Covering 17 miles and over 4800 feet of elevation gain, hiking the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in one day is easily the hardest but most rewarding hiking experience of our lives. This epic south rim to south rim hike starts down the South Kaibab trail before leveling off briefly, crossing the Colorado River and finishing with a brutal 9 mile ascent up the Bright Angel Trail back to the rim. In this article, we will cover how to safely hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in one day or as a two day backpacking trip.
- Overview | Grand Canyon South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail Hike
- South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail hike details
- Which direction should I hike?
- Parking and getting to the trailhead
- South Kaibab Trail
- Bright Angel Trail
- Other useful resources
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
Grand Canyon South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail Hike
- Total time | 7 – 12 hours
- Total Cost | Grand Canyon National Park charges a $35 per vehicle entrance fee, or covered with the America the Beautiful Pass.
- Hiking distance | 17 miles
- Elevation gain from canyon to rim | 4800 feet
- Epic-ness rating | 10
- Difficulty | Strenuous
Find this hike on AllTrails: South Kaibab, Phantom Ranch, & Bright Angel Trail
This hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon combines two trails: the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail, for a total distance of 17 miles and 4800 feet of elevation gain, making it a very strenuous day hike.
The Grand Canyon South Rim
Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time is a magical experience. The disorienting vantage point of peering over the rim into the sheer vastness of the canyon is indescribable.
For a few moments, your mind will be completely enthralled by the view in front of you. But shortly, you will be brought back to earth with an accidental bump from a fellow tourist, the whine of a young child, or the incessant jostling for prime picture-taking real estate. Solitude is hard to find along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
In fact, the number of people around may make you feel like you are in Disney World or Times Square – not an ideal environment to enjoy perhaps the United States’ most beautiful geological formation. And while there is nothing wrong with the easy accessibility of the Grand Canyon, if you are like us, you need to get out of the crowd and experience the Canyon the way it was supposed to be seen – from inside.
Why should you hike the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail
Hiking the Grand Canyon South Rim-to-Rim (down the South Kaibab trail and up the Bright Angel trail) gives you a more holistic experience of the Canyon, allows you to have some solitude in this magical place, and is doable in one day. More so, a trip to the Grand Canyon would not be complete without crossing the unstoppable force of nature that carved the giant hole in the ground – the Colorado River.
When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and cross the Colorado River. Due to unexpected changes in our plans, we couldn’t get a permit to camp at the bottom of the canyon, so we decided to go all in on this challenging 17-mile hike. And it was worth every step!
If you’re an avid hiker, when visiting the Grand Canyon the hike to the bottom is a bucket list experience!
South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail vs. Traditional Rim-to-Rim Hike
The traditional “Rim-to-Rim” hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon starts at the North Rim and ends at the South Rim, a 22 to 24 mile one way trek that requires you to camp multiple nights in the canyon. The South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail hike covered in this article starts from one side of the South Rim, descends to the canyon floor, briefly crosses the Colorado River, and then ascends up another side of the South Rim.
There are a few advantages to this hike over the traditional Rim-to-Rim hike:
- You can complete it as a day hike if you are an experienced hiker, or as a backpacking trip with one night camping.
- The North Rim closes due to snow during the winter, early spring and late fall. The South Rim is always open. We were able to complete this hike in March.
- It’s logistically less complicated. The North Rim is about a 4 hour drive from the South Rim. Since the traditional Rim-to-Rim hike starts at the North Rim and ends at the South Rim, it requires you to take a shuttle to the starting trailhead or back to your car at the end of the hike.
When is the best time to hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail
The best time to hike the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail is spring or fall. We hiked in mid-March and it was the perfect weather besides the rain and fog – not too cold and not dangerously hot.
In the winter, there is likely to be snow and ice, which can make the cliffside trail very treacherous. I would not attempt this hike in the winter. Even in the spring, the trail near the rim was covered in ice, making it a bit unnerving given how close to the edge the trail leads.
In the summer, extreme temperatures and lack of shade can lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration. If you are planning to visit during the summer, do NOT attempt to complete this hike in one day.
Weather in the Grand Canyon
The weather around the Grand Canyon is difficult to predict and frequently changing. If you put Grand Canyon, Arizona into your weather app, you likely won’t get accurate forecasts – we were fooled by this!
The Grand Canyon is huge and the weather can be very different depending on exactly where you are. We had been checking the weather leading up to the trip, expecting lows in the 40’s and highs in the 60’s with slight chances of rain. When we arrived and checked the weather based on our current location (rather than Grand Canyon, AZ), suddenly the forecast showed lows in the 30’s and snow overnight.
