• Cole

GRAND CANYON RIM TO RIM TO RIM: 4 days, 55 miles and 1 hitchhike

The Switchback Kids are Cole and Elizabeth - two twenty-somethings who have pledged to visit all 59 National Parks in one year. Read all about their adventures across the US here! -Victoria

Backcountry permit applications for the Grand Canyon open up on the first of the month 3 months before. You have to print out the application, fill it out with all possible itineraries, fax it to the backcountry office and wait to get your permit or denial letter in the mail. Getting the permit (to camp in the canyon) is basically just as big a feat as completing the hike into the canyon. Even though we submitted the application the first day, September/October is the busy season for hiking down in the canyon and there were so many first-day applications it required a lottery for the limited number of camping spots. Lady Luck wasn’t with us back in June. So we headed into Grand Canyon in September knowing we wanted to do a long hike into the canyon, but not knowing how it would work out.

Fortunately, there’ a thing called walk-in permits that are held as first-come-first-serve options for people like us. You can go to the Backcountry Information Office at either the South or North Rim and try your luck the day before or day of your desired night in the canyon. Unfortunately, the office closes at 5 and our Garmin GPS was giving us an ETA was 4:55. So instead of driving into the Grand Canyon and dropping our jaws as we stopped at every overlook along the 28-mile road to the GC Village, we resisted the urge and booked it straight to the office to arrive just in time.

To make a long story shorter, we were able to get a spot on the waitlist and then (surprisingly) get a coveted spot for the 11-site Cottonwood Campground. Our ideal itinerary for our first real backpacking challenge – a 4-day Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim epic – was falling into place… for now:

  1. Day 1- Leave South Rim at 5:30am to hike 7 miles down (-4,380 ft) South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground. Hike 7.2 miles up (1,600 ft) North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground. With a side trip to Ribbon Falls just before Cottonwood that’s about 15 miles total.

  2. Day 2- Continue hike 6.8 miles up (4,161 ft) the North Kaibab Trail from Cottonwood to North Rim. Walk to and stay at North Rim Campgroundwhere we already had a reservation.

  3. Day 3- Hike 14 miles down (-5,761 ft) North Kaibab Trail from North Rim to Bright Angel Campground.

  4. Day 4- Hike 9.5 miles up (4,380 ft) Bright Angel Trail from Bright Angel Campground to South Rim and OUT.

With all the off-shoot stops and hiking to the North Rim campground the 4 days would entail about 55 miles. However, we thought we were pretty conservative with our long days on the downhills, allowing us to take our time on the canyon climbs. The backcountry office ranger quickly informed us that we were not taking it “slow,” but actually doing the rim-to-rim in 2 days when they recommend 3. Remembering the side-long looks and alternative suggestions we’d gotten from everyone else we’d mentioned our route to, we were starting to think we were more ambitious than we realized (miles always look shorter on the map). On top of that, since our itinerary didn’t include 2 consecutive nights in the canyon, we were told we would have to go to the backcountry office once we climbed to the North Rim to try to secure a campsite for the 3rd night of our hike at Bright Angel Campground. Coincidentally, our 3rd night was the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

But what’s a trip to the Grand Canyon without a little risk and a big challenge?