Hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is one of my favorite hikes to date, and honestly, one I can’t wait to do again. It’s one thing to visit the Grand Canyon and take in its grandeur from the top. It’s entirely a different experience to hike to the base of the canyon and fully witness its greatness.

To not just see the Grand Canyon, but to truly encounter it by hiking from the rim to the base, is a must when visiting the park. The trail is long, both physically demanding and mentally challenging.

Hikers can opt to complete the trail as a multi-day hike or as a day hike. Knowing which option for completing South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is best for you is important not only for your enjoyment but also for your safety.

In this guide, I cover what to expect hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel, commonly asked questions about both trails, permits, transportation in the park, what to pack, and more.

Hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail in One Day

The red and orange rocks of the Grand Canyon at sunrise from the South Kaibab Trail

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Trail Stats

Distance: 17.8 Miles (Including Phantom Ranch)

Level: Hard

Type: Point-to-Point

Elevation Gain: 4,747 feet

Time: 7-13 hours (Depending on pace)

Traffic: Light-Moderate Traffic on South Kaibab Trail. Heavy Traffic on Bright Angel Trail

Dogs: No

Know Before You Go

Grand Canyon Entrance Fees

Entry into Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle. This fee covers admission for seven days and includes both the North Rim and South Rim. An entrance permit can be purchased online or upon arrival.

I recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful pass for $80 if you plan on visiting at least one other National Park during the next 12 months.

How Long Does It Take To Hike South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel?

The amount of time it takes to hike South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel differs drastically for each hiker. The trail can take anywhere from 7 hours to 13 hours, depending on your fitness level, pace, trail conditions, and more.

We are experienced hikers who exercise consistently and we finished the trail in 8.5 hours. We stopped to take several photos, took our time (but kept a good pace), and did not stop for lunch. The trail could be completed quicker, but it also could take hours longer if you factor in a slower pace and several stops to rest or eat.

Make sure to allow enough time to complete the trail during daylight hours while accounting for your own level of physical fitness.

How Hard Is It to Do South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel in One Day?

The trek from South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is extremely difficult and should not be attempted by inexperienced hikers or hikers not used to logging multiple miles in harsh conditions.

Not only is the trail long, nearly 18 miles, but it requires hikers to cover a massive amount of elevation over a relatively short amount of distance.

The park highly discourages hiking the route as a day hike, and rightfully so. Each year, hundreds of visitors are rescued from the canyon. Do not put yourself or others in an unsafe situation.

Know your limits before hiking to the base and back in one day.

Which Trail Is Harder: Bright Angel or South Kaibab?

Technically, South Kaibab Trail is considered a harder trail as it covers more elevation loss and gain in a slightly shorter amount of distance. Additionally, there are no water stations or bathroom facilities along the South Kaibab Trail.

While Bright Angel Trail is marginally longer with somewhat less elevation gain, it does have several restrooms and water re-fill stations. These facilities make Bright Angel Trail the more common out-and-back route for visitors looking to do just one trail.

With that being said, I am not sure the differences between trail length or distance are enough to constitute an “easier” or “harder” rating for either route. Both South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail are extremely challenging hikes and should be approached as so.

Do You Need a Permit to Hike?

You do not need a permit to hike South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel, or to complete either hike as an out-and-back route.

Permits are only required to complete the hike as an overnight route. To sleep at the base at Bright Angel Campground, hikers need to secure a permit. Check here to learn when to apply, the costs, and the backcountry application process.

Getting to the South Kaibab Trailhead

Perhaps the trickiest part of hiking the point-to-point South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel route is figuring out transportation.

Hikers cannot drive to the South Kaibab Trailhead, nor would you want to as the trail finishes at the Bright Angel Trailhead.

How to Access the South Kaibab Trailhead

  1. Arrive early to park at the Bright Angel Lodge
  2. Walk to the nearby bus stop (located to the right of Bright Angel Lodge). The shuttle begins operation anywhere between 4:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. depending on the month. Check here for shuttle times
  3. Ride the shuttle until the last stop: South Kaibab Trailhead
  4. Begin the hike

Things to Note:

  • Regardless of your physical level, I recommend catching the very first shuttle to beat the heat and witness the sunrise from the trail
  • The shuttle does not wait. Make sure you arrive on time
  • The shuttle ride is roughly 20-30 minutes (including stops) to the South Kaibab Trailhead
  • There are vault toilets at the South Kaibab Trailhead, but no water stations
  • You will end the hike at the Bright Angel Trailhead, where you parked your car

What to Expect Hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel in One Day

South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail begins just a few yards away from where the shuttle drops you off. Again, there are vault toilets near the trailhead for you to use before you begin the trail. There are no other bathroom facilities until you reach the floor of the canyon.