We scrambled to buy microspikes and warm weather gear at the last minute! Luckily there is a shop that has all the essentials inside the park. The point is, expect volatile weather once you arrive and be prepared for hotter or colder than expected temperatures.
How difficult is the South Kaibab to Bright Angel hike?
Besides the length and volatile weather, the difficulty of the hike is compounded by the fact that it is a reverse summit, meaning you start by descending to the bottom before ascending back to the rim.
While this may seem obvious, its relatively easy to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without realizing just how far you’ve come – and just how much further up you have to go! By the time you reach the most challenging part of the hike, you have already been hiking for 8 to 9 miles.
Don’t underestimate the strain that hiking into the canyon has on your body. The trail is steep, and you will feel the effects after the first several miles even though you are going downhill.
Words of Warning
Do NOT attempt this hike in the summer, no matter how fit you are. Temperatures in the canyon can be 10-15 degrees warmer than at the rim, easily reaching over 100 degrees, and shade is minimal. The hike is strenuous and the soaring temperatures and blazing sun can lead to heat exhaustion. We hiked in March with temperatures ranging from 30 to 50 degrees, so heat was not a problem.
For full disclosure, the National Park Service recommends against attempting to hike to the bottom on the Grand Canyon and back in one day. At the beginning of the trail you pass by this posted warning sign:
“Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is not recommended due to long distance, extreme heat, and a nearly 5,000 foot elevation change. If you think you have the fitness and expertise to attempt this extremely strenuous hike, please seek advice from a park ranger…”
Many people have to be rescued by park rangers each year – don’t be one of those people! Make sure that you are fit enough and well prepared before venturing into the canyon.
Is this hike right for me?
With the words of warning out of the way, this hike is manageable if the weather is mild, you are an experienced hiker, well-prepared and in good shape. For reference, we are runners and had finished a marathon in November (we hiked in March).
Options for a Shorter Day Hike
If the prospect of a 17-mile hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon seems too daunting to you, we get it! The night before this hike we had anxious butterflies in our stomachs, and almost bailed a couple times.
If you don’t plan to go all the way to the bottom, you can opt to hike a few miles down the South Kaibab Trail instead – the views from this part of the trail were the best all day! Here are a few shorter options on the South Kaibab Tail:
- Hike down to Skeleton Point, and then return to the rim: 6 miles
- Hike down to Cedar Ridge, and then return to the rim: 3 miles
- Hike down to Ooh Aah Point, and then return to the rim: 2 miles
If you are up for a challenge, we recommend going to Skeleton Point – from here you can see a glimpse of the Colorado River in the distance! Just be sure that you are prepared for a strenuous hike out of the canyon, and be careful not to underestimate how far you’ve hiked. Continue reading to learn more about the different turnaround points along the South Kaibab Trail.
South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail: Hike Details
In this section, we’ll dive deep into the details of each section of the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail hike to help you know what to expect, and hopefully, inspire you to take on the challenge!
Which direction should I hike?
The first 7 miles are almost entirely downhill to the bottom of the canyon via the South Kaibab Trail, followed by about a mile of nearly flat ground walking along the Colorado River. The hike ends with a 9 mile ascent up the Bright Angel Trail, which starts gradual and gets progressively steeper as you approach the rim.
It took us about 3 hours to get down and 4 hours back up, moving at a pretty steady pace but taking plenty of breaks.
We recommend that you hike down the South Kaibab and up the Bright Angel Trail for two reasons:
- You can’t beat the views descending the South Kaibab. Going down you’ll be facing into the canyon with an incredible bird’s eye view the entire way.
- The South Kaibab trail is a bit steeper, covering more elevation over a shorter distance. The ascent up Bright Angel is longer in terms of distance, but more gradual and (slightly) less strenuous.
Parking and getting to the trailhead
To get to the trailhead, catch the Hiker’s Express Shuttle bus from the Bright Angel Lodge to the South Kaibab trail. You can either park at the Bright Angel Lodge or take the bus from your hotel.
Hiker’s Express Shuttle Departures Times:
- Dec – Feb: 8:00am, 9:00am
- March, Nov: 7:00am, 8:00am, 9:00am
- April, Oct: 6:00am, 7:00am, 8:00am
- May, Sept: 5:00am, 6:00am, 7:00am
- June – Aug: 4:00am, 5:00am, 6:00am
Find more details on the Hiker’s Express Shuttle here.
