Adventure Travel

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.

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