Perhaps the most discouraged activity at the Grand Canyon is hiking down to the Colorado River and back in one day. Signs are posted at all trailheads that basically say “Do not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.” Indeed more people have died in the Grand Canyon than any other national park. According to the park’s website over 250 people are rescued from the Canyon each year.
There are several unique challenges to hiking the Grand Canyon and you must be prepared for these difficulties if you are going to attempt a hike from the rim to the river and back in one day. You must also be in top physical condition with significant experience hiking in steep and arid terrain. This hike is only for experienced and expert hikers. If you are not sure if you fall into that category, you should try some shorter hikes in the Grand Canyon before attempting this hike.
Among the challenges in the Grand Canyon is the fact that you go down before you go up. That means that the second half of your hike, when you are more tired, will be much more difficult than the first half. The Park Service recommends you allow double the time when ascending the Canyon compared to descending. Availability of water is another challenge on some trails. You will need a significant amount of water, up to 32 ounces per hour or more in extreme summer conditions. Running out of water in the Canyon can easily lead to dehydration and death.
If you know that you have the ability to perform this extremely strenuous hike, then you are in for a great experience. The views in the Canyon are, of course, known worldwide and the feeling of accomplishment you will receive from hiking to the river and back is priceless.
There are two main ways to hike from the Grand Canyon rim to the river: You can hike down and up Bright Angel Trail, or you can hike down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel. South Kaibab trail is shorter (6.4 miles) but is more steep than Bright Angel trail (9.3 miles). Also, there is no water and no shade on South Kaibab. Bright Angel does have water and bathrooms on the trail along with a ranger station. Bright Angel also has some shade, especially in the afternoon.
Hiking down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel is the rim to river hike choice for many. You can fill your water at the top and hike down the 6.4 miles to Bright Angel Campground just past the river where you can rest and refill your water. You can then hike up the less steep Bright Angel trail and refill you water at Indian Creek Campground about half way up. To do this hike you simply park near the Bright Angel Trailhead (which is about 4 hours north of Scottsdale so you may wish to stay overnight!) and take the free bus to South Kaibab to begin. When you are finished you will come out near where you parked.
Check out more trails in your area: icedjamb.com’s Trail Guide
Descending South Kaibab, Part II
Ascending Bright Angel, Part III