Hiking South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon- Complete Guide

South Kaibab Trail

If you’re on the hunt for the best day hike in the Grand Canyon National Park, you may have just found it. Located on the South Rim of the canyon, the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails are the most scenic and popular to explore.

I like to think that the South Kaibab Trail makes for the perfect day hike– especially for those who aren’t willing or able to hike all the way to the bottom and back in one day!

Whether you plan on hiking this trail in one day, camping at the bottom, or hiking only a portion of it, I go over all options in this post to help you plan which is best for you.

Grand Canyon Sunrise
January 2nd sunrise over the Grand Canyon.

STATS AND IMPORTANT POINTS

ROUND TRIP TRAIL STATS

  • Distance: 14.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,880 feet

VIEW POINTS TO STOP OR TURN AROUND AT

I love the South Kaibab trail not only because it is scenic, but also because it has 3 distinctive view points along the way. This is great for those who want to hike in the Grand Canyon but aren’t able to or maybe don’t want to go all the way to the bottom.

I’ve listed the 3 scenic points in order for you below, and I’ll be going over each one in depth later in this post.

CAMPING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON

If you’re planning on hiking down and camping at the bottom then your choices will be Bright Angel Campground or booking a reservation at the Phantom Ranch (0.3 miles beyond Bright Angel).

Both options fill up FAST and you will need to enter a lottery for a backpacking permit or reservation at the ranch. Be sure to check their websites (linked above) for booking/permit information and when you can apply!

ALTERNATE RETURN ROUTE

If you can’t decide between the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel, do both! Typically hikers head down the South Kaibab Trail and camp at the Bright Angel Campground or stay at the Phantom Ranch, then hike back up Bright Angel Trail!

Doing so will add mileage to your overall hike, totaling about 16.5 miles. But at least this way you get to hike two different trails and see different scenery. It’s a win-win if you ask me.

South Kaibab Trail

WHEN TO HIKE THE SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL

The South Kaibab Trail can be hiked year round but the BEST times to visit are spring and fall. Both times I’ve hiked it have been in the winter- once with some snow!

Winter hiking was a blast because the canyon paired with some snow made it that much more scenic. The morning was extremely cold, though, and the stretches in the shade mid-day were much colder. Microspikes were necessary to have on hand because there were ice and snow covered areas on the trail.

Try to refrain from hiking during the summer if at all possible! Temperatures can get extremely hot and you’ll have to carry even more water than you think. Also, there isn’t much shade, so being in the sun while hiking back up can easily lead to heat exhaustion.


I always recommend tracking yourself or following an already made track so you can check in and be sure you’re on the right path. Below is a screenshot of my track to Cedar Ridge Point!

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.

You can download my South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge 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!


South Kaibab Trail

HOW TO GET TO SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL HEAD

Since there is no visitor parking at the South Kaibab Trailhead you’ll have to take a shuttle. Luckily the shuttles on the South Rim run year round and are pretty on time! I suggest heading straight to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and finding parking. The earlier you arrive, the better. This place fills up FAST!

Once you’ve parked, follow the signs to the shuttles. The area is super easy to find and they have the shuttle routes, colors, and names listed on a sign for you to follow.

The shuttle will take you straight to the trailhead and you can begin your hike. Just be sure to check their schedule so you don’t miss the last pick up!

Ooh Aah Point South Kaibab Trail

HIKING SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO OOH-AAH POINT

  • 0.9 miles down
  • 1.8 miles if hiked RT

From the trailhead to OOH-AAH Point it is only 0.9 miles and since you are going down into the canyon it goes by quick! You’ll immediately hike a series of switchbacks that are well graded and pretty gradual.

This view point sits on the edge of one of the switchbacks, giving some of the first epic canyon views from down within. OOH-AAH Point is a wonderful spot to stop and take some pictures before continuing to the next point or heading back up.

PRO TIP: It generally takes people twice as long to hike up as it did for them to get down. Time yourself as you’re hiking so you can judge how long it may take you to get back up. Keep in mind- you’re climbing a lot of elevation when you’re hiking out of the canyon. Be careful not to hike too far down that you’ll struggle getting back out.

Cedar Point on South Kaibab Trail

HIKING SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO CEDAR RIDGE

  • 1.5 miles down
  • 3.0 miles if hiked RT

From OOH-AAH point you’ll continue hiking a series of tighter switchbacks for 0.6 miles to Cedar Ridge, the next view point along the South Kaibab Trail. In my opinion the views are better here and definitely worth the little bit of extra mileage if you can make it.

At this point there are restrooms and a large red-tinged mesa that is open for exploring and taking pictures. If you need a break to rest your legs before heading back up or to eat a snack, this would be the perfect place to spread out and do so!

South Kaibab Trail

HIKING SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO SKELETON POINT

  • 2.8 miles down
  • 5.6 miles if hiked RT

The trail continues from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point, wrapping around to the east and leveling out at the final marked view point. Skeleton Point is the last well marked “destination” spot to turn around before completing the whole South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch.

Here, you can enjoy views of the Colorado River as you take it all in and prepare yourself to head back out of the canyon or complete the rest of the trail.

HIKING SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO PHANTOM RANCH

  • 7.15 miles down
  • 14.3 miles if hiked RT

Skeleton Point to Phantom Ranch is the longest leg of this hike and probably the steepest. You’ll descend into the inner gorge until you reach the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Finally you’ve made it to the Colorado River and get to cross it!

Once across the bridge, you’ll turn left and hike to the River Trail intersection. At this point there is drinking water and another restroom provided. If you’re turning back to hike out of the canyon this would be a good turn around point, unless you want to check out the campground and ranch.

From the intersection you’ll head North towards Bright Angel Campground. If you’re camping here then you’ve made it to your destination! If you’re staying at Phantom Ranch, you’ll continue for about 0.3 miles past the campground.

South Kaibab Trail

FINAL THOUGHTS ON HIKING THE SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL

No matter how far you make it along the South Kaibab Trail, any distance will be worth it. The Grand Canyon sure is grand, but it doesn’t totally get put into perspective on how big it is until you’re down in it.

If you are weary about hiking the total length of the trail in one day (which can be done!), try scoring a permit to backpack or a reservation at the ranch, or just hike to one of the 3 main view points to get a little taste of it.

As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.

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7 thoughts on “Hiking South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon- Complete Guide

  1. Tom says:

    Greetings Kara. My daughter (29) is a school teacher in Scottsdale so I appreciate your reports on some of the AZ hikes. We have done some in Sedona and Flagstaff. Hope to do more. She lives very near the Mc Dowell Nature Preserve. Any good suggestions for hikes there.

    Thanks and keep pressing on,

    Tom

  2. Tom says:

    Looking forward to doing this hike with my daughter soon. Been down the Bright Angel trail and rafted the river years ago. You must go down in the Grand Canyon to appreciate it. Thanks for your reviews!

    • Kara says:

      Hi Tom! I agree, you definitely have to hike down into the canyon even a little bit to truly appreciate the beauty. I hope you and your daughter enjoy this trail 🙂

  3. Angelika says:

    Such gorgeous views and photos. I’ve lived in Arizona most of my life and have only been to the Grand Canyon twice. Now I wish I had gone more times! It’s so peaceful and beautiful and the air smells so fresh and organic. Thank you for sharing your adventure!

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