This incredible hike requires strong physical fitness and planning to avoid the heat of the canyon.
The 18.9-mile route starts at South Kaibab Trailhead on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and immediately descends into the belly of the Grand Canyon on South Kaibab Trail. Along the way, the route passes O’Neill Butte, Skeleton Point, and breathtaking views of the surrounding canyons.
At the bottom, cross Black Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Colorado River, and head west to Phantom Ranch and the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon. The route winds to the north up this pinched canyon for 8.7 miles, crisscrossing Bright Angel Creek numerous times. After 14.8 miles, you’ll catch the first views of the North Rim as you pass Roaring Springs and enter Roaring Springs Canyon. The trip finishes with brief stretch through the Supai Tunnel, a 20-foot-long hole-in-the-rock wall, and a steep switchback climb to the top of the North Rim.
Caution: Summer temperatures can soar into the hundreds so always carry water and start early to beat the midday heat. It’s highly recommended to do this hike in fall or early spring when heat is not as much of a factor. Also, don’t forget it is much easier to descend into the canyon than climb back up. Expect to spend at least double the amount of time climbing than descending.
If you need a park map to get a sense for where everything is and to map out your hiking routes, you can purchase one of three Trails Illustrated maps covering different areas of Grand Canyon National Park at REI.com.
For more information, go to the Grand Canyon National Park Web site: Backcountry Hiking and Getting Around.
-Mapped by Trung Q. Le
TO TRAILHEAD:Start (South Rim): From S. Lake Powell Blvd. and US 89 in Page, AZ, head southwest on US 89. In 81.5 miles, turn right onto AZ 64. In 53 miles, turn right onto S. Entrance Rd. In 2.7 miles, turn left onto Village Loop Dr. In 0.2 mile, bear left at Village Loop Dr. In 0.2 mile, turn right to stay on Village Loop Dr. In 100 feet, turn left to stay on Village Loop Dr. Go 500 feet and park in Lot E at the South Rim Backcountry Information Center. Take a free shuttle bus to the trailhead (check times at Ranger Station). End (North Rim): From S. Lake Powell Blvd. and US 89 in Page, AZ, head southwest on US 89. In 23 miles, turn right onto US 89 ALT. In 55 miles, turn left onto AZ 67/North Rim Pkwy. (closed seasonally). Follow 41.6 miles to trailhead parking on left.
DIRECTIONS + WAYPOINTS: helping you find your way
Rim-to-Rim via South Kaibab Trail
Distance 18.89 mi
Position Format: Datum:
Point Name: GTR001: Head north from the South Kaibab Trailhead (port-a-potties are available here). From May to mid-October, fill water bottles at the spigot near the bus stop. Caution: There are no other water sources along the South Kaibab Trail. Location: 36.05341, -112.08355
Point Name: GTR002: Pass the first viewpoint, which reveals views of countless buttes to the east. If possible, time this stretch with the sunrise. Next, the trail snakes down the canyon on a multitude of switchbacks (supported by metal rebar and pipes). The switchbacks and well-maintained, paved trail make this potentially steep descent less difficult. As you descend, you’ll get an up-close view of the canyon’s various layers. Location: 36.06147, -112.08707
Point Name: GTR003: Head north along Cedar Ridge, a wide ridge that resembles a plateau (stunning bird’s-eye views of the canyon). There are established composting toilets here. Location: 36.06405, -112.08949
Point Name: GTR004: As the trail winds to the east behind O’Neill Butte, you’ll catch more views of the canyon below. Location: 36.07172, -112.08870
Point Name: GTR005: Pass Skeleton Point, which offers the first views and sounds of the Colorado River. Look down to the east to see the numerous switchbacks ahead. Location: 36.08129, -112.09000
Point Name: GTR006: Look up towards the north-northwest and you can see Natural Arch at the top of the butte. Location: 36.08546, -112.08637
Point Name: GTR007: The trail travels across The Tipoff (there is a phone here that could be used in an emergency). Start marveling at all the buttes and points that surround you in every direction. Continue straight on the South Kaibab Trail at the next two intersections with Tonto West Trail, and Tonto East Trail. The metal stalls in the middle are used to tie up mules on their way up and down the rim. Location: 36.09007, -112.08891
