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Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Water Sources

Grand Canyon Stream Overflow

Grand Canyon Stream Overflow

One of the most important things you’ll need to consider for your Rim-to-Rim or R2R2R is water, including how much to carry, where to refill and making sure you have enough. Carry too much and you’ll slow yourself down and slosh a lot. Carry too little and you’ll be sad or die. So, let’s get this right.

Rim-to-Rim & R2R2R Water Sources

Typical Water Availability by Month

This table is intended to help with planning for your R2R or R2R2R, but you should never assume this information is correct at the time for arrival. Always confirm water availability on the day of arrival on official NPS website. RA stands for rest area, RH for resthouse, CG for campground, and DUA means day use area. Note that the Mar/Oct details here may vary from what’s in NPS FAQs, based on experience.

LocationNov-Feb
“Cold”
Mar
😉
Apr-Sep
“Hot”
Oct
😉
Notes
Bright Angel Trail
TrailheadYYYY
1.5m ResthouseN?Y?
3.0m ResthouseN?Y?
Indian GardensYYYY
Trailside IG-RRFFFF
River ResthouseFFFF
Trailside RR-BridgeFFFF
South Kaibab Trail
TrailheadYYYY
Cedar RidgenanananaNo water!
Tonto / Tip OffnanananaNo Water!
North Kaibab Trail
BA CampgroundYYYY
Phantom RanchYYYY
Trailside PH-MRAFFFF
Cottonwood CGN?Y?
Manzanita RA?YYY
Roaring SpringsN?Y?
Supai TunnelN?Y?
TrailheadN?Y?
Ranger StationN?Y?

Key: (Y) Always supposed to be on; (?) Might be on depending on winter conditions; (N) Not on; (na) not available, ever; (F) Usually available near the trail if you Filter water from a stream or the river. Items in italics are somewhat or very off-route for R2R or R2R2R, and are shown only as backup sources.

Year-Round Water Sources

If a resource of location shows “Y” for every section in the table above, that water resource is supposed to be available year-around. The only notable exceptions are pipe breaks, which happen more than you might think; maintenance, which also happens frequently or; other random events that no one can predict. I emphasize this only because there have been times when water at the South Kaibab and/or North Kaibab trailhead is not available when it’s supposed to be. Do not push yourself so hard that you can’t make it to another water resource if something is off for any reason. It’s just not worth the risk.

Seasonal Water Sources

If you’re wondering why there aren’t more precise details on seasonal water sources, it’s because they are shut off / turn on based on weather for the winter (not based on dates). As per the NPS, “Seasonal water stations are usually turned off for the winter sometime between Oct 10th and 30th dependent on location and associated temperatures.”

Rim-to-Rim & R2R2R Water FAQs

Q: Why do I do in an emergency / If I can’t find water?

Depends. This could be part of a whole seminar on wilderness survival. Do you go back for move forward? Do you rest in place until sunset? Do you call for help? All of these questions have contextually conditional answers. The best answer is, don’t get yourself in that situation in the first place. If your at or near the NK trailhead and the water is off, the ranger station is relatively nearby but also not 100% reliable.

If you’re on the SK in the heat, there is sometimes emergency water in a few places (from rangers) I’m not going to mention b/c you shouldn’t plan on it. I once ran out of water on a non-corridor GC hike and a range we came across ended up promising water and then forgot about us. The main point is, you shouldn’t run out of water if you plan ahead; there are simply too many year-round resources. Don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk with bravado or bad planning. And then if it all goes wrong, call for help; don’t die.

The one thing I can say, is that if you choose to hike R2R or R2R2R when it’s very hot (e.g., August), if you’re heading back and plan to climb up South Kaibab, and you are at all worried about your condition, freaking stop at Phantom Ranch, beg for a room (which will cost you), re-hydrate and get up early in the AM to hike out. I’ve had friends who were severely dehydrated or hyponatremic do this, and it probably saved their lives.

Q: How much water should you bring?

Depends. If it’s hot, a lot, if it’s cold, enough. The usual recommendation for hikers is to have three liters / a gallon at to refill at each major water stop. Runners will almost never carry this much except when the water is off and the North Rim is closed (say, in winter). As a sweaty guy, I always carry two (2) liters unless it’s very hot (when I bring more), except on the downhill from BA trailhead to Indian Gardens when there’s no point. When in doubt, bring more (at least two liters, probably three). On your first attempt, focus more on safety and learning than weight and time. You can always come back; the canyon’s not going anywhere.

Q: Should you take iodine tablets or water filters?

Maybe. I almost always take a few tablets in a baggie, practically weightless, just in case. I’ve only had to use them on winter R2R2Rs when I knew the water was off anyway, but there are stories of water spigots (e.g., at Cottonwood or Manzanita) failing for some reason. I did a run from the North Rim to Cottonwood in the summer, and the water failed between the time I passed Manzanita on the way down and when I needed water for the climb back up. Had I not had iodine pills, I’d have had to risk giardia or dehydration.

Unfortunately, the places where you really might get in trouble w/o water (e.g., North Kaibab trailhead or middle of South Kaibab), there’s no water to filter anyway. So, I’d say the odds you’ll need a filter / tablets are low, but the benefits of having them are high. I keep a few in my kit now and almost always bring them.

Q: Should I take salt tablets or electrolytes?

Maybe. I do anytime I go in the Spring or Fall, but not usually in the winter. In the summer, yes. Then again, don’t do R2R or R2R2R in the summer. It will suck and you might die.

Q: Should I do R2R or R2R2R in the summer?

Probably not. Temperatures in the lower canyon regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and people get heat exhaustion, heat stroke and die pretty often. Even if you have water, you may not be able to take the heat. There are rescues all the time, despite signage all of over the canyon.

Q: Will the water be on at time X?

Maybe. The Grand Canyon has old, terrible plumbing that breaks all the time. Always check the NPS site, and always think about what you’ll do if water is not available when it’s supposed to be. The following is a sample screenshot from that website for March 1, 2020, just to show you how much things vary. This is NOT the current water status (!!!).

Grand Canyon Water Status Sample

Grand Canyon Water Status Sample

If you want to confirm any of this information, contact the Grand Canyon Backcountry Office (usually open 8am-12pm & 1pm-5pm) at (928) 638-7875.

Other Water Availability Resources

More R2R and R2R2R Stuff

Coming soon.

As always, if you have suggestions or find inaccuracies or errors, let us know in the comments below.

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