Day hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel via Phantom Ranch is one of our favorite hikes to date. It is among the very best hikes at Grand Canyon South Rim and we’re going to show you exactly what you can expect when taking on this insanely picturesque and iconic trail. We’ll begin at South Kaibab Trail, descend to the Colorado River and ascend back to South Rim via Bright Angel.
There are some important things you need to know about this amazing hike. But if you’re reading this trail guide, chances are high you’re a strong hiker just looking for a thorough walkthrough. We’re going to explain everything in detail from start to finish.
Typically we go lighter on images, but South Kaibab and Bright Angel are incredibly photogenic, so we’re also going to show you the unrivaled beauty of hiking into the Grand Canyon.
Let’s descend to the Colorado River!
South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab is the steeper, shorter and more open trail of the two. Beginning at 7200 ft, it is just 7.3 miles from the trailhead to Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor.
The trail is exposed for almost the entire hike so you do have to be very careful if hiking on a warmer day between May and September. Hiking down the exposed South Kaibab Trail early in the morning before the hotter part of the day is recommended.
Both trails are incredibly scenic, but we think South Kaibab edges it on the basis that it is more varied throughout the hike. In particular, if you compare the top 3 miles of descent, South Kaibab has far superior views.
There are a number of obvious turnaround points along the trail. Most hikers will use one of these points as a day hiking goal and return to the Rim. But you will pass by all of these on the way to Phantom Ranch.
Here are the distances and elevation losses you will encounter at each landmark as you descend into Grand Canyon as far as Phantom Ranch via South Kaibab Trail:
- Ooh Aah Point – 0.9 miles and 790 ft elevation loss
- Cedar Ridge – 1.5 miles and 1120 ft elevation loss
- Skeleton Point – 3 miles and 2040 ft elevation loss
- The Tipoff – 4.5 miles and 3280 ft elevation loss
- Phantom Ranch – 7.3 miles and 4700 ft elevation loss
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel is the more gradual, longer and more popular trail hikers use to get a taste of hiking into the Grand Canyon. The trailhead begins at 6840 ft and to reach Phantom Ranch you have to hike 9.8 miles.
There are many shaded sections along the trail, which makes it perfect for hiking back up from a Rim-to-River day hike in the hottest part of the day.
Although we think South Kaibab just about wins on views, Bright Angel is no slouch. Views over Plateau Point are stunning for the majority of the descent, vibrant colors at Indian Garden are unexpected and there are one or two wide open trail switchback vistas.
Similarly to South Kaibab, there are a number of obvious landmark turnaround points on Bright Angel. You will pass each in reverse order on the way up.
Here are the distances and elevation gains you will encounter at each landmark as you ascend out of the Grand Canyon from Phantom Ranch via Bright Angel Trail:
- River Resthouse – 2 miles and no elevation gain
- Indian Garden – 3.3 miles and 1300 ft elevation gain
- 3-mile Resthouse – 1.5 miles and 920 ft elevation gain
- 1.5-mile Resthouse – 1.5 miles and 1000 ft elevation gain
- South Rim – 1.5 miles and 1120 ft elevation gain
South Kaibab to Bright Angel FAQ’s
The NPS warns against day hiking to the Colorado River and back to the Rim in one day. They recommend day hiking no further than 4.5 miles into the canyon for a total of 9 miles roundtrip.
Yes, the “heat exhaustion leading to dehydration and illness” sign in the photo above is real. This one was posted at Indian Garden, which is 4.5 miles into Bright Angel.
Please adhere to the recommendations and informative signs. But also remember, those suggestions and warnings are aimed at beginner or less experienced hikers. This hike is no joke, do not take it lightly.
In truth, only strong and experienced hikers should even consider taking on what is widely regarded as one of the top hiking trails in the USA.
Let’s briefly touch on some of the most important questions hikers have regarding this amazing hike from South Kaibab to Bright Angel in one day.
Can You Hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail In One Day?
Let’s start with the most obvious question of all. Can you actually do this hike in a day?!
The answer is yes, you can hike down South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and back up Bright Angel Trail in one day. However, this bucket list hike should only be attempted by very strong hikers and ideally in safe weather conditions.
Please do not attempt this hike if you are not confident, sure of your hiking ability or weather conditions are unsafe. Too cold or icy and you’re at risk. Too hot and chances are you’re going to suffer from heat exhaustion or dehydration.
Most people visit Grand Canyon between May and September. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to hike this trail in Summer:
- Bright Angel trailhead is at 6840 ft and South Kaibab trailhead is at 7200 ft elevation.
- When you descend into the canyon, the temperature is going to increase by roughly 5 F per 1,000 ft loss.
- On average, Phantom Ranch will be around 20 F (11 C) warmer than South Rim in Summer.
We highly recommend you hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel in late Fall, Winter or early Spring. It will be much safer and you are less likely to be a rescued hiker statistic.