Almost immediately, it’s clear to see why the South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel route has gained so much popularity and attention.

The trail is beautifully crafted through a series of ridges, switchbacks, and stone staircases, offering spellbinding views at nearly every corner.

I’m sure the moody dawn lighting and the slow-rising sun added to the magic, but the first couple of miles along South Kaibab Trail were my favorite of the entire 18 miles.

Rocky narrow path hugging a rock wall along the South Kaibab Trail


Ooh Ahh Point

There is no shortage of views along the trail. About one mile into the hike, you come to Ooh Ahh Point.

Ooh Ahh Point, aptly named, is a wonderful spot to catch the sunrise and peer into the canyon. This point is a great option for visitors who aren’t keen on a huge hike but want to experience more of the Grand Canyon than the Rim Trail can offer.

Cedar Ridge

Perhaps my favorite viewpoint though is Cedar Ridge.

You come to Cedar Ridge lookout about 1.5 miles into South Kaibab Trail. There is a ridge hikers can walk onto for panoramic views of the canyon. This is a great spot to drink some water and stretch your legs before the continued descent to the Colorado River.

A male hiker walking towards the end of Cedar Ridge Viewpoint along the South Kaibab Trail

Skeleton Point

Skeleton Point is an exciting marker along the South Kaibab Trail because it is the first viewpoint where hikers can see the Colorado River. From here the switchbacks get a little bit steeper and the views even more dramatic.

Long, rocky trail with views of the Grand Canyon all around

Bridge Crossing

Just over 6 miles into South Kaibab Trail you come to a long rock tunnel that leads you onto the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. From the bridge, you are rewarded with stunning views of the Colorado River where you can officially say you hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Just on the other side of the bridge, you reach the first water station.

Make sure to refill your bottle and reservoirs here. South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is a hike you want to be carrying more water than you think you need.

There is another route option other than crossing the South Kaibab Bridge. To make the hike from South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel a little shorter, take the river trail that veers off to the left just before walking onto the bridge. Taking the River Trail cuts out both bridge crossings.

A blooming cactus with the walls of the Grand Canyon in the background along South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel

Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch

Before taking a left and crossing back over the second bridge, you have the option to continue straight and explore Bright Angel Campground. Cole and I decided to scope out the campground because we hope to one day return to the park and overnight in the canyon.

Remember, if you want to overnight on the trail you must secure a permit.

You can also continue past Bright Angel Campground to Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is another overnight option where you can stay in cabins and enjoy a cooked meal. While we hiked all the way to Phantom Ranch, this section of trail could definitely be skipped to save some miles.

Bright Angel Trail

After you cross over the second bridge you are officially on Bright Angel Trail and beginning your ascent back to the top of the canyon rim. From here, you have just shy of 8 miles left.

Dry narrow path cutting across the floor of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail

Without sugarcoating it, the trek up Bright Angel is long, exhausting, and mentally challenging.

The views along the trail are not as stunning as those along South Kaibab, it’s a hotter time of day, and your legs are already tired.

Expect steep climbs, sandy trails, and uninterrupted sun exposure. Bright Angel Trail is also the more popular out-and-back route due to the many bathroom stops and water stations. Because of this, the trail becomes extremely busy and crowded.

While the South Kaibab section of the trail was all about taking in the views, frolicking around the canyon, and snapping photos, the Bright Angel section was for staying mentally strong, putting our heads down, and making it out of the canyon.

The Final 3 Miles

The final 3 miles of the Bright Angel Trail are tough.

The trail is extremely steep, exposed, and packed with hikers — and then add in the fact that your legs have already put in nearly 15 miles by this point.

My biggest piece of advice on these last 3 miles is to take your time, take breaks when you need them, and stay hydrated.

The feeling of reaching the top of the canyon is nearly euphoric and worth every step it takes to get there.

Dry and sunny trail with a drop off on the right side and tall canyon wall on the left

A Note About Safety

It cannot be said enough, South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is extremely difficult. Please assess your level of hiking experience, physical fitness, and mental toughness before attempting this trail as a day hike. We witnessed several hikers severely physically struggling and one helicopter rescue during our hike.

Do your research, make smart choices, come prepared, and have fun.

What to Pack for Day Hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel

When hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel, it’s important to pack the right gear and supplies to ensure your safety and comfort. Over 250 people are rescued in the Grand Canyon every year. Year after year, visitors underestimate the difficulty of the elevation, distance, and climate.

Below is a list of essential items to consider packing for your trip.