The bus ride to the South Kaibab trail takes about 20 minutes. We hiked in March, so we caught the 7:00 AM shuttle and were on the trail by 7:30 AM.
There is no parking at South Kaibab, so you can’t drive directly there. Plus, you’ll appreciate having your car waiting for you at Bright Angel Lodge at the end of the hike, trust us! Alternatively, you can take the Hiker’s Express shuttle from the Visitor’s Center directly to South Kaibab, and then take another shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center after the hike.
The South Kaibab trail
As you start out down South Kaibab trail, you will be immediately rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the canyon. Without any trees or other flora to obstruct your views, you will continue to have sweeping vistas across the canyon as you descend. And remember, those hoards of people who don’t venture past the rim will never get this experience!
Ooh Aah Point
After one mile of hiking, the first milestone is the aptly-named Ooh Aah Point. When you arrive, you will understand how it gets the name!
This is a popular viewpoint for people looking for a short hike into the canyon and can get crowded later in the day. We had the view to ourselves when we arrived around 8:00 AM.
Continue for another half a mile until you reach Cedar Ridge clearing. Here you’ll catch a glimpse of the seemingly never-ending switchbacks you’ll soon be tackling on O’Neill Butte below. There are restrooms available here.
At 3 miles down the South Kaibab Trail, you will reach Skeleton Point. This is a good turn-around point for folks looking for a 6-mile roundtrip hike, instead of the full 17-mile hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail hike.
From here you can see the Colorado River for the first time! At this point on our hike, the rain was heavy and the fog was thick, so I just barely managed to grab a photo of the mighty Colorado. We could not see the rim through the fog and it felt like we were in a totally different world.
Fun Fact: Did you know the river actually changes color with the season?! From fall through spring, the river appears a light green color, but during the summer it changes to a reddish brown. This is due to the amount of sediment in the water, caused by heavier rains in the summer months.
Kaibab Suspension Bridge
At nearly 7 miles, you’ve reached the bottom of the canyon! Here you will walk through a tunnel that leads to the Kaibab Suspension bridge crossing the Colorado River. On the other side of the bridge, take a left and continue to the Bright Angel Campground.
Bright Angel Campground
Bright Angel Campground is located about half a mile from the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. There are restrooms and a water station here. Take a moment to fill up your water, have a snack, and rest, but not for too long – you’ve still got a long hike ahead. The real hard part starts now!
Bright Angel Trail
After leaving the campground, cross another bridge to take you back across the Colorado River. Then continue to the right, following the Bright Angel Trail along a relatively flat path for about a mile. From here the elevation gain will start to slowly pickup.
As you continue back up, you’ll be constantly asking yourself “Is that the rim?” Hint: the answer will be “no” for quite some time!
4.7 miles from Bright Angel Campground and 12.5 miles into your hike, you will reach Indian Garden campground. By now, your thighs are throbbing and your feet are aching! Take a moment to rest and don’t forget the fill up your water. You’ve got just about 4.5 miles to go until you reach the rim.
Three-Mile and Mile-and-a-Half Resthouses
After Indian Garden, there are rest stops at 3 miles and 1.5 miles from the rim, conveniently named Three Mile Resthouse and Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse. This is where the hike really starts to get challenging. The trail continues to get steeper, and you’re likely feeling pretty fatigued. Take plenty of breaks and remember to drink lots of water.
Don’t forget to look around you and remember why you are here. The views for the last 3 miles are unbelievable! This was one of our favorite parts of the hike. As the rain cleared up, the sun put on a spectacular show, peaking out from behind the clouds to illuminate the rock formations below. Even after 7 hours in the Grand Canyon, I was truly still in awe at this magical place.
Closer to the rim, the trail starts to get more crowded as casual tourists venture down the Bright Angel Trail to take in the views. After 17 miles of hiking, it’s tempting to be annoyed by the swarms of people moseying past in their sneakers, but just remember that you’ve seen parts of the canyon they never will.
Back on the Rim
When you finally reach the South Rim again, it is time to celebrate your hard work! We finished our day relaxing in pajamas with a cold beer and takeout pizza in our hotel bed. We both fell asleep promptly by 8pm after a long, hard, and truly incredible day in the Grand Canyon.
Tip: The restaurants in the Grand Canyon village leave little to be desired. We highly recommend picking up a pizza from Canyon Village Market.
What to pack for hiking the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail
This is a long and strenuous hike. It’s important to be prepared before taking on the challenge.
