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David R

Grand Canyon Bright Angel-South Kaibab

I had the chance to head out to the Grand Canyon for the very first time. I had never understood why people come out here in the summer for what is essentially a desert hike. Finally having some time off in spring I jumped at the chance to get out there. Most people go down Kaibab and up Bright Angel primarily due to weather concerns but we didn't have that issue so we reversed direction.

The weather was in the high 40s at 7 AM as we started our hike from Bright Angel. In the springtime and at that time of the day, the crowd is significantly less then later in the year. The trail is very easy hiking other then the constant steps that are used to prevent erosion with the usage and the mules. The first 4 miles are straight switchbacks down to a flat area that circles must of the south of the Grand Canyon called the Tonto Platform that separates the upper and lower sections of the canyon. At the beginning of this plateau there is the delightful Indian Garden Campground which looks like an oasis in the middle of an arid section.

From here you drop into a subsidiary canyon with cool rock outcroppings and a nice flow of water. It drops down a narrow defile and the trail is required to go into the next canyon in order to get down to the bottom in a circular contour called the Corkscrew. At this time of year everything was green and water was flowing in all the canyons we walked through. At the bottom of the Corkscrew you are at the river level and another 1/4 mile gets you to the river, 8 miles and 4,300 feet from where you started.

The Colorado was flowing fast and muddy as we relaxed at the little beach at the River Resthouse. Another leisure mile of walking along a trail carved into the cliff brought us to the first bridge which we crossed over and had brunch at Bright Angel Campground. It had taken a little over three hours to get to this point and we enjoyed the low 70s degree weather down below.

To start South Kaibab you cross the black bridge which goes into a tunnel carved into the rock and looks like it is straight out of a Lord of the Rings novel. The South Kaibab is slightly shorter to the river but gains an additional 400 or so feet. The trail has expansive views but does not have the diversity of the Bright Angel trail. Its pretty much switchbacks straight up with some short level sections. This trail is also all steps which at this point was taking a toll on my joints especially my ankles. We were still able to make good time up this trail which has less services and rest stops. We saw a lot more hikers on this trail partially due to erroneous information being given out that the bottom part of the Bright Angel trail was closed.

The most dramatic part of the hike is in this section where you cross over from one rock formation and have a drop of a thousand feet straight down to the Tonto Platform just before you get to Skeleton Point. The only place that I really found welcoming on this trail was Cedar Ridge which was 1.5 miles from the top and was our only real stop point. Clouds were forming fast as we reached the top just beating a storm that ending up leaving snow for the next morning.

We reached the top in just over 6.5 hours hiking 16.5 miles with just over 4,700 feet elevation gain. We met a very diverse group of hikers from all over the world as well as in the US. Some observations are that this is obviously not a summer hike and I just don't get why people attempt it at this time. Picking the right time of year makes this a "normal" hike where all you need to worry about is mileage and elevation gain. I was also surprised at the lack of fitness in many of the  backpackers coming from the bottom who had heavy packs and were wiped out with miles to go. Similarly the day hikers were equally unprepared and we were passing them up with ease even though they had barely gone down a mile. I completely get why there are 400 incidents a year as far as hiking in the Grand Canyon. Finally if you're getting old like me you probably won't enjoy the hike that much from a practical point of view due to the steps up and down that wreck havoc on the joints. I'll take a steep trail any day of the week over this type of trail.

I've done GC a couple of times, both of them the reverse of your route. Coming up Bright Angel is easier because the slope is gentler plus it has water at Indian Garden and seasonally at the rest houses.
I agree April is the prime time to do this hike. Last year at this time it was nearly a 50 degree difference between top and bottom, I can't imagine doing it in summertime. Definitely wouldn't want to go up Kaibab then!

Great report! The weather must be really nice there right now.

I am one of the fools that hiked the canyon in early summer, mainly because I wanted to do a rim-to-rim and the north rim doesn't open until early mid-May. We started in the dark to get through the inner gorge before noon. There are so many other things to do there, need to get back.


I have done the Grand Canyon in the summer a number of times.  It is an amazing place.  With good conditioning and lots of water it is not a problem.

The reason to come up the Bright Angel is the lack of water on the South K.  not the weather. Forum Index -> Other Ranges
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