Disclaimer: The first thing to say about hiking the Grand Canyon in one day is that you should probably not do it. Hiking from rim to river and back again in one day is incredibly strenuous – we hiked the trail in April, and it was already extremely hot and dry. In the summer months the temperatures can easily pass 110 degrees, there is little or no water available on the hike, and you will be descending (and then climbing) over 4000 vertical feet. The warning signs posted at the top of the trails are not being overly-cautious: the inexperienced or ill-prepared can easily die here, and they do.
Grand Canyon Hike Facts
That said, our original plan had been to descend the canyon from the south rim, camp at one of the sites at the bottom, and then climb out the next day. Unfortunately we had left our trip planning too late – Grand Canyon camping spots are really limited and fill up super quickly – the only permit we could secure was for camping at the Indian Garden campground on our arrival day. This would have given us two options: arriving well after midday, descending the canyon with all our gear, and climbing most of the way back out to the campsite, or descending the Bright Angel trail to the campsite, which would be shorter but require completing the hike in the opposite direction to what is generally recommended. In the end we realised our better option would be to cancel the permit and complete the rim to river to rim hike in a single day, carrying only day packs. We focused on the south rim because at the time of year (Easter) the north rim was still closed for access.
In the summer when temperatures regularly pass 110 degrees this trek is highly discouraged. In early April, although still not actively encouraged by the park authorities, with the appropriate experience, good fitness, and a lot of water we found it a tough but manageable hike, and relatively free of other walkers. Getting to the trail head was easy on the free shuttles that past by the key areas of the park, including the campsites.
The South Kaibab trail is generally recommended as the descent route as it is steeper and lacks water – Bright Angel on the other hand climbs the very steepest section with a series of switchbacks, and there is a tap for drinking water about two thirds of the way up the trail at the Indian Garden campground.
South Kaibab also seemed more scenic to us, with spectacular panoramas coming into view around almost every corner as we descended further and further into the canyon’s layers. We were amazed how far into the canyon we could descend before catching a glimpse of the Colorado river, and once at the bottom, the canyon rim was lost completely. Despite being in one of the busiest National Parks in the US we saw very few people the entire day and were all but alone in this vast creation of nature, surrounded by the red earth, dry desert plants, and stratas of rock dating back almost 2 billion years.
Map of the Grand Canyon South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail hike: