South Kaibab Trail

  • First light, from near Yaki Point - © William Mackesy
  • First light, from Yaki Point - © William Mackesy
  • First light, from near Yaki Point - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • The winding trail - © William Mackesy
  • O"Neill Butte, with trail - © William Mackesy
  • Ridgetop trail to O"Neill Butte - © William Mackesy
  • Plateau Point behind - © William Mackesy
  • Ridgetop trail to O"Neill Butte - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Trail to O"Neill Butte - © William Mackesy
  • Trail to O"Neill Butte - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Zig-zags below Skeleton Point - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Hamming it up... - © William Mackesy
  • On the way up from Phanton Ranch - © William Mackesy

Key information: South Kaibab Trail

  • This outstanding hike drops deep into the world’s most famous canyon.
  •  Revel in huge views across the vast canyon; enjoy the changing colours and fantastic shapes of the cliffs, buttes and spires. Enter another world with wildly varying ecosystems as you plunge deeper into the gorge.
  • A magnificent (if over-popular) shortish walk or long return day walk. (Don’t descend further than you can climb back!)

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating96
  • Beauty38
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest5
  • Charisma38
  • Negative points3
  • Total rating96
  • Note: Negs: Crowding

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 13 miles return
  • Maximum Altitude: [7,250ft] 2,510m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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First light, from near Yaki Point - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a World Heritage Site, and geological heaven. It is hard to overpraise the canyon’s raw, outlandish shapes and formations: they are justly famous. The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is astounding.

The South Kaibab Trail is one of two wide and well-constructed “corridor” trails (along with the Bright Angel Trail: both constructed as mule trails) down into the Canyon from the South Rim that are good options for novice walkers – but can be hugely crowded.

Revel in huge views across the vast canyon; enjoy the changing colours and fantastic shapes of the cliffs, buttes and spires. Enter another world with wildly varying ecosystems as you plunge deeper into the great void.

The South Kaibab is in our view the better of the two main routes for views and drama: it descends a long ridge, with enormous views quite quickly all around the Canyon, and the thrill of teetering atop and down often sheer slopes. (The Bright Angel Trail, by comparison, is inside a deep canyon-recess in the south rim cliffs, so has limited and unvarying views, and feels more of a grind. And is more crowded as it starts right in the heart of the Grand Canyon Village.)

The route:

Beginning at the South Rim trailhead near Yaki Point east of the visitor centre, the trail makes a quick descent from the cool(ish) forest of the rim to Cedar Ridge, tumbling [6+ miles down to the Colorado from the Kaibab limestone of the top, passing through nine mostly sandstone layers of the Canyon.

 Unlike most trails down, which follow side canyons, the South Kaibab Trail sticks to a long ridge, a series of buttes and rocky tops with saddles between, so you get huge views much of the way down, which are often awe-inspiring. Pass various famous lookouts, including the delightfully named Oo-Ah Point and Skeleton Point.

Across the sloping Tonto Platform, the scene of the eponymous lateral trail, you drop steeply from the Tip-off the river and a suspension bridge that allows access to the North Rim. Only recommended for the super-fit and very experienced, unless you plan to stay down there. You can then cross to Phantom Ranch or the Bright Angel campground and then back the next day, or on along the North Kaibab Trail to cross the Canyon.

The return hike from deep down is a long slog, but much assisted by the brilliant construction of the trail.

How far down you walk is optional: there are various points along the way with great views, where you can enjoy the magnificence of the Canyon below the rim then get back up without excessive suffering. It is a magnificent (if over-popular) long return day walk, if that is what you are seeking. This is a beautifully constructed and maintained trail and, in our experience, one of the least painful ways anywhere to gain/drop significant height. (We barely noticed our limbs after descending some 3,500ft in 2.5 hrs on the South Kaibab to the Tip-off, and climbed the Bright Angel from Indian Garden in 3hrs with tired legs. But we are experienced hikers.)  That said, it is still a tough walk if you go a significant way down: don’t underestimate it, limit how far down you go to the reality of your fitness. Remember that you have to get back to the rim: “Descending is optional; ascending is compulsory”, as the signs say, approximately. Dropping on to the Colorado river is not recommended as a day walk.

The South Kaibab and Bright Angel are the most famous of all trails and commensurately crowded, so, if you are an experienced walker and like (relative) solitude, you will want to consider other alternatives.

If you are a strong walker, consider the Grand Day Loop, in our view the best day walk in the Grand Canyon. 13-16km of visual rapture. Descend the South Kaibab Trail to the Tip-off. This is the better descent, as the trail follows a ridge most of the way down, so has superb and wide views. Traverse from the Tip-off to Indian Garden (on the Bright Angel Trail) on the brilliant Tonto Trail , which is beyond delightful; then it is the long ascent of the Bright Angel Trail back to the Canyon Village. If you think you have the legs, do make the level, 3 mile round trip from Indian Garden to Plateau Point, for dramatic and magnificent views of the Colorado river.

This is tough walking in hot, dry conditions. Come fully prepared, including carrying plenty of water.

The Cicerone guide has good information on this walk. Find these and other books on Amazon.

See our Grand Canyon page for much more on the canyon, and detailed practical information.

WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk

Here is our descent of the South Kaibab, as part of the Grand Day Loop:

Drew, our driver-guide, drops us at the road barrier, and we walk the 10 minutes to the South Kaibab trailhead. As we reach the rim, a fierce wind whips up: rising dawn air.

The world below us is quiet and dim. The first light is just touching the upper ridges and buttes in a glorious incandescence.

Check watch:7.20am. We plunge. The early trail snakes down the hard pale limestone .....

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Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

© William Mackesy

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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© William Mackesy...
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