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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

For scale, the green shrubs next to the trail to the far right are about 5-6 ft tall. 3-mile resthouse is near the middle of the picture. The green valley and dark cluster of trees on the left is where Indian Garden is located. Rain pouring into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel.

Scroll down for photos if you wish to skip the story

Hike Date: May 4, 2015

Disastrous Start

For our 17 mile hike in the Grand Canyon, a disastrous start to the day seemed to doom us early on. When we first arrived in Arizona, we didn't realize that the state didn't observe daylight savings time. Even though everywhere we looked it said Mountain Time, it was an hour earlier than what we had thought. On the morning of our hike, we woke up an hour before the first shuttle was set to pick up hikers. The plan was that we would catch the Hiker's Express Shuttle at the Visitor Center, get dropped off at South Kaibab trailhead, hike down to river and back out to Bright Angel Lodge, then pick up another shuttle back to our car at the visitor center. We arrived at the visitor center in the dark and, after waiting in the cold for 20 minutes with no signs of a bus, we finally realized that our time was off.

With our newly gained hour, we changed plans and decided we would drive to the Bright Angel trailhead so we could get picked up by the shuttle and leave our car there so, when we finished our hike, we could drive back to our campsite and not wait for an additional shuttle like we had originally planned. However, when we reached the Bright Angel bus stop, I realized that I left my camera at the visitor center! We then rushed back to find the camera. Thankfully, since we were so early, no one was out and I was able to retrieve it with no hassle! We drove back to Bright Angel with 15 minutes to spare. The extra hour proved helpful and we were dropped off at the South Kaibab Trailhead at 6:30 AM which was a little after sunrise.

South Kaibab Trail Down to Colorado River

The trail itself was well maintained with much less traffic than we anticipated. The plan was to hike South Kaibab, cross both bridges, and hike out of the canyon via Bright Angel Trail. Though the rangers warned us not to do this hike in one day, we found that it was easily doable if you trained for it. From the trailhead, the trail dropped us down hundreds of feet with switchbacks snaking along the cliff wall. We quickly passed Cedar Ridge 1.5 miles down the canyon and went onward to Skeleton Point. Skeleton Point, 3 miles down, had multiple switchbacks and logged steps which resembled a spine hence the name. At the end of Skeleton Point, Tonto Trail intersected and at this intersection was an outhouse (4.4 miles down) and a flat plateau to rest. From the outhouse, the trail dropped down into a rockier portion of the canyon with the cliff walls changing into darker hues and the Colorado River finally coming into view. Everything was scenic and breathtaking with surprising vistas at every little turn. We then went through a tunnel to the first bridge crossing at the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Crossing the bridge, we arrived at the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. We were now 7.5 miles into our hike and at the bottom of the canyon.

Colorado River to Bright Angel, Hike to Top

Four hours into our hike, we started our ascent. From Phantom Ranch, we crossed the Silver Bridge to Bright Angel Trail. Silver Bridge was much different than the Kaibab Suspension Bridge as it was constructed with metal grates, giving hikers full view of the river below them. M crossed quickly while I lagged due to my fear of heights. After crossing the 2nd bridge, we now had 10 miles left to our hike. We quickly passed the River Resthouse, our last refuge until Indian Garden which was 3 miles away uphill. The canyon walls diversified and we were now zig zagging through layers of different colored sandstone. This section of the hike was lush with trees growing larger and streams babbling next to us. The temperature started to drop due to a storm that was rolling in so M and I tried to speed up our pace. We reached Indian Garden but did not linger for fear we would get drenched for the next 5 miles of our hike. Hiking up the steep, long switchbacks broke my spirit at this point. I was tired, sick, and aching. To make matters worse, the thunder clapped above us and rain started to pour. We passed 3 mile rest house knowing, as the name indicated, that we still had 3 miles left. These last miles proved to be the steepest. With the rain, I wasn't able to take many pictures so we ended the last 3 miles of the hike with only a handful. The end of the hike was glorious and in the final mile, I was able to speed up and finish just as the rain stopped.


Overall, even though it was an out of this world experience, the air and smells distracted me from really enjoying some parts of the hike. I knew there were mule rides on the trails but did not expect the ample amount of poop and the malodorous stench from it. At times, especially when it was hot and the canyon walls didn't let any wind in, the overpowering zoo smell made the hike less enjoyable for me. I was able to get over this slight discomfort but just be aware that you will run into this in the south rim. Thankfully, as the temperature dropped and winds picked up due to the storm, the last 10 miles of the hike was odor free. We were thankful for the storm and took advantage of the wet weather since most hikers stopped at a shelter so we were able to hike out of the canyon with very little traffic. Moreover, the storm gave us cool weather during the most strenuous part, making it a much more comfortable hike than it should have been. It took us 9 hours to hike 17 miles into the canyon and back out. It was a once in a lifetime hike and I hope to repeat it at least one more time! If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you do it either by foot or mule!

