Backpack the Grand Canyon's South Rim

Arizona South Kaibab Trailhead

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    35 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4541 Feet


One of the most spectacular sunrise and sunset places, with stunning rock formations at an astonishing scale. You will hike through unsurpassable terrain for roughly 4 days/ 3 nights.

If you want to see the real Grand Canyon, this is it. The 3 day backpacking will take you down into the canyon to where few people visit. Although the South Kaibab trail is steep, has no shade cover and water and the views are gorgeous. It is best to start from the South Kaibab, hike down to the Bright Angel campground, and back up the Bright Angel trail. This way you get a change of scenery and can hike up where there is more available water.

The first day we started our journey by taking NPS shuttle to the South Kaibab trail. It is about 6.5 miles down to the Colorado River and typically takes 4-6 hours. The trail has few switchbacks in the beginning where we encountered ice. After these initial switch backs we reached OoH Ahh Point, the first panoramic view of the canyon. We were lucky enough to see the clouds covering the Grand Canyon as this will happens few times a year. As we were hiking down we came across several vista points (Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point and Tipoff) and finally we reached Bright Angel Campground. In order to camp here you need a backcountry permit which you have to apply in advance. The campground is along the Bright Angel creek and it has tap water, bathrooms with sinks and even a restaurant in the nearby Phantom Ranch, where you can stay in individual cabins.

The second day we hiked to Ribbon waterfalls and it is about 6.5 miles from the campground towards north rim. The trail north on Bright Angel Creek was so much different than the South Kaibab. There are no great gains of elevation and we crossed creek 3 or 4 times, but again, the trail was not difficult. There is a difference when you are at the bottom compared to when you are higher. At the bottom, you cannot see the outer walls, so you do not get a sense of the depth and size of the Canyon. Finally after about 6+ miles on the North Kaibab, and gaining about 1400 feet in elevation, we could see the falls. The pool of water at the bottom is shallow and cool and feels good. We relaxed here little bit and also you can recover your body by jumping into the water fall.

The third day we spend a night at Indian Garden on the way back up to the Rim via Bright Angle trail. The campground is 4.7 miles from Bright Angel, and 4.9 miles from the Rim, this campground is a great place to stop if you don’t want to hike up to the Rim with your heavy backpack. From Indian Garden, you can take a hike to Plateau point. It will give you yet another perspective of the amazing canyon and the sunset was spectacular with vistas, with the view and sound of the river below.

The final day we hike up to the South Rim from Indian Garden (3000 ft elevation). On our way up there are two Resthouses at 1.5 and 3 miles from the Rim and it has restrooms as well as stations to refill your water.

It's probably one of the most stunningly beautiful and breathtaking places in the world.

Pack List

  • Permit required for all overnight trips
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tent (for privacy and gear)
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Cookware
  • Backcountry permit from the NP Service to camp overnight
  • Headlamp
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Food
  • Lighter
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking socks (and extra socks)
  • Fleece Jacket
  • Knife
  • Daypack
  • Trekking poles
  • Crampons in winter/spring (ice on the trail can be a real issue)
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Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

Hiked the South Kaibab to Bright Angel trail in early June with an overnight at Bright Angel Campground. Hike down was pleasant with great views of the canyon. Even with an early start, was nearly 110 fahrenheit by 9:30 a.m. Made for a quite a long, toasty day at the bottom as we didn't start our ascent until the following morning. Thankful for the Bright Angel Creek! We started the hike out at 4 a.m. to beat the heat. The bottom leg of the hike up to Indian Garden Campground was a breeze without much elevation change, but the last 4.5 miles up the Bright Angel Trail are a real challenge in the heat. Make sure to stop for water and take chances to enjoy the view from a few shady spots!

3 months ago
3 months ago

Did a partial to the full 4 day trip explained above and did an out and back day hike on the South Rim because of the time we had between stops. Love the terrain out there, and would love to go back to try a longer backpacking trip to see the stars and sunsets/sunrises!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

This was the exact route I took when I did my overnight backpack to Bright Angel Campground and I couldn't agree more about the suggestion of going down the South Kaibab trail first. It's definitely my favorite way to get to the Colorado River and it offers unparalleled views of the canyon as you're making your way down. Unfortunately I only stayed at the bottom over night and would love to go back to spend a day exploring the bottom of the canyon!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Sri Gangam

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