South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

Distance: 7.0 miles one way
Elevation loss/gain: 4780 feet
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Date: December 8, 2013

The lower canyon from below the tip off

The South Kaibab Trail is one of the corridor trails in Grand Canyon National Park that goes from the rim to Phantom Ranch. The other corridor trails are the Bright Angel, North Kaibab, and River trails. The South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails start at the South Rim, while the North Kaibab Trail starts at the North Rim.

I hiked the South Kaibab Trail on day one of my three day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. On day two I hiked the River Trail and part of the North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls, and on day three I hiked the Bright Angel Trail. I had originally planned a five day rim-to-rim-to-rim backpacking trip for this time period in December, but due to the very cold and below average temperatures, I decided to stay two nights at the Bright Angel Campground rather than two additional nights nights at the higher (and colder) Cottonwood Campground.

Along the uppermost portion of the South Kaibab Trail

Cliffs along the South Rim

I stayed the night of December 7th at the Bright Angel Lodge, having arrived around 3:30 the previous afternoon during a snowstorm. The next morning I moved my car to the parking lot next to the Backcountry Information Center and took the the shuttle bus to the Visitor Center. There I immediately transferred to another bus, which took me to the South Kaibab trailhead, which is a couple miles east of the Backcountry Information Center and the Bright Angel trailhead and lodge. The South Kaibab trailhead is not accessible by personal vehicle at any time of year.

View down from the South Kaibab Trail

View along Cedar Ridge

The South Kaibab Trail has a greater elevation change in a shorter distance than the South Kaibab Trail, but it follows a ridge for much of the way and doesn't have any water or shade from trees or structures available until end of the trail. So in the summer and warmer parts of the year it is recommended that you only hike down this trail. I also thought that this trail was quite a bit more scenic than the Bright Angel Trail, primarily due to it being on a ridge as opposed to the valley that the Bright Angel Trail follows. Plus there was sun which made it feel a bit warmer.

Snow on the trail
Descending below Skeleton Point to the tip off

As the trail descended from the South Rim, there was snow along about the upper 2/3 of its length. But the snow wasn't compacted because most of it had fallen the previous day, so crampons weren't really effective. About halfway down sunny parts of the trail became muddy before the snow disappeared altogether before the tip off. There are fabulous views along nearly all of the trail, but there are particularly good ones at (descending along the trail) Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point, and just below the tip off. There are pit toilets and an emergency phone available at a couple locations along the trail.

Nearing Skeleton Point

Nearing the tip off

Around the tip off I came across a bighorn sheep along the trail before gaining my first view of the lower canyon. Near the bottom of the canyon this trail intersects with the River Trail before continuing to the Colorado River where it passes through a tunnel and immediately onto the Black Bridge, which is suspension bridge built in the 1920s. Once across the bridge it is a short distance past the Bright Angel Pueblo and boat beach to its intersection with the River/Bright Angel to Silver Bridge and North Kaibab trails. From this intersection trails go along both sides of Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch (with one going through the campground).

Lower canyon with the South Kaibab Trail visible at right

Lower canyon below the tip off with Phantom Ranch area just left of center

Most of the cottonwood trees at the bottom of the canyon were at their peak fall color during my visit, although some trees had no leaves while others were completely green. I took about three hours to hike down the entire trail, so I went to canteen at Phantom Ranch where I took a break in the warmth of the building (the high outside at the ranch was 45 that day and in the mid-20s on the rim) before going to the campground. The campground was mostly empty that night with only four sites occupied, so I selected one that I expected would have sun early in the day. After dinner at 5:30 at Phantom Ranch (I made reservations two months earlier), I returned to the campground and got nearly twelve hours of sleep that night from after sunset until I woke up to go to the 7:00 breakfast at Phantom Ranch the next morning. The low that night was 27 degrees, although it was 32 when I woke up at 6:45 and didn't fall to 27 until later in the morning, perhaps around 8:00.

Black Bridge

View upstream from the Black Bridge

Looking downstream along Bright Angel Creek withe campground along the right side

The intersection of the North Kaibab Trail, South Kaibab Trail, and trail to the Silver Bridge

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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