MapsSouth Kaibab Trail topographic map
, South Rim location map
Start of the Trail
The path begins by descending into a side ravine (Pipe Creek
) but soon the walls open out allowing for magnificent views both west and especially east along the canyon. After 1.5 miles and a descent of 940 feet the NPS have installed restrooms along Cedar Ridge
, which is a sensible target for a half day hike; certainly far fewer people progress beyond. The trail continues fairly straight, going down steadily but not too steeply, curves around O'Neill Butte
after 2.5 miles and then descends very sharply with a long series of switchbacks towards the Tonto Plateau after 4 miles.
Inner Canyon Gorge
An easier, flatter section passes a place known as The Tip Off
which is just above the rim of the Inner Canyon Gorge - here are located more restrooms and an emergency phone. The rocks in the canyon walls opposite are composed of ancient metamorphosed granite, mineralized and particularly colorful, exhibiting many shades of red and purple. The last section is steep again, especially the part just above the river, which is clearly visible for the last mile or so of the descent. At the end of the trail there is a short tunnel which leads directly onto a suspension bridge, one of two which cross the Colorado River (the other is for the Bright Angel Trail
, half a mile downstream). The bridge is sturdy enough but it is still a little alarming to be perched high above the muddy, fast-flowing river, swaying slightly in the wind.
Around the Colorado River
After a short distance walking along the north side of the Colorado one arrives at the Phantom Ranch
buildings - a guest house, campsite, ranger station, mule stables, etc. and suddenly, lots of people - most of the trail is pleasingly empty especially during the middle of a hot, sunny day in August when I went. Drinking water is provided, from a hand pump, and there are plenty of cool places to rest alongside the nearby Bright Angel Creek; from here the North Kaibab Trail
leads to the North Rim
visitor complex, 14 miles away. Some people stay the night at the ranch before hiking out the next day but this requires booking a long time in advance - maybe up to one year. This is also the place to phone for help if needed. I hiked back to the top on the same day, a 6.5 hour round trip (13 miles). The hardest places on the return journey were the steepest; just after the suspension bridge, and the climb up from the Tonto Plateau after 3 miles. Despite the oft-repeated warnings of the NPS never to attempt to walk from rim to river and back in one day, there is no reason why fit hikers should not attempt the trip, as long as the weather is not too hot.