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Fit Travel: Hiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

Looking for a hike that'll kick your ass and demand months of training? Head southwest and traverse the width of the Grand Canyon—here are 8 tips on how to do it.

The Grand Canyon—the famous 277-mile-long, Colorado River chasm that cuts through Arizona—ranges from 4 to 18 miles in width and reaches a depth of over a mile. If you do the math right, that’s enough open space for hundreds of trails ranging from canyon cliff paths to low river hikes. But, most of the Canyon’s five million annual visitors just stop at the South Rim’s touristy scenic outlook for photo ops, and move on. Our opinion? That’s practically a hiking sin.

If you really want to experience the Canyon (and you’re feeling ultra-adventurous), you’ll need to drive all the way around east side of the canyon to the North Rim, 45 miles south of Jacob Lake, AZ. This is the starting point for the Rim to Rim (R2R) crossing that finishes at the South Rim near Tusayan, AZ.  It’s 10 miles across from rims’ edge, but adding the mileage it’ll take for descent, crossing the base and ascent, you’ll hike an actual total of 24 miles.

Crossing the Grand Canyon isn’t just a walk in the park. In fact, park officials actively discourage R2R crossings because there’s a high potential for heat stroke, dehydration, hyponatremia and rattlesnakes. The range of temperatures during the day can fluctuate by close to 100 degrees. Plenty of advance planning is required to secure your lodging and train for such an extreme event. Start now and you can spend the winter running up and down stairs and daydreaming about your upcoming spring vacation. Here’s how to do it. 

Plan for a May or September trip
Mid-May is the optimal time to attempt the R2R quest. Most years, snow will melt from the North Rim by early May, so the lodges where you’ll need to stay the night before your trek are back in business for the summer hiking season. Plus, the temperatures at the South Rim, while still sauna-like in the 90s, are considerably cooler than the rest of the summer months. But if you can’t make it in May, wait until September, when temps become bearable again.  

Train with long runs and quad workouts
The 24-mile trek is tougher on your body than most marathons and should be approached with the same respect. The big difference? There’s no quitting partway through if you’re injured. Any good marathon training program, including endurance runs of up to 20 miles, will get you into the cardiovascular shape you need to be in, and quad training is crucial. Lunges and squats will prime your legs for the miles of downhill you’ll face at the start as well as the grueling uphill miles at the end. Incorporate stair climbing and hills into your long runs and train in the heat, if possible.

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