South Kaibab Trail

  • Difficulty
  • 24.2km
  • 1442m
  • 7.5-8h
  • Download/Email a PDF of this hike button

Please provide your details for accessing the free download. Please note, you can access PDF only if you agree to the T&C and Privacy Policy statements.

Completing this trail in one-day is only for the fittest of all hikers.  We debated including this hike, as it is so dangerously tough.  Better yet consider getting a backcountry camping permit and staying at the Bright Angel Campground!

Usually compared to the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab is more challenging, but simultaneously a more stunning trek. With no water and little shade along the way, you will certainly want to start early to soak in the spectacular views along the route without battling the direct sunlight. Options exist to shorten the trail and not go all the way to the Colorado River.

Getting there

The Kaibab Trailhead parking lot (located on Yaki Point) is closed to general traffic, and must be reached by a bus. The easiest way to do so is to take the Hikers Express which leaves the Backcountry Office at 5, 6 and 7 am. It also passes by the visitors centre shortly thereafter. This bus will take you direct to the trailhead, where you’ll find water bottle refill stations and pit toilets. If you choose to start later (not recommended), or need a ride back after returning, you will have to take the Orange Bus back to the visitors centre, then connect to where you parked your car. Check the hours of the buses when you arrive to confirm you will make it back in time!


Total Gain: 1442m


Type of Hike Out and Back
Crowd Levels High
Route Signage Excellent
Toilets At Trailhead, two along trail
Family Friendly No
Backcountry Campgrounds Yes, permits required
When to Do Spring and Fall, avoid summer heat

 Detailed Description

After filling up on water, find the trailhead behind the washrooms. The steep trail starts by putting you right in the action; switchback city! Keep an eye out – mules use this trail as well and you will most likely also encounter some dung. Take care and yield to both uphill hikers and mules.

After descending 760 feet and going just under a mile you will reach Ohh Ahh Point – a scenic point offering fantastic views down into the inner canyon, and across at the Bright Angel Canyon leading up towards the North Rim. This is a fantastic place to stop if you just want a short hike. Continuing on from here, the crowds will start to thin out and the sun exposure will begin.

After descending a little ways further you will traverse a huge, exposed ridgeline. Soon you will reach the first washroom located along the trail, at Cedar Ridge. This is another great point to turn around, as it is a comfortable 1.5 miles from the rim (1120 feet). After traversing Cedar Ridge you will descend even more sun exposed switchbacks, then continue along another ridgeline towards Skeleton Point.

Skeleton Point is a very popular destination for a more moderate day hike, as it retains many of the fantastic views found lower down on the trail while keeping the elevation gain to a minimum. Hiking to Skeleton Point is similar in difficulty to going down to Horseshoe Mesa on the Grandview Trail — it is 3 miles one way, descending 2040 ft. It would be rated a 3/5 for difficulty

After roughly 1.4 miles past Skeleton Point you will reach the second washroom, called Tip Off. Shortly after this stop you will start seeing views of the Colorado River, and will experience some of the hardest switchbacks on the trail. These red switchbacks are relentless as you descend down a narrow gully all the way down to the river.

Finally at the bottom, you will cross over a neat black suspension bridge. On the other side we recommend resting on Boat Beach, a picturesque sandy beach that you can easily identify from the hike down. You can find some nice shade interspersed here, and you will be able to dunk you feet in the river. Don’t swim, however, as the strong currents of the Colorado are extremely dangerous.

Insider Hints

  • A very popular long day hike or backpack is to descend the South Kaibab and ascend the Bright Angel Trail. If camping, do so at the Bright Angel Campground, though a backcountry permit is required.
  • Head up the well signposted trail to the canteen at Phantom Ranch to grab a snack or a cold drink (with ice!). Though outlandishly expensive, we think lemonade has never tasted sweeter.
  • It is impossible to emphasize enough how important it is to start early. Starting to hike at 3 AM is not uncommon.
  • All the signs at the trailhead suggest eating copious amounts of salty, carbohydrate-dense foods. We find that a can of Pringles or similar chips fit the bill in the most perfect way for these long hikes!