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South Kaibab versus Bright Angel Trail.

There are two major hiking trails from the
South Rim of Grand Canyon that lead to
the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch:
Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab
Trail.  Both trails have unique
characteristics that may affect your
choice.

Although I personally favor Bright Angel
Trail, South Kaibab is not without merit.
First, the views from South Kaibab Trail
are spectacular.  Second, South Kaibab
Trail is shorter in length, it is only 7 miles
(11.3 km) to Phantom Ranch, while
Bright Angel Trail takes 9.5 miles (15.3
km, although it is only 8 miles [12.9 km]
to the Colorado River at Pipe Creek
Beach).  And finally, South Kaibab Trail
is slightly less traveled than Bright Angel
Trail.









However, South Kaibab Trail has
drawbacks.  Although it is shorter in
length than Bright Angel Trail, South
Kaibab reaches a higher elevation, 4,860
feet (1,480 m), compared to Bright
Angel, 4,460 feet (1,360 m); and the
height is reached over a shorter
distance, meaning South Kaibab Trail is
much steeper.  Because of the
steepness, the National Park Service
recommends only hiking
down South
Kaibab Trail, then up Bright Angel. This
puzzles me.  I have spoken  with dozens
of older hikers who were shocked at the
roughness and large step-downs on
South Kaibab Trail.  These drop-offs take
a toll on the knees, ankles and backs of
hikers of all ages, but in particular on
older hikers.  To me, the only way to hike
South Kaibab is
up (having descended
on Bright Angel Trail), not down.  Bright
Angel Trail in contrast is better groomed
than South Kaibab and has more gentle
step-downs.













My second concern with South Kaibab
Trail is that the trailhead is accessible
only by bus.  Private cars are not
allowed.  If you are staying at one of the
rim lodges that means you must either
catch the early morning “hiker’s express”
(about a 40 minute ride), or catch two
separate buses to get to the trailhead
(30 minutes if you are lucky, or more
than 45 minutes on an ordinary day).  On
a busy day, you might even have to wait
in line for a second bus before boarding.  
To me, the goal is to hike, and if you
leave a rim lodge, you can hit Bright
Angel Trail in a matter of minutes.  I
would rather be in motion than sitting on
a bus.

Third, South Kaibab Trail is routed so
that it is fully exposed to the wind and
sun for almost the entire length of the
trail.  Depending on the season, Bright
Angel Trail provides some shelter from
both the sun and the wind.  Also, South
Kaibab has no source of water along the
trail.  Bright Angel Trail has fresh water at
Indian Garden year-round, as well as
water at the 1.5 mile and 3 mile rest
houses in the warmer months.  You can
carry a lighter pack on Bright Angel Trail.

Fourth, Bright Angel Trail has a ranger
station about half way along the trail at
Indian Garden.  This is a place you can
seek help in case of an emergency.  
Although South Kaibab Trail has
emergency phones, the ranger station
provides some security.  Further, there is
a campground along Bright Angel Trail at
Indian Garden.  If your hike is going
particularly badly, you could spend the
night, an option not available on South
Kaibab Trail.

Finally, there is the matter of time.  On a
recent hike I spent the night at Phantom
Ranch and chose to hike up South
Kaibab Trail.  Although the distance on
South Kaibab is shorter, it is steeper, so I
made slower progress.  When I reached
the top, I arrived 15 minutes earlier than
if I had hiked back up Bright Angel Trail.
But then I had to wait for the first bus and
then transfer to a second bus, a process
that took 45 minutes for the return to
Maswik Lodge, where I was staying.  All-
in-all, including the bus ride, I would have
arrived at my hotel 30 minutes earlier if I
had taken Bright Angel Trail.

To me, South Kaibab Trail is an
interesting alternative route back to the
South Rim, best hiked up. Athletic, young
people regularly run from the rim to river
in 1.5 hours, a trip which takes me 4
hours.  If you are one of them, South
Kaibab Trail may be great fun.  However,
if you are making your first hike to the
Colorado River or Phantom Ranch or if
you are over 50 years old, I strongly
recommend you take the smoother,
safer, cooler Bright Angel Trail.  Good
hiking to you.
All original contents copyright  2017.
A fast moving thunderstorm retreats toward the North Rim leaving Bright Angel Trail wet near the 3 mile resthouse.
Bright Angel Trail near Three Mile Rest House after a thunderstorm.
South Kaibab Trail.
South Kaibab Trail.