Backpack to Phantom Ranch via the South Kaibab & Bright Angel Loop

17.3 miles 4314 ft gain  - Loop Trail

Added by Ted S

Standing at the top of the Grand Canyon is impressive on its own but imagine hiking to the bottom and exploring the river, the rock and the land almost a vertical mile down before you return back to the top. Add in a few nights of camping out (or cabin accommodations) and you have a once in a life adventure.

There are many ways in and out of the Grand Canyon but the most popular loop is to descend from the South Rim, heading down the steeper South Kaibab Trail and returning up via the easier Bright Angel Trail.

Your adventure starts early to beat the sun (and get the views). After getting your permits (you'll need to book these well in advance, even a year ahead for peak season) at the backcountry office, take the hiker's express shuttle to the SK trailhead. Here you'll find restrooms and a final water fillup spot, the only one on the trail down.

Follow the SK trail for 7 miles as it cuts sharply through the canyon, passing layer upon layer of rock. As you descend pass Ooh-Aah Point and Cedar Ridge, be sure to look behind you to experience a truly unique view of the canyon. By the time you reach Skeleton Point, you'll feel like you've entered another world. Shortly after passing Tip Off Point, the river will come into clear view below you as you make your way down to the black bridge spanning it. Take in the last 0.5 miles of flat trail as you complete the hike down arriving at Bright Angel Campground or a little further into the canyon at Phantom Ranch.

Spend as long as you can get a spot or spare the time for at the bottom of the canyon exploring the river trails and up towards the North side (which is a world all it's own). Camp out or stay in the Phantom Ranch bunkhouse where you should be sure to grab at least one meal, lemonade and postcard on your visit.

Start your return hike before the sun has a chance to rise, heading through the Bright Angel campground, past the ranger buildings and off to the right. The Bright Angel Bridge will take you across the river which the trail follows for another mile before entering the canyon for good. As it snakes its way up, be sure to look around at the sun rising over the canyon walls. Stop off at the Indian Gardens hiker area to refill water and use the restroom (you can also camp here with reservations and make a multi-day return) before entering the second half of the hike.

As you continue up towards the 3 mile resthouse and then 1.5 mile resthouse, you'll be stopped by day hikers asking "how far you went" and "how it was," a testament to your adventure and a sign of how close you are. Pass through two stone archways and you're at the top of the South Rim once again. Enjoy a shower at Mather Campground or just skip right to the food at Bright Angel Lodge, the Canyon Village Marketplace and Deli or one of the other many restaurants.

Note: The National Park Service is highly against hiking to the river and back in a single day. Be reasonable in your plan, consider the distance, heat and impact of starting out downhill first!

Read More

Tags

Chillin
Camping
Photography
Backpacking
Hiking
Adult Beverages
Bathrooms
Food Nearby
River
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

The Grandest Hike

I recently completed this hike in the middle of monsoon season. It's entirely counter intuitive to think that August in the high desert would be 75 degrees, cloudy, and breezy. The hike was a reward around each switchback, and an experience I will never forget. In terms of water, I would recommend a minimum of 3 liters for the way down, and slightly less for back up. We left Phantom Ranch at 3am, hiking beneath the Milky Way almost all the way to Indian Garden. This is a must-do for any adventurer.

Stunning Views

I prefer taking South Kaibab Trail down because it has better sweeping views than Bright Angel but I would argue that the last few miles of Bright Angel Trail seem steeper; either way, both trails are great and the better water access on Bright Angel makes it safer choice for hot hikes up.

Stay Nearby

Grand Canyon Village, Arizona

Mather Campground

Overview Mather Campground is located on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. Grand Canyon is one of the most inspiring landscapes on Earth and draws over five million v...

Grand Canyon Village, Arizona

Hull Cabin

Overview Located just steps away from the world-famous Grand Canyon National Park, Hull Cabin is the oldest historic structure in the area. It provides a variety of amenities, as well as access to ...

Grand Canyon Village, Arizona

Ten X Campground

Overview Perhaps the biggest draw to Ten-X Campground in northern Arizona is its proximity to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Located just 4 miles south of the park entrance in beautif...

North Rim, Arizona

North Rim Campground

Overview The North Rim Campground is located on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona. The canyon's rustic and less populated North Rim is home to abundant wildlife, hikin...

Nearby Adventures

  • Backpack to the Grand Canyon's Cremation Canyon

    The Grand Canyon is over 277 miles long and is full of unique geological formations in all sorts of colors. One of the most striking aspects of the Grand Canyon is its immense scale and the dynamic landscapes it has to offer. There's something abo...

    11 miles 3973 ft gain

  • Backpack the Grand Canyon's South Rim

    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...

    35 miles 4541 ft gain

  • Run Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon

    This run is an extreme adventure and requires lots of planning and training. The risk for injury or heat related illness is high, so take precautions and don't run alone. Group sizes of 12-30 require a $175 permit from the NPS. These trails are...

    45 miles 11000 ft gain

  • Backpack from the Grand Canyon's Cremation Canyon to Utah Flats

    Note: The spot on the map is the beginning of the hike into Cremation Canyon Campground. For the full report on getting there, check out this adventure.Heading out of the campsite at Cremation Canyon, look for hints of a trail where you will scram...

    4 miles 2527 ft gain