A Grand Canyon Day Hike
From the South Kaibab Trail to the Colorado River to the Bright Angel Trail

by Debashis Panigrahi, Arnaud Meylan, Lorenzo Casaccia, 2002

Timing || Trail Infos || Practical Infos || Tips || Links || Contacts

On October 19th, 2002 we hiked the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the Colorado River and back to the South Rim. We followed the South Kaibab Trail going down and the Bright Angel Trail going up.
This is not an easy hike but not impossible either, so we collected in this page a few useful infos.

(Where two times are indicated one is the arrival time and the other is the departure time)

Trail Name Intermediate Point Altitude Distance Time
South Kaibab Trail South Kaibab Trailhead 2213 m   6:45
Cedar Ridge 1926 m 2.4 km 7:15 - 7:25
O'Neil Butte 1743 m 7:50
Skeleton Point 1591 m 8:00
Junction with Tonto Trail 1219 m 7.1 km 8:35 - 8:40
Colorado River 756 m 10.1 km 9:20

Colorado River (bottom)

Bright Angel Campground (lunch break) 756 m 11.7 km 9:35-10:35
Bright Angel Trail Bright Angel Suspension Bridge 756 m 14.1 km 10:50
River Resthouse 756 m 11:10 - 11:15
Indian Garden 1158 m 19.3 km 12:20 - 12:45
3-mile Resthouse 1500 m 21.9 km 13:25 - 13:30
1 1/2 mile Resthouse 1743 m 24.3 km 14:05 - 14:10
Bright Angel Trailhead 2091 m 26.7 km 14:50
  26.7 km 8 hrs 5 min

Trail Info

The South Kaibab Trail is the best choice to go downhill because:
1. There is no water on the trail and you will not need a lot of water while walking downhill (as opposed to walking uphill).
2. It is steeper than the Brigth Angel, and you don't want to take it to go uphill.
The South Kaibab Trail is also the most scenic of the South Rim trails since you will always see the main canyon (other trails follow smaller internal canyons).

The first part of the South Kaibab Trail is probably the steepest (or it looks like that because you start early in the morning...), but it quickly reaches the small plateau of Cedar Ridge. After that, it is an easy walk downhill until O'Neil Butte, where you have a gorgeous view of the canyon at your left hand side. The trail becomes steep again (but less rocky) after Skeleton Point and it leads you to the Tonto Platform (the main plateau that you can see from the South Rim).
The last part of the trail is very well maintained it goes all the way down to the Kaibab Suspension Bridge.

At the bottom of the canyon, the area of the Bright Angel Campground (on the north side of the river) is ideal to take a break.

To go back to the South Rim, the Bright Angel Trail is longer but easier and there is a lot of water on the trail (both purified and not). The trail starts when you cross again the river on the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge and you go back to the south side of the Colorado.
The trail reaches the River Resthouse and the starts climbing the so-called Devil's Corkscrew (guess why it is called like that...) towards Indian Garden. Most of this section does not have any shadow (and you will probably hike it around mid-day).
Indian Garden is a popular break point. After Indian Garden the trail gets steeper for the last 4.5 miles. This portion is divided into three stretches by the two resthouses. After the three-mile Resthouse the trail is obviously more crowded and it is partially in the shadow (it can also get cold).

Practical Infos

1. There is purified water all-year round at the Bright Angel Campground, at the River Resthouse and at Indian Garden.
2. We found purified water also at the 3-mile and 1 1/2 mile Resthouses. Officially, water at these location should be available only from May to September, but when we hiked (mid-October) there was water.
3. On the Bright Angel Trail, between the River Resthouse and the 3-mile Resthouse there are plenty of sources of natural water.
4. If you are sure to find water at the Resthouses on the Bright Angel Trail, this means that you don't need to carry a lot of water with you for this hike. Descending the South Kaibab Trail is quick and not very hot anyway, and from that point on you find drinkable water every couple of miles.

1. When we hiked, in mid-October, we were lucky enough to find a sunny day. That made it a perfect weather for the hike, because the bottom was pleasantly warm, but not more than that.
2. The bottom of the trail is always 15-20 degrees (Celsius) hotter than the South Rim. If you attempts this hike in the summer, the bottom will be extremely hot (basically it will be like hiking in the desert with no wind at midday).
3. If you hike in Spring or Autumn, like we did, the South Rim will be quite chilly, so you will need some warm clothes to start the hike and perhaps to finish it.



The most obvious thing about hiking in the Grand Canyon is that first you hike downhill and then you hike uphill. This sounds trivial but it is the whole point.
If you try a "classic" hike (say, Half Dome in Yosemite) and you feel too tired on your way up: well, too bad, you turn around and go back. The way back will be downhill so you will make it even if you are tired.
If you hike to the Colorado River and when you try to come back to the rim you feel too tired, and you cannot make it... well, you are in deep trouble.

No official publication will give you any information, help or tips about hiking down to the river and come back in one single day. Also, every publication will tell you that it is impossible.
Actually, to hike down to the river and back in one day is not impossible. But it goes without saying that it is not easy, as it is very long and demanding on your knees. This is not a hike for the weary.

Apparently, every year the rangers have to rescue/help a number of people every day because they are exhausted/dehydrated/etc. Most of the time these accidents are due to visitors having no idea about what they are doing. Know your limits.

The timeline that we included above is just a record of our own schedule and it is not intended to be anything else. While we are sure that it is possible to hike more quickly than that, do not try to replicate it if you are not a fast hiker.



The official Grand Canyon Page
A comprehensive page on hiking the Grand Canyon
Piero Scaruffi's page on the rim-to-rim hike
Weather at the Grand Canyon