Are you planning to hike into the Grand Canyon? We hiked the South Kaibab Trail all the way to the Colorado River. Here's how it went!
We hiked the South Kaibab Trial in both 2016 and 2017, and to this day it's one of the prettiest hikes I've ever done in my life.
It's also one of the hardest.
The Kaibab trail is one of two corridor trails in the Grand Canyon, and runs from the South Rim down to the Colorado River and back up on the North Rim.
The trail from the South Rim to the Colorado River is the South Kaibab Trail, and from the Colorado to the North Rim is the North Kaibab Trail.
Are you planning a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon? Read more about hiking in the Grand Canyon, plus check out my tips for training to hike the Grand Canyon and hiking food ideas for the Grand Canyon.
How Hard Is the South Kaibab Trail?
The South Kaibab Trail is very strenuous, but the views are worth it.
There is no water along the trail (except at the very beginning and end), and little shade.
Bring plenty of drinking water!!!
Most of the trails inside the Grand Canyon run along inner canyons, but the South Kaibab runs along the main canyon ridge line and offers some of the best views of the canyon.
The trail is 7 miles long (one direction) from the trailhead to the Bright Angel Campground with an elevation change of 4,760 feet, and then you still need to hike back out of the canyon.
The National Park Service does not recommend hiking all the way to the Colorado River and back in one day, so if you plan to hike all the way down the trail, you should plan on camping inside the Grand Canyon.
If you'd rather turn this into a day hike, you can hike 1.5 miles to Cedar Ridge for a 3-mile round-trip hike, or 3 miles to Skeleton Point for a 6-mile round-trip hike.
We hiked to Skeleton Point and back the first time we ventured onto the South Kaibab Trail.
I highly recommend using a trekking pole on this hike.
Make sure to check out my recommended gear for the Grand Canyon National Park!
Getting to the Trailhead
There's no parking lot near the South Kaibab Trailhead.
Instead, go to the Visitor Center the day before your hike (or early the day of) and check the bus schedule.
Both times we hiked the trail, we parked at the Visitor Center, took a bus to the trailhead, and then rode a bus to get back to the car later.
Buses at the Grand Canyon run frequently (at least during peak tourist season).
Once you reach the trailhead, you'll immediately begin descending a series of switchbacks.
Apparently some people have tried to create trail shortcuts by bypassing the switchbacks and climbing down the side of the canyon. Don't do that.
Hiking to Ooh Aah Point
Ooh Aah Point is 0.9 miles past the trailhead.
I recommend hiking to Ooh Aah Point in the early morning and stopping here to watch the sunrise.
Day Hikes in the Grand Canyon: Cedar Ridge + Skeleton Point
Continue along the trail, watching your footing carefully.
Always step carefully on this trail.
As you walk, you will see mule trains.
Sometimes they're carrying people, sometimes they're carrying supplies.
Either way, you need to move towards the wall of the canyon and let the mules pass.
Look at it as an excuse to pause and take a break.
Soon, you'll come to my favorite spot on the trail – the first glimpse of O'Neill Butte.
At this point, the trail moves away from the edge of the canyon, giving you sweeping views from every direction.
One and a half miles into the trail, you'll arrive at Cedar Ridge.
If you're doing a day hike, this is a good spot to evaluate your hike.
Take a moment to check your energy levels, remembering that the hike back up often takes as twice as long as the hike down.
If you decide to keep going, you'll pass O'Neill Butte, see more gorgeous canyon views, and eventually you'll reach Skeleton Point.
At Skeleton Point, take a moment to walk over to the viewpoint just off the trail.
This is a perfect place to stop, eat a snack, and listen for the roar of the Colorado River down below.
If you're doing a day hike, turn around and go back the way you came.
If you're hiking all the way down, keep walking past Skeleton Point.
As you walk, you'll pass the Tonto Trail junction, and then the Tipoff – the steepest part of the trail.
If you have knee problems, take this section of the trail very seriously. It's hard on your knees even if you don't have knee trouble.
At this point, with the canyon walls looming all around, I started to realize just how deep we were inside the canyon.
We also started to see more green plants!
The Colorado will get closer and closer (and louder!).
As you hike, make sure to take time to look at the rocks on the canyon walls.
When you see the River Trail sign, you are SO CLOSE!
Next, you'll walk through a short tunnel, and arrive at the Black Kaibab Suspension Bridge.
Keep walking to arrive at the Bright Angel Campground, and spend the night in a camp spot or at Phantom Ranch.
What Next? Where to Go After Hiking South Kaibab Trail
To get out of the canyon, you can (of course), go back the way you came.
If you choose to hike up the North Kaibab Trail, remember to arrange a ride back to your car on the South Rim.
However, most hikers go up the Bright Angel Trail, which has both water and shade.
Whichever way you travel, pace yourself, eat lots of snacks, drink plenty of water, and enjoy your hike!
Want to try another epic hike in the Grand Canyon? Check out these 21 Tips for Hiking Havasu Falls from Meghan the Traveling Teacher.