South Kaibab Trail is one of the best hikes at Grand Canyon South Rim and we personally think it just about has the edge over the more popular Bright Angel Trail. In this guide we’re going to explain everything you need to know about day hiking South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Ahh Point, Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point, The Tipoff and Phantom Ranch.
Now don’t get us wrong, Bright Angel is an amazing trail and you should hike it if you have chance. But South Kaibab has a little more substance to the trail. Views are more open and diverse, the trail itself is more fun and entertaining, and it is a whopping 2.5 miles shorter than Bright Angel to reach Phantom Ranch.
If you’re a hiker with only one day at Grand Canyon South Rim you have a tough decision to make. Let’s see if we can convince you that South Kaibab is the trail for you. You can hike to any of the 5 major turnaround points, but remember – what goes down must come up.
Let’s descend into the incredible Grand Canyon and take a look at 5 landmark turnaround points you can use to set your day hiking goals!
5 Turnaround Points On The Grand Canyon South Kaibab Trail
Before you hike down South Kaibab Trail, consider how much time you have, what the weather is doing and what your current hiking level is to determine which stop is safest for you to use as a turnaround point on your day hike.
Of course you don’t have to use any of the 5 points we discuss, but almost all hikers on South Kaibab Trail will use one as a target. The best part is the landmarks are spread evenly throughout the hike to cater to all hiking abilities.
Here are the distances one way and roundtrip, plus elevation loss (that will turn into gain when you return to the Rim):
- Ooh Aah Point – 0.9 miles one way / 1.8 miles roundtrip / 790 ft elevation loss
- Cedar Ridge – 1.5 miles one way / 3 miles roundtrip / 1120 ft elevation loss
- Skeleton Point – 3 miles one way / 6 miles roundtrip / 2040 ft elevation loss
- The Tipoff – 4.5 miles one way / 9 miles roundtrip / 3280 ft elevation loss
- Phantom Ranch – 7.3 miles one way / 14.6 miles roundtrip / 4700 ft elevation loss
Can You Hike South Kaibab Trail In One Day?
This is the most important question and it comes with an answer we want to make loud and clear.
Yes, you can hike down South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch in one day. However, it is only advised for very strong hikers and only when hiking on cool or cold days in late Fall, Winter or early Spring.
- Please do not try to day hike South Kaibab Trail all the way down to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River if you are not in very good physical condition.
- If the weather forecast is for a warm or hot day, do not try to hike to the Colorado River in one day.
You don’t want to be that group who has to be rescued out of the canyon because you thought hiking on a hot day was a smart idea!
If you only plan to go as far as Cedar Ridge or Skeleton Point, then yes you can easily hike South Kaibab Trail in one day. After that, you need to be an experienced hiker.
Consider this: If you day hike South Kaibab to Skeleton Point and back, you’ve hiked 6 miles total with an elevation loss and gain of 2040 ft.
How Difficult Is It To Hike The South Kaibab Trail?
South Kaibab Trail is not the most technically challenging day hike we’ve ever done. There are no climbing elements and you don’t need any specialist equipment.
But it is much steeper than Bright Angel. There’s a reason it is 2.5 miles shorter one way to Phantom Ranch. And remember you will be slowly climbing for the entire second half of your hike.
Important – South Kaibab is known to be the steeper trail, but the gradient doesn’t get too intense until after Cedar Ridge.
How hard it is depends on your hiking ability and how far you want to descend into the canyon.
Looking for hiking inspiration? Check out our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the US next!
Why Is It Not Recommended To Day Hike Phantom Ranch?
The major cause for concern boils down to heat exhaustion and lack of preparedness among hikers.
Crucial – Something very important to remember is that there are no reliable water on the South Kaibab Trail. You have to carry all of the water you will need for your hike, which depends on how far down you plan to go.
You may be able to drink at a newly built water source once you reach The Tipoff but it is non-potable, requires treating and it may not have any water available. Do not rely on this source.
Between May and September the temperature can be extremely high on South Rim.
- But you have to remember Bright Angel trailhead on South Rim is at 6840 ft elevation.
- When you descend into the canyon, the temperature is going to increase exponentially.
- It will be on average around 20°F (11°C) warmer at Phantom Ranch than at South Rim in Summer.
So, if it’s hot on the rim, do not hike to the river and Phantom Ranch. You will burn through your water and will have to wait until you reach the canyon floor for another source you can use to refill.
How Long Does It Take To Hike Down South Kaibab Trail Into Grand Canyon?
