The South Kaibab trail is the shortest and most direct route into the bottom of the Grand Canyon, being just a little over 7 miles long. This also means that this hike it very steep, making it the more difficult up versus the Bright Angel Trail. No water stops are available along the route, which can make it more dangerous (especially when going up). We wanted to experience both trails, so for these reasons we decided to take the South Kaibab trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up.
Therefore, this trail write up is only to going to describe the South Kaibab trail in terms of hiking down it. It was very steep and I imagine the hike up to be intense. Both the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails are located along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
We parked our car at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) and took shuttles to reach this location point. From the BIC we took the Blue Shuttle to the visitor’s center and then hopped onto the orange shuttle to the trailhead.
We backpacked this during March and the weather at the Grand Canyon is unpredictable. At the time we went, there was snow and ice along the rim. Rangers at the BIC said it was a good thing we were doing the South Kaibab trail down since that sections was not a snowy and icy as the Bright Angel Trail was. In other words, it’s easier hiking up in snow versus hiking down.
At the beginning of the trail, there are a few tight switchbacks which quickly descends into the canyon. The switchbacks begin with little sections and over time grow into larger sections. This portion of the trail is shaded by the canyon walls so at the time when there was snow and ice due to this area being colder. For this reason you may feel more comfortable bringing along trekking poles or yak tracks, to assist in getting you down more safely. I decided to use my trekking poles because it made me just feel safer while hiking down. This is not an area where you want to risk the chance of slipping!
After about a half mile or so the trail opens up and is exposed to the warm sun. Which meant no more ice and snow and now dry dirt underneath our feet! For the reminder of the trail, it will be exposed to the sun so if your skin is not protected by clothes…be sure to bring sunscreen with you.
As we continued hiking down the trail is lined with rocks and offers a stretched out view of the Grand Canyon. At times, it feels like you are hiking through the air and it’s an unimaginable idea to think that you are hiking to the bottom.
There are a few points of interests along the way along this trail that typically day hikers make their destinations.
The first location at around a mile is called, Ooh Aah Point. This is an area where there are big boulders and offers another gorgeousness view of the canyon. I remember as I was approaching this area there were these two big black birds hovering around the area. It felt really magical as if they were greeting me to this spot. Continuing on switchbacks begin to start back as you pursue your way down.
About half a mile after that, (so around 1.5 miles total) you will come across to Cedar Ridge. This area is a somewhat flatter section that opens up to the canyon giving you a more internal view of the canyon.. It’s also at this point that you begin to make eye level contact with the buttes that emerge from the canyon. Instead of gazing out upon them you are now hiking right next to them.
Throughout this entire time the trail is clear and easy to make out. At no point is there any slightest confusion about where the trail is going.
At around 3 miles total you then will reach Skelton Point. This is the last point recommended for day hikers, which means you start to see the other hikers dwindle away and it’s just you and the trail going forward. With that said, there’s a sense of stillness and quietness that encompasses this area. And an unspoken bond and friendless towards any other backpacker you come across on the trail.
The Skelton Point area is where the trail turns into a series of steep and tight switchbacks. It’s along this area where you will see your first sight of the Colorado River and also a cave along your right side.
Seeing the river energizes you and while you still might feel so far away as you look at the trail below, you start to feel so close.
It’s also during this portion that the landscape changes and you literally feel like you are hiking in the Phoenix area. Minus the saguaros, but the dirt, the temperature of the air, the lizards scattering about, it all feels like home. (if you’re a Phoenix hiker, that is)
As you look down onto the river you will begin to be able to make out the black bridge that you will soon be crossing to get to the other side of the Canyon. As you get closer the clearer it will become that you are almost at the bottom!
It was during this area that we saw a baby long horn sheep which we decided was welcoming us to the Grand Canyon experience! It looked at us with such curiosity and yet friendliness. It really set to the tone for the amazing time we were about to have down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Before you know it the steep switchbacks will end and you’ll be there right in front of the bridge. There is a carved out tunnel that you must walk through, to reach this bridge. As walking across, it really put into perspective, just how big the Colorado really is and how fast it is flowing. Looking at it from above, it looks small and peaceful, but now actually crossing it, I see it’s the complete opposite.
This black bridge was built in 1928 and all material to build it had to be brought down by hand or mule. Walking across and seeing the long suspension cables, is something I silently thanked for the men who built this bridge. I could not image what it was like to build this, but the fact that it’s there shows how powerful the human urge is to visit this extraordinary land.
Once across the other side the trail veers toward the right where you’ll see boat beach and signs pointing out areas where archaeologists discovered an ancient tribes home dwelling. It hit me that while this was my first time exploring this area and feeling as if it was so new and untouched, there’s been years of people who lived here. This ancient tribe stood right where I was standing and looking up onto the same rocks as I was gazing upon.
As you continue along you will begin to start seeing signs directing you to the North Rim, Bright Angel Campground or to Phantom Ranch.
Since we were staying at Bright Angel Campground, we headed off in that direction to make a home for ourselves and to cheers over a beer of accomplishing hiking down the Grand Canyon.
Overall, the South Kaibab trail didn’t feel like a straight shot into the Canyon (Although on a map, that’s exactly what it looks like). Instead while on it I felt like it was taking us to all sorts of areas. I feel like no words cannot describe how magical the Grand Canyon is. Just like how pictures can’t do it justice, it’s one of those things you need to experience to be able to take it all in.