Into the Grand Canyon: Kaibab Trail and the South Rim


Headed down into the Grand Canyon on South Baibab Trail

The Grand Canyon may be located in the middle of “fly over” country but if you only ever see it by flying over the top that’s a terrible mistake. A couple weeks ago we were at a wedding in Phoenix and the bride helped arrange a post-ceremony excursion northward into the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon. It was my first visit to the area after flying over many times and it was incredible.

Our group was 20-strong headed up from Phoenix. Moving that many people can be challenging to coordinate. I rented a van to help ease the effort. Driving north from Phoenix, through Flagstaff and eventually to Tusayan on the South Rim of the park. We arrived late afternoon and headed straight into the park, paying the $30 fee for a week of car access.

Most in the group were tired and the weather was slightly cool but Mather Point, one of the more easily accessible sections of the Park, drew us out to the South Rim Trail. We were quickly immersed in the incredible beauty that is the Grand Canyon.

The shadows of clouds provide great contrast inside the Grand Canyon
The shadows of clouds provide great contrast inside the Grand Canyon

It was too late in the day to start much in the way of real exploration so we retreated to our hotel and a quick dinner, setting the stage for a full day of exploration anon. With varying levels of skill and motivation the group splintered into smaller bunches to tackle hikes of varying difficulty.

The South Rim Trail is paved for miles and dotted with bus stops along the way. It is, by far the most accessible part of the park and a great way to get easy access to the various trailheads. If you’re slightly adventurous there are small outcrops along the trail, similar to Mather Point but without railings, that allow for incredible views.

The Grand Canyon is harsh in many ways, but life clings on nearly everywhere inside
The Grand Canyon is harsh in many ways, but life clings on nearly everywhere inside

On the South Rim there are two main trails down into the canyon, South Kaibab and Bright Angel (plus two others I didn’t consider for this trip). With advice from prior visitors that South Kaibab is less crowded I chose that route, planning to hike about 2-3 hours in total round trip. That’s a hard target to hit with the steep trails and uncertainty of what the uphill version will feel like. I made it to Ooh Aah Point, the first major rest area on the trail, in about 30 minutes and was feeling good, even with the 800 foot vertical drop in a mile of hiking. I decided to press on to Cedar Ridge, another half mile out and 400 feet down into the Canyon.

Prikly fun alongside the South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon
Prikly fun alongside the South Kaibab trail in the Grand Canyon

The views at Cedar Ridge were spectacular and well worth the additional hike. The trail flattens out into a nice plateau with scattered shade areas where many others enjoyed picnics or otherwise rested. I headed out to the tip of one of the ridges for a panoramic view before returning back up the trail.

With fewer photo stops on the return (but probably more catch-my-breath stops) I did the round trip in just over two hours. With the opportunity to refill my water bottle at the trail head (no water services on this trail!!) I was refreshed and walked the Rim Trail the couple miles back to where my van was parked, skipping the bus option.

Headed down into the Grand Canyon on South Baibab Trail
Headed down into the Grand Canyon on South Baibab Trail

A small crew did the even more aggressive hike, also on South Kaibab trail but all the way out to Skeleton Point. That was too much for me but they mostly seemed to enjoy it for a day trip. One of the largest challenges for that route is the lack of water resupply on South Kaibab; bring everything you need to complete the hike as there is no support along the trail.

Obviously the Grand Canyon is huge and there is far too much of it to even pretend that we did it justice with an overnight visit. More trails, camping opportunities, river rafting and more all are things to consider for a future visit. And the 3-ish hour drive up from Phoenix makes it a reasonable overnight trip, though too much for a day trip if you want to get down off the rim at all. I’m probably not up for a rim-to-rim hike or a full week there, but I can definitely see the attraction of such; down to the bottom and back up over a few days is an option I would certainly entertain.

More from this trip:

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

5 Comments

  1. If you ever get a chance, I recommend staying at Phantom Ranch, which consists of several dorm style cabins (and a few private) at the bottom of the canyon. Its beautiful down there on the Colorado river, with several other trails that make for great day hikes.

  2. We’re Utahns and just spent a spring break day in Zion National Park. I don’t hike much but my 12 and 15 year olds wanted to try Angels Landing so off we went. The views were stunning even though we didn’t make it all the way up (once it got to the chains/ridgeline bits it got too crowded so we turned around.

    Next up is probably Great Basin NP for us, it’s also about 3 hours away for us. And another Moab trip, Arches NP is stunning as well. And, being this close, we really need to hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

  3. Hey Seth … we did that R2R hike you were talking about. Here are some videos documenting our trek for you and others who might be thinking about doing it. We started on the north side and stayed two nights at Phantom Ranch to rest before starting back up the Bright Angel Trail. Sorry the first 10 minutes are so are in the dark since we started so early.

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMcyXoyh4SdcfyW3YZ5sc6zKLz2UyXzqQ

    I enjoy your posts. Keep up the good work!

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