Grand Canyon - 13 Tips for Hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail

Grand Canyon - 13 Tips for Hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

When we stood in front of the Grand Canyon, we knew we had to get down to the Colorado River. We trained hard for half a year, and we had already hiked the South Kaibab Trail twice. If you hike into the canyon, you get out of it addicted. This I can promise. The South Kaibab Trail changed our life.

South Kaibab Trail early morning
Early morning at the South Rim

After this unique hike, we were hooked on hiking the great outdoors and became mountain climbers. This was a key experience in our life; you can make almost everything if you really want. It is such a rewarding trail, and every mile you walk is unforgettable.

A hiker on the SKT with deep holes along the trail
Me on the extremely steep SKT

I found it difficult to get all the needed information the reason I wrote this hiking guide for the best time and the best experience in your life. Currently, I am living close to the Alps, the reason I learnt more about the proper prep and what is essential to carry in the backpack. We plan to do this hike again this year in June 2022 - fingers crossed.

South Rim Opening Hours

Grand Canyon Village from the distance
Grand Canyon Village **

The South Rim is open year-round, except for road closures during extreme winter weather, which is rare. 

Weather Grand Canyon South Rim – South Kaibab Trail

View down into the Grand Canyon on a sunny day
View from Ooh Aah Point to the SK Trail **

Usually, I prefer sunny days, but not for this track. An overcast sky is excellent for hiking. There can be snow at the south rim already mid-October, and it is still scorching at the bottom of the canyon. Because of the high elevation loss, this hike is totally different. The rims are alpine terrain, the river like the desert. The South Rim is located 7000 feet/ 2.100 m above sea level. Therefore the Grand Canyon experiences this extreme climate and temperature differences at the rim and bottom.

A hiker in short trouser early morning on the South Kaibab Trail
Markus, after one hour on the SKT mid-May

The best time to hike down into the Grand Canyon regarding weather and temps at the rim and inner canyon is April, May and September, October, therefore busier.

Spring (March-May)

The Bright Angel Trail and the Grand Canyon Village to the right
Panorama of the Bright Angel Trail **

Spring weather can be unpredictable, but temperatures are usually mild without rain. However, March is prone to late-season snowstorms and also to snow and ice for the first two miles. Spring is great if you want to avoid the hot and unpleasant summer heat, and it’s also not heavily crowded at the south rim. Wildflowers are blooming during this season. In some years it can be gorgeous with lots of blooms. April and May can be everything from blizzards to pleasant temps but also summer heat inside the canyon. 

Summer (June-mid-September)

Suspension Bridge leading above the Colorado River

I can't recommend summer as an ideal visiting time: These are the most popular months with heavy crowds along the rim. Although the temperatures are more pleasant at the rim than the extreme inner Canyon heat, it's scorching, and midday temperatures topping 100°F in the shade easily make hiking unbearable. Afternoon rain showers or thunderstorms are common in the summer, especially from July through mid-September. Always bring a rain jacket.

Please, don’t hike between 10 am-4 pm at the bottom of Grand Canyon; it’s as hot as hell in summer already in June! It sounds crazy and strange, but most people hike in the night. 

Fall (mid-September-November)

A red and pink sunset at the South Rim
The sunset at the Grand Canyon is mesmerizing. **

September after Labor Day is the perfect month for hiking the trail: Fewer crowds and enjoyable temperatures. However, keep in mind that those summer thunderstorms can still occur in September. Fall weather is also the most unpredictable: Bring rain gear, but don't let the weather spoil the experience. 

October and November are still awesome, although temperatures drop in November: 52-27°F (11 to -3° C). The Colorado River level is much higher after rainfall and flash flooding events occur, and the colour of the river changes to muddy brown. If it is 30°F at the rim, you still can expect the high 70s at the bottom. More clothes are needed to peel off.

Hiker on the South Kaibab Trail in the early morning
Chilly in the morning on the South Kaibab Trail

Some people say November is the best month. The weather is very changeable, which means something between flip flops and spikes, just a t-shirt or softshell jacket. November definitely means to carry crampons in your backpack. This is the safest way for hiking during snow and ice. I saw many rescues in the Alps just because people did not carry spikes. The first mile or so will be covered in snow but disappears soon. Melting water and puddles 8-12 inches big can be an issue on the trail.

Winter (December-February)

A clear crisp sunset in winter
**

Weather will vary at that time of the year. Expect anything; cold up at the top and delightful the lower you get. It’s colder, with daily highs ranging from 55-40°F and nights in the low 30s at the bottom of the canyon. Extreme weather with snowstorms and icy trails is possible. However, you’ll almost find solitude in the winter with minimal crowds and reduced rates. It’s a great time if you don’t mind the cooler climate. Some people even say this is the best time to hike the loop trail. Water can cross the BA trail in winter. There is no sun on Bright Angel in winter, which causes much snow also in lower elevations. Winter means gear up and layer up; be prepared for any type of weather. Essential are crampons to hike at the rim above snow and ice. You just have more weight to carry. However, keep an eye on the weather forecast; a snowstorm can disrupt your plans.