Point Name: GTR008: Hike past an overlook with views of the Colorado River. Ahead, the dirt trail turns a reddish color, which stains shoes and socks. Location: 36.09521, -112.09113
Point Name: GTR009: First views of Black Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Colorado River. Look down on the series of switchbacks to come. Location: 36.09625, -112.08665
Point Name: GTR010: Soak up views of the Colorado River and surrounding canyons from this trailside overlook. The Colorado River becomes louder as you descend to the suspension bridge. Location: 36.09742, -112.08791
Point Name: GTR011: The Bright Angel Campground (north side of the Colorado River) comes into view for the first time. Location: 36.09875, -112.08719
Point Name: GTR012: Stay right @ Y-intersection on the South Kaibab Trail (toward Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground). River Trail enters on the left. Location: 36.09934, -112.08887
Point Name: GTR013: Walk across Black Bridge. To the west, you can see the Silver Bridge, as well as Bright Angel Campground. Below, whitewater rafters and kayakers take breaks on the beach next to the Colorado River. Location: 36.10043, -112.08907
Point Name: GTR014: Continue straight (west) at the 3-way intersection. Potable water and a bathroom are located here. Location: 36.09984, -112.09397
Point Name: GTR015: Trail passes through Phantom Ranch. Refreshments are available at the general store. You can also find potable water (seasonal) and bathrooms. Look across Bright Angel Creek to the west for the Trans-Canyon Telephone Line, a nationally registered Historic Place. Also, potable water and bathrooms are available. Find the North Kaibab Trail just past Phantom Ranch. Take notice of the Trans-Canyon Telephone Line, nationally registered as a Historic Place, across the Bright Angel Creek to the West. Location: 36.10414, -112.09575
Point Name: GTR016: Continue straight on the North Kaibab Trail @ 3-way intersection. Clear Creek Trail enters on the right. The trail now starts to travel through the Bright Angel Canyon. Location: 36.11063, -112.09163
Point Name: GTR017: Cross a footbridge across the Bright Angel Creek. This will be a first of a series of bridges that crisscross the creek. Start to notice the enclosed feeling of the Bright Angel Canyon as the trail gradually rolls through the canyon. Location: 36.11333, -112.08820
Point Name: GTR018: Cross Bright Angel Creek on footbridge. This is a good area to filter water; drop your packs, refill water bottles, and relax on the shores of this small rushing creek. Location: 36.11519, -112.08677
Point Name: GTR019: Cross footbridge over Bright Angel Creek. Location: 36.13068, -112.07597
Point Name: GTR020: Cross creek on footbridge. Location: 36.13327, -112.07346
Point Name: GTR021: Follow the boardwalk through a grassy, marsh. This is the last of the bridge crossings. Location: 36.14068, -112.06638
Point Name: GTR022: Look northwest for views of Ribbon Falls. Pass the side trail to Ribbon Falls in roughly 300 yards. Location: 36.15673, -112.05354
Point Name: GTR023: Continue straight @ 3-way intersection. The trail to Ribbon Falls veers to the left. Location: 36.15891, -112.05218
Point Name: GTR024: Cottonwood Campground: Bathrooms, potable water (seasonal), emergency phone and ranger station are available here. Continue heading northeast. Location: 36.16984, -112.04140
Point Name: GTR025: Cross a bridge over Bright Angel Creek. Pass the Pumphouse Residence; potable water is available here seasonally. Location: 36.18489, -112.03188
Point Name: GTR026: Roaring Springs can be seen to the north. Optional: Turn right @ 3-way junction onto the 0.5-mile spur trail to Roaring Springs for views of water pouring out of the cliff wall and cascading down to Bright Angel Creek. Ahead: Catch the first views of the North Rim as the trail leaves behind Bright Angel Canyon and travels up Roaring Springs Canyon. Location: 36.19254, -112.03396
Point Name: GTR027: Cross a bridge over Roaring Springs. To the north, you may be able to spot the Supai Tunnel and the North Rim. Location: 36.20718, -112.04657
Point Name: GTR028: Walk through the Supai Tunnel, a 20-foot-long hole in the rock wall. Potable water (seasonal) and restrooms are available here. Location: 36.21121, -112.04935
Point Name: GTR029: The San Francisco Peaks rise dramatically to the south behind the flat-topped canyon. Switchback ascent continues. Location: 36.21541, -112.05306
Point Name: GTR030: The hike ends at the top of the North Rim (the trailhead to North Kaibab Trail). Pick up your shuttle car. Location: 36.21693, -112.05668