- Microspikes: If hiking in winter, early spring or late fall, we recommend packing microspikes. The trails can get slick near the rim and lead right along the edge of very steep cliffs – there isn’t much room for error!
- Poncho or rain jacket: We both bought ponchos at the last minute and they were the best $10 we could’ve spent. Be prepared for the chance of rain inside the canyon, even if it seems clear when you start out. The inside of the canyon is its own ecosystem and the weather is unpredictable and changes quickly!
- GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini): We always carry our Garmin on long, challenging hikes like this in case of emergency.
- Hiking poles: they make a world of difference on the long, steep trek up the Bright Angel Trail! We both use Black Diamond Distance Z poles.
- Backpack with bladder: Pack at least 2-3 liters of water. There are water stations at Bright Angel Lodge and Indian Gardens, but it’s best to be prepared.
- Hiking boots: This is a long hike, and the trail is muddy and slippery in places. Do not try to hike this in tennis shoes. (I can’t recommend my Danner Mountain 600’s enough, and Matt loves his Salomon X Ultra 4).
- Gloves and hats: If hiking in early spring/late fall (which is recommended for this hike), expect it to be cold in the morning.
- Grand Canyon Trail Map: Don’t expect to have cell service inside the canyon. You can get a nice map of the trails at the ranger station. Given how long the hike already is, you don’t want to make a wrong turn.
- Trail map downloaded with AllTrail Pro (or other hiking app): while the majority of the trail is very well marked, having the map downloaded makes navigation easier and gives you some peace of mind.
- Hearty snacks and lunch: Clif bars, peanuts, trail mix, sandwiches – make sure you have enough fuel to get you through 17 miles. We also packed runner’s Gu (we didn’t end up using them, but it was good to have them just in case nonetheless).
- Sunscreen and sunglasses | There is no shade for the majority of this hike.
- Hiking pants | These Athleta Headlands pants are my absolute favorite! Plus all the pockets make them more stylish, so they can double as normal pants. Matt’s go to hiking pants are his PrAna Stretch Zion.
- Quarter Zip | I have two Smartwool Merino 1/4 Zips and I absolutely love them! Warm, comfortable and stylish, they are the perfect base layer for a chilly morning in the Grand Canyon
- Long sleeve base layers | Again, I love my Smartwool long sleeve base layers. They’re a bit pricey but the quality is worth it – they’ll last forever!
- Tanks | This tank is a sports bra and tank all in one, making it so comfortable for hiking and perfect for when the sun comes out in the Grand Canyon!
- National Parks Pass | gives you access to all U.S.National Parks for one year for $80
South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail as backpacking trip
If you are excited by the prospect of touching the canyon floor, but questioning whether you can squeeze the entire hike into one day, you may prefer to do it as a two day backpacking trip. You will need a permit to camp, and permits are typically reserved several months in advance so if you want to camp, you will need plan ahead!
- You can find more information about backpacking in the Grand Canyon and how to obtain a backcountry camping permit here.
Tips for a great hike
Lastly, we’ll leave you with a few final tips to make your hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon go smoothly:
- Be prepared to step to the inside of the trail to make way for tour groups traveling via donkey! You’ll be amazed by how surefooted the donkey’s are scaling the rocky and muddy canyon trails.
- Pickup a map from the Visitor Center that includes the two trails. We used this map along our hike to tell exactly where we were and it was very helpful to make sure we were going the right way!
- Start early! No matter what season you are hiking in, you should get an early start. In the summer, this will help you beat the extreme heat and in the winter you’ll want to make sure you allow enough time to hike out before the sun sets.
Other useful resources
For more adventures in Arizona and Utah, we think you may find these resources useful:
- Bryce Canyon: The Best Day Hike in Bryce Canyon: Fairyland Loop
- Zion: Zion West Rim Trail: Backpacking Guide
- Arizona: How to Spend One Amazing Day in Page, Arizona
- Arizona: 4 Beautiful Hikes You Can’t Miss in Sedona, Arizona
- Grand Staircase: 9 Amazing Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes
- Grand Staircase: The Ultimate Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Grand Staircase Escalante
- Canyonlands: How to Hike to Druid Arch in Canyonlands
For all things Arizona: Arizona Travel Guide
If you are up for a challenge that will reward you with the most incredible views of the Grand Canyon, the South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail hike in the Grand Canyon is for you. We seriously love this hike so much. If you are thinking about doing it please feel free to reach out with any questions!