Weather Tip

To get an idea of the temps you may experience; the rim is like Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon bottom is like Phoenix. A good rule of thumb, it is at least 20 degrees warmer at the canyon bottom. Phantom Ranch weather forecast link

Avoiding Crowds

Desert View Watchtower
Mary Colter's Desert View Watchtower

With more than 5 million visitors annually it can be crazy along the South Rim. Summer months bring the most crowds on the roads and at the viewpoints into the canyon. If you visit in the summer, start your hike already at night because of the crowds and heat. Come during summer early morning or postpone your visit. Summer is crazy, and it takes hours to get to the South Rim. It can also get crowded in spring and fall during holidays and weekends. May and September are the most popular months for hiking. Try to avoid weekends in general. However, if you get deeper into the canyon it improves a lot.

How about hiking in the winter? It is more gear needed especially crampons but you get a much better experience of the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Accommodation and Hiking Tip

Thunderbird Lodge

Stay for two or three nights in the Bright Angel Lodge or one of the other hotels next to it. Take a taxi to the SK trailhead for roughly $20 the following early morning. This is the most convenient way to come up of the Bright Angel Trail and just go to your room after this once-in-a-lifetime hike. Book your room in the Bright Angel Lodge far in advance. If you wish to have dinner at Fred Harvey Tavern, book your table in advance because of limited space.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Grand Canyon - South Rim
United States
United States

The South Kaibab (SKT) and Bright Angel (BAT) Loop Trail is among the most popular hiking trails in the Grand Canyon. Usually, people hike down on the SKT to the Colorado River and up on the less steep BAT. Often rangers recommend not to walk the specific trail instead SKT to Tonto Trail and up on BAT. We followed the ranger’s suggestion, and our first experience was Tonto the year before.

A hiker at the Colorado River in the shade
Well needed shade at the bottom of the canyon.

Despite what the rangers recommend, here is my opinion. You can’t compare Tonto to the entire BA. Standing at the Colorado River, drinking lemonade at Phantom Ranch, you miss this supporting vibe around you. In the end, the shorter trail was more challenging because the group spirit of all other hikers was missing. Strangers join each other and give the needed push words of encouragement. So train hard enough, push yourself, and get to know many like-minded hikers on this unique trail. On the last miles, a R2R hiker joined us. He trained an entire year for his bucket list hike. They started in a group at 5 am at the North Rim but split up.

View from the rim down to Bright Angel Trail
The last part of the BAT **

Rim2Rim – is a brutal challenging trail usually done from the North Rim, the North Kaibab Trail (NKT), to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail. More details about this hike are coming soon. 
 

Preparation Before – My Tips

Hiker with hiking poles along the South Kaibab Trail
A water bladder is helpful to drink plenty of water.

Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is not recommended by the National Park. It is an utterly strenuous and demanding hike. Circulatory collapse, sunstroke, dehydration, and more can occur if you are not well prepared. Therefore, please, invest time in a good prep. You never can do too much preparation. Exercise hard for it – make memorable memories – repeat it 😉

The red sand on the South Kaibab Trail
Mid-May, and it was hot before 10 am
  • We started to hike each weekend half a year before doing the SKT and BAT. Hike trails on uneven ground and walk staircases up and down with your backpack as often as possible. Even though I climb a mountain each week, I have aching muscles after this day hike. This canyon is a different beast.
  • Most important for me I always start drinking more water daily already a week before such challenging hikes and no alcohol. This always works and I am much fitter than most others afterwards. 
  • It’s all about endurance, hydration, electrolyte, and nutrition planning before and during the hike.
  • Trim your toenails a few days before; otherwise, the steep descent will hurt after a while.
  • Good food like pasta the day before; carb up.
  • Consider the high elevation of the South Rim 7000 feet/ 2.100 m above sea level. The oxygen level is lower when you start the hike.
     