How Difficult Is It To Hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail?
South Kaibab to Bright Angel is a very strenuous hike. It is long, exposed and different to a traditional hike because you are climbing for the entire second half.
When physical and mental fatigue naturally begins after 6, 7 or 8 hours, you will likely still have a few miles and a few thousand feet to climb. That makes it very different to a typical hike when you can coast through the last hour or so of downhill.
There’s no question the final 3 or 4 miles are the hardest part. The Rim seems close but you’ll be surprised at how long it takes to summit from 3 mile resthouse on Bright Angel.
Important: If you have trouble with your knees when hiking downhill, it might be worth considering doing this route in reverse. Bright Angel is far more gradual so you could be better suited to less impact on its descent.
Have you ever day hiked The Enchantments Trail in Washington? For comparison, we found The Enchantments to be a much harder hike than South Kaibab to Bright Angel.
How Long Does It Take To Hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel?
Day hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel could take anywhere between 6 and 12 hours. It really depends on your hiking ability and how many times you want to stop.
It took us right around 8 hours and 50 minutes total to hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel via Phantom Ranch.
We hiked this amazing trail in December 2021 on a perfectly clear and still day. The morning started out crisp and cold but it soon warmed up and we hiked most of the trail in shorts and t-shirts.
By jumping on the very first hikers’ express shuttle at 7am, we gave ourselves plenty of time to relax and enjoy the hike. Try to be on the first shuttle bus of the morning, here are shuttle times for the dates of your visit.
During the hike we stopped countless times for photos (we left with over 1000 from this hike alone!) and just to appreciate how remarkable the Grand Canyon is from below.
We also stopped in at Phantom Ranch for a hot chocolate at the canteen, and we ate our packed lunch for around 30 minutes.
Our South Kaibab To Bright Angel Hike In Numbers
Just to give you a rough idea of how long it can take to hike South Kaibab to Bright Angel, here are our interval times you can use as a reference (use the infographic we created above for each time point):
- Arrived to visitor center parking lot to jump on the 7am Hikers’ Express Shuttle
- 7:15am – Began hiking down South Kaibab Trail
- 7:35am – Reached Ooh Ahh Point right as the sun was rising
- 8:00am – Arrived at Cedar Ridge
- 8:45am – Reached Skeleton Point
- 9:30am – Made it to The Tipoff
- 10:30am – Crossed Black Bridge over the Colorado River
- 10:50am – Walked into Phantom Ranch
- 11:35am – Crossed Bright Angel Bridge after lunch and a hot drink
- 12:05pm – Passed by River Resthouse and began the ascent
- 1:35pm – Long and slow climb to Indian Garden
- 2:35pm – Reached 3.0 Mile Resthouse
- 3:25pm – Arrived at 1.5 Mile Resthouse
- 4:05pm – Summited back at Bright Angel Trailhead
Total time of 8 hours 50 minutes but that includes all photo stops, lunch break and time to seriously take it all in. Any quicker and we’d have sacrificed enjoying the trail. Any slower and we’d have been pushing it for daylight hours.
Hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel was on our bucket list for years and it turned out to be even better than we’d hoped.
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.
South Kaibab To Bright Angel Trail Hiking Walkthrough
OK let’s finally get on to the hike itself, with plenty of photos to make the trail more interactive.
There are 10 obvious landmarks or points of interest from start to end, which we will use to break up this hiking walkthrough.
Grand Canyon is one of the most famous national parks in the USA and this quintessential hike is one its best things to do for adventurers. We hope you enjoy the walkthrough!
Make Your Way To South Kaibab Trailhead
Start early by making your way over to the trailhead. Parking is not permitted at South Kaibab Trailhead. Yaki Point road clearly states no private vehicle access.
So you might be wondering why there are cars in the parking lot, and to be honest, so did we. Our best guess is they have permits and are staying at Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel campground overnight on the canyon floor.
Instead, you can either take the Hikers’ Express shuttle from the main visitor center to the trailhead, or you can park on Desert View Drive and walk 1 mile to reach the trailhead. But that would also mean figuring out how to get back to your car after hiking 17 miles.
By taking the orange shuttle to South Kaibab Trail in the morning, you can then take the blue village shuttle bus from Bright Angel back to the parking lot after your hike.
1. Ooh Aah Point (0.9 miles)
The first part of hiking down South Kaibab Trail is fun. You’ll hit switchbacks almost immediately, funneling you down to the layer below the Rim.
A straight shot leads you very quickly to a staircase with a small wooden sign stating you have reached Ooh Aah Point. And canyon views explode to your right hand side.
If you set off early enough, it might just be sunrise by the time you reach Ooh Aah Point and you’ll be blown away by sun beams bursting into the canyon.
2. Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles)
What we love most about South Kaibab is not just the amazing canyon views but the trail itself is incredibly picturesque. The section between Ooh Aah Point and Cedar Ridge is scenic but also fun to hike.
Take time to look at the segmented layers of rock in the towering canyon walls around you during the descent. O’Neill Butte looks a bit like a submarine and it also marks the second major stopping point down South Kaibab.
Once you get to the same elevation as the very obvious Butte, you will reach a flat area called Cedar Ridge. It has restrooms, a popular photo op with a tree and wide open views. You’ll be here in no time and ready to press on.
3. Skeleton Point (3 miles)
After leaving Cedar Ridge, you will immediately drop down to the base of O’Neill Butte. After passing by its right hand side, you will hike out further into the canyon away from South Rim.
Hugging a wall to your left now, canyon layers to your right side open up and appear much closer. Follow this straight path gradually descending until it reaches a left turn.
This opens up staggering views to the front and left. Right ahead you will see a series of switchbacks cutting down a formation. To the left you will see a long curving path leading far out into the canyon. You’re about to hike both.
At the end of the formation jutting out into the canyon, you will reach Skeleton Point.
4. The Tipoff (4.5 miles)
No prizes for guessing your first action after leaving Skeleton Point for The Tipoff. Yes, you’re heading directly down those awesome looking switchbacks!
Once you zig-zag your way down to the next canyon layer, look back up to the Rim and see how far you’ve descended. This set of switchbacks is one of the best photo ops on this trail so get your camera ready.
Similarly to the previous section, from the switchback base it’s a pretty gradual straight shot descent with blocked views to your left but wide open canyon views to your right.
Eventually you’ll reach a point where the trail bends left. At this point a straight ahead view opens up of a very flat plateau with an enormous gaping crack right behind. The very edge of the flat expanse is The Tipoff.
It is important to note here that if you aren’t doing as well for time as you hoped, you can take Tonto Trail which connects with Bright Angel near Indian Garden. It’s a very useful shortcut to use instead of turning back on yourself.
5. Phantom Ranch (7.3 miles)
This next section as you dive deeper and reach the Colorado River is unforgettable. Not only is the hiking fun, but you are on the final approach to the canyon floor.
The trail cuts down, around and hugs a canyon wall until you reach another amazing photo op of switchbacks leading down to Black Bridge and the Colorado River. You’re almost down!
You’ll be down the switchbacks in a flash and walking through a dark tunnel which leads to Black Bridge and the bottom of South Kaibab Trail. Get some bridge and river photos before continuing on North Kaibab Trail leading into Phantom Ranch.
If you’re looking good for time, spend 30 minutes eating lunch and grab a drink from the canteen. Phantom Ranch surprised us. We didn’t expect to see radiant tree leaves illuminating the lower canyon.
6. River Resthouse (9.3 miles)
Enjoy the satisfying feeling of being at the bottom of Grand Canyon South Rim, but don’t dwell for too long. You only need to look up for feelings of anxiety and dread. Yes, you really do have to climb all the way up there right now!
Cross Bright Angel Bridge back to the other side of the Colorado River and follow the riverside for over a mile. This section of the trail is flat but sandy at times.
Imagine the positions of South Kaibab and Bright Angel on the Rim. You are now walking between them but at the bottom of the canyon rather than on South Rim.
After what seems like an eternity, you do reach a point where the trail leads away from the river. A wooden hut at River Resthouse (or Pipe Creek Resthouse) serves as a toilet and a last chance to take in the canyon floor.
There is a small beach you can access here via a steep but short spur trail. It would make for a wonderful alternative lunch spot to Phantom Ranch and you can dip your toes in the river at the same time!
7. Indian Garden (12.6 miles)
From here on, you are climbing. It is mostly gradual but you will still need your energy so plenty of food on the canyon floor is required.
This stretch from the river to Indian Garden starts out by hiking though a narrow gorge filled with plants and long grass growing around Pipe Creek. It is likely bone dry in Summer but when we hiked in December it was lush green.
You’ll be in this gorge gradually ascending for a quite some time until finally you reach a series of switchbacks. They appear daunting from the bottom but once you summit and see them from above they look immense.
Around the next corner and you’re in Garden Creek. Huge trees and vegetation grow here, plus rocks above appear gold and even pink in places. Continue through the cracks and eventually you will reach Indian Garden.
8. Three-Mile Resthouse (14.1 miles)
Indian Garden is the perfect place for another refueling stop. You will find a day use area, a campground and restrooms, year round water plus a ranger station for emergencies.
The section between Indian Garden and 3-Mile Resthouse is easy going, gradual and very straight until you reach the first of many switchbacks leading to the Rim.
However, this is the part we started to struggle. Being able to see the Rim is great, but despite walking closer to it with every step, the going feels slow, as though you are walking in syrup.
