South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails
Grand Canyon National Park

Hike: South Rim (Grand Canyon Village).
South Kaibab trail down to the Colorado River.
Cross Colorado River to the Phantom Ranch.
Return on the Bright Angel trail.
Location: Grand Canyon National Park. (Approx. 5 hours from Tucson)
Fee: $20 for a (multi)day pass (per car)
Distance/Time: Single day hike done in available daylight. 16.3 miles round-trip.
Trip breakdown:
South Kaibab trail: 4,740 ft descent, 6.3 miles. 3 hours from trailhead to the Colorado River.
Colorado River to Phantom Ranch: negligible elevation change, 0.5 miles. 1.5 hours including stop at the Ranch canteen.
Bright Angel trail: 4,360 ft ascent, 9.5 miles. A slow, almost 8 hour, hike from the Ranch to the South Rim.
Conditions: (Labor Day weekend 2004.)
2C (36F) @ 6:30am at the South Kaibab trailhead.
35C (95F) at the river.
Note: Over 100F (38C) when unshaded. (See later picture of a thermometer.)
Equipment: Camelbak Mule configured with 2 x 100oz (3 liter) bladders, a total of 200 oz (6 liters) of fluid, which turned out to be sufficient for the entire hike. Garmin GPS-III receiver mounted on the Camelbak pack.

See hike pictures immediately after the picture of the hike recorded by the GPS receiver below. The track is shown in red. The South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails are on the right and left, respectively.


This is an excellent day hike, accomplishable within daylight by the ordinary visitor with plenty of margin for safety. It is a perfect introduction to the magnificence and sheer scale of the Grand Canyon even for a first-time visitor (like me). As is typical, due to travel time, the actual time available for hiking within the scope of a weekend visit is likely to be limited to just a single day.
It is therefore a shame that many guidebook authors and the Park Service actively discourage visitors from attempting to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day.

(For example, see the picture of a sign on the right. The warning is given in English, French, German and Japanese.)

For the ordinary visitor who is reasonably well prepared, I see no reason to heed the warning signs. Of course, there is always the possibility one could run into trouble: however, the same can be said for any walk in the hills.

The kick-in-the-teeth here is that even if you wanted to comply, it may not be possible to do so. A hard-to-obtain overnight backcountry permit is required in order to camp at the very space-limited Bright Angel Campground, which is primitive to the extent it has no shower facilities. A very cold creek is all that is available for bathing. And you would be carrying all that unnecessary heavy gear up and down the Grand Canyon walls! As the Park Service themselves are fond of repeating: Why Suffer?

Alternatively, a reservation can be made for the cabins at the Phantom Ranch, which starts to fill up around 22 months ahead of time. There is no other way to legally stay in this part of the Canyon.

Getting There

From Tucson, it is about 5 hours driving time to the South Rim going through Phoenix, Flagstaff and then to Williams where we pick up Route 64 North, which takes you directly into the Park.

I stayed in a national-chain hotel in Tusayan just two miles south of the Grand Canyon National Park entrance. There are lodges inside the National Park at the South Rim, but booking these at short notice is not easy, nor do they look particularly good value for money.

Buy the entrance ticket ($20) at the ticket machine in the IMax/National Geographic theater in Tusayan. This will save time early next morning. (At the official Park entrance there are two lanes, one for prepaid tickets and one for no ticket.)

At the same time, get a copy of the official Park Service newspaper called The Guide and look for the shuttle bus timetable. The South Kaibab Trailhead is closed to all vehicular traffic except for the buses. You must park at one of five lots and take a free shuttle bus.

I recommend parking at the large lot E near the Backcountry Information Center and walking the short distance over to the front entrance of the Maswik Lodge. A special Hikers' Express bus leaves here at 5:05, 6:05 and 7:05 am in May and September. Lot E is just 5 minutes walk from the Bright Angel trailhead - your return destination.

Alternatively, lot D is closer to the Bright Angel Lodge and you can take the same bus from there 5 mins earlier. (The Guide has a map of all the facilities.)

I took the 6:05am Hikers' Express from the Maswik Lodge and that takes you directly to the South Kaibab traihead by 6:30am.

Continue by going to my pages for the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. (Currently under construction!)