13 Tips and Packing List

Clothes and socks are drying in a bush in the sun
Nowadays, we use Icebreaker and Smartwool socks.
  1. Most important pack light in regards to clothes – every lb on your back is an effort.
  2. Plenty of water and in case a filter or tablets.  Filter any water which is not coming out of the pipeline. You can’t carry the needed amount of water. I recommend one litre of water per hour! Make frequent water and snack breaks.
  3. For such strenuous hikes where sweating is part of it, I always put electrolytes into my water bottle for new energy throughout the hike.
  4. It is crucial to balance hydration with salt-rich snacks, protein, and trail mix protein bars. Eat even if you are not hungry. 
  5. Wear several layers; we started with 36°F/ 2°C at 5 am and ended up at 104°F/ 40°C at the bottom of Grand Canyon mid-May. Rest when you find shade.
  6. Hiking Poles for the steep descent at SK because of the pressure on your knees. Don't forget crampons in the winter; the upper part and rim are icy. 
  7. An additional pair of socks you may like to replace the wet ones.
  8. Sunscreen and cotton wide-brimmed hat  – the sun is relentless. I recommend a buff and cooling towel for the summer. It sounds strange but a long sleeves shirt to protect your arms to get sunburnt but also to be able to soak in the creek and retain that awesome cool water on you as long as possible. 
  9. My most important life-saver is a cotton or wool buff to soak with water. It cools your head and neck perfectly down.
  10. Always carry a headlamp and additional batteries if the ascent takes longer than expected.
  11. Are you one of the few lucky ones with a PR or campsite permit? Don’t drink alcohol! After a dehydrating day of hiking, it will support insomnia and dehydration.
  12. Check out the backcountry office the day before to figure out any issues, for additional info along the trail, and for the weather forecast.
  13. Know your limits! If you do not feel well any longer, hear to your body,  sorry but, please, turn around. We went back on a winter snow tour shortly before reaching the summit. I did not feel comfortable any longer because of the deep snow, and we went back. Never risk your life! The Grand Canyon has the highest number of Searches and Rescues of all National Parks annually on average one hiker per day.

Nevertheless, go for it! It is better to have tried and not completed it than never to have tried and regretted it.

 

How to Get to the South Kaibab Trailhead

Mules and Horses on the South Kaibab Trail
Mules and horses have the right of way on the trail.

Park your car at the shuttle stop close to the Bright Angel Lodge, best to stay there for 2 or 3 nights. Take the Hikers Express at 6 am to the SK trailhead. The second shuttle stop is at the backcountry office, but usually, there are already not enough seats available. The park wants hikers to leave the car at the backcountry office. Parking at Bright Angel Lodge is available early morning only.

Piped Water Along the Trail

Hikers takes water from the creek to cool down
Break at Indian Garden - Garden Creek

Notice; if it is freezing water pipes may be shut off.

  • NO water at South Kaibab
  • Phantom Ranch
  • Bright Angel Campground
  • Indian Garden
  • 1.5-mile and 3-mile Resthouse are seasonal water sources

Trail Description South Kaibab - Bright Angel Loop

Hikers and simple day visitors on the first half a mile trail of SK
Many daytrippers walk to Ooh Aah Point during the day. **
  • Trail Length: Over 17 miles/ 27 km
  • If you wish to add Plateau Point from Indian Garden add 4 miles.
  • Duration: It is often said hiking the Bright Angel up takes twice the time, but that is wrong. South Kaibab down is terribly steep, the reason you are forced to walk slowly and your knees will be thankful. Hiking Bright Angel up is almost the same but the length of the trail makes it more challenging. The loop trail takes 7-11 hours depending on your fitness level, breaks, and picture stops. South Kaibab took us 3.5 hours down plus photo stops to the Colorado River and Bright Angel a little less hard and steep, but longer took us 4.5 hours plus breaks, and picture stops the entire duration for this loop trail reaches easily 10-11 hours. Depending on the season you start and finish this famous hike in darkness. Essential is a headlamp!
  • Elevation Gain: 5000 feet/ 1.500 m
View to Phantom Ranch from South Kaibab Trail
Phantom Ranch Village

We did this circular hike in one day and started very early in the morning before sunrise. We parked the car at the Bright Angel Lodge and took an early shuttle express bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It was 36°F/ 2°C in the morning, but usually, the temperature rises very soon. The South Kaibab Trail offers the most expansive views of all tracks because it is leading along a ridge. SK is the most breathtaking part of the entire hike. The SKT is two miles shorter than Bright Angel, therefore a lot steeper descent.

Kaibab and Bright Angel Suspension Bridge
Both suspension bridges have to be crossed.

We arrived before midday and had a long break to let the midday heat pass and enjoy the famous lemonade at Phantom Ranch. There are often deers around PR. I dipped my feet into the water, and we enjoyed the beauty and the sound of this unique canyon. After midday, it was almost 104°F/ 40°C, and there wasn't any shelter on the BAT.

Deeping my feet into the creek in the Grand Canyon
The Bright Angel Creek was wonderful cold to cool down.

