Hiking Down and Back Up the Grand Canyon in A Single Day

17 miles. 10,000 feet of elevation change. One day.

As soon as my husband, Louis, learned from a friend that it’s possible to hike from the rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River and back up again in a single day, he was completely on board. Of course, it’s easy to be gung-ho about extreme athletic activities when you play soccer, Ultimate, and volleyball, boulder at the climbing gym, and fastidiously exercise. I’m not lazy, per se, but my version of staying fit involves going on the elliptical 4 or 5 times a week and playing recreational volleyball each weekend. Let’s just say that I was a little less enthusiastic about the rim-to-river excursion.

But the idea was alluring. Once it got in my brain, I couldn’t let it go. What if I actually hiked down to the bottom of the canyon and back up again? Forget my altitude sickness that kicks in around 4,000 feet. (The Grand Canyon’s rim sits at around 6,800 feet.) Forget my chronic IT band pain from that overly ambitious run I did five years ago—again, with too much naiveté and too little training. Forget ending up in the hospital three times before from dehydration. It’d be such an awesome hike.

Flash forward to two days ago. It’s 7:15 am. Louis and I are on the rim, looking down South Kaibab Trail. We’re both giddy. One big smile at each other, and we’re off. Eight hours and fifteen minutes later, we’re back at the rim—hike complete, lunch still in our stomachs (not on the trail), bodies hydrated, and only a modest amount of altitude-induced lightheadedness. The majestic views have become sweetly familiar, as they only can on a long hike. We’re 100% confident that hiking down and up was the right decision.

So how’d we do it? A combination of factors helped the hike go well:

  • Beautiful weather, with highs of around 65 and breezy at the top of the canyon and 85 at the bottom.
  • Tons of water, carried in water bladders in our day packs. (The trail back up has plenty of fill stations throughout, making the water part of the trek very straightforward.)
  • Electrolytes in the form of sports beans, courtesy of Louis. We found it hilarious that the instructions tell you to eat one pack before working out, eat more as needed during your exercise, and eat another one afterward. That being said, we did eat two full packs between the two of us, because we were concerned about hyponatremia, which occurs when your blood’s sodium levels are too low. (We also ate lots of fruit, carrots, Cheez-Its—my favorite—and Sahale’s pomegranate and vanilla cashews.)
  • A rest stop at the bottom! By hiking an extra mile or so past the junction with Bright Angel trail, we reached Phantom Ranch Canteen, where we guzzled Arnold Palmers and snacked on our aforementioned food. Louis also downed a small “summer sausage.” As a non-meat-eater, I wasn’t aware that summer sausage was a thing.
  • Rest, as needed. While we did the hike in a little over 8 hours—not too shabby!—we still stopped every now and then to sit and take in the views, particularly on the hike up.
  • Hiking poles. Louis and I each had one, and they really took the pressure off our legs and glutes on the way down the canyon.

After reaching the rim, we decided to continue the hike and walk back to our car, which was parked about 2.5 miles away. I started feeling nauseated on the walk, though, so I ended up stopping after 2 miles and letting Louis grab the car and pick me up. We promptly drove to Wendy’s in Tusayan, where Louis forced me to eat some fries. After I had a few in me, my appetite picked up.

Recovering from the hike has been about as hard as I anticipated.

The first evening, I felt sore but not overwhelmingly so, and my overwhelming priority was ingesting more calories. The next day, yesterday, I still didn’t feel too sore, so we did another 6.5-mile hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

As you might imagine, the honeymoon didn’t last forever. By yesterday evening, I was feeling it. Today hasn’t been much better. In fact, I’m writing this blog post from the comfort of my bed, with a heating pad under my calves. I’m guessing it’ll be a few more days before my muscles are back to their wonderfully ignorable selves.

So there you have it— a quick recap of our epic day hike down the Grand Canyon. If you’re thinking of trying the hike yourself, check out this useful link:

And if you’re planning on stopping through Sedona, here’s the 6.5-miler we did (I added a mile on because we parked really far from the trailhead):

Have fun out there!