Let’s take a look at the official NPS suggested times for day hiking to each of the major turnaround points on South Kaibab Trail:
- Ooh Aah Point: 1-2 hours
- Cedar Ridge: 2-4 hours
- Skeleton Point: 4-6 hours
- The Tipoff: 6-9 hours
- Phantom Ranch: 2 days
Technically if you want to hike South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and back up to South Rim, you are recommended to spend the night at Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel campground.
However, these are guidelines and they are directed at the average hiker. If you are an experienced hiker and you have prepared correctly, you can hike to the River and back in a day.
Hiking Tip: Please follow the timeframes above as listed by the National Park Service if you are not a very strong hiker.
Our Grand Canyon Hiking Experience
After a fleeting first visit to Grand Canyon South Rim in 2019, we were blown away and couldn’t wait to return one day to hike down to the Colorado River.
It took us until December 2021, but we finally made it. We gave ourselves 2 days on South Rim, one would be to day hike and the other to sightsee and photograph more amazing Grand Canyon sunrises and sunsets.
We chose to visit Grand Canyon in Winter because we wanted to give ourselves the best chance at safe cool or cold weather conditions for day hiking. The first day was perfect so we took our opportunity.
We descended to Phantom Ranch via South Kaibab Trail and ascended back to the Rim via Bright Angel Trail. Steeper on the way down, more gradual on the way up. It was an epic hike and one we would do again.
Read all about our amazing day hike from South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail if you plan to take on the classic Grand Canyon hike during your visit.
The next day it snowed all day and we couldn’t see into the canyon from South Rim.
Need help organizing your visit to Grand Canyon South Rim?
Our popular 30+ page Grand Canyon South Rim Guidebook can help you with planning every aspect of your trip.
Tips For Planning Your Hike
Here are some things you should consider when planning to hike South Kaibab Trail.
- Hiking South Kaibab in Summer is not a good idea. Spring, Fall and Winter will provide safer conditions.
- Just be aware of daylight hours if you do hike in Winter as we did.
- Hydrate and eat healthy wholesome meals in the days leading up to your hike.
- Try to get a solid 8 hours sleep the night before. That means going to bed early for an early start.
- If you want to reach Phantom Ranch, be at the trailhead right at first light.
- Food, snacks and plenty of water are paramount. Remember to take more for each extra stop you will hike.
- A head torch is important both for the morning and for later in the day if you are not back at South Rim by sunset.
- Wear strong and robust footwear you are comfortable in and that you have used before.
- We always carry a LifeStraw water filter in case of emergencies. Take your preferred water treatment method but remember there are no reliable water sources on South Kaibab Trail. We typically carry an electrolyte drink as backup.
- Know your limits. Choose one of the stops as a goal but always keep an eye on time. Have a cutoff time that you will use to turn around regardless as to how far you hiked down.
- Track your hike down South Kaibab using one of the best hiking apps like Gaia GPS or All Trails.
Important – Going up is much more time consuming than going down. Plan for your ascent to take twice as long as your descent. So, after 2 hours of hiking down, you will hike back up for 4 hours and a total of 6 hours.
Resources you can use to check conditions in the days leading up to your hike.
- Drinking Water – Important backcountry hiking updates including drinking water
- Live Weather – National Park live weather and road updates for Grand Canyon
- Live Webcams – See the park from various webcams for live conditions
How To Get To South Kaibab Trailhead
Ahh the South Kaibab trailhead. Why do you have to be such a pain in the neck to reach?!
One of Bright Angel’s wins over South Kaibab is how convenient and easy it is to access Bright Angel trailhead. Here’s how you can reach South Kaibab trailhead:
- Take the orange Kaibab shuttle from the main visitor center near Mather Point.
- Park a mile away from the trailhead on Desert View Drive and walk to reach South Kaibab trailhead.
Neither are attractive options because you’re either adding on 2 miles to an already mammoth day hike, or you’re waiting around for a shuttle bus.
We parked at the main visitor center lot, walked a few meters to the shuttle stop and waited for the “Hikers’ Express”. That is the first shuttle of the day from Bright Angel to the visitor center and on to South Kaibab Trail.
In December when we took it, the shuttle was at 7am but it leaves earlier in Summer. Here’s the NPS hikers’ express schedule.
Note – On the schedule it says 8am is the first shuttle in December. Always ask the rangers on site for current and updated information. We were informed there was a shuttle at 7am, which gave us an extra hour hiking time in the canyon.
