South Kaibab/Bright Angel Loop
ElevationAscent: 4,968' 1,514 m
Descent: -4,978' -1,517 m
High: 7,200' 2,195 m
Low: 2,455' 748 m
GradeAvg Grade: 9% (5°)
Max Grade: 42% (23°)
Current trail conditions
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“One of the world’s natural wonders; fourth deepest canyon in the world; and a spot that should be on every bucket list”— Caroline Cordsen
Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
From the rim to the river - a loss of nearly 4,500 feet - you'll see more than a billion years of Earth's history up close, and pass through a number of different life zones along the way. You'll see and experience things you can't anywhere else in the world.
It's not any easy route, but the effort is more than rewarding.
Counterclockwise (descending the AZT - Passage 38 - South Kaibab trail and ascending the Bright Angel Trail) is the NPS's recommended direction of travel. Water is available year-round all along the Bright Angel Trail, and you’ll find more shade in the Garden and Pipe Creek canyons; as well as covered resthouses at the Indian Garden Campground 4.5 miles in, and at the three mile and one-and-a-half mile resthouses. Bringing enough water and food are key to a safe success.
As a rule of thumb, for every 1,000 feet of elevation lost, you’ll gain five degrees Fahrenheit. With a loss of nearly 4,500 ft, Phantom Ranch can easily exceed the hundreds in hot month
Beyond the Ooh Ahh Point, sightings of other visitors taper off as another batch of switchbacks bring the trail even deeper through the years into the Hermit Shale. After one-half mile, the strain levels briefly at Cedar Ridge before meeting with a sharp ridgeline atop the Supai Group, then pulls away to wrap O’Neill Butte. Leveling again at mile 2.8, the trail reaches Skeleton Point, a spot morbidly named for the occasional mule trains who might topple over the edge.
Finally reaching the massive cliffs of the 240 million year old Redwall Limestone, expertly carved switchbacks called the Red and Whites delve deeper by way of a rare weak spot, then swing north into the expansive Bright Angel Shale, and the trail’s last rest area at the Tipoff. Having truly found the desert now, the sparse vegetation thins out with only scattered blackbrush. In the winter, snow seldom falls at this low elevation.
Meeting with the Tonto Trail, then passing by the emergency phone which most likely gives the Tipoff its name, the trail drops towards the lower edge of the Bright Angel Shale. The first glimpse of the river comes at the lip of the inner canyon in the Tapeats Sandstone. With careful eyes, waves and fossils can be spotted in the coarse red-stained sand from an ancient sea that long ago churned against these walls.
Entering into the Vishnu Basement rocks – the earliest exposed layers of the Grand Canyon – tight, steep switchbacks work through the Precambrian years. After 1.2 miles, a short tunnel gains access to the Black Suspension Bridge - and the river at last! From down here, you can hardly see any higher than the Vishnu Basement Rocks.
From the Silver Bridge, the route traces the river for 1.2 miles. In full sun, with nothing but dark rock to reflect the sun’s every ray, this is the most brutal part of the journey back. But pulling into the depths of the Bright Angel Canyon, respite can be found in the deep shadows it casts.
The next mile follows Pipe Creek at an easy grade. But to find access to the higher elevations, 0.5 miles of switchbacks, known as Devil’s Corkscrew, ascend the Vishnu Basement rocks of the inner canyon. But the climb isn’t over yet. The switchbacks loosen, and over another half mile in callous heat, the trail wraps west to meet with Garden Creek, and an unexpected oasis.
Leveling, the trail widening, the hardest, hottest part of the day comes to an end as you leave the “Death Zone” behind. Running water and falls cascade downcreek, and the trail grows busier with campers lucky enough to score a permit for a night under these stars.
Surrounded by trees, and shielded under the shadow cast by the canyon’s eastern walls, the trail follows Garden Creek towards the Indian Garden Campground. Now into the upper canyon, at an elevation of 3,500 feet, the trail nears the Bright Angel Shale once again. Another set of switchbacks brings you through the Mauv Limestone, to the lip of the Redwall Limestone, where it levels at the Three Mile Resthouse. The switchbacks loosen, and over 1.5 miles, the trail reclaims the Supai Group and the Hermit Shale to find the 1.5 Mile Resthouse.
From here, the final 1.5 miles climb a little over 1,100 feet to break through the Coconino Sandstone and find the rim once again.
Wildlife at the Grand Canyon include elk; deer; bobcats; mountain lions; coyotes; big birds such as vultures, eagles and condors; and reptiles - including poisonous rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters.
When the park service couldn't convince Cameron to turn over ownership of the Bright Angel Trail, they built the South Kaibab Trail.
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Local Club: Grand Canyon Association
Land Manager: National Park Service - Grand Canyon National Park