The South Kaibab Trail is the more challenging of the two maintained trails along the south rim. Shorter distance – 6.5 miles – plus a greater vertical drop – 4,820 feet – equals trouble for the neophyte hiker, or those not physically ready for such an arduous climb out of the Canyon, or dangerous descent into it.
The South Kaibab Trail is unique among trails down to the Colorado River, sticking as close as possible to a ridge line descent. To stay any truer, one would need to be riding Big Horn Sheep, and this is not advised. The maximum grade of the trail is not the issue; South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel have almost the identical slopes. The South Kaibab Trail is at near maximum grade for most of the trail. If one can withstand the challenging vertical changes, the payoff is dramatic panoramic views unlike any other trail. Bright Angel Trail winds through switchbacks nestled into side canyons to make the descent more gradual. South Kaibab Trail is straight into the middle of the canyon.
If this were Olympic Skiing, South Kaibab Trail would be the exhilarating, all-out Downhill race, while the Bright Angel would be the Giant Slalom, weaving a serpentine pattern down the Canyon wall.
Though amenities are scarcer – water and emergency phone found only at start, finish, outhouses at Tipoff and Cedar Crest, Tipoff also has emergency phone – there are some subtle advantages to choosing the South Kaibab Trail besides breathtaking panoramas.
During the winter months when many experienced hikers come to the Canyon to enjoy the quiet solitude of the trail and avoid excruciating heat, the South Kaibab Trail remains relatively ice free due to direct sunlight exposure. There are a few short potentially icy switchbacks on the North facing section, the first few hundred yards, but after those, clear sailing.
On Bright Angel in February, expect solid ice until 1.5 mi. and dangerous stretches until 3 mi. The flip side is, ascending from the Canyon on South Kaibab Trail in summer with no water available, steep terrain, and no shade, is dangerous to all but elite fitness level hikers. For those attempting the ascent in summer, the National Park Service recommends four liters of water per person. If that sounds heavy, do not fret; it will get lighter quickly.
Camping is only available on the South Kaibab Trail at trails end, at the Bright Angel Campground. Getting to the trailhead may pose some obstacles as well. There is no access to the trailhead by personal vehicle. The trailhead is located at Yaki Point, a popular spot with limited space. To arrive there one must ride the parks free shuttle service. Times vary with season, but each morning buses begin at Bright Angel Lodge, pick up at the Backcountry Information Center, and onto SKT. Also, the Blue-line village bus will transport hikers to the Canyon View Information Plaza to transfer to the Orange-line to the trailhead. Also, walking to the trailhead still works.
Kaibab has too many spectacular views to try and name them all. However, the first of note as one descends sets the tone for what this trail is all about.
Ooh Ah Point manages to live up to the name. The first of a mind-boggling series of panoramic views will overwhelm your senses. The winds at Ooh Ah, and along the ridge trail in general, are simply hostile, hold onto to the rock if venturing out onto Ooh Ah Point for a more spectacular look.
|Rim||7,260 ft (2,213 m)||Cedar Ridge||6,120 ft (1,865 m)||1.5 mi (2.4 km)|
|Cedar Ridge||6,120 ft (1,865 m)||Skeleton Point||5,220 ft (1,591 m)||1.5 mi (2.4 km)|
|Skeleton Point||5,220 ft (1,591 m)||Tipoff||4,000 ft (1,219 m)||1.4 mi (2.3 km)|
|Tipoff||4,000 ft (1,219 m)||Bright Angel Campground||2,480 ft (756 m)||2.6 mi (4.2 km)|
|Rim||7,260 ft (2,213 m)||Bright Angel Campground||2,480 ft (756 m)||7.0 mi (11.3 km)|