Started our hike on the right orange dot. This was the entire trail. Map courtesy of Google.

South Kaibab Trail

The shuttle dropped us off at the South Kaibab Trail. This is the beginning!

The switchbacks on South Kaibab dropping down hundreds of feet.

Warning for hikers to not hike to the river and back in one day.

View to our left along South Kaibab Trail. All the different layers of sediment for the top half of the Grand Canyon.

The trail continues down and around the butte then on top of the next butte then down to Skeleton Point, the tan zig zag in the back.

M hiking on South Kaibab Trail

M rounding the switchback on South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab, getting closer to the butte towards Skeleton Point

Great views along South Kaibab

Looking back on South Kaibab to see how steep it is to go back up the trail.

Skeleton Point

Mules can stop here at the start of Skeleton Point.

Skeleton Point starting to snake along the cliffside

Full view of Skeleton Point going down further into the Grand Canyon

M hiking along the spine-like trail along Skeleton Point

Trail marker on South Kaibab Trail along Skeleton Point

Tip Off and Tonto Intersection

A rest stop with an outhouse at Tip Off. This intersects with Tonto Trail. This area is flat and we stopped here for a mid-hike snack.

Continuing on South Kaibab, going down the 2nd part of the canyon.

Trail curves around and changes from orange to red sediment. 

First view of the Colorado River on South Kaibab Trail. Gorgeous changeover in the trail and also my favorite section!

M rounding the corner to come over to me in the red dirt section of South Kaibab.

South Kaibab Trail goes around the left side of the boulders. 

Views to the left of us. The cliffs are now rocky and jagged, reminiscent of Black Canyon of Gunnison

Colorado River view from South Kaibab

South Kaibab zig zags down the canyon walls. At the bottom left in the clearing, you can see the tiny brown spots of the mule train

First view of the Kaibab Suspension Bridge from South Kaibab

Kaibab Suspension Bridge

Kaibab Suspension Bridge over Colorado River on South Kaibab Trail

Tunnel before reaching the suspension bridge

Kaibab Suspension Bridge, nicely covered walkway and well protected. Easy to cross, no vertigo, no fear.

Crossing over the bridge, this takes us to the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch among some construction. The campsites were scattered around this area.

Silver Bridge

Next, we crossed over the Silver Bridge to connect us to the Bright Angel Trail to get out of the canyon

Silver Bridge is made up of metal grates causing me great discomfort. Fun but scary crossing the Colorado River at this junction.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel trail will now take us out of the canyon

The sandy trail was quite the respite on our feet. Bright Angel Trail with views of the Colorado River

Looking back to see how far we have come. You can faintly make out the two bridges we passed. Colorado River cutting the Grand Canyon.

River Resthouse

River Resthouse, the last bathroom until Indian Gardens 3 miles up through the canyon. There's a nice babbling brook next to this.

Going up and up on Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel was more lush than South Kaibab.

Going up through the layers of sediment. This area was lighter in color with less growth on Bright Angel.

A beautiful green waterfall growing along the canyon walls on our right. Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail climbs higher and higher. We are nearing the top of this section.

Views from Bright Angel Trail. What a gorgeous view of Grand Canyon!

Looking back to see how high we climbed on Bright Angel Trail

Nearing Indian Gardens, scenery is more verdant with larger trees/plants.

I referred to this section as the "pancake layers." We were about 1/3 of the way out of the canyon, maybe 1/2 way. A great view of this waterfall along Bright Angel Trail.

Indian Garden

Trail marker! Indian Garden!

This large tree will signify that you are in Indian Gardens. There are tables and buildings for you to rest in. M and I continued along without stopping since a storm was brewing. We could hear thunder up ahead.

Leaving Indian Gardens, we saw all the layers of the canyon that we still had to climb out. Bright Angel Trail

Little by little, we were going higher and higher out of the canyon on Bright Angel Trail

Three-Mile Resthouse

It started to rain so there are fewer pictures of this area. This is 3-mile resthouse which is about 2 miles from Indian Garden

Looking back on the trail and watching the rain pour into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel.

For scale, the green shrubs next to the trail to the far right are about 5-6 ft tall. 3-mile resthouse is near the middle of the picture. The green valley and dark cluster of trees on the left is where Indian Garden is located. Rain pouring into the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel. 

Didn't take any pictures of the steep zig zagging trail to get out of the canyon. This was the view from the top once the rain stopped. The last 2 miles were steep and fun. Once in a lifetime!


  1. Can't wait to go back to the grand canyon. It takes a lot of mental (and physical) stength to hike back up from the bottom of the canyon. Maybe a rim-to-rim hike next time?

    1. Yes, a rim to rim hike is in the works for next time! :)

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