Did you know that only 3% of the visitors to the Grand Canyon actually hike below its rim? While hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim might seem a bit intimidating, there are plenty of great Grand Canyon day hikes out there, including the South Kaibab Trail!
My Experience Hiking the Grand Canyon on the South Kaibab Trail
My brother and I set out from our motel near the Arizona border as early in the morning as we possibly could. Our location for the day was the Grand Canyon, and we wanted as much time at this natural wonder of the world as possible.
After a few hours of driving, we found a parking spot surprisingly close to the visitors center. I immediately decided to change from shorts to jeans the second I stepped out of the car and felt the cold wind hitting my legs. Even though it was the middle of May, it was friggin’ cold.
We stocked up our packs with everything we would need, and then we were off.
Our first view of the canyon was from the extremely popular Mather Point. Despite the fact that we had to push our way through hordes of people in order to get to the railings, our first sight of the Grand Canyon was as amazing as we had built it up to be.
We stood awestruck for several minutes trying to fathom just how huge it all was. As two kids from one of the flattest states in the union, attempting to fathom it all was something that we would do continuously throughout the day.
South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Ahh Point
From Mather Point we made our way to the South Kaibab trailhead. This was where we would be spending the biggest chunk of our day at the Grand Canyon. We definitely didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, so we planned to hike about a mile of the trail to “Ooh Aah Point” (aptly named for the fact that people ooh and ahh when they reach it) and then turn around. After filling up our water bottles at the station on the trailhead, we were off.
Even from just a few feet below the canyon walls, the views were amazing. I was completely baffled why so many people were content to get a few pictures at one of the viewpoints and then head on their way (only 3% of the park’s visitors actually hike below the rim). This, I thought to myself, is where the real Grand Canyon is at.
As the walls began to tower around us, we felt like there was nothing in the world that could bring us down. A very large part of me felt like I could keep hiking forever. But I had to remind myself that the hike down was the easy part. And that I definitely wouldn’t feel the same way trying to hike back up in my (poorly equipped for hiking) Converse sneakers.
Like everyone who visits the Grand Canyon, we took what seemed to be a million different pictures. Of course, pictures can never truly capture just how awe-inspiring it all is. But they can certainly help with remembering just how crazy it was to see such an amazing sight in person.
Ooh Ahh Point
We took our time to ooh and aah at the vista that spread out before us. It was pretty dang ooh ahh worthy.
We took some time to rest, drink some water, and ready ourselves for the hike back up to the rim. Then, we set out once more. This time the going was a bit less easy than it had been on the way down. I was immediately grateful that we hadn’t overestimated our abilities and tried to go further down. That would have been a disaster.
In all of our huffing and puffing, the people heading past us who were just beginning their hike cheered us on. Despite all of the amazing scenery, my favorite part of the entire experience was easily the camaraderie that we felt between everyone who was hiking. People freely providing and receiving that extra little bit of encouragement with a smile. No matter if you were hiking the whole thing or just a short segment like we were. That’s what made the whole thing so special.
We reached the top to the feeling of a recharged spirit. Instead of being completely exhausted, I was pumped with adrenaline. Ready to take on whatever the world might throw at me. Like… another trail maybe? Just kidding.
Hiking the Grand Canyon sparked an incredible love and appreciation of the world in me. To everyone who knows me’s surprise, I actually invested in a pair of hiking boots when I got home. Next time I’m at the Grand Canyon, I’m getting all the way to the bottom (and back again, obviously). And before then I’m ready to experience every single hike that I come across.
South Kaibab Trail Hiking Tips & Tricks
Getting to the South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trailhead is located near Yaki Point. There is no parking at the trailhead, so you’ll need to take the shuttle from the visitor’s center.
South Kaibab Trail Map
You can find a South Kaibab Trail map here.
South Kaibab Trail Distance & Time
Depending, on how much of the trail you plan to hike, the South Kaibab Trail can take as long or as short as you like.
According to the National Parks Service’s website, it takes 4-6 hours to hike down the South Kaibab Trail, and more to hike up. The trail is 6.3 miles long with lots and lots of switchbacks.
If you hike the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Ahh Point, like we did, it will take about 1 hour there and back.
Here are the listed distances between different points along the South Kaibab Trail. Skeleton Point is the farthest down in the canyon that is recommended for a day hike.
|Rim to Ooh Ahh Point||0.9 mi(1.4 km)|
|Rim (7260 ft / 2213 m) to Cedar Ridge (6120 ft / 1865 m):||1.5 mi (2.4 km)|
|Cedar Ridge (6120 ft / 1865 m) to Skeleton Point (5220 ft / 1591 m):||1.5 mi (2.4 km)|
|Skeleton Point (5220 ft / 1591 m) to the Tipoff (4000 ft / 1219 m):||1.4 mi (2.3 km)|
|Tipoff (4000 ft / 1219 m) to Bright Angel Campground (2480 ft / 756 m):||2.6 mi (4.2 km)|
|Rim (7260 ft / 2213 m) to Bright Angel Campground (2480 ft / 756 m):||7.0 mi (11.3 km)|
What to Bring
If you’re planning on doing any Grand Canyon day hike, here are a few things you won’t want to leave home without:
- Sturdy hiking shoes – While I did this hike in Converse, I wouldn’t recommend it. I have since bought, been using, and LOVE the Ahnu Sugarpine Boots.
- Reusable water bottle – There is no water available on the South Kaibab trail so you’ll want to bring along enough to get you through the hike. There are water fountains at the trailhead where you can fill up your reusable bottles.
- Snacks – bring along plenty of yummy trail snacks to keep you fueled up while hiking the Grand Canyon!
- Sunscreen – there is absolutely no tree cover or shade in the Grand Canyon, so this is a must!
Other Grand Canyon Day Hikes
There are plenty of short Grand Canyon day hikes available to the casual hiker. Here are a few:
For detailed information on day hiking the Grand Canyon, see the Grand Canyon National Park website.
If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous, make it a multi-day trip and hike rim-to-rim! To do this, you’ll need a backcountry camping permit or a reservation at the Phantom Ranch. Both of these things require significant advance planning. For loads of information on hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, check out rim-to-rim.org. If you’d rather not go it alone, then there are plenty of companies out there that organize guided hikes as well.
For those of you who don’t love hiking so much, consider going all out on a Grand Canyon experience!
Best of luck in all your hiking endeavors!