This Grand Canyon bucket-list hike is one you’ll remember for years afterwards. The South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails are the best kept, well known hiking trails on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Combining these two for an all day hike is a challenge many people dream of accomplishing. While it may be one of the most difficult hikes of your life, the reward of reaching the bottom and dipping your feet into the Colorado River is high greater than any pain you’ll endure.
While there are multiple ways to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the route covered in this post begins at the South Kaibab Trailhead, brings you to Phantom Ranch, past Pipe Creek Beach, and back up the Bright Angel Trail.
This guide has been intently crafted to help you plan and complete your South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail hike. Today it sits as my most challenging and favorited hike to date, and I can’t wait to share it with you. I hope you’re ready to plan one of the best hikes of your life!
South Kaibab To Bright Angel Trail In One Day
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Hike Stats & Overview
Below is a quick overview of what you can expect from this epic Grand Canyon day hike.
Distance | 18.19 miles round trip
Difficulty | Difficult & strenuous
Elevation Gain | 4,639 feet
Elevation Change | 7,000 feet at the South Rim to 2,400 feet at Phantom Ranch.
Begin & End | Begin at South Kaibab Trailhead and end at Bright Angel Trailhead, both on the South Rim.
Total Time | 10 hours & 25 minutes
Permits Needed | None unless you plan on camping at the bottom.
Best Months | October-April
I knew this could be the only time that I ever got to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so I wanted to make the most of it and experience all that I could fit in.
While a good majority of hikers hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel Campground and back up Bright Angel Trail, I opted to take a short detour to Phantom Ranch before heading up the Bright Angel Trail with a stop at Pipe Creek Beach along the way.
The above stats include my two small detours, and if you choose to opt out then your total distance will be closer to 16.5 miles.
why visit phantom ranch
You may only reach the bottom of the Grand Canyon once so I highly suggest taking a detour to Phantom Ranch and visiting the canteen.
The Phantom Ranch canteen is a small store and restaurant that sits on the floor of the Grand Canyon- how cool! You are able to order meals ahead of time so they are prepared upon your arrival, or just visit for a daily snack and drink.
My group and I took a lunch break at one of the picnic tables outside the canteen. We brought our own food but I did buy a small glass of wine, a sticker for my cooler, and a much needed chocolate snack. They also have potable water here so we were able to refill our hydration packs and bottles.
Phantom Ranch is 0.5 miles out of the way, adding an extra 1.0 mile to your hike. But honestly how often will you be able to sit at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and order a drink!? Worth it in my book.
why visit pipe creek beach
A short spur trail off the Bright Angel Trail will take you down to Pipe Creek Beach. This detour is roughly 0.25 miles, adding no more than 0.5 miles to your trip. Is it worth it? Heck yes!
How many people get to say they put their feet in the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? To me, this is an experience many people dream of, myself included. Dipping your sore feet into the cold water is so satisfying and helps give them life for the difficult climb out.
Caution: The currents in the Colorado River are extremely powerful and dangerous. Do not attempt to swim, only wade in far enough to submerge your feet.
Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app like Gaia GPS.
You can download my South Kaibab to Bright Angel track and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
Planning Your South Kaibab to Bright Angel Hike
Before all the fun can begin a level of preparation is extremely necessary. Hiking the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails is not an easy feat for any hiker. While the trails are some of the best maintained in the park there are other things to consider- your abilities, weather, water, restrooms, etc.
Below are some very important questions you should have answers to before attempting this hike!
can i do this as a day hike?
Every Grand Canyon National Park official will warn you to not attempt this day hike due to liability. There are even signs posted that urge hikers to hike no more than 4.5 miles down, totaling 9 miles round trip in one day. This is because it is a strenuous hike and too many people are rescued every year, putting the rescuers in danger themselves.
Still, many hikers take on the challenge. Do not take this hike lightly, however. It is extremely important you assess your abilities and even train beforehand if necessary. You should be an experienced hiker and in great physical condition before attempting to hike down and back up in one day.
If you are questioning your abilities, or at all concerned, consider the following:
Are you or do you…
- Able to be on your feet for 10+ miles
- Able to carry a 20L or larger pack for 8+ hours
- Know how to read a map, follow a GPS, and stay on trail
- Have (or willing to get) the proper gear needed (keep reading for packing list!)
If this is your average weekend or even once a month outing then I think you’ll be just fine. However if any of this makes you nervous, then consider training or gaining more hiking experience beforehand.
How Many Hours Is This Hike?
Of course this depends on your pace and how many stops you make along the way, but I think it is safe to say it will take you anywhere from 8-12 hours.
If you don’t stop often and move quickly you can hike from South Kaibab to Bright Angel in 8 hours. But if you’re slower paced and want to take breaks, then plan for 12 hours total.
