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South Kaibab Trail -- Downhill
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Grand Canyon National Park
South Kaibab Trail
Sign near bus-stop trailhead (view N)

Overview

Hikers seeking an inner-canyon experience with unparalleled panoramic ridgeline views should consider the South Kaibab Trail. But the exhilarating sense of inner-canyon vastness comes at a cost: there is little shade and no water.

The South Kaibab Trail descends 7-miles from the South Rim near Yaki Point to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This trail is steep and airy.

This trail provides access to great viewpoints for day hikers (Ooh-Aah Point, Cedar Ridge, and Skeleton Point [3 miles out]), the Tonto East Trail, Tip-Off viewpoint, River Trail, Colorado River, Black Bridge, Bright Angel Campground, and Phantom Ranch.

Note: most of this description comes from NPS documents and other sources. I've not hiked this one yet.

Link to map. Link to South Kaibab Trail -- Uphill.

South Kaibab Trail
Trail passing O'Neill Butte and heading towards Skeleton Point

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe trail if you stay on it, but there are many places where hikers could stumble off the trail. This trail is a very hot and entirely dry. Carry enough water and avoid hiking during midday.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This is a remote hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Pay attention to the direction of wranglers when mule teams pass, as they have the right-of-way.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about 5.5 hours southeast of Las Vegas, and starts off Yaki Point Road, which is accessible on foot (Rim Trail) or by shuttlebus only. Private vehicles are not permitted on Yaki Point Road.

South Kaibab Trail
Trail at and beyond Skeleton Point

The Hike

From the bus-stop trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01), the paved trail runs north to the edge of the cliffs (Wpt. 02), then immediately begins down a series of tight switchbacks where ice is likely during winter.

After the initial switchbacks, the trail levels out following ledges below the first layer of limestone. This west-facing slope can be quite hot during summer afternoons. The ledge is followed north until reaching the top of the Coconino Sandstone and Ooh-Aah Point (Wpt. 03) Oohs and Aahs being the first utterances from people when they first arrive at this grand panoramic view of the canyon.

From Ooh-Aah Point, the trail runs down the ridgeline, switchbacking here and there, descending the east and west sides of the ridge before reaching Cedar Ridge (Wpt. 04). There are pit toilets at Cedar Ridge, but no water or emergency phone.

South Kaibab Trail
Tip-Off Toilets (view E from trail

From Cedar Ridge, the South Kaibab Trail runs more-or-less straight down the ridge, contouring down and around O'Neill Butte to Skeleton Point (Wpt. 05). At 3 miles from the rim, Skeleton Point is the maximum distance the NPS recommends for day hikes.

From Skeleton Point, the trail drops straight over the edge of the cliffs where the trail was blasted out of the limestone cliffs. In this area, hikers will encounter the most dramatic sense of exposure. The trail drops quickly through 20 switchbacks (depending on what is counted) and eventually begins to contour down and around Peak 5210 and out onto the flats of the Tonto Platform.

On these desert flats, the South Kaibab Trail reaches a junction with the Tonto East Trail (Wpt. 06). This trail runs east-west across the Tonto Platform and can be used to connect with the Bright Angel Trail (near Indian Garden) to the west or the Grandview Trail to the east. The trail east is hard to see here, but the Tip-Off Toilets (Wpt. 07), ahead on the right, is a good place to pickup the eastbound Tonto Trail.

There are pit toilets and an emergency phone at Tipoff, but no water.

South Kaibab Trail
Hiker at Tonto East Trail Junction (view W)

Below the Tonto Trail and Tip-Off Toilets, the South Kaibab Trail continues north to the edge of the next set of cliffs. Here, at the top of the Inner Gorge and the next switchbacks, the Tip-Off (Wpt. 08), where one tips off the edge, hikers get a nice view of the river and the Phantom Ranch area.

The trail descends a couple of short switchbacks, then begins contouring down and around ridges while traversing steep hillsides, and here the trail finally gets steep. In this area, the current trail loosely follows the trace of an earlier trail, the Cable Trail, that was built in 1907 to provide access to the old cable-car system that was used to cross the river before construction of the Black Suspension Bridge. Vestiges of this earlier trail can be seen on the way down.

The South Kaibab Trail descends steeply toward the Colorado River, but first reaches a junction with the River Trail (Wpt. 30). River Trail runs west to the Silver Suspension Bridge and on to the bottom end of the Bright Angel Trail at Pipe Beach. At the trail junction, the South Kaibab Trail switchbacks to the right and continues steeply downhill, while the River Trail contours around the corner to the left.

