If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon South Rim and are on the hunt for the most scenic hike, you just found it. The South Kaibab Trail provides expansive views into the canyon and is one of the most well groomed trails on the south rim- an absolute must-see during your visit.
What makes this Grand Canyon day hike special is that it has three very distinct view points along the way that are perfect turn-around spots if you don’t have time or aren’t able to hike the full trail. It is okay if you aren’t a big hiker! You’ll still be able to enjoy the top portion of the South Kaibab Trail and in this post I’m going to show you how.
Whether you plan on hiking the full South Kaibab 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. This includes trail details, restroom stops, water re-fill stations, and more.
Can I Hike The South Kaibab Trail In One Day?
Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in one day is not recommended for most hikers. It is a very strenuous and long hike that is only recommended for experienced hikers. The National Park rangers actually will advise every single visitor against it. Yet some still set out to accomplish it.
It is very do-able if you are used to 10+ mile long hikes, climbing high elevations, and being on your feet for 8+ hours. This needs to be safely done during cooler months and you need to have the proper gear and supplies. If you don’t have the experience or the gear, then I’d highly consider your other options.
Which Is Better- South Kaibab Or Bright Angel?
The two best trails on the Grand Canyon South Rim are the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails. They are well maintained, have restroom options, and have re-fill stations for water. Both are great options for hiking, but if you are on your very first visit to the Grand Canyon and could only choose one, I’d choose South Kaibab.
The South Kaibab Trail is a bit steeper than Bright Angel but the top portion of it is overall much more scenic. Sunrise at OOH-AAH Point cannot be beat!
Ways To Hike The South Kaibab Trail
Let’s start by going over the different options available to you. Even if you don’t have time or aren’t capable of hiking the full South Kaibab Trail, it is worth venturing down to one of three distinct viewpoints, then heading back up. And if you’re really ambitious, there are options for you to extend your hike!
1. FULL TRAIL DOWN & BACK UP
The most obvious of all options is to hike the South Kaibab trail all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This is a bucket-list adventure and extremely rewarding when you accomplish it. The perk to hiking to the bottom of the canyon is that you get to see the Colorado River, maybe visit one of the beaches to dip your feet in, and walk across the Suspension Bridge!
SOUTH KAIBAB ROUND TRIP TRAIL STATS
- Distance: 14.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 4,880 feet
2. HIKE TO A VIEWPOINT AND TURN AROUND
If you don’t have the time in your itinerary or aren’t physically able to hike the full South Kaibab Trail then you’re still in luck. This trail has 3 distinct viewpoints along the way so you can gauge exactly how far you are hiking. And luckily the view points are not that far down!
I’ve listed the 3 scenic views in order for you below:
- OOH-AAH Point – 0.9 miles down, 1.8 miles round trip
- Cedar Ridge – 1.5 miles down, 3.0 miles round trip
- Skeleton Point – 2.8 miles down, 5.6 miles round trip
Each point along the trail has a wooden sign marking it so you can’t miss it. The important thing to remember is that going down is easy, but hiking back up is the strenuous and difficult part. It will most likely take you twice as long to hike out of the canyon as it did to get down.
ARE THE VIEWPOINTS ALONG SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL WORTH IT?
Absolutely without a doubt yes! Hiking below the rim even for a short distance makes all of the difference. You’re able to gain a better understanding of the beauty and grandeur within the Grand Canyon. Experiencing a trail just below the rim will provide you with a new perspective and better experience than just viewing from the top.
WHICH VIEWPOINT IS THE BEST?
In my opinion Cedar Ridge is the best viewpoint along the top portion of the South Kaibab Trail. There is a large plateau of rock that you can explore and gain views deep into the canyon. It is worth hiking to here because the portion of the trail between OOH-AAH Point and Cedar Ridge is extremely scenic.
3. CAMP FOR A NIGHT AT THE BOTTOM
Another option is to camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to break your trip up between two days.
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!
4. CONNECT SOUTH KAIBAB TO ANOTHER TRAIL
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.
I did this hike in October of 2020 and it is still my favorite hike ever! I chose to stop at Phantom Ranch while at the bottom of the canyon and Pipe Creek Beach to dip my feet in the Colorado River. Check out the guide below if you want to learn more!
When To Hike The South Kaibab Trail
Temperatures at the South Rim can 10-20 degrees cooler than at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This means as you’re hiking down you will heat up. 60 degrees may sound like perfect hiking weather, but once you reach the bottom it could be 80 degrees and sunny. That is a huge difference!
That being said, October-April are the best months for hiking in the Grand Canyon. The mornings and evenings will most likely be chilly but you’ll be comfortable if you layer properly.
It is important to understand that the Grand Canyon does get snow. I’ve visited twice during the winter and once during October. 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 near the rim.
Do not attempt this hike during the summer! 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.
best time of day
Since this is a long and strenuous hike you’ll need to begin either before or right at sunrise. Hiking down South Kaibab during sunrise is one of my all-time favorite moments in life. The sun rays layered over the varying levels of landscape is truly a sight to see.
If you are only hiking to one of the viewpoints and back up I still suggest sunrise since it is so beautiful. But you can get away with doing it any time during the day (during the months suggested), leaving enough time to make it back to the rim before the sun goes down.
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 which includes the FULL South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
How To Get To South Kaibab Trailhead
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 follow a tight schedule. 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 just 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!
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 viewpoint sits on the edge of one of the switchbacks, providing 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.
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. Along the way you’ll see O’Nielle Butte off in the distance as you hike down the spine of a mountain towards it. This is a very distinct landmark and super fun to photograph in the right lighting!
Before you near O’Nielle Butte, though, you’ll be at Cedar Ridge. In my opinion the views are better here than OOH-AAH Point 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!
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 of O’Nielle Butte 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.
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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