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South Kaibab and Bright Angel Loop: The Grand Canyon "rim to river to rim" Hike

Updated: Apr 28


Ooh Aah Point from South Kaibab in Grand Canyon

Hike from the South Rim to the base of the Grand Canyon and back in one day? Sure why not! Nicknamed the "Rim to River to Rim" trail, finishing the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Loop in a single day is a physical feat. The length, elevation gain, and potentially dangerous heat make this adventure a challenge , but for those who are prepared and determined to finish, you can proudly claim you've conquered the Grand Canyon.


 

Trail Info

South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail Information Table

Know before you go

  • You cannot drive to the trailhead. While there are some spots at Desert View Road, about 1/2 mile from the trailhead, the options are limited. The best way to get to the trail is to take the Hikers' Express Shuttle and park at Parking Lot D near the Backcountry Information Center. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND getting to the bus stop early as there are limited spots and you will have to wait another hour for the next bus if you miss it.

  • This hike can be dangerously hot in summer months. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are real risks. Despite the cooler temperatures at the rim, it will be much warmer 4,000+ feet lower at the base of the canyon. And it is that return ascent up the rim, likely in the warmer hours of the day, when you will do most of your exertion. The NPS does not recommend doing this as a day hike because of these risks. If you do plan on doing it, carry plenty of water and START EARLY to avoid the hottest part of the day.


Alternate routes

  • Consider doing this as a backpacking trip and camping down at the base at Bright Angel Campground. It will reduce those heat risks and also allow you to camp right next to the Colorado River.

  • If you want a taste of South Kaibab trail, you could simply hike as far down as you feel comfortable and then return to the rim. While you won't see the Colorado River, you will still see plenty of jawdropping views. Landmarks like Ooh Aah point or Skeleton Point serve as good turnaround points.

  • Similarly, you could hike a portion of the Bright Angel Trail. There's great turnarounds here like the 1.5 mile and 3 mile resthouses, or you could venture down to Havasupai Gardens which provides a unique, green landscape.


 


The Trail


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

The allure of this trail starts right away as you begin down those big sweeping switchbacks with the sight of the canyon accompanying you the entire way. I managed to get a 6am start time, and I wasn't even close to alone on this trail. A lot of motivated people ready for this endurance challenge!


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Every turn during the descent is greeted with another stunning view of this trail snaking down the canyon walls.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

It was hard not to take a picture at every turn.


Ooh Aah Point on South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

One of the first landmarks and one of my favorite views is Ooh Aah Point, about one mile down the trail. The name is accurate, it was stunning. Now, unfortunately, I have the Grits song stuck in my head for the rest of the hike.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

A lot of the descent will look like this on South Kaibab. Big descending switchbacks with stunning views.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

And the occasional flat portion. On the whole, the trail was a bit rock, but the footing was solid.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

This was one of the more interesting sections of the trail Just past Skeleton Point was a beautiful downward looking view of switchbacks. It impresses me how much work has probably gone into building and maintaining this trail over the years.


Tip Off on South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

After about 4 miles of hiking, you will reach these structures. This is the area where South Kaibab intersects with Tonto Trail, know as the Tip-Off. This area provides yet another way modify this hike, where you could cut along the Tonto trail to Bright Angel Trail. Also, if that morning coffee just hit you, I have good news! There's toilets here! This hike really has it all!


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

After about 2.5 hours of hiking, I finally got my first glimpse of the Colorado River. Even from up here, I was impressed by how green it was.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

As you near to the river, you will arrive at this trail junction. If you don't want to trek all the way to the base, you have the option to follow the River Trail (to the LEFT), to connect to Bright Angel. This will save you some distance and a bit of elevation. However, if you've come all this way and are feeling good, might as well get to river level!.


South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Because this portion of the trail has its own little bit of fun to it, such as going through this tunnel.


Suspension Bridge on River Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

And crossing this suspension bridge. This was another moment where the awe of what humans managed to construct in such a remote area hit me.


River Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

After crossing, you take a left to continue on towards another bridge that will take you back across the Colorado. It is only about ~0.5 mile, so it shouldn't take too long. Also, there's another toilet along the way!


This is also where the junction to North Kaibab is located. Veering right at this junction will take you past Bright Angel Campground to Phantom Ranch (and if you take it for long enough all the way to the North Rim). I neglected to hike the additional 1 mile round trip to go to Phantom Ranch, but from everything I read about it, it looks epic. That's probably why there's a lottery for reservations nearly two years in advance....


Colorado River Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

One more glimpse of the stunning Colorado from bridge #2.


Beach on Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park

After crossing, take a right to head towards the Bright Angel Trail. Shortly after the crossing, I came across this nice beach. It did look as if the area was protected and you may even be able to take a quick dip in the river without being swept downstream. I'm sure it's a bit chilly though, the average temperature of the Colorado is about 50 degrees.


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

And now after all that begins the hard part of the hike, the ascent. It's going to look like this a lot of the way--windy switchbacks as you slowly regain all that elevation you lost.


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Savor those shady moments, because I guarantee you will be sweating.


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

The major landmark on the way up Bright Angel is the Havasupai Gardens, located roughly half way up on the ascent. I found this section interesting because it was so green. The prevalence of trees and plants was a stark contrast to the landscape I'd seen up to this point. This area is also home to picnic tables, a ranger station, a campground, and yes, you guessed it, more toilets! It's a perfect place for a break if that climb is starting to get to you..


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Up and up we go. There are 2 rest houses on this trail (with toilets of course), one located 3 miles from the top of the rim, and another 1.5 miles from the rim. But I always find the best way to break up a climb is to turn around whenever you're feeling tired and soak in those views. It's hard to believe we've come all this way.


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

While it's easy to enter tunnel vision climbing mode at this point, Bright Angel trail has a lot to offer if you are paying attention. I found some of these tunnels we walked through to be particularly satisfying.


I will say that Bright Angel was significantly more crowded than South Kaibab. Part of that was it was later in the day, but it's also a much easier trail to access than Sout Kaibab, so it draws more crowds. Another drawback--a lot more moose and moose poop here. Watch where you step!


Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

And after 7.5 hours, I had made it back up to the South Rim. If you've got the energy, I recommend walking along the flat rim trail to soak in some more of this area and revel in what you just accomplished. I'm sure this hike will stick in you memory for quite a while.


 

SS Reflections

A failed attempt to get a backpacking permit for the Rim to Rim trail forced me to pivot to this day hike. And I have to say, I'm grateful for the way things turned out. This adventure stands out as one of my favorite day hikes I've ever done.


Every turn offered some unique and new perspective of this grand landscape, whether it was those massive ridges or the majestic Colorado River or the beauty of the trail itself. And while I was no doubt exhausted when I made it back up to the South Rim, I could turn around, look down at the vast expanse of the canyon and tell myself, "I just did that." The most satisfying things in life aren't easy. This hike is the perfect case for that adage.


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