South Kaibab Trail
Hiker at the Tip-Off (view NW)

Descending the switchbacks, the trail soon enters a tunnel that was carved out of solid rock to facilitate building the Black Suspension Bridge in 1921. The tunnel is not long, but it bends, so when looking in, hikers can't see the other end.

The tunnel opens onto the Black Bridge (Wpt. 29) where mules and hikers cross to the other side (Wpt. 28). The trail makes a little loop upstream and then back down under the bridge to follow cliffs above the river. The trail passes above Boat Beach and the ruins of Bright Angel Pueblo (Wpt. 27), then arrives at the spur trail to Boat Beach (Wpt. 26).

A bit father on, the South Kaibab Trail ends at a trail junction with a large information sign (Wpt. 24). Here, the mule trail to Phantom Ranch Lodge continues straight (right), while the North Kaibab Trail turns left to cross a bridge over Bright Angel Creek. Staying right along the other side of the creek and following it upstream, the North Kaibab Trail runs up through Bright Angel Campground and eventually all the way to the North Rim.

South Kaibab Trail
Trail traversing hillside below the Tip-Off (view NE)
South Kaibab Trail
Hiker at South Kaibab Trail -- River Trail junction (view NW)
South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab Trail -- River Trail junction sign (view NE)
South Kaibab Trail
Trail switchbacks down towards the Colorado River (view NW)
South Kaibab Trail
Trail switchbacks down towards the Black Bridge (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Concrete structures; part of old cableway?
South Kaibab Trail
Approaching the Black Bridge Tunnel (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Approaching the Black Bridge Tunnel (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Entrance to Black Bridge Tunnel (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Curious iron and rock work around tunnel entrance
South Kaibab Trail
Inside the tunnel looking towards bridge (view NW)
South Kaibab Trail
Colorado River upstream (view NE from Black Bridge)
South Kaibab Trail
Boat Beach (view NW from Black Bridge)
South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab Trail
NPS helicopter slinging a load above the bridge
South Kaibab Trail
Colorado River upstream (view NE from Black Bridge)
South Kaibab Trail
Boat Beach (view NW from Black Bridge)
South Kaibab Trail
Trail loops around at N end of bridge (view W)
South Kaibab Trail
Boat Beach (view W under Black Bridge)
South Kaibab Trail
Nice rock wall along the trail (view W)
South Kaibab Trail
Yellow sunflower blooming on rock wall
South Kaibab Trail
Approaching ruins of Bright Angel Pueblo (view W)
South Kaibab Trail
Ruins of Bright Angel Pueblo (view SW)
South Kaibab Trail
Information sign at ruins of Bright Angel Pueblo (view S)
South Kaibab Trail
Approaching Phantom Ranch area (view W)
South Kaibab Trail
Approaching Phantom Ranch area (view W)
South Kaibab Trail
Sign at trail junction to campground or lodge (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Looking back at hiker on bridge over Bright Angel Creek (view N)
South Kaibab Trail
Hiker in Bright Angel Campground (view NW)
South Kaibab Trail
Hiker arriving at Phantom Ranch Cantina (view NE)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates and Distances based on GPS Data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
01 South Kaibab Trailhead 402454 3990152 7,205 0.00 0.00
02 Edge of the Canyon 402469 3990213 7,201 0.04 0.04
03 Ooh-Aah Point 402163 3991104 6,400 0.86 0.90
04 Cedar Ridge 401969 3991396 6,060 0.60 1.50
05 Skeleton Point 401925 3993313 5,200 1.50 3.00
06 Tonto Trail Westbound 402035 3994283 4,012 1.60 4.60
07 Tip-Off Toilets 402089 3994317 4,005 0.05 4.65
08 Tip-Off Point 401928 3994478 3,880 0.15 4.80
30 South Kaibab-River Trail Junction 402037 3995325 2,640 1.75 6.55
29 Black Bridge, South End 402045 3995436 2,501 0.15 6.70
28 Black Bridge, North End 401969 3995549 2,499 0.09 6.79
27 BA Pueblo Ruins 401861 3995537 2,487 0.10 6.89
25 Boat Beach Trail Junction 401740 3995412 2,502 0.11 7.00
24 North-South Kaibab Trail Junction 401587 3995390 2,516 0.20 7.20
21 Bright Angel Campground 401416 3995539 2,480 0.23 7.43
23 Phantom Ranch Cantina 401524 3996057 2,555 0.38 7.81

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 170815

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