Day Hiking South Kaibab Trail Into The Grand Canyon
Now you know what you can expect on the hike and how to get to the trailhead. Remember if you are planning to go down to Skeleton Point or beyond, try to start as early as possible.
Let’s get stuck into our complete walkthrough of the South Kaibab Trail and each of the major stops along the route as you descend into the Grand Canyon.
Stop 1 – South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point (0.9 miles)
One of our favorite aspects of choosing South Kaibab over Bright Angel is that your views during the descent are comparable to some of the best viewpoints on Grand Canyon South Rim.
The very first section of descent on South Kaibab as you hike down to Ooh Aah Point is incredibly scenic. Not just views into the canyon, but the trail itself is like something out of a fantasy movie.
If you start early enough you will be walking this first section at sunrise and it is something you’ll never forget. We were fortunate enough to see booming rays of sun blasting into the canyon as we turned each corner.
The first mile to Ooh Aah Point begins by descending a series of short but steep switchbacks. You will then hug a wall tightly to your right side and it seems that you will never get an open view into the canyon.
But you will! And you can tell Ooh Aah Point before you reach the sign marker. That wall to your right ends at the bottom of a staircase and opens up a mind blowing view.
Many people only hike to Ooh Ahh Point and some will do it for sunrise to get away from the crowds on the Rim.
- Elevation loss: 790 ft.
- Hiking: Turn around here if you just want a taste of hiking into the canyon or you are short on time.
Stop 2 – South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles)
You can see the flat shelf on Cedar Ridge and its nearby submarine-like rock formation (called O’Neill Butte) from Ooh Aah Point. It is only a further 0.6 of a mile from Ooh Ahh Point and we do strongly recommend you consider going further if you feel up to it.
As you walk down cobble stone paths surrounded by towering cliffs, look at the astounding geological layers of rock and sediment, buttes, spires and temples encircling you.
Cedar Ridge is the first real stopping point and there are restrooms available. From the ridge you can look back up at South Rim and gain an appreciation for mother nature.
This is a great place to use as a day hike turnaround on South Kaibab if you also want to hike down some of Bright Angel in the afternoon so you can say you’ve done both famous Grand Canyon trails.
But if you have the time and you’re feeling good, let’s get back on the trail!
- Elevation loss: 1120 ft.
- Hiking: Turn around here if you’re short on time and want to hike some of Bright Angel later.
Stop 3 – South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (3 miles)
The first part of your descent from Cedar Ridge to Skeleton Point is to switchback down the canyon until you’re standing at the base of submarine looking O’Neill butte.
From there it’s a straight shot descent hugging a wall to the left tightly until you open up one of the best views on the South Kaibab Trail.
The wall to your left ends and the trail also takes a sharp left. You are stood on the edge of this rock layer. Straight ahead over the edge is a dramatic wide open drop to the next layer below.
Look left and you will see South Kaibab Trail extends far out into the canyon in a long and ever so slightly curving line along a narrow ridge. Follow that line and look down to see a significant series of switchbacks dropping onto the layer below.
It’s an easy walk from this viewpoint to Skeleton Point right before those switchbacks begin. Don’t expect much once you finally reach Skeleton Point, there’s nothing but a sign marker and two metal frames for the mules.
If you take on the switchbacks after Skeleton Point, you are really getting into the thick of the South Kaibab Trail action. They aren’t fun to hike back up so be sure you want to continue!
- Elevation loss: 2040 ft.
- Hiking: You’re 3 miles in, which means total time back to South Rim will be between 4-6 hours. This is as far as we recommend for a reasonable day hike without taking too much on, even for the more experienced hiker.
Stop 4 – South Kaibab Trail to The Tipoff (4.5 miles)
The good news is that once you’re down the zig-zag trail, you are getting up close and personal with those flat and arid looking plateaus you can see from the Rim.
Remember seeing those tiny cracks in the Earth from South Rim? Well, they look enormous and immense from here. Turn around to look back up at the Rim before continuing as the trail turns left.
The next section is flatter, easier and wide open. That means you can really pick up the pace here and make up time. Just be careful on hotter days with no shade or protection. Sun hats and sunglasses are a must on this section.
You can see The Tipoff from afar. It is a very flat area that looks like it’s about to fall over a cliff and into the River below. You will pass a crossroads at Tonto Trail West, which serves as a shortcut to Bright Angel Trail.
The Tipoff has restrooms and a recently built shaded open-air seating area with potable water that you have to treat before using. Do not rely on this water source and only drink if you can filter properly.
- Elevation loss: 3280 ft.