In truth, the trail isn’t particularly exciting from Indian Garden to 1.5-Mile Resthouse. Views are very limited as you’re now walking into a narrow gorge-like section of the canyon with walls to both the left and right.
You’ll hit 3-Mile Resthouse not long after starting up the very first switchbacks. It is little more than a shelter made of stone and wood, with a restroom located behind, an emergency phone and water source.
9. One-and-a-Half-Mile Resthouse (15.6 miles)
Now you’re really in the thick of ascending to South Rim. It is pretty much switchback series after switchback series with short straight sections between.
There’s not much else we can tell you at this point! We just got our heads down, kept on top of electrolyte drinks, snacked and put one foot in front of the other.
Now that you’re gaining elevation you can look behind at the view opening back up once more. But the views don’t change the fact it’s a bit of a slog to reach 1.5-Mile Resthouse.
Day hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail is one of the best things to do in Arizona, but it is hard and this where you will really start to feel the fatigue setting in. Push through it for one last stretch!
10. South Rim (17.1 miles)
You’ll first reach a fancy looking wooden outhouse which serves as a restroom, before continuing round to 1.5-Mile Resthouse. This is pretty much the same stone and wooden shelter as at the 3 mile marker.
You’d think 1.5 miles back to the Rim would go quickly, but you’ll be exhausted by now. Your legs are hurting, you’re getting irritable and you’ll be low on energy. Looking up at the Rim won’t help things either!
Fortunately you have 2 minor landmarks to use as distractions in the form of two short tunnels. You’ll reach the first after half a mile. But first you have a long straight path and yet another switchback series to climb.
The trail is well manicured here and views looking out into the canyon are transitioning into those same awe inspiring viewpoints on Grand Canyon South Rim. After the first tunnel, you have just 1 mile to go.
More switchbacks and curving paths lead you ever closer to the Rim. Just when it looks like you could almost touch the top, a long arc in the path leads you slowly across the canyon from left to right.
Sharp turn and all the way back to the left, but this time it keeps going until you reach the second short tunnel. Pass through and in a matter of seconds you’ll be back at the trailhead.
Congratulations! You have completed one of the most amazing day hikes in the US from South Kaibab to Bright Angel. It is no joke and you will be wrecked but feeling accomplished.
Along with the best hikes in Zion and hiking The Wave not too far from North Rim in Arizona, we have to say this day hike to the bottom of Grand Canyon South Rim was one of our favorites in the American Southwest.
Now, you just need to get back to your hotel or your car. Most lodges are near Bright Angel Trailhead, but you can reach the others by shuttle.
If you drove into the park and left your car at the visitor center like we did, you just need to hop on the blue village shuttle near Bright Angel Trailhead and stay on until the end.
Time for a cold beer celebration!
Tips For Planning Your South Kaibab To Bright Angel Hike
Day hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel is not easy. Please ensure you are prepared and you are confident in your ability to complete this hike without issue.
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
Here are some tips for a successful hike:
- Spring, Winter or Fall are better suited to this intense hike.
- Daylight hours are shorter in Winter.
- Eat well and hydrate in the days leading up to hiking.
- Get a good night’s sleep before waking up early to start hiking at first light.
- You need a lot of water, electrolyte drinks, food and snacks. Do not underestimate how much food you will need.
- Take a head torch in case you need it in the morning or you don’t make it back to South Rim by sunset.
- Do not wear a pair of shoes for the first time. Robust and well worn comfortable shoes are a must.
- Carry a LifeStraw or other means of treating water in case you run out or get stuck in the canyon.
- Give yourself a timeframe and stick to it. For example – If you don’t reach The Tipoff by X time, you will take Tonto Trail to Bright Angel in order to cut the hike time down.
- Monitor your hike with an offline map from one of the most popular hiking apps for safety and track your statistics.
Remember it takes longer to hike up than it takes to descend down into the canyon. It might seem like you’re making good time but it can take up to twice as long on the way out. Always be aware of your time.
Lastly, the most important thing is to enjoy this once in a lifetime hike. Try to remember (even when the going gets tough) that you are day hiking the the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Need Help Planning A Trip To The 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.
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More Arizona Hiking Guides
- Best Hikes – 17 amazing day hikes at Grand Canyon National Park
- Bright Angel – Day hiking Bright Angel Trail into Grand Canyon South Rim
- South Kaibab – Guide to each stop along South Kaibab Trail
- Sedona – 20 Amazing hikes in Sedona, Arizona
- The Wave – Essential guide to hiking the Wave in Arizona
- Wave Permit – How to win a permit to hike the Wave
Want more Arizona content? Head over to our Arizona Travel Guides to explore the best of Grand Canyon, Sedona and beyond.
We hope this day hiking guide from South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail helps you plan this amazing bucket list hike at Grand Canyon National Park!
Please let us know if you have any questions about day hiking at Grand Canyon South Rim 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.