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I kind of made it my mission to do at least one hike in every National Park we visited. Our trip to the Grand Canyon National Park was no exception and we went hiking into the Grand Canyon itself by hiking the South Kaibab trail at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. We didn’t hike all the way to the bottom, but probably about a third of the way down before we continued on to the next stage of our USA Road Trip. If you’re wondering how to hike the South Kaibab trail check out the information below. I’ve included information about the whole trail, even though we only did some of it. The South Kaibab is usually pretty hot, steep and it’s great fun!&
About the Grand Canyon South Kaibab TrailThe South Kaibab Trail is a hiking trail in the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s accessed from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. You can also join the South Kaibab Trail with the North Kaibab trail if you’re doing a Rim to Rim hike of the Grand Canyon.
It’s one of the best trails in the park since it follows a ridge-line out to Skeleton Point which gives you 360-degree views of the canyon from within inside the canyon itself. It’s pretty special.
The great thing about the South Kaibab Trail is that you don’t have to do the whole of it. In fact, most people don’t. There are several points along the trail that make good turn-around markers. This means you can complete the South Kaibab Trail as a day hike too.
South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon Stats
If you’re wondering about the South Kaibab trail length, you’ll find the distances and change in elevation from the trailhead of the South Kaibab Trail to certain points along the way below. We hiked to Cedar Ridge and back in a couple of hours and you can see this hike on the South Kaibab Trail in the video in this post.
South Kaibab trail difficulty: Moderate to Cedar Ridge/Skeleton Point, Strenuous beyond
South Kaibab Trail Map
Here’s a small map from the parks service of the South Kaibab and other trails in the Grand Canyon National Park. The names highlighted in yellow are the popular stops for day hikes along the South Kaibab Trail.
The South Kaibab Trail is well maintained and well marked but you can also get a trail map from the visitor’s centre.
How to get to the trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail
The trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail is located at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and you must take the park’s shuttle bus to get there.
South Kaibab Trail Parking
Park your car at the visitor parking by the Grand Canyon Visitor Centre and pick up a shuttle bus from there. Or, if you’re staying at a hotel just outside the park, you can usually get a shuttle bus to the park too.
Shuttle bus to South Kaibab Trail
The shuttle bus you want is the one that does the Kaibab/Rim Route.
There’s also an early morning bus known as the Hiker’s Express which goes to the South Kaibab Trailhead from the Bright Angel Lodge shuttle bus stop, the Backcountry Information Centre and the Visitor centre every day, all year.
You can see the full Grand Canyon shuttle bus schedule here, but I wouldn’t worry too much as they’re very regular and easy to use.
What to know before hiking the South Kaibab Trail
- WATER: There is nowhere to get water along the trail (unless you’re going to Bright Angel Campground) and many hikers are caught out because of this. Each person in the group needs to have their own water, it’s not a hike you can just share a bottle between you on. There is water at the trailhead so make sure you fill up there before heading on your hike
- FUEL: Also, remember to eat during the trail as it’s strenuous and you’ll appreciate the energy boost on the way back.
- START EARLY: Especially during summer, to miss the worse of the Arizona heat.
- RESTROOMS: There are restrooms at the trailhead as well as at Cedar Ridge and Bright Angel Campground.
Permits and fees for hiking the South Kaibab Trail
The Grand Canyon National Park do not recommend hiking the whole of the South Kaibab Trail in one day. This is because it’s a long ol’ slog on the way back. However long it takes you to get the to bottom of the Canyon, you should double that duration for your return journey.
As you’re not recommended to complete the hike in one day, doing the South Kaibab Trail in full requires you to camp half way. There is a designated campsite at the bottom and for that, you’ll need a backcountry permit (details below).
Always read this brochure from the National Parks Service, and seek further advice before embarking on a backcountry hiking trip to the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park Entrance Fees
Entrance fees to the Grand Canyon National Park cost $35 per car, this lasts for 7 days and includes both the North Rim and South Rim.
If you’re entering by foot, bike or shuttle bus then the entrance fee is $20 per person.
You can now buy your Grand Canyon National Park pass online, or at the visitors’ centres to the following towns: Williams, Flagstaff and the Tusayan National Geographic Visitor Centre (IMAX Theatre).
If you’re visiting a few US National Parks over the course of a year then you’ll be better off buying the “America is Beautiful National Parks Pass” from REI for $80.
Backcountry Permits for the Grand Canyon
If you’re hiking the South Kaibab trail to Bright Angel trail campground you’ll need to do this hike as an overnight and will require a backcountry permit.
Backcountry permits cost $10 per permit plus $8 per person, per night camped below the rim and $8 per group per night camped above the rim. To apply for a backcountry permit, and for more information, you need to put in a request which you can do here.
How to hike the South Kaibab Trail
We hiked down to Cedar Ridge which is a 3-mile round trip. It’s recommended that you don’t go past this point on a day hike during summer due to the heat and steepness of the trail. As mentioned above, there aren’t any water stops on the trail so make sure you’ve got plenty. You’ll need more than you think so it’s better to take too much than too little.
The South Kaibab Trail starts off pretty steep as you take switchbacks down into the Grand Canyon itself. There’s not much shade but the views are incredible and you really get a sense for how enormous the canyon is!
South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
The first stopping point you get to is called Ooh-Aah point which is 0.9 miles along the route. You get a really wide, panoramic view from here and it’s a great place to have a quick snack and a rest before continuing onto Cedar Ridge.
The route narrows a little bit from here to Ooh-Aah point. It’s still very steep so it might take a bit of a toll on your knees as you walk along the ridge.
1.5 miles into your hike you’ll reach Cedar Ridge which makes a great place for a picnic lunch – you won’t beat the views! There’s not much shade here either, but there is a restroom.
If you have a good level of fitness and enjoy hiking then I’d recommend hiking the South Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge.
Going past this point in summer is not recommended.
The return to the top
The hike back up to the top is definitely a steep one! Keep plodding along and you’ll soon be back where you started. Don’t forget to look up and take in the views!
The National Park service say it takes twice as long to climb back up to the top as it does to hike down. Somehow I think we made it up to the top quicker than we made it down (maybe we didn’t stop as much) but just be prepared!