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Backpacker Magazine – January 2013

Grand Canyon National Park: South Kaibab-Tonto-Bright Angel Trail

Start early for sunrise in the canyon and crowd-free hiking on this 13.4-miler that descends to the gorge's mezzanine level.

by: Annette McGivney and Andrew Matranga

BP0113GRAND_BestDayMap_445x260
Photo by BP0113GRAND_BestDayMap_445x260
BP0113GRAND_BestDayMap_445x260

New to the Big Ditch and want to pack a weekend of adventure into one day? String together corridor and threshold trails on this view-filled hike across the canyon’s midsection. You’ll have plenty of company at the start and end, but the uncrowded stretch on the Tonto Plateau is ample reward.

Begin at dawn, descending on the South Kaibab Trail (1). Fill bottles at the trailhead; it’s the only reliable water until mile 8.7. Pass informally named Ooh Aah Point at the .8-mile mark and scan northeast across the canyon to Zoroaster Temple, as morning light bathes the iconic, eroded spire. Continue switchbacking through Coconino Sandstone and head north along Cedar Ridge (2) through the Supai Group’s blood-red shale. Wind behind 6,071-foot O’Neill Butte (3) and drop 300 feet to the saddle below 5,210-foot Skeleton Point (4), where you’ll hear the sound of the Colorado River flowing a half-mile below.

Brace yourself for the 1,000-foot, switchback-laden descent to the junction with the Tonto Trail, where you’ll turn left (5) and head southwest for a 4.1-mile traverse over the coarse sandstone and piñon scrub of the Tonto plateau. First cross an unnamed drainage and swing south past Burro Spring. Reach Pipe Spring (6) at mile 6.4 and sidehike downcanyon to a pourover, where you can spot Puebloan ruins across the river. Back on track, trend northwest over the plateau and savor the hike’s best stretch: sublime, private vistas that stretch from the deep maw of Bright Angel Canyon in the east to the fin-shaped Isis Temple hovering in the west.

At mile 8.4, turn left onto the Bright Angel Trail (7) and hike .3 mile to Indian Garden (8). Break creekside amongst cottonwoods and admire the vermillion-streaked, cathedral-like walls. Tank up here before the 4.7-mile, 3,000-foot ascent to the rim. Pace yourself on Jacob’s Ladder, a set steep switchbacks rising through the Redwall Formation between 1.5-Mile and 3-Mile Resthouses (9). After nearly twelve hours of hiking, reach the rim (10) and head for steaks at Bright Angel Lodge. Trip ID 1977215

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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Bob Washburn
Feb 06, 2013

This route is NOT for Canyon beginners. He doesn't mention that between mid May and October expect temperatures well over 100 on the exposed section of the Tonto Trail with little to no shade. Also most people don't train for hikes at 7,000 feet. If you get in trouble on the Tonto section of this route, you are on your own. Get yourself out or probably die. The Kaibab and Bright Angel sections have enough traffic that you could get help. There is shade once you get to the Bright Angel Trail and water every mile and a half.

If you are in condition and prepared for the hike it is spectacular. One recommended change, you want to be on the trail before sunrise. Sunrise in the canyon on the Kaibab is one of the canyons great experiences. There are early shuttles to get you there.

For a safer and easier trip take the South Kaibab down to Cedar Ridge and then back out. Again be on the trail before sunrise and there is no water on this trail. Views are much better on the Kaibab than the Bright Angel, the Kaibab follows a ridge while the Bright Angel is in a side cut. So you see so much more of the canyon from the Kaibab.

Do not say you have seen the canyon unless you go into the canyon. 90+% of the visitors never go below the rim, it is their loss.

Star Star Star Star Star
Fred
Jan 21, 2013

Having hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon many times over a period of 30 years, I would never suggest that someone who is NEW to the GC attempt this hike in a single day.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 17, 2013

Day-hiking into the Grand Canyon is on many people's bucket list but kicking the bucket while hiking there usually isn't! Many people die in the canyon each year for a variety of reasons; one of them being that some hikers are unprepared for the experiences they encounter there. Sure, a lot of people hike there almost every day of the year but there are still those hikers who get lost and either barely or don't make it out alive. Read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hit the trail for a day-hike. Felix! teaches the reader what to pack, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost or scared, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night in the canyon. Additionally, the main canyon trails have their own requirements that hikers must follow. Learn how to navigate your way with or without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Your Grand Canyon adventure should be the thrill of a lifetime so make it safer and more enjoyable by knowing what to do and having the essentials with you!

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 17, 2013

Day-hiking into the Grand Canyon is on many people's bucket list but kicking the bucket while hiking there usually isn't! Many people die in the canyon each year for a variety of reasons; one of them being that some hikers are unprepared for the experiences they encounter there. Sure, a lot of people hike there almost every day of the year but there are still those hikers who get lost and either barely or don't make it out alive. Read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hit the trail for a day-hike. Felix! teaches the reader what to pack, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost or scared, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night in the canyon. Additionally, the main canyon trails have their own requirements that hikers must follow. Learn how to navigate your way with or without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Your Grand Canyon adventure should be the thrill of a lifetime so make it safer and more enjoyable by knowing what to do and having the essentials with you!

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