It took my group and I 10 hours and 25 minutes which included a nice long lunch at Phantom Ranch, a dip in the Colorado River (feet only), and lots of photo stops. We kept a fast pace while hiking, though!
when is the best time to hike the grand canyon?
Now it is time to plan when you’ll hike from South Kaibab to Bright Angel! Planning your hike during the right months will either make or break the total experience. I’ve broken the months down for you below.
The Grand Canyon can experience extremely high temperatures during these months with average high temperatures between 71 and 85 degrees. When you pair heat, sun exposure, and strenuous activities it can be a recipe for heat related illnesses. This needs to be taken very seriously because the Grand Canyon is so rugged and remote.
At the bottom of the Grand Canyon temperatures can be anywhere from 10-20 degrees warmer than back up at the rim where you began. This means as you’re hiking down you will be warming up and as you’re working your muscles to climb back out it will be much warmer.
That is not to say these months aren’t great for vising the national park. You can still visit and it will be beautiful, but a strenuous hike like this shouldn’t be part of your itinerary.
Recommended- perfect time
I highly suggest planning this hike between these months! The average high temperatures range from 45 to 65 degrees. Mornings will be very chilly but if you layer properly you’ll be comfortable. As the sun rises and you make your way down into the canyon you’ll end up shedding your layers anyways!
Chances are there could be snow at the South Rim and at the top of the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails. Always check the weather conditions ahead of time and have a pair of microspikes with you to be safe.
WHERE CAN I REFILL MY WATER?
18+ miles is a long way to go and packing your entire water supply is nearly impossible. You will have to re-fill your water bottle and hydration pack at least once during your hike. Luckily the Grand Canyon has water pipelines available throughout the park.
These pipelines are fed from Roaring Springs which is a natural spring located about 3,500 feet below the North Rim. Unfortunately this pipeline suffers multiple breaks a year which means some (if not all) water stations may be shut off.
It is very important to research and plan which potable (already treated) water stations you will refill at, as well as check the national park website the day before for statuses.
Potable Water Stations Between South Kaibab to Bright Angel
There are plenty of potable water stations available along this hiking route. I put an * by the ones I refilled at and found most convenient.
- South Kaibab Trailhead
- Bright Angel Campground
- Phantom Boat Beach
- Phantom Ranch Canteen*
- Havasupai Gardens (formerly Indian Gardens)*
- Plateau Point
- Three Mile Resthouse
- Mile and a Half Resthouse
- Bright Angel Trailhead
Important note: Potable water means already treated water. The park does have some untreated water stations so make sure to read the signs before drinking the wrong water!
Water Safety In The Grand Canyon
On the off-chance that you’re not able to refill your water at the water stations you’ll be left with filtering from natural water sources like the Colorado River or other streams.
Water treatment is imperative for your health in the outdoors and isn’t something you want to skip out on. Contaminants of all sorts can get into the water especially when wildlife, livestock, and humans can reach it. For this reason it is very important you have a trusty water filtration system with you!
The Sawyer Filter Kit is an extremely lightweight and effective filtration system perfect for the backcountry. You won’t even notice the extra weight in your pack.
where can i use the restroom?
Another helpful thing to note ahead of time is the restroom availability along your route. Luckily the Grand Canyon has some options when hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel, listed in order below:
- South Kaibab Trailhead
- Cedar Ridge
- Tip Off
- Bright Angel Campground
- River Resthouse
- Havasupai Gardens (formerly Indian Gardens)
- Three Mile Resthouse
- One and a Half Mile Resthouse
- Bright Angel Trailhead
Helpful fact: Not every pit house has toilet paper or hand sanitizer available. Sometimes they run out. Consider this when packing for your hike!
Cleanliness In The Grand Canyon
I can be a bit of a germ freak when it comes to using pit toilets, especially the ones deep in the backcountry that most likely don’t get cleaned often. These types of restrooms can transmit many different illnesses including the Gastrointestinal illness which is common every year in the Grand Canyon.
To stay clean and safe I religiously carried and used my own hand sanitizer as well as these antibacterial wipes. One pack holds 10 wipes which is plenty for two to three people during this hike.
Parking & Getting To The Trailhead
We’ve covered a lot of trip planning and now it is time to figure out where to park. The South Kaibab Trailhead is not accessible by private vehicles so you will have to take Grand Canyon’s free shuttle bus. Luckily their shuttle system runs at convenient hours year-round so you should have no trouble getting to and from trailheads.
It is always best practice to check the NPS website for current shuttle routes and updates before your visit.
There are essentially two ways you can utilize the shuttle system for your South Kaibab to Bright Angel hike. Let’s break it down below.