- Hiking: This is the last place to turn around unless you are serious about day hiking to Phantom Ranch and back. Consider that you still have to drop drop 1,400 ft over a further 2.3 miles to reach the Colorado River.
Stop 5 – South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch (7.3 miles)
This final section is amazing. We loved hiking down into the gaping crack we had been looking at the entire hike. So far it’s been sandy and rocky underfoot, but now you will notice a maroon colored fine dirt all around.
Not long after leaving The Tipoff you will get your first close-up of the Colorado River. You’re almost at the canyon floor, but you still have a lot of hiking left to get there so get a move on!
After a long straight stretch you will reach another series of switchbacks and these ones take you all the way down to Black Bridge crossing the mighty Colorado River. The view of these switchbacks is awesome so get your camera ready.
Walk through a tunnel and stand on Black Bridge. Congratulations, you are at the end of South Kaibab Trail at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Either turn right around and head back up if you are pushing it for time. But if you’re doing well, follow the riverside (now on North Kaibab Trail) for one more mile to reach Bright Angel campground and eventually Phantom Ranch.
Enjoy your success but not for too long, you now have to climb 4,700 ft out of the Grand Canyon.
We would suggest you take Bright Angel back to the Rim for a change of scenery and a less steep incline. But South Kaibab will be quicker if you can keep up a good pace.
- Elevation loss: 4700 ft.
- Water: You will find water, with a selection of hot and cold drinks available in Phantom Ranch.
- Hiking: End of the road for a day hike. Time to turn around and go right back up!
- Camping: You can camp here but getting a permit is very competitive. You can also stay at Phantom Ranch.
Climb Out Of The Grand Canyon
We have to admit it is both a wonderful and terrifying feeling to be stood at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Such a sense of achievement but also dread because you can see the Rim and you know you have to hike up there.
You’ve probably been going for 3 or 4 hours already. But the way back is going to be much longer. Think along the lines of 5 or 6 hours. Get plenty to eat and drink before setting off.
If you do go back up South Kaibab you already know the trail so you know exactly what to expect. Use those same markers to gauge your time and speed.
We can tell you from experience you will start to feel it around Skeleton Point with 3 miles left to climb. Fatigue will naturally start and you know it’s not too far to go, so your body will stop releasing as much adrenaline.
Keep looking at those views into the canyon for motivation, remember you are hiking an insanely beautiful trail and keep your mind focused on that cold refreshing pint of beer waiting for you at the top.
Need Help Planning A Trip To Grand Canyon South Rim?
Grand Canyon is one of the most visited National Parks in the US and it’s a stunning landscape that will genuinely blow you away.
But we also know how important it is to get your trip off to the best possible start by planning in advance.
We have been lucky enough to visit Grand Canyon South Rim twice, at different times of year and with different goals:
- First to sightsee, shoot sunrises and sunsets and see the canyon from every single viewpoint on the Rim.
- Second to day hike Rim to River, South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch to Bright Angel in one day.
If you are planning a trip to Grand Canyon South Rim and want to know:
- Where to stay and eat
- How to get there and use the shuttles
- The best hikes in the area
- Which overlooks to visit
- Where to watch sunrise and sunset
Our 30+ page Grand Canyon South Rim Guidebook with 4 example itineraries will tell you all this information plus more so you can plan the perfect trip to Grand Canyon South Rim National Park.
South Kaibab Day Hiking FAQ’s
Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about day hiking the South Kaibab trail at Grand Canyon National Park.
The South Kaibab Trail is harder when compared to the Bright Angel trail because even though South Kaibab is a shorter trail, it is much steeper. If you are hiking up from Phantom Ranch, the Bright Angel Trail will be easier because you will experience less elevation gain over a longer hike.
The South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon is a strenuous hike with a length of 7.3 miles and an elevation loss of 4,700ft if hiked one way to Phantom Ranch. The National Park Service does not recommend the entire length of South Kaibab as a day hike and encourages visitors to turn around at various points along the trail.
The South Kaibab trail has a restroom facility at Cedar Ridge which sits about 1.5 miles from the trail head. There is little shade and you will be exposed for the most of this hike.
The South Kaibab trail is not scary, but it can be dangerous because you are completely exposed to the elements and the hike is quite steep. You need to be correctly prepared and hiking in good weather conditions. One of the most common problems along this trail is heat exhaustion.
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We hope this day hiking guide to the incredibly scenic South Kaibab Trail helps you plan your hike at Grand Canyon National Park!
Please let us know if you have any questions about South Kaibab trail or hiking at Grand Canyon National Park in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.