Breathable Clothing and Layers

Make sure to wear breathable clothes that you can layer while hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel. The temperate at the top of the canyon can be drastically different (colder) than the temperature at the base of the canyon. Likewise, due to the early start time, the temperatures at the beginning of the hike and the end of the hike are very different.

Wearing layers will allow you to adapt to the changing temperature. Also, be mindful of the type of clothing you are wearing as well, and opt for lightweight and breathable materials.

I absolutely love the REI Swiftland line, as well as the REI Trailmade line for affordable and breathable tops, bottoms, and layers.

Sturdy Hiking Shoes

The South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel route equally gains and loses an enormous amount of elevation. Opt for sturdy hiking boots or trail runners with good traction. You will need good shoe tread to navigate the steep uphills and downhills.

Make sure your shoes are properly broken in before attempting the 17-mile hike to avoid pain, blisters, or hotspots. I’m a trail runner fan, and I highly recommend the Merrell Antoras or Saucony Peregrines for lightweight support and traction on the trail.

P.S. Don’t forget to cut your toenails!

Sun Protection

Regardless of the time of year you hike South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel, you need to pack, apply, and wear sun protection. Regularly apply non-toxic sunscreen, wear a sun-hoody, sunglasses, and/or a hat. Even if you don’t feel the heat of the sun, it’s beaming.

I never set out on a hike without my Kavu Trail Hat or REI Shade Hoody. Protect your body during the long trek and keep yourself happy and in the clear from sunburn and heat exhaustion.


Hiking Day Pack

The hike from South Kaibab to Bright Angel is far from a walk in the park so carrying your belongings or water in your hands is not an option.

Bring a small and comfortable day pack to house all of your belongings, snacks, and water. Having a backpack will ensure you can carry an adequate amount of water, emergency supplies, snacks, and more while keeping your hands free.

I use and love both the REI Flash Pack 18L and Gregory Nano 16L on my day hikes.

Trekking Poles

The moment I realized I forgot to bring my trekking poles for the hike my stomach sank. Are trekking poles a must? No. Will your knees and back thank you tremendously? You bet they will.

The trail from South Kaibab to Bright Angel makes hikers descend nearly a mile into the canyon, before hiking another mile back up. Not only do trekking poles help lessen the impact on your joints by dispersing the weight, but they also help with balance, stability, and circulation to your arms and hands.

I started using trekking poles a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back since.

It’s best to invest in a lightweight option that telescopes or breaks down to make them easier to carry. I use the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking Poles and love them. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, check out the Black Diamond Trail Explorer Trekking Poles.


Bringing a headlamp along for this trail is a precautionary measure. Assuming everything goes as planned and you crush South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel, you won’t need a lamp. Unfortunately, adventures don’t always go as planned and many hikers find themselves still on the trail after sunset.

Never set out for a hike without a headlamp. I’ve been using the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp for years and it’s great. For an even more affordable option, consider the Black Diamond Astro Headlamp.

Kula Cloth

Among the things every hiker gal should own: a Kula Cloth.

A Kula cloth is a reusable, anti-microbial pee cloth. We were actually thrilled to find very little trash while hiking South Kaibab to Bright Angel. However, the number one piece of trash we came across was used toilet paper.

If you’re not comfortable drip-drying, invest in a Kula Cloth and help keep our trails clean.

Offline Maps

While the trail is pretty straightforward, it’s always nice to have access to a trail map. There isn’t a reliable source of service in the park so make sure to download the trail map beforehand. I use AllTrails for all things hiking.

Food, Water, and First Aid

Refillable Water Reservoir

Prepare to carry at least 4 liters of water with you to start the South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail. That means you will need to be carrying almost 9 pounds of just water weight during the hike. Keep that in mind when deciding if the trail is right for you.

There are water sources along the way where you can refill your supply but you always want to have more than you need. I hiked with my 3L Gregory Hydro Trek Reservoir as well as a 1L Nalgene.

Snacks, Hydration, and Energy Supplements

South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel is long and physically demanding. Make sure to pack enough healthy snacks to fuel your body during the hike. I also recommend packing hydration and energy chews, powders, and or gummies to help replenish what your body is losing.

First Aid Kit

While you don’t need a full-blown first aid kit so to speak, It’s smart to pack some Ibuprofen, bandaids, and medical tape in the event that your body starts aching or you begin to develop blisters. Even if you don’t end up needing the supplies, you never know when your hiking buddy or a hiker you pass on the trail will.

I hope this guide is helpful and informative for what to expect hiking South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel. If you have any questions about the point-to-point trail or adventuring around the park in general, leave me a comment in the section below.

If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon during a southwest road trip, make sure to check out my Ultimate Arizona-Utah Road Trip Itinerary guide for epic stops you can’t miss along the way.

Happy adventuring!

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