Park At The Visitor Center
The first option is to park at the Grand Canyon visitor center parking lot and hop on the orange shuttle route. The orange route picks you up from the visitor center and takes you to the South Kaibab trailhead after a couple stops along the way.
This option can guarantee you a parking space since you’ll arrive before sunrise and most other visitors. The only drawback is that when you finish your hike at Bright Angel trailhead you’ll have to hop on a series of shuttle routes to get back to your car. It can be tiresome after a long day of hiking and you have to be at the trailhead in time for the last shuttle of the day- usually 30 minutes past sunset.
If you miss the last shuttle you will have to hike the extra miles to the visitor center where your car is parked. As long as you are confident in your abilities and timing then this shuttle route is a great option to choose!
Park At bright angel trailhead
A second option is to park at the Bright Angel trailhead and ride the series of shuttle routes to South Kaibab trailhead first. The blue route will take you from here to the visitor center, where you’ll then hop on the orange route to South Kaibab. You may be wondering why in the world you’d do this?
One reason is to get the long shuttle series out of the way first so you don’t have to do it on the way back. But most importantly you will end your hike right where you car is parked. This way, if you do arrive later than expected, you’ve still got wheels. It is also nice to be able to hop in your car and drive off immediately after a hike like this.
It may be a race for parking in the morning so be sure you are getting a very early start to your day. The parking lot at Bright Angel trailhead isn’t very big so if all of the parking spots are full you can try the Back Country Information Center just down the road. The shuttle also stops here!
Hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel
Your hike will begin at the South Kaibab Trailhead. I suggest arriving and beginning your hike just before or right at sunrise to ensure enough daylight for your adventure. Not only that, but this trail during sunrise is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced! The beginning of South Kaibab Trail is extremely scenic and the colors during sunrise are unreal.
South Kaibab Trail
It is essentially all downhill from the rim to the Colorado River, so some will think it is easy-going while others may feel the brunt of the downward force on their knees. South Kaibab begins with a series of steep switchbacks, descending quickly for roughly the first mile.
Along the way you’ll pass OOH-AAH point, the first viewpoint along South Kaibab. This is an iconic viewpoint with a sign you must get your picture taken at! It provides the first distant views into the Grand Canyon and fills hikers with pure excitement.
After OOH-AAH point the trail continues to descend to Cedar Ridge, the next viewpoint. There are restrooms here for use and is a nice resting place to de-layer if need be. As you hike deeper into the canyon the temperatures will rise and the sun will be most likely be beating down on you at this point.
Another 1.30 miles and you’ll arrive at Skeleton Point, the last viewpoint along the South Kaibab Trail. This is the suggested turn-around point for day hikers and a great time to assess your health before continuing on.
From Skeleton Point you’ll continue descending switchbacks (pictured above) with outstanding views all the way to the Tip-Off. This point is where the Tonto Trail intersects the South Kaibab Trail on the Tonto Plateau.
The Tip-Off allows you to loop over to the Bright Angel Trail early, intersecting right at Havasupai Garden (formerly Indian Garden). This is a good option if you need to cut your trip short for whatever reason, but it will not take you all the way to the Colorado River.
Continuing along the South Kaibab Trail there is one last steep descent to reach the Colorado River! As you continue hiking down into the Grand Canyon you’ll be able to get your first glimpse of the mighty river and famous suspension bridge.
Just as you near the suspension bridge there will be a fork in the trail providing you with the option to take the River Trail to connect with the Bright Angel Trail. If you don’t want to visit Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch then you’ll want to turn left onto the River Trail.
But if you wish to visit Phantom Ranch (+1 mile round trip to your daily mileage), you’ll continue on to cross the Colorado River. Before crossing the suspension bridge you’ll hike through a tunnel that opens up to it- talk about a ‘wow’ factor!
Check out Hiking South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon- Complete Guide for a full guide to hiking just the South Kaibab Trail.
Phantom Ranch & Canteen
Once across the bridge it is 0.5 miles to reach the Phantom Ranch Canteen. At this point you’re walking on the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Along the way you can stop at Boat Beach for river level views of the suspension bridge and to dip your feet in the water. I opted to skip Boat Beach and head straight to the Canteen, saving my beach visit for Pipe Creek Beach later on.
As you head towards Phantom Ranch you’ll hike alongside Bright Angel Creek. This area is extremely lush and beautiful. It is like an oasis at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that you wouldn’t expect. Temperatures can be 10-20 degrees warmer here than up on the rim. When I visited it was so warm I had to de-layer even more!
If the Canteen is open you can order yourself a Grand Canyon sticker, drinks, or a snack from the window. There are picnic tables to rest at and potable water to refill your supply before heading to Bright Angel Trail.
