Practical tips for hiking Grand Canyon down South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up Bright Angel Trail

One of the most popular rim-to-river hikes in Grand Canyon National Park is down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch, then up Bright Angel Trail.

There are many posts on the web about how to do this hike. In my opinion, people have overanalyzed it. I believe my tips below, from one friend to another, are simple enough for anyone to follow.

I received this actual question from a friend and former colleague in Denver:

I’m hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my family in mid-May. Have you done that hike? If so, any advice? We are staying one night at the bottom and then hiking back up.

Here’s my response:

Yes, I’ve done it, without the overnight stay. May is a good time of year to do it.

Key tips for this hike:

  • Avoid summer months
  • Pack light
  • Hydrate like crazy
  • Break your shoes and socks in well in advance
  • Poles help big time
  • Salty foods that are digest easily will be your friend
  • Best to get a super early start up Bright Angel as the first 3 miles are brutal in the heat
  • Bring a small towel so you can dip your feet in the creek(s) to cool off

Don’t be misled: Even though this hike can be simple to plan for, IT IS NOT EASY.

I know the fitness level of the individual I dispensed the tips above to, so I know his physical fitness is good enough to handle this hike. If you have any concerns about your ability to hike 17-plus-miles with a 5,000-foot elevation change, you should definitely take on a physical training program several months in advance to prepare for this hike.

My hiking buddies are getting away from me on this comfy, beautiful stretch of South Kaibab Trail heading toward Phantom Ranch.
Ooh Aah Point Grand Canyon
Ooh Aah Point along South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon. Photo by Jill Turski

What you should know about hiking South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up Bright Trail

  • South Kaibab/Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Trail Loop is a 17.4 mile (28 km) heavily trafficked point-to-point trail located in Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Elevation gain is 5,071 feet (1 – 1/2 km)
  • Rated as difficult
  • The trail is best used from October to May
  • There is no drinkable water on South Kaibab Trail but there are reliable sources at Phantom Ranch and on Bright Angel Trail at Indian Garden, 3-mile Rest House and 1.5-mile Rest House
  • No permit is required unless you’re camping overnight at either Bright Angel or Indian Garden campground
  • Lodging at Phantom Ranch is only available with advanced reservations

For trail conditions and additional details, check the official Grand Canyon website.

Grand Canyon Rim to River hike overview

View interactive route map (best on a desktop computer)

Aerial view of the hike route. The green dot in the lower right of the image is the starting point on South Kaibab and the black dot in the lower left is the end point.
One of the most gratifying feelings of hiking up Bright Angel Trail from the bottom of the Grand Canyon is looking back and seeing spectacular views like this one. There’s a cool creek flowing through all the trees in the center of the pic, known as Indian Garden.

I remember reading and researching this hike like crazy before my first attempt. I quickly became overwhelmed with all the advice out there. If you’re in decent shape, it’s not that bad. Don’t make it worse than it is.

Questions? Thoughts? Let me hear them in the comment box. We’re all friends here. 🙂


    1. Sounds like you might be more of a walker than hiker. Really the only difference is the kind of terrain that you travel on. If you go down into the Grand Canyon would definitely be considered hiking but there is also an incredible walking trail along the south rim that gives you many, many incredible vantage points Of the canyon. It runs for many miles along the rim.

      1. Oh for sure I’d say I’m hiker as long as I’ve got the time to get out to the trails! (Otherwise I’ll make do with a walk just to stop myself from going crazy from being city-bound.) If we do manage to make it out there, then we’d do it properly, but it is also always good to have a backup in case someone isn’t feeling on top form.

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