip! This way you’ll know whether it is safe to hike and how to layer for your hike.

When To Start Your Hike

Rim to river hikes are typically anywhere from 6-12 hours, all depending on your physical abilities and how often you stop for pictures and rests.

I always suggest beginning right at sunrise, or even an hour before to get a good head start if you suspect it’ll take you awhile. It is always best to start in the dark and try to finish before sunset!

Packing For Your Rim To River Hike

Having the proper gear for a long and strenuous hike like this is essential! You’ll want to be prepared but also have sturdy gear that’ll make the hike more comfortable.

More in the Grand Canyon:

Recap: Hiking Rim To River

Each of these hikes hold a special place in my heart because they either challenged or inspired me. The Grand Canyon is a very special place and I am so grateful to have been able to complete multiple rim to river hikes.

I hope through my experience and tips in this guide you’re able to find a route that best suits you, or maybe a new route you hadn’t considered before!

Hiking rim to river is definitely only for experienced and fit hikers. It will challenge not only your physical but also your mental abilities. No matter how tough the hike is, though, it doesn’t compare to the overwhelming feeling inside of you once you make it back to the rim. All you can think is “I can’t believe I just did that.”

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