Once you’ve had your lunch and are ready to get back at it, you’ll head out on the same trail, but this time cross the Silver Bridge to connect with the Bright Angel Trail.
Bright Angel Trail
From the Silver Bridge you’ll turn right onto the Bright Angel Trail and the ascent out of the Grand Canyon begins. In roughly 1.2 miles you’ll hike upon restrooms on the right and a trail that leads down to Pipe Creek Beach.
Pipe Creek Beach
The beach isn’t far off the main trail and is worth visiting to dip your feet in the cold water. After soaking my feet in the water for a few minutes any pain I had went away and and I quickly felt refreshed, ready for the miles that lay ahead.
Enjoy a quick rest here and soak in the last views of the Colorado River, because from here on out it is strictly business! Not really, but it sure felt like it.
The section between Pipe Creek Beach and Havasupai Garden is a gradual incline through another lush area of the canyon that included a mini waterfall just off the trail. It was actually quite pleasant.
Havasupai Garden will be the next point with restrooms and water you’ll come across. Once you reach this area I suggest filling up your water for the last time and taking a rest if needed. From this point on it is a steep climb back to the rim and I don’t suggest stopping much in order to prevent leg cramping and muscle tightening.
Continuing along the Bright Angel Trail the elevation gain slowly becomes steeper and steeper until you reach the switchbacks, and from there on it gets difficult and feels like the switchbacks never end. If I’m being honest I blurred a lot of this section out and didn’t take many pictures because I was focused on my breathing and just trying to not give up.
But at one point I did stop to take a look down at all we had just hiked. It is pretty impressive when you look at how far you’ve come!
There will be two more viewpoints and rest stops between this point and the rim- 3 Mile Resthouse and 1.5 Mile Resthouse. Both have restrooms and potable water. Once you reach these it is a huge relief inside because you know you are so close, but you still have to put a lot of work in because it is arguably the steepest section.
Eventually you will make it to the top of the rim marking the end of your South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail hike! It is surely something to celebrate and I’ll never forget the feeling.
What To Pack For Your Grand Canyon Hike
If you’re wondering what all you should pack for a big hike like this, don’t worry. Below is a list of essentials I packed with me and recommend you do as well.
Typically I am one to urge others that they don’t need top of the line gear for a hike. But because of the difficult nature of the South Kaibab to Bright Angel hike, I highly recommend investing in certain durable and reliable gear.
The non-negotiables to me would be the things that will make a huge difference in your comfortability and performance during the hike- shoes, backpack, and hydration pack. Most other pieces of gear are less in cost and don’t have to be ‘name brand’.
South Kaibab to Bright Angel Gear Packing List
- Durable hiking shoe or boot | Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX
- Supportive backpack | Osprey Skarab 30
- 3L hydration pack | Osprey 3L
- Wool socks | Darn Tough Wool Socks
- Packable down jacket | ” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”>Wantdo Packable Lightweight Jacket
- Synthetic layer | Under Armour 1/2 Zip Longsleeve
- Water filter | Sawyer Water Filtration
- Water bottle | 20 oz Hydroflask
- Liquid IV | Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier
- Medical kit | Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit
- Microfiber towel | 2 Pack Microfiber Towel
- GPS device | Garmin inReach Mini 2
- Headlamps | LED Rechargeable Headlamp
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and/or hat
- Protein bars, snacks, and/or sandwiches- more than you think you’ll need!
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable battery pack
- Bag to carry out trash
Tips For Your South Kaibab To Bright Angel Hike
- Arrive at least one day before you plan on hiking to acclimate and get proper rest.
- Visit the park information center the day prior to confirm operating potable water locations.
- While at the visitor center be sure to ask for a paper trail map! It is always important to have a paper map of the area you’ll be hiking in.
- Hydrate more than normal 1-2 days before your hike.
- Eat more than you think you’ll need throughout the hike.
- When climbing back up Bright Angel Trail try to pace yourself and refrain from stopping during the steep parts. This will help prevent muscle tightening and cramping.
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Recap: South Kaibab, Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Trail In One Day
Phew! We sure covered a lot during this guide and I hope you feel well prepared to hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel by now. Completing an adventure this big is an accomplishment and experience you will always remember. Words can’t describe what I was feeling inside during and post hike…but I can tell you it was amazing.
Please remember that even if you end up having to turn around, it is okay! A challenge like this will give us all an idea of where our abilities are and uncover what we can work on.
Regardless of what shape you are in, this day hike is challenging for all. I was sore for two days afterwards but loved every minute of it because the pain reminded me of what I had just accomplished. I can’t wait to go back and hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon again, but this time maybe follow a different route.
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you hiked South Kaibab to Bright Angel before, or planning to in the future? Share in the comments below!
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