The steep cliffs in the inner canyon are some of the oldest rocks in the continent 1.8 billion years old when continent plates collided. The impressive canyon was formed by several layers. When you reach Indian Garden and you are still in good condition make a detour to Plateau Point. It is a fantastic lookout but additional 2 miles one way.

The high cliffs of the Grand Canyon and two hikers on the Bright Angel Trail
The impressive high walls on the BAT.

The way back on the Bright Angel Trail is less steep but even more strenuous because you are already hiking for hours. The trails are well maintained, but you have to share with mules from time to time. You can't refill your water at South Kaibab Trail but at Bright Angel Trail several times. Depending on the time of year and heat, decide wisely when you start to climb up the BA. You don't want to be going up Devil's Corkscrew in the powerful sun.

The high red and orange walls of the Bright Angel Trail
Getting closer to the top, now without hiking poles.

What really makes the difference on this trail is the team spirit. I never experienced it like that anywhere else on a hike. The trail out of the canyon is hard and demanding and the last mile can take two hours in the end. The last 3 to 4 gruelling miles are the worst. This happened to my husband and a fellow hiker who even did the R2R hike. In the end, I got cold beverages for them and headed back. For me, it was less strenuous because I drank 4-5 times per hour water.

Update Late January 2022: There are plans for major infrastructure modernizations for Phantom Ranch and also for hiker cabins. No permits are available from May 2023 onwards. This may also have an impact on the Bright Angel Trail and closure from time to time. More soon!

Why You Should Not Walk BA Down and SK Up

My husband asked this question because South Kaibab is so steep it would be much easier going this trail up. I agree but there are three good reasons why you should do it in this direction.

  1. The view into the canyon from SK especially at sunrise is matchless.
  2. The main reason is the water: You can't refill your bottle along SK but several times on BA.
  3. There is no simple way back from SK to the village. Only a few taxis operating at Grand Canyon.

Why Do People This Challenging Hike in One Day?

The first part of the South Kaibab Trail
Thanks, Dean, for your support! **

I spoke with many hikers and there are different reasons for doing it in one day. Some simply want the challenge and this special sense of pleasure afterwards. Some are not real campers or do not like to carry a heavy backpack but most of them like us are forced because of the needed permit for camping or Phantom Ranch.

Of course, also, we had loved to camp or stay a couple of nights at Phantom Ranch, but it is crazy to enter the lottery 15 months prior to the desired stay month for PR. 
Getting a campsite permit is also a challenging task. It is not possible to request it by internet, and it has to be done +4 months in advance. The Bright Angel Campground has 32 campsites, so if you do the maths, it sounds like entering The Wave lottery or even worse.
 

These pictures were taken by me and Dean "Lazy Sleepy Kitty". Follow Dean on Flickr! His photographs are marked with **

Nearby Places
Grand Canyon - North Kaibab Trail - Hiking Guide
10 km
Grand Canyon - North Kaibab Trail - Hiking Guide
It's a 4 hours drive from the South Rim to the North Rim. Although less…
The Wave – Coyote Buttes North - New Last Minute Permit System
102 km
The Wave – Coyote Buttes North - New Last Minute Permit System
The daily visitor number for the Wave has increased from 20 to 64 or 16 groups…
Stud Horse Point - The Rock Factory
110 km
Stud Horse Point - The Rock Factory
Getting here is a little hard. Either you are travelling with a high clearance…
Antelope Valley - Secret Slot Canyons in Arizona
110 km
Antelope Valley - Secret Slot Canyons in Arizona
The Antelope Slot Canyons are for sure some of the most breathtaking canyons in…
Ultimate Antelope Canyon Guide
110 km
Ultimate Antelope Canyon Guide
Antelope is a perfect collaboration of water, sand, and wind that created these…
White Pocket Part of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona
110 km
White Pocket Part of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona
The White Pocket, above and beyond expectations, is a photographer’s paradise…
The Toadstools - Rim Rocks in Utah
116 km
The Toadstools - Rim Rocks in Utah
The parking and trailhead are right off HWY 89. It looks like you are in the…
Peek a Boo Slot Canyon – Red Canyon in Kanab
128 km
Peek a Boo Slot Canyon – Red Canyon in Kanab
The Peek, a Boo Slot Canyon, offers excellent picture opts and magical scenery…
Zion Narrows Hike From Temple of Sinawava – Detailed Season Guide
156 km
Zion Narrows Hike From Temple of Sinawava – Detailed Season Guide
The Narrows are a thrilling bucket list hike and are famous for 1000 feet/ 300…
Monument Valley in Arizona - Best Time and 7 Tips
207 km
Monument Valley in Arizona - Best Time and 7 Tips
Monument Valley is a vast monument of mother nature. The iconic sandstone…
Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…